Gear Loadout 101: What You Should Bring On A Multi-Day Hike

For those who want to experience a true backcountry hiking adventure, but aren’t ready for or able to thru-hike, a 3- to 5-day hiking trip is a great alternative. In fact, hiking trips of this length are probably the most popular.

When you are planning a multi-day hike, there are several variables that could affect how much and what kind of gear you will pack and load out. Weather, terrain, and overall preferences for comfort and convenience will influence your gear packing list.

Regardless of what you choose to bring on your multi-day hike, there are some things that you should bring no matter what. Sometimes you will hear these items referred to as “The Ten Essentials of Hiking.”

  1. Shelter: For a multi-day hike, you’ll want a tent that can protect you from bad weather or a reliable hammock system.
  2. Food: You will want to bring 6 to 10 pounds of food for a multi-day hike.
  3. Water: You will not be able to pack enough water for 3 to 5 days; a water storage and filter system will be needed.
  4. Clothing: Even in the summer, you will want to bring clothing to protect against the cold or unexpected weather.
  5. Fire: Even if you do not choose to have a fire, bringing a fire-starting kit is a good idea.
  6. First Aid: The longer the hike, the more beat up your body will be – bring blister treatment.
  7. Knife: Your Swiss Army knife will be a great tool on a multi-day hike
  8. Sun Protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and clothing
  9. Navigation: Map (including paper) compass, GPS
  10. Headlamp: Don’t forget extra batteries

A 3- to 5-day trip will require you bring more than you are used to – at least in the form of food and clothing. If you want to hike as light as you can, you’ll need to cut out some weight and pack only the essentials. If, however, you are willing to carry a heavier load in order to add some creature comforts, consider some of the following luxury items:

  • Trekking Poles: Many hikers consider poles an essential item. They are very helpful, especially on hikes with severe elevation changes.
  • Insulated Butt Pad or Lightweight Stool: Let’s face it – sitting on something nice and soft at the end of a long hike is much better than a log, rock, or wet ground!
  • Inflatable Pillow: Hardly a bother given how light and packable they are, inflatable or camp pillows aren’t a necessity.
  • Extra Cooking Gear: You can get along just fine with a titanium mug and spork for all your eating needs, but you may want to bring an extra pot.
  • Camp Shoes/Slippers/Booties: Some people just keep wearing their boots, some go barefoot. But if want, you can really treat your feet right at the end of the day.
  • Binoculars: Could add some decent weight if you are not careful, but sometimes you want to spot as much wildlife and scenery as possible.

What Should You Always Bring On A Multi-Day Hike


Just as you wouldn’t go on an overnight camping trip without shelter, you’ll surely need either your tent or hammock for a multi-day hike. While I prefer a hammock system, you really can’t go wrong with a tent, either. You will want a lightweight tent that does not become a major burden on your multi-day hike.

Our Favorite Ultralight Backpacking Tent: The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL. (Link to Amazon) Weighing only 1lb 11oz, this tent is free-standing and its rainfly is fully waterproof.

Our Favorite Hammock System: Easthills Outdoor Jungle Explorer. (Link to Amazon) This hammock, which comes with a rainfly, mosquito net, and a full suspension system, comes in at 2lb 4 oz.


Generally speaking, you will want to carry about 2lbs of food for each day that you hike. If you are good at finding foods that are more calorie-dense, you can cut down on this amount.

Another good rule of thumb is to pack an extra day’s worth of food, in case you are delayed by weather, injury, or losing your way. You may consider packing items that don’t require cooking and that can last for a while.

