There are many ways to organize and select outdoor gear for a trip. Some are very elaborate spreadsheets; others some scribbled notes on a piece of paper at a planning meeting. One recommended list uses only six basic categories: carried clothing, worn clothing, essentials, luxury and comfort items, consumables, shared group gear. Colin Fletcher, in his Complete Walker book series, has constructed an extensive master backpacking gear list using the analogy of house and home to categorize: foundations, walls, kitchen, clothes closet, furniture and appliances, etc. 

Careful Selection of Outdoor Gear Categories

One way to begin a careful selection is to rule out certain backpacking gear categories. An example would be food. If you generally backpack eating only cold food, no “Cooking” or “Kitchen” category would be chosen. Those who use only one pair of boots or shoes and one type of socks for all trips will probably not have a “Footwear” category in their outdoor gear list. Some use one pack for all of their trips, so there would be no need for a “Packing System” in their backpacking gear list. Those hiking in hot or temperate climates will probably have no need for several clothing categories. I don’t fit the above profile. My outdoor gear closet contains many options in all four mentioned outdoor and backpacking gear areas. They are top priorities and each gets its own category listing.

Sample Outdoor Gear List Categories

Before constructing gear lists for your favorite outdoor activities, consider reviewing the following sample categories for possible inclusions into your own lists. [Note: these sample categories have been excerpted from extensive research of actual outdoor gear lists.]

Packing System
Storage containers
Clothing System
Base-, Mid-, Outer-layer clothing
Insulating clothing/Insulation
Outer, Shell Layers
Storm Clothes
Accessory clothing (hats, gloves, socks)
Items Worn or Carried
Clothing Carried
Regularly worn clothes
Emergency clothes
Head; Upper Body; Lower Body Clothes
Gear Carried in Pockets or On Person
Trail Gear
Camp Gear
Personal Overnight Gear
Group Overnight Gear
Heaviest Weight Items
Small Miscellaneous Items
Ditty Bag Items
Minimum Essentials
Essentials on Person
Small Essential Items
Other Essentials
Hygiene/ Bathroom
Health and Safety
Maps, Route Descriptions, Nav. Aids
Medical/First Aid
Fire Starter
Repair Kit
Shared Gear
Supplemental Group Gear
Special Needs Gear
Dog and Kids Gear
Technical Gear
Climbing Gear
Comfort Items
Possible Extras
For the Trip Home

Reader Participation: Priority Outdoor Gear Categories

Has the above list given you any new insights? As you can see, there any number of category combinations for constructing gear lists. Instead of adopting some one else’s gear list organization, consider carefully and thoughtfully selecting categories that reflect your own priorities and what works best in the field for you.

To carry this process further, copy the above list into a word processor. Then proceed to mark through those categories that are not relevant or important to your style of hiking and backpacking. From the remaining categories, circle those that seem to be most important to you. Finally, using the circled items, put together an outline of an efficient outdoor gear list being careful to avoid overlap and duplication.

Author’s Selected Categories for All Backpacking Gear Lists

My hiking needs, desires and priorities lead me to select the following 14 categories when constructing my backpacking gear lists.

Footwear System
Packing System
Shelter and Sleeping System
Base-layer Wicking Clothing
Mid-layer Insulating Clothing
Outer-layer Shell Clothing
Hats and Gloves
Cooking and Hydration
Health and Hygiene
Navigation System
Special Needs

Develop a Master Backpacking Gear List

Obtain a digital weighing scale that has the capacity to weigh in tenths of ounces as well as in grams. Proceed to construct a comprehensive master gear list that includes the weight (in ounces or in grams) of every item in your gear closet, no matter how small. Include gear items currently used, items you might use on future trips and items desired for future acquisition. However, do not include items you haven’t used in the last couple of years, even though they are in your gear locker.  For an example, see the “Suggested Format for Master Outdoor Gear List” document for the first page of my multi-page list. If your master gear list turns out to be several pages long like mine, consider formatting those items you take on most trips in bold print to make them stand out. I highly recommended using a computerized spreadsheet to input this data into your master gear list.

Your master gear List should have several columns. Consider using these four columns as a minimum: category (e.g., “Outer Layer Shell Clothing”), function (e.g., “waterproof and breathable parka”), brand, model, size  (e.g., “royal blue, REI three layer Goretex, parka”), gear weight (e.g., 18.0 oz).  Under the function of “waterproof shell parka,” my personal list has separate lines for the three models of waterproof parka I currently own and use. Over the years, I have accumulated three different styles of sleeping pads (closed cell foam, self-inflating mattress, insulated air mattress). Within these three styles, I own ten different pads, each providing different levels of insulation, comfort, length, width and weight. Weights range from 2 to 46 ounces. Lengths range from 18 to 76 inches. Of the ten owned sleeping pads, six deserve a line on my master gear check off list because I use each on occasion. The older I get, the more I take an air mattress (so these are bold printed), but insulated pads are still an option.

Idealized Process for Selecting and Organizing Outdoor Gear

The above information is excerpted from a much longer 23 page article that describes an idealized nine-step process for selecting and organizing outdoor gear. Here is a highly condensed version of this recommended process:

  • Carefully select your CATEGORIES for developing outdoor gear lists.
  • Construct a MASTER OUTDOOR GEAR LIST using the chosen categories.
  • From your master gear list, develop a CUSTOMIZED GEAR LIST for each trip of any duration.
  • Develop detailed SUBSYSTEM LISTS of outdoor gear options (e.g., cooking, sleeping, packing, footwear, navigation) for the most important and most problematic categories.

To preview and download the complete 23 page article, click on this link: Being Systematic About Outdoor Gear.

Constructing Outdoor Gear Lists