Packing for long-distance hiking is a meticulous task, where every item you bring must serve its purpose – there is simply no capacity for frills! After two very different long-distance hikes in Scotland and Sweden this year, I thought I’d share some of my packing tips and equipment advice with you.
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How and what to pack for long-distance hiking really depends on your destination’s climate, but also the infrastructure surrounding the trail. Will you be camping on or off campsites, or maybe even stay in hostels or B&Bs along the way? Do you have to carry all your food with you, or do you pass by any shops or restaurants? Is there an option to get your luggage and equipment transferred (or shipped to checkpoints), or do you have to carry everything yourself from start to finish?
Terrain, weather and infrastructure determine everything, from what to pack to how easy or hard it’s going to be physically and mentally.
To give you an idea of what I brought on a largely unsupported 5-day trek through northern Sweden, first, check out my video – and then read on to find my personally tested long-distance hiking packing list.
And by the way, this hiking list can be applied universally – you can pack the same for any trek, whether you want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, climb Kilimanjaro or walk the West Highland Way.
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Complete Packing List for Long-Distance Hiking
1 large backpack + rain cover
I use a 65L Vaude Skarvan – this 60+10 Vaude Astrum is similar. I have also tried and liked the 65L Fjallraven Abisko.
1 lightweight backpacking tent
I use a Vaude Hogan SUL 1-2P – I can pitch it in about 6 minutes.
1 sleeping bag + sleeping bag liner
I use a synthetic sleeping bag by Vaude which is warm enough for Scotland.
1 air mattress
I use a self-inflatable sleeping pad by Vaude.
1 camping stove with pot, gas cartridge and matches
I love my compact Primus Lite camping stove.
1 set of plate & cup
I have a handy Primus meal set.
1 camping spoon
My Primus longspoon is ideal to eat trekking food out of the bag.
1 pocket knife
I have a small Mora Kniv that I can wear around my neck.
Note that carrying knives in public is illegal in the UK unless it has a folding blade of 3 inches or less, or you have good reason to carry it (see exceptions here). If you carry a knife on a hike, make sure it is concealed and consider whether you really need it.
A water system
I have a 1L Primus trail bottle (which can be filled with cold or hot water) and a 3L Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir.
1 water filter
I use the pocket-sized MSR Trailshot which filters a litre/minute directly into my bottle.
1 pair of walking poles
2 quick-dry trekking t-shirts
1 to wear, 1 to change into – you won’t need more no matter how long your hike is.
1 pair of trekking trousers
1 warm padded jacket
I always keep this one dry. It also works great as a pillow stuffing.
1 pair of waterproof trousers
1 pair of base layers
I wear the bottom under my waterproof trousers on rainy days and sleep in the whole outfit. I use vegan-friendly synthetic baselayers by Helly Hansen: top & bottom – it’s not as warm as Merino wool, but it’s enough for Scottish summers.
1 pair of hiking boots
Make sure you walk them in in advance to minimise the risk of blisters!
1 pair of camp shoes
I always bring light-weight trainers to change into. Alternatively, you could bring trekking sandals.
2 Buffs + 1 pair of gloves
I use one buff on my head or neck, and the other to create a pillow at night.
4 pairs of socks
2 for hiking – I use these vegan-friendly socks; 1 for camp, 1 for bed, which I never wear outside & keep dry.
Underpants + 2 sports bras
How many pants depends on how long I walk – no more than 5; I use 1 bra for hiking, 1 for camp.
Maps + a small compass
Particularly when you hike without a guide and along a trail that is not well-marked. Know how to use them!
Camera, spare batteries + SD cards
I always hike with my Canon M3 – the image quality is great, but it’s small and lightweight!
A strong power bank to charge your devices
If you’re wild-camping throughout your trip you could also invest in a solar power bank.
A few pieces of paper and a pen for notes
To store your maps & guidebook, electronic devices and other things that need to stay dry.
1 roll of toilet paper + matches in a waterproof pouch
A small trowel
To leave no trace and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
A sleeping mask
If you hike in northern regions where it gets dark quite late and you have issues sleeping.
Podcasts on your phone
My favourites are She Explores, Women on the Road and Call your Girlfriend.
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Toiletries & First Aid
Bio-degradable camping soap
This is usually multi-purpose – for your body, hair, dishes and laundry.
Deodorant powder or balm
It’s not essential, but a luxury I’m prepared to carry extra weight for.
Hairbrush or comb
Toothbrush and toothpaste
I use an eco-friendly bamboo toothbrush and tooth tabs with fluoride
Especially when you’re wild-camping and don’t have access to a shower.