Here are some meal ideas I’ve always enjoyed:


Lunch and Dinner

  • Summer Sausage with a bagel and spreadable cheese. This is always a favorite of mine.
  • Tuna Creations Packets (Amazon Link) – LOTS of protein in a small, lightweight package
  • Ramen Noodles with freeze-dried meat
  • Knorr Rice (Amazon Link) Add meat if you can
  • Instant Mashed Potatoes: Lots of calories; tastes even better with added meat


  • Trail Mix (Amazon Link) I prefer healthier options, with just nuts and dried fruit, so I pack my own.
  • Pop Tarts – My go-to sweet treat on hiking trips. I try to avoid sugar, but I’ll always have some Pop Tarts in my pack.
  • Protein Bars – I love RXBARS. That is all.
  • Energy Chews – A little more sugar than I like, but you can suck on these during the hike and they just seem to help your morale.

If you want to skip preparing your meals, you can always take along freeze-dried meals that offer a good amount of calories and don’t take up much space or weight. I’d recommend Peak Refuel meals (Amazon Link).


You should always have the means to carry enough water to keep you hydrated. You should always have a means of treating water, regardless of the length of your trip. You can carry a filter, purification tablets, or a stove for melting snow. Most people need about a half liter per hour during moderate activity in moderate temperatures.

My go-to water filter is the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System (Amazon Link). You can screw this onto the top of a Smart Water Bottle and it instantly becomes a 1L water bottle. The Sawyer also has a good flow rate, meaning the water filters quickly and doesn’t just drip out of the filter.


Weather conditions can change quickly; having some level of protection against extreme weather is vital. For example, even during a summer trip, you should consider a lightweight down jacket and a rain coat. This will protect you against a rogue rainstorm or extremely cold nights that can occur.

One rule that must not be forgotten: NO COTTON!

At the very minimum, here’s a list of clothing you should bring with you on a multi-day hike:

  • Warm Jacket – Puffy jackets can be very lightweight but provide warmth – day or night. Colombia’s Voodoo Falls 590 Jacket is a good option. (Amazon Link)
  • Baselayer Top and Bottom – I like to wear synthetic, moisture-wicking baselayer when I go to sleep and early in the morning.
  • Long-sleeve shirt – One that can wick moisture, let you roll up your sleeves, and help repel sun is a good option. The Columbia Silver Ridge shirt is a great option (Amazon Link).
  • Convertible Hiking Pants – I love convertible pants – sometimes you want to wear shorts, sometimes you need pants. The Columbia Silver Ridge pants do the trick. (Amazon Link)
  • Buff Neck Gaiter – A must-have for any hike. Works as a gaiter, a hat, and more. (Amazon Link)
  • Merino Wool Socks – You can get low-cut socks to keep you cool in the summer and warm at night. (Amazon Link)
  • Beanie – I love to wear a beanie at night to keep my bald head warm at night.
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes – I’ve offered my recommendations for hiking boots and shoes HERE.


Many trips will not require that you start a fire, but, in case of an emergency, you need to be able to start and maintain a fire. The simple solution is a simple butane lighter, but waterproof matches stored in a waterproof container can do the trick as well.

You should also carry a firestarter, which is excellent in wet conditions. The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Options include cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly, and even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer.

First Aid

Be sure to know how to use the items in a first-aid kit. You can purchase small hiking first aid kits (Amazon Link) that make putting together any treatment relatively simple, but over time you will need to replace items with your own.

All kits should include treatment for blisters, bandages of various sizes, gauze pads, tape, over-the-counter pain medication, and a pen and paper.


Knives are great for a number of reasons, including to repair gear, assist with first aid, or prepare food. While a basic knife is a handy tool, a Swiss-Army knife or multi-tool are still very small and lightweight and offer more options to help in different scenarios.

Sun Protection

You should always, even in the winter, have protection from the sun available to you during your hikes. Suffering sunburn or eye injuries from the sun isn’t just annoying – it can be dangerous. You should use three tools to protect yourself from the sun:

  • Sunglasses: Make sure to bring sunglasses that block 100 percent of ultraviolet light. If you are hiking in the winter, bring glacier glasses, which provide extra protection.
  • Sunscreen: SPF 30 is recommended for most outdoor activities, and is a good piece of gear to have available to you. You can purchase either lotion, spray, or a roll-on stick similar to deodorant. Don’t forget about lip balm as well.
  • Protective Clothing: Many outdoor clothes now offer protection from UV light – they make great protection for hikers. Always consider a hat, long-sleeve shirts, and pants for your hikes, even in hot weather. I also recommend a Buff scarf – noted above.


