a summer packing list for National Parks + Forests

With summer fast approaching, I realized how blessed I've been to explore some of the prettiest scenery. The Grand Tetons, Bighorns, Badlands, White Sands, and Glacier are just a few on a long list of American National Parks and Forests I've had the privilege of trekking through. I haven't written much about my time in parks, which is a shame, but sometimes you don't write about things to protect yourself from shit saved in the backlogs. I've dusted off that shelf though. That added with the fact that our current government's budget priorities are out of whack, I guess I feel like it's time nature had the spotlight on this blog.

I've learned a lot as a South Dakota girl who spent her time running trails and hanging out with a group of wild boys outdoors. This list is as much for my own reference as it is for yours since even as a 'veteran' I forget things without fail almost every single trip. 

So, without further adieu...

 Here's a full break down of what to pack for your national park trip this summer

Bighorn National Forest, summer 2014

Bighorn National Forest, summer 2014

First thing's first, where to buy your gear

I prefer brands that have a high Ethical Consumer Score and that have a conscious. Personal favourite outdoor brands are:

A friend I met on the Inca Trail {shout out to you, Jess} introduced me to MEC for any Canadian readers I might have, though I have never purchased from here myself. I bought some light gear from Kathmandu while in New Zealand for my backpacking adventure of the South Island that I still use, but it should be said I have not researched the company's standards for animal treatment, employee welfare, environmental impact, or political affiliations. 

Bighorns National Forest, summer 2014

Bighorns National Forest, summer 2014

Pack it in, pack it out

  • Backpack {if the stay is longer than a day}

  • Day pack {to hold a day's worth of gear}

The sweet spot for day pack size is right around 30L. If you require a bigger bag than that, you're packing too much gear for a single day. Factor in the heat when considering all that you'll be carrying around with you. The lighter you travel, the farther you travel!

If you're spending the night

  • Sleeping bag

  • Sleeping pad

  • Tent

Since this list is tailored for summer, I won't go into detail about picking a good winter bag {so important}. For the purposes of this post, just focus on the temperature rating before you purchase or rent a bag and pick one that is for a slightly lower temperature than what you are expecting. I don't own a sleeping pad {maybe I'm tougher than I thought?!}, but I've used one before and they do make a definite difference in comfort. 

Glacier National Park, April 2016

Glacier National Park, April 2016

camera gear

  • Camera

  • Charged battery pack

  • GoPro

  • Lens cloth

You want to take lots of photos of the natural beauty you'll be enveloping yourself in, right? Along with my usual camera pack, I also have a GoPro Hero Silver that I've used with help a handful of times {I'm still navigating it on my own}. I kick myself for not having brought it whitewater rafting in Patagonia, but, in hindsight, it probably would have been in the bag that got stolen anyway. *Shrugs to herself*

You probably won't want to bring a tripod in the hotter temperatures, as you'll have to lug it around the whole time. Be careful of DSLRs in sandy places, one single grain of sand can cause an ERROR 1 Communication code, which may mean a lens replacement {like the one I had to pay for after San Pedro de Atacama}. 

Sedona, April 2015

Sedona, April 2015


  • T-shirts {I like the tagless Men's shirts by Hanes available at Target}

  • Sweaters {I like to find wool pullovers from thrift shops for camping}

  • Fleeces {I own, like, 20 of these bad boys and swear by them}

  • Merino wool socks {my fave pair are from NZ courtesy of a friend}

  • Underwear/bras {I'm a fan of camping in a sports bra or no bra}

  • Jeans {I bring an old pair that I won't mind being ruined or dirtied}

  • Joggers {Brooks make great running pants, I still have a pair from college XC similar to these though I haven't researched their ECR}

  • Pajamas {no matter how hot it is, you'll want something covering you from bugs that might bite in your sleep}

  • Shorts {I bring running shorts and comfortable hiking shorts}

Stay away from cotton, especially if there might be a summer shower headed your way! The Merino socks on this list are a must. Yes, even during summer. Don't forget that it's going to be cold af at night if you're in the desert or mountains {I forgot mine during my camping trip to the Bighorns and basically froze to death. RIP toes}.

Glacier National Park, April 2016

Glacier National Park, April 2016

For your feet

  • Hiking boots {I got these for $10 at a yard sale still in the box with tags!}

  • Running/athletic shoes

  • Sandals

Nike athletic shoes are my long-time favourites for comfort and style, however, they are among the worst for company ethics scores. A year ago I received a pair of Allbirds, which are the softest and lightest shoes probably in existence. They aren't the most sturdy and they aren't made for actual running, but they are a more conscious choice. I'm still looking for good shoe companies, so I'd welcome any you've found in the comments below! 

Bighorns National Forest, summer 2014

Bighorns National Forest, summer 2014

Sedona, April 2015

Sedona, April 2015

Extra accessories

  • Flashlight and/or headlamp

  • Wet wipes

  • Reusable water bottle {I have this glow in the dark version}

  • Quick-dry towel {make sure you get the right size for your need}

  • Sunscreen {this brand is environmentally friendly}

  • Solar shower bag {takes a long time to heat up, but worth it for long trips}

  • Jetboil stove {the boys made me hot tea on trips with this}

  • Sunglasses {usually an old pair I don't mind getting lost or damaged, just in case}

  • Baseball cap {I have this one and it's perfectly lightweight for summer}

  • First-aid kit {I have this one and refill it regularly with items from any drugstore}

  • Snacks {more food necessary for overnight stays or long trips}

  • Extra water

  • Navigation tools {be it a paper map, compass, or genie lamp}

  • Mosquito repellent

  • Tweezers {these are sometimes in First Aid kits, for ticks or splinters}

  • Tick spray {Lyme Disease is so real people!!}

Last, but not least, if you are looking for some outdoorsy inspiration, check out these killer Instagrams here, here, here, and here!


a summer packing list for National Parks + Forests
a summer packing list for National Parks + Forests