Hiking for Beginners: An Overnight Hike Checklist

Author: Stephanie Ford  Date Posted: 31 July 2020

Stephanie Ford demonstrates how to transition from day hiking to pulling overnighters without spending an arm and a leg.

The transition from day hiking to pulling overnighters is so rewarding! There’s something so special about waking up in nature with the bare essentials and a full day of hiking ahead of you. But it can also seem intimidating - especially when you look at the epic list of expenses and investments. I’m here to assure you that you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to make it happen!

The (Lean) Beginners Checklist for Overnight Hiking

While I’d love to give you an all-encompassing list that would always serve you well, there are a few factors that will impact what you need to take to thrive in the wilderness.

Weather
This list is always going to vary depending on the weather where you’re headed. Camping on the beach requires less than bagging peaks in the mountains since you don’t need to brace quite so hard for the overnight chill.

Facilities
Camping with access to showers, toilets, and BBQ facilities means carting less stuff than if you head out into the bush. 

Terrain
Heading way away from access roads means you need to spend more time preparing for a worst case scenario. Stick to hiking close to help if you’re not equipped to help yourself. 

Here's what to bring on an overnight camping trip:

The Basics

Food

With careful planning, you can carry a thermos for coffee/tea/hot chocolate/hot water for cup noodles. Then, you bring food that doesn’t need to be cooked.

Here's my no-stove list for overnighters:

  • Lunch Day 1 - Pasta Salad
  • Dinner Day 1 - Tortillas stuffed with beans, couscous and veggies (cooked at home then eaten cold)
  • Breakfast Day 2 - Overnight oats
  • Lunch Day 2 - Leftover tortillas
  • Snacks - Trail mix / trail protein bars (like Clif Bars or Protein Brownies) / energy gels (a lightweight and easy source of energy if something goes awry) / chocolate / lollies

Preparing Hot Meals on Overnight Hikes
There will be a tipping point where you’ll want to start carrying cooking equipment. You’ll know when that is (usually after your second super cold night)! Living it up with hot meals (and hot coffee) on your camping trip does increase the gear requirements. But there are few things more luxurious than waking up to a hot drink after a night on the ground.

Utensils, Cookware & Tableware

I recently packed for an overnight stay at Silverstar - a chair access biking/skiing mountain in Canada. I cleverly packed all the butter knives I needed (3, in fact) for my PB+J sandwich snacks, but forgot forks - which I needed for the pasta salad. This lightweight package should have you covered for all your no-stove overnight camping trips:

I usually go with a 3L bladder, since there’s a dedicated pocket for them in any good backpack and they distribute weight well. But I go with a LifeStraw bottle or collapsible bottle and purification tablets if I’m uncertain about access to water.

Overnight Clothes

You always need to pack for the conditions. Check the overnight lows in the area you’re heading to and always plan for rain and sunshine. Here’s what I’d pack (in addition to what I’m wearing) for a summer hike in mountains like the Grampians:

You might want to put bathers on your list, but I’d usually just go in whichever shorts I wore that day and the sports bra. It’ll dry overnight and saves you carrying a bikini.

I’d wear:

If you’re planning on bringing underwear, I can’t recommend these quick-drying Exofficio underwear strongly enough. They aren’t pretty, but they are beyond perfect for their practicability and comfort.

The other camping stuff you might forget

Here’s my list of stuff you want to bring to thrive in the wilderness:

Sports Watches for Hikers

Finally, a note about sport watches. Sports watches have come a long way in recent times. So, updating your wrist tech can save you on the trails. Your sports watch now works as a guide, map, compass, and nutrition advisor. Meanwhile, Strava has an emergency beacon, as do many cycling computers.

When you’re looking at sports watches, consider the features you want yours to have and how much space they might save you. A watch with more features might be more expensive, but less of a hassle than carrying all the individual components.

Check these out:

Have fun out there!