There are five tools or parts to a full, robust navigation system:

  • Map: A topographic map – preferably a paper one that is not subject to the battery of an electronic device such as a phone – is an important part of any hike. Study it before your hiking trip to know exactly where to camp, where water sources might be, and where you need to be aware of tricky paths that might take you off the trail.
  • Compass: If you ever become lost on a hike, you will want to know how to use a compass, along with your map. Your smartphone or GPS device should have a compass on it, but you should also carry a physical compass that, again, is not subject to batteries.
  • GPS device: You can always use the GPS on your smartphone to help you find your location on a digital map. However, if you use your smartphone you will need to monitor your batteries often. Getting a separate GPS device is often a good idea, as most are designed for outdoor use and are weatherproof and durable. Whichever option you choose – bring batteries or a charger. 
  • Altimeter watch: An altimeter watch uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and/or GPS data to estimate your elevation. This info helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.
  • Personal locator beacon: This device can alert emergency personnel if you become lost or need help on your hike. These devices, when activated, use GPS positioning to locate you and alert emergency personnel.


Hiking at night is never fun, and most hikers try to avoid it as much as possible. However, if you are forced to do so, a headlamp is essential. Likewise, if your day runs long and you set up camp in the dark, having a headlamp that keeps your hands free to set up your tent or cook dinner is essential.

I would recommend the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp. (Amazon Link)

Extra Gear That Could Make Your Hike Even Better

Trekking Poles

Hiking poles help propel you forward, and also provide control and stability going up and down steep hills. They also help reduce impact on your lower body. Finally, they provide extra traction on loose and slippery terrain.

You can purchase the Hiking Hunger Carbon Hiking Poles HERE.

Insulated Butt Pad or Lightweight Chair

It’s a great feeling to sit down to eat lunch or at then end of a hike and just relax. What’s not so great, however, is sitting on a hard rock, or on the wet ground.

That’s why an insulated sitting pad or chair is such a good item to bring on a hike. Weighing as little as 2 ounces, sitting pads take up almost no space and add virtually no weight to your pack.

You can purchase the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Cushion HERE.

You can get the Helinox Zero Ultralight Camping Chair HERE.

Inflatable Camping Pillow

An inflatable pillow is not something that every hiker carries in his or her pack. Some choose to sleep without a pillow, or use a coat or shirt as a pillow. However, an inflatable pillow can greatly improve your hiking experience.

Most hiking pillows are ultra lightweight, usually less than 3 oz. and when they deflate, they take up basically no room in your pack. So there’s really no added burden to bring a piece of gear that can help you sleep better, get more rest, and rejuvenate your body for the next day of hiking.

One of our favorites is the TREKOLOGY Ultralight Aluft 1.0, which you can find HERE.

Extra Cooking Gear

You may want to cook for more than just yourself, or you may have a meal that needs more cooking gear than a simple pot. If so, you can find plenty of camping mess kits that are lightweight packable.

Camp Shoes/Slippers/Booties

At the end of the day, you want to get out of your hiking boots and into something that lets your feet breathe. You may also want to have some booties to wear during the night to keep your feet warm.

The North Face Thermoball Traction Mule V is a great option.


Binoculars are a good piece of gear if you want to keep an eye out for wildlife or just get a more comprehensive view of your hike. The POLDR Small Binoculars weigh only .38 pounds, and don’t take up much space in your pack.


Multi-day hikes are a great way to experience back country adventure. To make sure you enjoy it to the fullest, make sure you pack appropriately. You’ll want to take the essentials with you, but also some other items that make you even more comfortable.

Happy Trails!

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