The following summer backpacking in Colorado packing list is brought to you by Kayla Dome. See all packing list posts here.
Colorado is a tricky state to pack for, mostly due to the unpredictability of our weather. One day it is snowing, and the next it is 70 degrees and sunny. The trick is to pack for the activity you are visiting the mountainous state to partake in, such as backpacking during the summer. Packing for a backpacking trip is more important than any other packing you will ever do; you are packing for survival. Leaving your car behind and hiking deep into the mountains requires very specific items for the trail. Here is a guide to make sure you have everything you need when you set your sights for wanderlust.
The backpack you choose is the most important part of your trip. Not only does it help you organize better, but it also helps you carry the right amount of weight for your body type. Women typically want a pack that ranges from 60 to 70 Liters for a three to four day trip of backpacking. Carrying more than this amount for that many days can take its toll on your body. Think, “I have to carry this sucker around for four days” when deciding on a size. While Gregory makes very affordable and durable packs, I prefer specifically the Osprey Ariel 65L pack. The plethora of compartments, amount of space, and multiple openings on top and bottom make this pack perfect for my backpacking needs. Plus, Osprey has a great customer service department if anything ever goes wrong with your pack. It is an investment piece to be taken seriously.
>> Read the ultimate female guide to picking a backpack.
A wicking shirt: Wicking fabric is designed to repel moisture and cool your body down during exertion. The thin material allows you to move with agility and layer without feeling weighed down.
Convertible pants: While yoga pants give you a lot of flexibility, you want something more water proof for the trail. Convertible pants are the best option for anyone who needs pants in the morning and a pair of shorts by noon.
Socks: Hiking socks were created by a greater being, in my opinion. They are designed from the ground up to keep blisters off of your feet, keep your feet cool when its hot, and vice versa. Smart Wool and Fox River have great collections in varying price ranges. Pack at least one pair for each day and then a couple extra.
A light fleece: In the early hours of the morning, a fleece will keep you nice and toasty against the cold temperatures without the bulk of down.
Raincoat: A breathable, thin raincoat can go a long way. During the height of hiking season, every afternoon is known for producing a deluge of rain. Without a raincoat, your afternoons could very well be miserable. A breathable one will make hiking with it a lot less suffocating, but any sort will keep the rain from completely drenching you from head to toe.
Hiking Boots: Tennis shoes are not exactly trail rated. A good pair of hiking boots can save your feet from blisters and your ankles from rolling. A Gortex pair will even allow your feet to stay dry if you walk through a river or it decides to downpour. Many are very stiff when you first purchase them though so make sure to give yourself plenty of leeway between your purchase and your hiking trip.
Sweatpants: Lounging at night is much more comfortable (and warm) with a comfy pair of pants.
Extra layer: Whether it is your worn out favorite shirt from college or a fancy Under Armor base layer, make sure you have an extra layer in case the ones you hiked in all day have gotten wet and cold.
Warm hat, light gloves, sports bras, and extra underwear should also be on your packing list.
Oatmeal: One packet per serving. It cooks quickly and gives you the right amount of trail fuel to start your day.
Tortillas and peanut butter: You should bring one bag of 12 for three days per person. It is cheap, full of protein, and easy to pack.
Energy bars: In case it has been longer between meals than anticipated, have a few Cliff, PowerBar, or energy bar of your choice packed just in case.
Beef Jerky: Dried meat never tastes as delicious as when you are on the trail.
Lipton’s Instant Noodles: Bring one per meal you plan to cook these. They are only a dollar, cook quickly, and all the seasonings are already added.
Instant Potatoes: Mashed potatoes in a bag only requires boiled water. You can find these at any grocery store.
Starbucks Via: The come in boxes of 12 and you will need one per serving. Multiple flavors are offered in this instant caffeine magic.
Camelback: 70 ounces is plenty to keep your Camelback full until you reach the next fillup point.
Lightweight, backpacking tent: There are many out there so choose one that is the right size and fit for your needs.
Compact stove: MSR Pocket Rocket is compact and easy to assemble quickly. All it needs is a gas cannister, lighter, and semi-flat service to get started.
Gas canisters for stove: 1 per day and a half is enough to get you through three meals a day.
Matches in a waterproof container: Old medication bottles work great! Store these somewhere safe and use them as your backup in a pinch.
Lighter: My typical first choice of lighting the stove or starting a campfire.
Sleeping bag: Use a bag with at least a 30 degree rating. Temperatures in the mountains can still fall below freezing at night in the summer.
