Fitting your house in a backpack: Packing for a long-term camping trip

What to bring, what to do without, and how to get by with less

By Jennifer & Steve

So, you’ve booked your tickets, mapped out some routes, and saved up for the big trip.  Now… what to pack???

You’ll have to carry everything on your back, so you want to keep it light while still being prepared for everything you might encounter- all types of weather, transportation, and activities. You need to keep your back in good shape, so to keep weight down you’ve got to be pretty picky as to what makes the cut.

After many nights camping all over the world, in many types of environments and cultures, we have polished our list of what we need. The things that are essential, that we can do without, that will last, and ways we can use items multi-functionally. Based on these many nights and learning experiences, we’ve put together Jenn and Steve’s list of what to bring for a long term camping trip.

Camping Essentials

We have found that if you pay a bit more upfront for quality gear it will most likely pay for itself by working better and lasting longer.  Be sure to thoroughly test out all gear before leaving to be sure everything works and that you know how to use it.

  1. Backpacking Pack (+ waterproof cover): You’re going to need a sturdy pack (60-80l) to hold everything.  Lots of pockets and outside straps are great for organizing. You want to be able to get at what you need when you need it, rather than stuffing everything into the same compartment and having to go through it all every time you need an item.  We both use the MEC Ibex 80L, and it has held up through many, many rough journeys.

    100115 Digital Camera 695
    Jenn’s pack in action near Mt. Hua Shan, China
  2. Tent: We are travelling with a Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2.0, a 2 person, super light-weight and compact 3 season tent.  It’s easy to set up, durable, and comes with 2 vestibules/entrances so we each have space to store our bags and don’t have to crawl over each other when you have to pee in the middle of the night.

    Among giants in Northern California
  3. Day Pack (+waterproof cover): A day pack is necessary for side trips where you don’t have/need to lug your giant pack around.  Get one that can fold up (no hard frame) for easier packing into your big pack.
  4. Sleeping Pad: Modern inflatable pads are the best. They take up much less space in/on your pack, weigh less, and happen to be much more comfortable…which you will appreciate after many nights in your portable home! We both use the MEC Reactor 3.8 sleeping pad, and has done the trick for all weather and terrain.

    100115 Digital Camera 584
    Jenn’s pack in action near Mt. Hua Shan, China
  5. Sleeping Bag: Silk sleeping bag? Down? Synthetic? Your sleeping bag might be the most important item you are bringing; it is your last line of defense against the cold and wet in a survival situation.  Choose something that is going to work at least 10 degrees below your lowest expected temperature. Also, if you are travelling with a pal, check and see if your seeping bags will zip together, this adds much warmth.
  6. Headlamp: Ye olde handheld torch has seen it’s day. Get a headlamp!

    After a long night of rain in Cederberg National Park, South Africa
  7. Stove: We use a super reliable MSR Pocketrocket stove that we picked up in Capetown a few years back, a stove that has been there for us time and time again. It uses compressed gas canisters that you cannot fly with, so you need to be careful to pick them up when and where they are available. Our experience suggests that that you should be able to find them in most large cities. This stove was brought along on our Asia trip as a backup; the intention was to use the MSR Dragonfly as our main stove. Unfortunately it malfunctioned after just three uses in Mongolia and we could not get it working properly again, leaving us scrounging for firewood until we got to Ulaanbaatar where we could by a gas canister for our backup.  Always have extra lighters and matches. A windscreen is light and also worth lugging around.

    100115 Digital Camera 713
    The usual stove setup for breakfasts and suppers while camping
  8. Cooking Pots/Utensils: We travel with two lightweight MSR pots with lids that fit into one another to save space (a 1L and a 2L), 2 sets of chopsticks, 2 spoons, and 1 potholder.  You could save on space and share cutlery and pots, but after traveling together for many months it is nice to have your own bowl to eat out of…
  9. Hydration Pack: These things are great!  When you are doing lots of hiking, it makes it a lot easier to hydrate on the go.  We use 3L hydration packs (Osprey Brand), and they allow us to take enough water (for drinking and cooking) for a full day of hiking.  They are also collapsible to do not take up much space when you do not need the full 3L.
  10. Waterbottle: Bring a durable 0.5 to 1L waterbottle or thermos for day trips and/or juices or teas that you do not want to put in your hydration pack.  Insulated is handy but heavier.
  11. Large Plastic Bag: Plastic bags are light and take up very little room, and have many potential uses when you are traveling and camping, from laundry bag, to pack cover, to tent patch cover in emergency situations.

