Gear Lists – Not Just For Gram Weenies!

Gear Lists - Not Just For Gram Weenies!

For reasons unknown to me, a lot of backpackers think that making a detailed gear list is the sign of an ultralight fanatic or that you’ve crossed over to the UL darkside and become a dreaded gram weenie. I’m here to tell you otherwise. It’s true that a gear list can be an extremely powerful tool for helping you understand, manage, and reduce your overall pack weight, but it’s much more useful than that.

It should go without saying that your gear list needs to be constantly updated and tweaked as you adjust the items you carry and make notes along the trail. It serves as the reference point to where you are and where you want to get to with regards to pack weight. Careful observation and experimentation both on and off the trail are key.

Packing – Leave No Gear Behind

In addition to using a gear list to track weight it can be used as a checklist tool to help you gather, inspect, and pack all of your gear before a trip. There’s nothing worse than getting a few miles into a hike and realizing that you left a critical piece of gear at home on the kitchen table. Your gear list will help you to avoid that from happening. I have three check box columns on the left of the spreadsheet I use that are designed to walk me through the this process: Find, Check, Pack. 

I systematically locate (find) each piece of gear on my list and gather them into one area on the floor. I check each piece off the list using the “Find” column to track my progress. I then inspect (check) each piece of gear to ensure that it is functioning properly. Does it require maintenance, new batteries, or extra supplies? If all is good I’ll put a tick in the check column. Once I’ve found and inspected all of my gear I use the last column (pack) to make sure that I have put each and every item in my backpack. It probably sounds a bit tedious but I can tell you that it works for me – every time.

Gear Lists - Not Just For Gram Weenies!

Evaluate Your Gear

Another huge benefit of having a detailed gear list is using it for keeping track of what works, what doesn’t work, and what doesn’t even get used on the trail. There’s only so much elimination and weight reduction that can be done at home, so at some point you are going to have to validate this by getting outside and using your gear.

Keep accurate notes using your notepad so that you don’t have to rely on memory to recall what it was that didn’t work and you thought could get left behind next time. Getting into the habit of good note taking will help you in the long run.

Mt. Whitney Gear Preparation

After Each Trip

Use your notes to assess your gear list and make determinations on what you can adjust for next time. You may need more of one thing but less of another. Practice, practice, practice!

Based on a combination of your trail notes and what’s left in your pack, you can identify the pieces of gear to eliminate and leave at home on your next trip. Look at your notes to see if there were things that only got used occasionally and might be able to be substituted by another item that can serve double duty. For example, don’t carry a bowl and a cup when one or the other will serve for both purposes.

These are just some of the benefits of using a gear list that don’t really even involve weighing your gear. Do you have any other suggestions on how a gear list can help?


Download a blank version of my gear list:  BBB Gear List Template (.xls)

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  • I completely agree with using a gear/packing list. I do this on every trip I take – not just hiking.

    I’ve never weighed my gear, just not the type of hiker I am (yet), but if I’ve learned one thing from life, it’s be prepared and this means both having what you’ll need and leaving out what you won’t need. 
    I also really like your three check system.

  • PaulOsborn

    Good reasons that I didn’t think of using my own list for. Thanks for this!

  • Joe Stevensen

    I never go without using a checklist. I also liked your 3 column system (find, check, pack). I’ve used it twice now and it I like it.

    • Hi Joe, good to hear that you’re using this and that it’s actually working out for you. Thanks for letting me know. I’m also always open to suggestions for improvements. – BG

  • Maz

    Excellent article.

  • Like they say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Thanks for this excellent post.

  • Like they say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Thanks for this excellent post.

  • That’s it in a nutshell! Thanks :)

  • Hi Joe, good to hear that you’re using this and that it’s actually working out for you. Thanks for letting me know. I’m also always open to suggestions for improvements. – BG

  • Ha, I like the (yet)…

  • Akbishop52

    I started using a check list years ago, after a trip where I left my headlamp and rain jacket at home, really could have used them too.  I like the multi-collum check list, if you will excuse me I will go open my spreadsheet now and make changes.  thanks so much for the tip.

    • I’d be happy to share a blank template spreadsheet for download if anyone would like?

      • Underwood8

        yes, please!

        • Ok will do. May take a day or two because I’m away from home.