Insect repellant + Tiger Balm
In Scotland, I use Smidge. The Tiger Balm really helps with the itch.
Tweezers, nail clipper & tick remover
Spare hair ties (if you have long hair)
Hand disinfecting gel
1 quick-dry travel towel
Full first aid kit & plenty of blister plasters
Voltarol for pain relief (Penetrex in the US)
Ibuprofen (painkiller & anti-inflammation)
Bepanthen (wound healing)
2 freeze-dried meals per day
If I can stock up on the way, I only carry one for dinner and get rolls, hummus, veg & fruit for lunches.
Homemade muesli mix with coconut milk powder
With the milk powder mixed in, I can prepare my porridge with hot water and it still tastes nice.
I bring 1-2 per day – they are vegan-friendly and high in protein.
Nuts + dried fruit for snacks
1 hip flask with whisky
Plenty of coffee, tea & sugar
Wonder how I plan my hiking trips? Check out my step-by-step guide for planning a hiking holiday in Scotland.
How to Pack your Backpack for Long-Distance Hiking
What to bring is one issue – but how do you pack everything in your bag efficiently? Packing for long-distance hiking is actually quite different to packing for backpacking or traveling – here are a few of my top tips:
The Rule of Three
From the West Highland Way, I was already familiar with the rule of three. Photography has the rule of thirds, trekking has the rule of three, which means that you don’t take more than three pieces of the same item. If you carry three pairs of socks, you can wear one during the day, change into the second pair in camp and the third you could have washed in the morning and left dangling off your backpack all day to dry. The same counts for t-shirts or underwear!
When you’re long-distance hiking, you will have to un- and re-pack your backpack pretty much every day. There are several ways to arrange your things in your backpack and many websites will tell you that it’s best to pack the heaviest things close to your back. For long-distance hiking or trekking, however, when you need to access a variety of things throughout the day, it is best to pack in access levels, regardless of an item’s weight.
At the bottom of my backpack, I packed the things I only needed to take out in the evening – the tent, my sleeping system and my spare clothes. Further up came items like my freeze-dried meals, lunchbox and storage of snacks. Next, I packed my stove, storage of tea, toilet paper, a camera bag and a little bag of “warm clothes” (down jacket & gloves). I had the snacks I wanted to eat during the day on quick access in the top pocket of my backpack, as well as my toiletry/first aid bag, sun lotion, midge spray, spoon, whisky flask and paper for notes. These were the things I most likely needed even in short breaks.
The most needed items I packed in the outer bags of my backpack, so that I could access them without opening the backpack or even without taking it off and asking someone else for help: water bottles & cup, trekking poles, knife, head torch, rain jacket, waterproof trousers, camp shoes and rain cover for the backpack.
The Importance of Straps
The rule of thumb is that you can carry around 1/3 of your own bodyweight without bigger issues, but be aware that the added weight will put more pressure on your feet. Your shoes might hurt in spots where they usually don’t cause problems, just because your feet have to deal with a lot more weight than normal. The same counts for your back and shoulders. Make sure you adjust your straps and hip belt so that you carry most of the weight on your hips rather than your shoulders.
Even though my backpack felt heavy – 17kg after all! – I felt good carrying all my life with me on my back. After a day or so of adjusting access priorities, I was comfortable with my own packing system and got ready faster in the morning. By the end of the trek, I was confident that I had found a system that worked for me and will happily apply my own tips again the next time I’m long-distance hiking!
Have you ever gone long-distance hiking? Did I forget to mention any essential tools or pieces of equipment that are a must for you? Would love to hear your packing tips for long-distance hiking in the comments!
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51 thoughts on “How and what to Pack for Long-Distance Hiking and Trekking”
Hey thanks for this list and have found it super helpful! I’m wondering if you can recommend any brands of bio-degradeable multi use camping soaps?
I’m glad to hear it’s helpful! I tend to just walk into an outdoor shop and get whatever brand they’ve got there 😊
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Hey, I am going to be doing my first ever major hike this summer (1000km) don’t suppose you would have any advice that would help a beginner prepare physically and mentally for a journey like that?
Hi Philip, the best advice I was ever given is to train by doing the same activity that you’re preparing for – i.e. walking long distances and introducing your backpack on your walks, filling it more every time, so your back and legs can adjust to the additional weight. I think this will help with both physical and mental prep. You could also think about a comfort you can bring with you on the trail with you – for me it was podcasts (nice because it’s light-weight) and sending myself a fresh set of clothes to the end point so I didn’t have to wear my hiking gear on the journey home. Happy trails!