    Plastic Bag
    An emergency haven from the rain after a soggy wet day
  12. Water Purification Drops/Tablets: Either work great; again, make sure you know how to use the drops and or tablets.  We prefer the Pristine ClO2 30ml Water Treatment drop system, but also carry Iodine tablets as back up.  Boiling is also a backup method for purifying water if you run out of drops or tablets.
  13. First Aid Kit: You can buy a pre-made first aid kit at most outdoor stores, but we would highly recommend building your own based on your individual needs.  Here is what is in ours: bandages, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, pads, medical tape, emergency blanket, Polysporin, tweezers, and various medication: tylenol, general antibiotics, immodium, gravol, anti-histamines, and advil.
  14. Travel Guide/Maps: These are obviously essential when hiking and camping in any location.  Lonely Planet was our go-to for all of China, where you could not rely on the internet, and online maps in English did not exist.  In other countries we have been able to use the internet more.  Also, the app is great for being able to track where you are without a sim card, and its free!  If you are traveling with portable devices you can usually download e-books, which save on weight, but these are no good if you run out of battery life.
  15. Knife: A pocket knife will have infinite uses while traveling/hiking/camping.  Invest in a good one and be careful where it is packed when going through security for planes, trains, etc.  We hide ours in the two metal pots for trains and it avoids detection
  16. Rope or Twine: Bring a couple of meters of lightweight rope or twine.  Again, this can have may uses for emergency situations, from making a clothesline to having extra ties to hold your tent down on a windy night.
  17. Duct Tape: Don’t bring the whole roll; instead wrap some strands around your waterbottle to have ready for emergencies.
  18. Towel: The light-weight camping ones are great for packing up small and drying quickly; you don’t want to be lugging around a soggy wet towel!
  19. Basic Sewing Kit: Just a couple of needles, some thread, and safety pins will be all you need to fix most rips and tears that you are sure to acquire along your travel.
  20. Laundry Detergent: You can buy small bags of detergent from most corner shops around the world.  Stock up as you go.


Researching the climate(s) you will be dealing with is an essential first step; packing for West Africa is clearly going to be different than the mountains of Nepal. If you will be travelling though multiple climates, consider opportunities to purchase clothing or gear along the way. Clothing you no longer need you can give away or send home. For safety reasons, always be prepared for the worst, and the worst can be a very different scenario depending on where you are. This being said, there are some universal rules that apply no matter where you will be:

  • Avoid cotton! Cotton is heavy, bulky, slow to dry, and most importantly does not insulate when wet. Wool (yes, even in warm climates) and quick-dry synthetics are best.
  • It is easy to overpack clothes, keep in mind you can hand wash clothing every day if you need to.
  • Pack to be warm, dry, and remember it’s OK to be stinky now and then
  1. Rain Coat & Pants

    Showing off the rain gear after a soggy hike to a Buddhist temple
  2. Fleece
  3. 3 T shirts
  4. 1 Long Sleeve
  5. 1 Pair Of Pants
  6. 1 Pair Of Shorts
  7. 5 Pairs Of Socks
  8. 6 Pairs of Underwear
  9. 4 Bras
  10. Bathing Suit
  11. Sari
  12. Baseball Cap
  13. Bandana or Buff
  14. Sunglasses
  15. Hiking Boots
  16. Running Shoes
  17. Sandals

*Add to/swap out the above items for warmer ones if expecting temperatures below 15 degrees C.


  1. Toothpaste, toothbrush (with cover), and floss
  2. Shampoo or Soap
  3. Deoderant
  4. Hair Bush:  Or, just cut your hair off for easier management while traveling:)
  5. Eyewear (e.g., glasses/contacts) & Any medications/travel medications (e.g. malaria pills)
  6. Wet Wipes: Lighter than hand sanitizer and great for cleaning up when there’s no clean water

100115 Digital Camera 575
Cleaning up after a dusty day of hitch hiking in Qinghai, China


  1. Camera
  2. Books
  3. Cell Phone
  4. Journal/notebook
  5. Guitelele (Great travel-size guitar)
  6. Cards
  7. mp3 player

Photographing reindeer


  1. Passport with visas for the countries you will be visiting if required
  2. Immunization Record/Yellow Fever Certificate
  3. Bank Cards
  4. Drivers Licence/International Drivers License
  5. Photocopy of all important documents (keep separate)
  6. Extra passport photos for visas, permits, etc.


Things to Live Without/Improvise

  1. Pillow: This will take up unnecessary space; instead fill your sleeping bag or mattress cover with clothes for a makeshift and comfy pillow
  2. Beauty Products: Hairdryer, nail polish, makeup.  You can survive without them so don’t bring them.  Your pack will be heavy enough as it is and any beautifying product will be sweated off/smeared with dirt… and isn’t being dirty one of the best parts of camping anyway!
  3. Non-essential Cooking Items: Egg holders, coffee filters, frying pans etc. are nice to have when you are car camping, but are not worth their extra weight when backpacking.  It is better to stick to meals you can boil in a pot and get other foods that you cannot make when you are eating out.  Be creative and and find that  ways to improvise – crack the eggs into a wide-mouth water bottle or hard boil them for eggs on the go;or make ‘camping coffee’ by adding the coffee grounds directly to the boiling water (after the water and grounds have boiled, let it sit for about five minutes to let he coffee grounds sink to the bottom and pour off the top and presto – you have deliciously strong coffee without the filter or french press).
  4. Fuel: Camping fuel cannot be taken on your checked baggage or carry on baggage for flights for obvious reasons.  Buy fuel canisters on arrival and stock up as you go in large cities.


Now, cram it all into that shiny new (or old and dirty pack of yours:)  Good luck and happy travels!


Also, if you have any other ideas for what to bring or how to use something multi-functionally, feel free to comment – we can always use new ideas!


4 thoughts on “Fitting your house in a backpack: Packing for a long-term camping trip

  1. Noticed one thing missing from your list that I always like to bring along… Food 🙂

    On a more helpful note, you can drink that coffee sooner if you use a little cold water to settle the grounds. Once the coffee is ready just add a small amount of cold water carefully to the top of the pot. That cold water will sink taking most of the grounds with it. Then you can pour from the top without waiting.


  2. It’s OK to be stinky is it? I guess if everyone is stinky at the same time…..:). Awesome information…Hmmm, Your Dad and I should take up backpacking and hiking Stephen..What do you think? Hugs Ma


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