How to Pack Clothes for Backpacking

Heading off on a backpacking trip? Exciting! But the struggle to cram everything into your backpack can be a real challenge. If you're not a pro packer, you might end up leaving behind stuff you really need. Don't worry, though. Packing your clothes the right way can save the day. Here's a must-have guide for trail runners.

What You Need to Pack for Backpacking


packed backpack with different items
Credit: Envato Elements/ FabrikaPhoto

Here's what you need to pack for your backpacking trip:


  • Quick-dry underwear and socks
  • Moisture-wicking T-shirt
  • Long-sleeve shirts (for hot weather and insects)
  • Hiking pants and shorts
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Rain gear like rain pants and rain jackets (for monsoons)
  • Warm jacket or fleece (for cooler temperatures)
  • Warm sleeping clothes
  • Hat for sun protection
  • Hiking socks
  • Beanie, warm hat and gloves (in cold weather)


  • Sturdy hiking boots or shoes
  • Sandals or lightweight shoes (for campsites)


  • Backpack (with a rain cover)
  • Sleeping bag (suitable for the climate)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent (check for stakes and rainfly)
  • Headlamp (with extra batteries)

Cooking and Food Supplies:

  • Portable stove and fuel
  • Lighter or matches
  • Cooking pot
  • Eating utensils and dishware
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Food and snacks (consider non-perishable and easy-to-cook options)
  • Water bottles and water treatment supplies

Navigation and Tools:

  • Map and compass (or a GPS device)
  • Multi-tool
  • Itinerary left with a friend or family member

Health and Hygiene:

  • First aid kit
  • Personal medications
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Insect repellent
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper and a trowel (for burying human waste)


  • Camera or smartphone
  • Portable power bank
  • Lightweight towel
  • Trash bags (to pack out trash)
  • Weather-appropriate gear (e.g., rain cover, extra insulation)

What Do You Need to Keep in Mind When Packing for a Backpacking Trip?

Now that you have a list of all the things you need for backpacking, but you still haven't quite figured out how to pack everything. Here are some packing tips to keep in mind:

1) Choose the Right Clothes


clothes being packed into a backpack
Credit: Envato Elements/ LightFieldStudios

When packing for a backpacking trip, start by selecting the appropriate clothing. Aim for versatile, lightweight, and durable items that can handle the wear and tear of travel. Focus on fabrics that dry quickly and maintain their insulation even when wet, like synthetics or merino wool. Avoid cotton as it takes a long time to dry and doesn't insulate well when damp.

2) Prioritize Essentials


packed backpack with shoes at the side
Credit: Envato Elements/ FabrikaPhoto

Start by listing everything you think you might need, then refine this list to essential items only. This helps prevent overpacking and ensures you carry only what is necessary. Focus first on the basics: clothing, shelter, food, and safety gear. Don't forget to consider the weight and space of each item. Heavier and bulkier items should only make the cut if they're absolutely necessary.

3) Choose Multipurpose Items


woman packing backpack with different camping gear
Credit: Envato Elements/ davidpereiras

When packing, make sure to choose multipurpose items. For example, instead of packing separate casual and hiking shoes, choose one pair that is comfortable for walking but suitable for an evening out. Apply the same principle to clothing and gear. Also, be selective with electronics and other luxuries. A single device, like a smartphone, can serve as a camera, or map.

How to Pack Clothes for Backpacking


man packing jacket into a backpack
Credit: Envato Elements/ Rawpixel

Packing clothes efficiently in a backpack is essential for maximizing space and maintaining organization. Here’s how to do it:

  • Roll Your Clothes: Instead of folding, roll your clothes tightly. This minimizes wrinkles and saves space. Avoid using packing cubes for clothes as they might occupy a lot of space.
  • Layer Strategically: Place heavier, bulkier items at the bottom of your backpack to keep the weight stable and near your center of gravity. Lightweight items, like t-shirts and underwear, can go on top or be stuffed into remaining gaps to fill spaces.
  • Exploit the Perimeter: Use the edges and corners of your backpack for smaller items or additional rolled clothes. This utilizes every possible space and can help buffer delicate items in the center.
  • Consider Compression Bags: For longer trips, consider using compression bags for bulkier items like jackets or sweaters. These bags remove air and significantly reduce the volume of your clothes.
  • Keep Frequently Used Items Handy: Pack items that you’ll need more frequently (like a rain jacket or a swimsuit) on top or in an easily accessible pocket. This way you won't have to dig through your bag when you need these items.


What if I'm not sure if I should pack something?

When in doubt, leave it out! Prioritize essential items and focus on packing only what you truly need. Remember, you can always pick up or borrow items along the way if necessary.

What should I do with dirty clothes while backpacking?

Bring a separate bag or stuff sack for dirty laundry or wet clothing. Some backpacks have designated compartments for this purpose. Also, consider bringing travel-sized detergent for washing clothes on the go if needed.

How can I prevent my backpack from becoming too heavy?

Prioritize lightweight and multipurpose items, and be mindful of the weight and bulk of each item you pack. Consider leaving non-essential items behind and opt for travel-sized versions of toiletries and other supplies to save weight.


Packing clothes for backpacking can be easy! Just follow these tips to save space, stay neat, and be ready for any adventure. And don't forget to check out Emergency USA's camping emergency kit for added peace of mind on your journey!