      • Rargabright

        Yes I would appreciate thee list

  • Akbishop52

    I started using a check list years ago, after a trip where I left my headlamp and rain jacket at home, really could have used them too.  I like the multi-collum check list, if you will excuse me I will go open my spreadsheet now and make changes.  thanks so much for the tip.

  • I’d be happy to share a blank template spreadsheet for download if anyone would like?

  • Charles

    I use a gear list for different reasons. Keeping my load as light as possible, divvying up gear between people in the group, or just to prove a point to myself that I don’t REALLY need that folding stool or hardback novel I initially thought of bringing…

  • Charles

    I use a gear list for different reasons. Keeping my load as light as possible, divvying up gear between people in the group, or just to prove a point to myself that I don’t REALLY need that folding stool or hardback novel I initially thought of bringing…

  • Michaelwjennings

    Sure, Brian: it would be great if you could share your template!

    • I’m traveling for work right now, but give me a couple of days and I’ll get a blank template ready and share it out with you all.

  • Michaelwjennings

    Sure, Brian: it would be great if you could share your template!

  • Taedawood

    Brian, Great post.  I like to use geargrams.com except for the fact that you cannot print out their spreadsheets.    I think it would be great it you could share your template.

    As soon as I get home from a hike, I take a couple of pages of notes of weather conditions, trail conditions, what gear I used or did not use, things I would have done differently, etc.  It helps me fine tune my gear list for the next trip.

    Like you said, it also helps me to make sure not to forget anything critical which is extremely important!  But nearly as important, it helps to ease my stress of worrying IF I forgot anything.

    • Amcampolong

      Right click your list to print your list

      • Catharine Slover

        Hey, that worked

  • Taedawood

    Brian, Great post.  I like to use geargrams.com except for the fact that you cannot print out their spreadsheets.    I think it would be great it you could share your template.

    As soon as I get home from a hike, I take a couple of pages of notes of weather conditions, trail conditions, what gear I used or did not use, things I would have done differently, etc.  It helps me fine tune my gear list for the next trip.

    Like you said, it also helps me to make sure not to forget anything critical which is extremely important!  But nearly as important, it helps to ease my stress of worrying IF I forgot anything.

  • I’m traveling for work right now, but give me a couple of days and I’ll get a blank template ready and share it out with you all.

  • Outdoors for recreation or fitness is great!

  • Outdoors for recreation or fitness is great!

  • Heavy metal

    I make notes while I’m on thr trail about gear that needs attention and make that part of getting unpacked.  My gear doesn’t get stored until it is clean, repaired and ready to go.  I find this helps me be quicker at packing for spur of the moment adventures.  I also find that thoughts of what needs to be repaired don’t make it home unless I write it down while I’m on trail.

    Storing gear ready makes it easier to get out, especially at a moment’s notice.

    • Sarah, I like to have my gear ready to go too for the most part. My usual routine includes a couple of hours of post-hike gear cleaning and maintenance so that it’s packed away properly and good to go when I need it. That said, I like to double-check my gear as I’m packing it for the next trip – just in case.

  • Brian, I love the “three checks” idea. This past summer I went on a 3 day outing and left my bag of cooking equipment sitting on the couch. Luckily I could bum off my friends.

    • Larry, I’ve doen the same thing myself many times. I’m ashamed to say it still happens even with the gear list and the check columns, but it’s less frequent than it used to be!

  • Talbot Hardman

    Hey, I just happened on to this blog via the Gossamer Gear newsletter. I have been an avid list maker for over 20 years. I never seem to come back to my list post-trip, though. Thanks for reminding me that I need to.

    I, too, would love to have a blank template of your list. It looks very useful.

    • Thanks Talbot. I’ll be posting a blank gear list template shortly I promise. It’s great to hear there are so many list makers out there, I was beginning to think I was not normal :-)

  • Konstantin Z

    Hi,
     3-column checklist is a good Idea. I usually using one column checks to collect all the stuff on the floor. The extra column will avoid me from doubt regarding is everything from floor in the backpack or not

    • This just works well for me. Having separate columns to find, check, and pack seems to avoid any doubts on whether or not I have checked something or just dragged it out of the ye old gear closet. They’re optional, if you want to adjust feel free. I will be posting a blank template for download in the next day or two.

