Beginning Backpacking Packing List for Cold Weather

Taking your family or a group of scouts on a beginning backpacking trip doesn’t have to break the bank if you use your resources wisely.  If you are planning a first backpacking trip, you have probably already gone camping.  With a few choice additions and a willingness to ask to borrow or rent items, you can try out this sport before investing in expensive, special equipment.  Below is a list (also on PDF) called the Beginning-Backpacking-Packing-List-Cold-Weather which shows you what you’ll need for going on a short weekend trip in cold weather.  After the list, which you can download and print, I’ll make some comments going down the list in order and show some pictures of what I’m talking about.   (The list would be slightly different for hot weather and I’ll need to cover that in another article.)  For all of these items, your least expensive option is to ask friends to borrow equipment or, if you are doing scouts, asking your local council if they have gear to loan or rent.  You can also often rent gear from stores like REI, but that will cost more.

  • Frame backpack with adjustable straps
  • Sleeping bag suitable for the weather in waterproof bag
  • Sleeping pad, in plastic cover
  • Tent with plastic ground sheet, usually split between two packers
  • Backpacker cook stove with fuel, usually shared with another packer
  • Drawstring bag with 20 foot rope, usually shared with another packer
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Mess kit, including plate, cup, flatware, bowl
  • Small metal pan for boiling water (can be part of the mess kit)
  • Pocket knife
  • Hand trowel and toilet paper in plastic bag
  • Small hand sanitizer
  • One or two bandanas
  • First aid kit, including moleskin for blisters
  • Rain poncho
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Food for the correct number of meals and snacks
  • 2 or 3 quart size hard plastic water bottles
  • Warm jacket with hood or hat & gloves
  • Warm pajamas, with knit hat, mittens, & fuzzy socks
  • 4 pairs of warm socks
  • 2 pairs of long pants
  • 2 long-sleeved shirts
  • 2 sets of underwear
  • Long underwear
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, etc.)
  • Feminine products if needed, kept in a plastic bag lined with foil
  • Chapstick
  • Deck of cards or other small activity
  • Walking shoes
Image shows a frame backpack from Walmart
Inexpensive pack from Walmart

Frame backpacks can be very expensive, especially if you shop at the specialty stores like REI.  You can get a decent beginner backpack at Walmart that will get you through the first few trips you’ll want to take.  Either an internal frame or an external frame is fine for this level of backpacking.  You do want lots of adjustable straps to make it comfortable.

Sleeping bags are another big ticket item.  The ones for backpacking that are super lightweight and warm will cost a fortune.  For a beginning trip, don’t bother.  You want a true camping sleeping bag, not something meant for an indoor sleepover, but it doesn’t have to be that compact or even lightweight.  If you have one that is a bit bulky, plan on packing it in a plastic bag and strapping it on the outside of your pack at the bottom.  Bungee cords are great for attaching these things or you can buy straps in the camping section at Walmart or Academy.  Of course, if you can borrow better, do because you will really appreciate them.  If you are stuck with a bag that isn’t really warm enough, you can improve your situation greatly by adding a fleece throw blanket to your list.  Wrap that blanket around you inside the sleeping bag and you will be much warmer.  Also, do not neglect taking warm pajamas, a knit hat, mittens and warm socks for sleeping in.  There have been nights when I have slept in my coat as well.

Image shows a blue pad for under a sleeping bag.
Simple sleeping pad.

You must have an insulating pad to sleep on or you will be very cold all night regardless of your sleeping bag.  For a first trip, a simple blue foam pad for $7 from Walmart is good enough.    These inexpensive ones are bulky, but you can easily attach them to the outside of your pack, probably on top since they aren’t heavy.  Wrap them in a plastic bag to keep them dry and clean.

You will need small hiker tents that sleep two people.

Image shows an inexpensive backpacker tent from Walmart.
Beginner Backpacking Tent

These can be very expensive, again, if you shop the specialty stores.  But for a simple beginner trip, there’s no need.  Once again, Walmart has what you need to start with for a very low price.  Their tents won’t last that long, but will be enough for you to get a sense of whether you want to continue with the sport.  You should cut a piece of plastic, such as a painter drop cloth, to go under these tents to prevent too much condensate inside the tent in the morning.

Image shows an Esbit Stove for backpacking.
Simple Backpacking Stove

There are all kinds of backpacker cookstoves out there, but I say, keep it simple.  I recommend an Esbit Stove for a beginning trip where all you need to do is boil water to rehydrate food.  You will need at least one fuel cell for each meal for each person.  That should boil plenty of water.  You can easily share one of these stoves between two or three packers.  They light very easily with a match–just keep those matches dry in a plastic bag.

The next item is usually called a “bear bag”,

Image shows a green drawstring bag hanging from a branch.
Simple Bear Bag

but mostly it isn’t bears you need to worry about but raccoons.  You can buy very expensive ones, but for a first trip, just any drawstring bag will be fine as long as you have a long rope to throw over a branch to lift it out of reach of most critters.  The rope can be inexpensive clothesline, available at places like the Dollar Store for a buck.

Image shows a metal mess kit for beginning backpacking
Standard Mess Kit

The best mess kit for this sort of backpacking is a metal kit that includes a plate, a bowl that doubles as a cooking pot with lid, another plate with a handle that doubles as a frying pan, and a cup that happens to be a measuring cup.  It’s available at, you guessed it, Walmart as well as many other places.

The last item on the list that I’ll talk about is the hand trowel.  That is meant for digging “cat holes” where there are no bathrooms.  Any small, lightweight digging tool will do.  You can share it with others if you don’t have enough to go around or don’t want the weight.  I have even used the plastic ones from kids gardening sets and been okay.

The rest of the gear on the beginning backpacking packing list is pretty self-explanatory.  Rain ponchos can be found at Walmart for less than a dollar in the camping section.  I recommend packing all the clothes in plastic baggies, especially your sleepwear, to keep them dry.  You don’t need hiking shoes for a short beginning trip.  Sturdy sneakers or walking shoes are fine since you will probably only be walking 5-10 miles on this first trip.  Any further and you’re past the beginner level.

So, you can have fun and not break the bank with this beginning backpacking packing list.  Have fun and get outdoors!


© 2014, Margaret. All rights reserved.