Great list! I am walking the Marlborough-Warminster section of the Wessex Ridgeway next week (incl a couple of sneaky wildcamps) .
Great list thanks! I am a list ticker. Completely lost without it. I am using this for my next hiking trip. It is very useful.
Great article. I like external frame packs and will usually grab one instead of my Osprey but it is certainly enlightening to read why i am the only one on the trail with one. Getting hard to buy an external frame anymore. Prediction – external frames will make a come back some day. Will require some original thinking ala Elon Musk but it will be in the next 20 years.
great list for backpackers
I replaced a self inflating thermarest about that weight. I was looking at replcing it with the Thermarest NeoAir XLite. When trying it out at REI, I discovered that it makes a crinkling sound when I moved around on it.
I ended up with the REI Flash. It’s quiet, just 1 pound, and rolls up into a relatively small package. Plus it was cheaper and only an ounce heavier than the Thermarest.
With an R-value of 3.2, you’ll need an extra foam if you sleep on snow, but for regular ground it should be OK. So far I think it’s comfortable, but only have 2 nights on it at this point.
I still remember bag packing for my first hike. I did pack lots of unnecessary things like lots of change clothes, alot of foods and yeah alot of medicines too, which only added weight. Well, we all learn from mistakes and now, i only carry a change clothe, chocolates, few medicines, glucose, etc.
Enjoyed your very useful article. Walking the Cateran Trail at the end of April and Wainwright’s Coast to Coast over 13 nights from 22nd May. Have all items on your list (including the essential hipflask) but trying to keep it under 14kgs. Have completed 3 West Highlands, a Great Glen and a Speyside but this is first time carrying all my kit. Should be fun . . . I hope!
Aw that sounds amazing – have a fantastic trip!!
Thanks for useful list of things to pack hoping to walk the length of Hadrian’s wall this summer with my daughter one off my bucket list. First long distance walk taken on but I know if I don’t get started this year time slips away. Want to walk the south coast pat soon as well
Hi Steve, I’m excited for you – long-distance hikes are such a great experience! All the best for your hike!
Many thanks for your kit list. I have based mine on your suggestions and just adapted to suit the walk I’m doing. My plan is to walk the South West Coast Path, starting in January, COVID permitting. This list has been incredibly useful. You’re right, Scotland is beautiful and hope to get there again one day soon.
Many thanks Andy
Hi Andy, so glad to hear you found this resource useful! All the best for your walk – what an exciting adventure to embark on in the new year. Hope the new restrictions don’t affect your walk too much. All the best, Kathi
An invaluable article thank you. I, next March 2021 am walking around Wales following Offa’s Dyke then the complete Wales coastal path in one go… i shall take all your advice on board.
Oh brilliant, what a challenge! Hope you find my packing tips useful!!
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Great post, really enjoyed reading it. The only other item I have is sunglasses and zinc tape :). I walked the WHW as part of my load carry in 2006 and really enjoy it (only downside was the other 1200 miles but hayho lol)
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Firstly thanks for this site, its so inspiring . Keep up the good work.
Have you had any experience of ticks on your travels. My daughter (10) and I are off for a 4 day trek over Dartmoor this summer but we have heard that there are issues with ticks and possible lymes disease :(. Just wondered what precautions you took to over these little vampires
I’ve not had many ticks in Scotland myself – luckily – but they are quite common, especially if you plan to do walking in woodland areas and high grass. I recommend bringing a tick removal tool to remove them safely. You should be able to pick one up in a pharmacy! Wearing long-sleeve shirts and trousers, especially when you sit down for breaks and such, can keep the ticks away. They generally try to find a well-protected, dark spot where they are hard to find (back of the knee, armpits etc.), so make sure you check yourselves regularly.
I’ve never had an experience with Lyme disease – the majority of ticks are not infected. The NHS has a useful section about symptoms to look out for: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lyme-disease/. If you show any, speak to your doctor and they will prescribe the necessary treatment. As I said, it’s luckily very uncommon!
Hope you have a great trip to Scotland! Kathi
I stopped reading at “vegan-friendly synthetic baselayers.”
I promise it would not have harmed you to read on. I happen to be vegan and thus recommend hiking equipment options that are free from animal products. But everyone can use them – that’s the beauty of it!
I love this list- just what I need as a first-time hiker 🙂
This article is a good read, I am preparing to walk the Brecon s way in a couple of weeks time. It going to be the first long distance hike on my own. I am planning on taking a sawyer water filter as well, would you recommend these?