  • James Conley

    ditto – I use packing lists for camping, backpacking, summer camp packing for the kids, and vacation. We check off items as they go in the pack to make absolutely sure we have everything.

    • James, you sound even more organized than me! Great to hear. Thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback :-)

    • Jesse Sleeper

      Same here. Been using checklists for 20+ years and have my children doing it now whenever they go to camp or on vacation. I swear by checklists. Really like the three column breakdown to; that’s a nice addition.

      • Thanks Jesse. My kids are 7 and 5 so we have a trick we use for their checklists. We draw out each main piece of clothing that they need to collect and pack with the number of said items they need. So for example: a drawing of a pair of socks with the number 4 next to it. Then they simply collect all their stuff and check them off the list as they pack. Works great!

  • For those of you that had asked, you can download a blank version of my gear list here:  BBB Gear List Template (.xls)

  • I posted a link to download a blank gear list template at the bottom of the original blog post (above).

  • Rargabright

    Yes I would appreciate thee list

  • Catharine Slover

    Hey, that worked

  • Thanks Jesse. My kids are 7 and 5 so we have a trick we use for their checklists. We draw out each main piece of clothing that they need to collect and pack with the number of said items they need. So for example: a drawing of a pair of socks with the number 4 next to it. Then they simply collect all their stuff and check them off the list as they pack. Works great!

  • Karen

    Thanks for the packing list Brian. We camp all the time and make lists too! Sure has helped alot-specially one time when hubby forgot to pack my sling to get me out of my wheelchair- or the air mattress for the bed! LOL. 

    • I hope that he doesn’t forget those types of things again. The gear list template is just a guide, feel free to modify it to suite your needs.

  • Karen

    Thanks for the packing list Brian. We camp all the time and make lists too! Sure has helped alot-specially one time when hubby forgot to pack my sling to get me out of my wheelchair- or the air mattress for the bed! LOL. 

  • I hope that he doesn’t forget those types of things again. The gear list template is just a guide, feel free to modify it to suite your needs.

  • The “check” column is the column I need….would have served me well this last weekend when I took my rain fly without the tent because I didn’t check it first.  HA!

    • It’s always the simple things that we never think of. That one little column (and process) would have saved you. Make sure you remember/adjust for next time!

  • The “check” column is the column I need….would have served me well this last weekend when I took my rain fly without the tent because I didn’t check it first.  HA!

  • It’s always the simple things that we never think of. That one little column (and process) would have saved you. Make sure you remember/adjust for next time!

  • Clare

    I use lists for everything—day walks, overnights, cycle trips, overseas trips, firewood cutting, etc. After each outing I update the list on the computer. Some people think this is excessive but I don’t get to the airport without my passport as a nuclear physicist I know once did. I’m not too smart to think I don’t need a list.
    This is a great website for someone who hasn’t backpacked for 30 years but is rediscovering it now.

    • Thanks Clare. I’m rather OCD and forgetful, so lists in any form help me tremendously. From a tiny pocket notebook and pen, or 3×5 index cards, up to my iPhone and MacBook – I have and use lists frequently. They work for me (and you) but they’re not for everyone and I appreciate that.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you find some of my other OCD-related posts here useful too!

  • Clare

    I use lists for everything—day walks, overnights, cycle trips, overseas trips, firewood cutting, etc. After each outing I update the list on the computer. Some people think this is excessive but I don’t get to the airport without my passport as a nuclear physicist I know once did. I’m not too smart to think I don’t need a list.
    This is a great website for someone who hasn’t backpacked for 30 years but is rediscovering it now.

  • Thanks Clare. I’m rather OCD and forgetful, so lists in any form help me tremendously. From a tiny pocket notebook and pen, or 3×5 index cards, up to my iPhone and MacBook – I have and use lists frequently. They work for me (and you) but they’re not for everyone and I appreciate that.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you find some of my other OCD-related posts here useful too!

  • Ed

    Great Chart. Would you mind posting the version with the checklist columns on the left?

  • Ed

    Great Chart. Would you mind posting the version with the checklist columns on the left?

  • Thanks Brian, I was going to start constructing my own, this saves some time.

  • Jeff Vyduna

    Hi Brian! I came back here after several years looking for your venerable gear list templates, but it seems the links are broken now. This post, and the Whitney list seem to be missing on Dropbox. Just FYI. Thanks for sharing them!