A Backpacking Clothing List for Spring, Summer, and Fall

Over the past two weeks we've had quite a few folks come into the shop and tell us they were planning on embarking on their first backpacking trip this summer. Awesome! Backpacking is likely Rachel and my favorite outdoor activity to do together. There's nothing like trekking into remote locations and carving out our own slice of heaven for a few days in the wilderness.

During the conversations we've had in the shop, the question, "What should I pack"? has come up on more than one occasion. I decided to string together a series of blog posts about what I typically bring on a 3-day (2 night) trip in the spring, summer, or fall. Since this is one of the most common trips people take, I figured this list may be a good starting point for determining what clothing you need to bring on your own trip.

Here's the list, with brief descriptions and reasoning for each item:


  • 1 Short Sleeve T-Shirt (wool or synthetic/nylon wicking material): This is your base layer for regulating moisture and temperature. It doesn't need too much explanation. I personally avoid cotton completely. When cotton gets wet it stays wet for a very long time. Synthetics and wool dry quickly. If you haven't tried a wool T-shirt for backpacking, I can't recommend them enough... they are the best backpacking shirts in my opinion. They aren't cheap, so a synthetic/nylon wicking shirt is a great alternative.
  • 1 Long Sleeve Insulation Layer (fleece or wool sweater): I use a Patagonia R1 1/4 zip pull-over fleece. Avoid the hooded sweatshirt. The best options keep you warm even if they get wet (which is why fleece became popular in the first place). These are fantastic to throw on as the sun sets while you are cooking your evening meal.
  • 1 Waterproof Rain Jacket: I bring a rain jacket even if the forecast tells me to expect blue-bird sunny days. These shells are waterproof and windproof, and are fantastic for protection on cool windy evenings or during the unexpected deluge. They can also double as bug and sun protection aids, but they tend to get a little warm on really hot days, so in that case a long sleeve shirt may be a better option in those circumstances (see optional gear). Regardless, don't leave home without a rain jacket. Check out the Marmot Precip for a solid option.
  • 1 Pair Lightweight Pants (nylon is best): You need to protect yourself from the elements when you are backpacking and long lightweight nylon pants will help deflect water, dirt, sun, bugs, and most other nuisances that you may encounter. I usually bring the type of pants with the zip-off legs so they work as shorts in warm-weather situations as well. Check out Columbia or Eddie Bauer for a budget-friendly but high-quality option.
  • 2 Pairs of Wool Socks (Synthetic materials work well too): Wool is king in the footwear department. Wool socks wick moisture away from your foot keeping it dry and comfortable. This will help reduce blisters and hot-spots on your feet. Also, if they get soaked, they'll dry quickly. Bring two so you can wear one set while the others dry (put a damp pair of socks at the foot of your sleeping bag while you sleep, and you'll usually wake up to warm, dry socks). We sell point6 socks in our shop because they are our favorite, but companies like DarnTough and Woolridge have some great budget options as well.
  • 1 Hat or Bandana: Sun protection and bug protection are key (if you haven't noticed). Bring something to protect your dome.
  • Underwear (Nylon or wool again): Yes, they really do make merino wool underwear and it is amazing. Frankly, I bring 2 pairs for a two-night adventure. I wear one, and I have one to change into if I get wet or I just have that urge to put on clean skivvies. You may choose to bring more and that is fine by me, but try not to over-do-it. You can clean your used underwear on days when you change, and let them dry out on your tent, or strapped to your backpack.


  • Broken-in Boots or Supportive Shoes: You don't need to sink $160 bucks on a new pair of Merrell boots yet. For 3 days on the trail in most of Michigan, you should do fine if you have a comfortable and supportive pair of tennis shoes, trail shoes, light hiking boots, or something similar. Leave the Converse All-Stars at home, and find something that actually has some support for your feet. If you think you have "weak ankles" go with some type of boot with ankle support. If you want to go all-in on footwear and buy new shoes or boots, be sure to buy them early and break them in before you hit the trail. I recommend walking at least 10 miles in a new pair to test where those hot-spots might pop up and soften the new materials.
  • Comfy Sandals/Cook Shoes: It does feel nice to slip on a different pair of shoes after a long day on the trail. In addition to this, I've heard horror stories about backpacking feet injuries and they usually don't involve broken ankles or impaled feet. The stories usually include spilling boiling water onto and into a pair of hiking boots that are laced and strapped onto someones feet. As the foot is surrounded by boiling water, and you struggle to rip the boots off your feet, you'll wish you considered the sandal option. The result of all of this is typically a really bad time evacuating for definitive care (by foot). For this reason, I recommend bringing sandals with some toe protection that will allow spillage to leak through. One of the best (but heavier) options are Keen sandals. Another less expensive option are Crocs. I wear Chocos, but they don't provide toe protection from stray sticks and stones. That just means I try to be extra careful. If you go with exposed toe footwear, just remember your feet are one of your most important assets while backpacking.

Optional (Don't bring all of these...)

  • Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt (wool or synthetic): The long sleeve shirt is used for sun protection, bug protection, an extra layer of warmth, and as an alternative to the short sleeve shirt if the short sleeve shirt gets too wet or soiled. Again, my preference is wool here. Synthetics like nylon are far more accessible and less expensive than wool, so if you are just getting started find that nylon shirt hanging in your closet that you haven't worn in a while and bring it along for the adventure.
  • Lightweight Shorts (nylon): Lightweight soccer, basketball, or athletic shorts seem to work well here. They double as a bathing suit bottom for guys (and some gals). Shorter shorts are better because they are less weight and the style can't be beat.
  • Long-Underwear (synthetic or lightweight wool): I bring mine in situations where the evenings may get below 45 degrees. This keeps me cozy and warm in the tent, while cooking breakfast, or after a dip in the lake or river.
  • Rain Pants: It's like a rain jacket for your legs. What's not to like (besides the weight and lack of breathability)? Bring these if you are expecting lots of moisture on your trip. Don't replace your nylon pants with rain paints because the breathability difference will make you wish you hadn't.
  • Ultra-Light 800 Fill Down Jacket: I pack one of these because it is comfy, warm, doubles as a pillow, and is quite lightweight (typically less than one pound). I think it's worth having in my pack. It is an optional luxury.
  • Winter Beanie/Hat: Depending on the time of year and location a small, simple knit beanie or hat can be extremely helpful to get rid of a chill, or to provide that extra bit of warmth on cool evenings around the cookstove or in your sleeping bag.
  • Bathing Suit (Do not pack beach towels): If you plan on swimming a bathing suit is certainly an option. Find something that's relatively lightweight. Please do not pack a giant towel. I recommend a camping or backpacking shammy/towel with a button or clip attached to the corner. This allows you to clip it to the outside of your pack or tent so it can dry quickly. Another alternative is cutting a worn-out bathroom towel into much smaller pieces, or using something like a hand towel. Again, avoid cotton if you can.

That is about it for my list. What do you bring or recommend that I didn't mention? Have any other questions? Add your comments below.

My next post will focus on the other gear you'll want to consider. Check back next week for more info.

1 comment

  • Donna Moritz

    You enjoyed the trip. Thanks for sharing these pictures.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published