I think it won’t hurt to have one when you’re out by yourself. I have an MSR filter, but it was between that and a Sawyer. Can’t remember why I went with one over the other – I’m sure they’re both great! Have a great hike!
Thank you for this post! I did the Walker’s Haute Route last summer (Chamonix-Zermatt) relying on mountain huts for food and shelter, but now looking into doing more independent hikes carrying food, tent and sleeping bag, and your page is very helpful!
Hi Krissy, thanks for taking the time to comment! It’s definitely a big step to carry camping equipment on top of everything else – a lot more weight. Enjoy giving it a go!!
Some great tips for Backpacking, many thanks.
Walking the NC500 on 1st April this year, 24 days and back packing it.
So it was good to see your suggested items to carry.
Hi Graham, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! Sounds like an amazing adventure! I’m doing the NC500 too next month – but we’re driving it 🙂 Have a fantastic trip!
This post is unreal! I was just thinking today if there are any alternatives to toothpaste tubes and then came across this while looking for a packing list and have the answer! I’ve recently turned vegan too so was wondering what I could take for food on long trips. Where do you get coconut milk powder from? And the freeze packs? I’m thinking of doing the coast to coast while camping next week . . . Should be nice and quiet this time of year haha!
Hey Karl, thanks for reading the article and commenting your question! I bought the coconut milk powder on Amazon – definitely not the most ethical choice, but it’s a large pack and lasts for a really long time. I bought some of the freeze-dried meals in local outdoor shops, but had to order additional brands on Amazon as well – unfortunately, there is not a lot of choice that is available in the UK. I found a lot more vegan-friendly brands available in the US, but shipping costs were outrageous. You could also dehydrate food yourself either with an actual dehydrator or simply on a very low temperature in the oven – I’ve not attempted that one yet. I also like packing couscous because it’s quick to make and easy to combine with a variety of ingredients, or pot noodles for the same reason. I hope this helps and that you have a wonderful hiking trip! Cheers, Kathi
I always add a beanie. In the night you’ll lose most of your warmth through your head. I also add a small inflatable cushion. It’s the only luxe thing I give myself. Your nights of sleep are important!
Furthermore, gaiters could also be an interesting thing.
Anyway, your blog is well written. (I just ended up here because you’ve the same Fjall Raven backpack, tho mine’s is 55L :), and after certain hikes in Sweden in Germany, I wished I’d bought a smaller one, like 48L or something.)
Wow I couldn’t imagine fitting everything for a multiple day trek into a smaller backpack – well done!! I usually pull my buff over my head when I get too cold, so one item less to wear and I make a pillow by stuffing my soft fleece with my puffy jacket. Agree with gaiters, especially during the spring when there is more water coming down from the hills. I’m going on a 2 week trek later this year and will train to refine this packing list to its best!!
Great information for long-distance hikers. Thanks for your valuable inputs.
Such a great post! I’ve done some bigger hikes this year and your advice is spot on!
Thanks, good to read someone elses and see what you take/don’t take!
Ah this is so useful! I always forget things when I go hiking- especially stupid things like blister plasters… thank you 🙂
Aw, blister plasters are a bad one to forget! Hope the list helps in the future – most of these tip you can use on any hike, whether long-distance or not!
Oh what a list! Why didn’t I read this before my U.S trip which I’m currently on now? It was so hard to pack for heat, rain and desert + national park which is freezing at night. I guess I’m about to find out – fingers crossed!
It’s so tricky to pack for different climates in one trip – sounds like an amazing journey though, hope it’s going well! Thanks for your comment – I hope you get to use the list some time later 😀
Wow! Thank you for writing and sharing such a thorough post about packing for a long distance hiking trip. It really sounds and looks like one incredible experience. It was really interesting to learn about the rule of 3. I’m definitely saving this post for the future!
Yeah, the rule of 3 really helps you not to overpack and at the same time not to get into a situation where you have to wear wet or dirty clothes! Have you ever hiked for an extended time yourself?
Essential list for long distance-hiking. Unfortunately, I can’t go for a long-distance hiking or trekking because I can’t carry huge weight for a long while. 🙁
Maybe you can still go – you just need to find trails where you can book luggage transfer, so that all you need to carry during the day is your packed lunch and some additional clothes to put on during breaks! The West Highland Way in Scotland is a great place to start long-distance hiking without the necessity of having to carry everything yourself 🙂 Hope you don’t give up just yet!