Water Filter: The Katadyn Hiker Pro is a fairly durable and reliable filter. Know which rivers are best for refilling your Camelback BEFORE heading out on your excursion.
Map of the area: Always have a map of where you will be hiking and have done research before hitting the trail.
Lightweight pot: A tin or aluminum pan is plenty. Nothing fancy is really needed for the small amount of cooking you will be doing.
Light My Fire Spork: A knife, fork, and spoon all in one durable, plastic utensil. See prices on Amazon.
Deck of cards: Entertain yourself fireside or by headlamp after a long day of beautiful scenery.
Multi-tool: In case you need a knife, bottle opener, or any other device you can imagine, this should always be in you backpacking pack.
First Aid Kit: Make sure you are prepared for the basic medical care you may need. Blisters and cuts are manageable with a kit over a stretcher.
Extra batteries should be on your list for your headlamp and GPS.
GPS: Make sure you always know exactly where you are and how far you have traveled.
Headlamp: Getting in your tent at night is much easier with a little light.
Kindle: It is lightweight and compact so fitting in your pack is a breeze.
Cell phone: Even if you do not have service, you can call for help in an emergency.
Thermarest: They honestly do make sleeping on the ground a little less painful.
Dry Sack: If your backpack is not water resistant, consider getting a dry cover in case you run into rain.
Sweatshirt: In case you want to be more cozy in the evenings, or you can use it as a pillow.
Benefit Waterproof Mascara: For those women with long unruly eyelashes like me, this mascara will not run down your face.
Always know where you are going and let others know as well before you set out on an adventure. As long as you prepare beforehand, you will unlikely run into any problems on the trail. Now you are ready to pack for your Colorado backpacking adventure this summer!
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About the Author: Kayla Dome is a Colorado native. She has spent time exploring the San Juan National Forest via zipline, honing her professional education as a Ram, and diving into every outdoor activity imaginable. Having lived throughout the state and spent her life living for the mountains, she shares all the greatness of the state in her website Locals Of Colorado. With a love for adventure and a passion for writing, she helps people better implement their vacation money into the state she calls home.
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Megan E. says
Good list, I agree with almost all of it – I would say for that “extra shirt”, make it non-cotton (wool is my preference, icebreaker makes a great shirt). I would also suggest, if you can handle the weight, a second flashlight (or download the app on your phone) just in case something happens to the headlamp (and extra batteries if you are going in a more dangerous season, ie early spring, late fall and could be out longer than expected).
Also, I usually like ear warmers for hiking, it can get warm but if you are moving faster or up higher, ears get cold first!
Great tips, Megan. I agree about Icebreaker – they make GREAT gear.
One major thing missing from this list–bear cans!! As someone who has seen bears in the Colorado Rockies, all your food (plus trash and cosmetics) should definitely be packed in bear cans. We really don’t need bears trained to think backpackers=free food…
Bobbi Lee Hitchon says
Great packing list for Colorado! I’ve only visited once for a bellydance retreat, but I think I need to go back for a trip like this. I could live on beef jerky. Nom Nom Nom.
This list is pretty good but has some major problems, especially for someone trying to carry less weight for a more enjoyable backpacking trip!!!
The current Osprey Ariel 65 weighs 4 lbs 4-15 oz, depending on size. You can get a good, equally comfortable AND cheaper pack (Deuter ACT Zero, for example) that weighs almost a pound less than this.
“Hiking Boots: Tennis shoes are not exactly trail rated.”
Actually, many people hike happily in trail runner type shoes. The Brooks Cascadia are particularly popular. Lightweight, running type shoes have the added benefit that they dry very quickly and your feet stay ventilated, so you’re actually less likely to get hot spots or blisters. The most important thing is to get them a little big because your feet expand quite a bit while hiking.
“Camelback: 70 Liters…”
No one would ever carry 70 liters of water hiking. (This would weigh about 154 lbs!!) I think you mean 70 oz, which is about 2 liters. A good Camelbak (or, cheaper and equally good option, Platypus) holds 2-3 liters.
“Water Filter: The Katadyn Hiker Pro…”
…weighs 11 ounces. Instead, take a SteriPen Adventurer Opti for just 3.6 ounces and a LOT less work pumping! Best used with a basic clear Nalgene bottle. As an equally light alternative, Platypus makes an awesome gravity filter where you don’t have to do anything!
“Light My Fire Spork”
These are notoriously fragile! Better to have a long titanium spoon (or spork) as your one utensil.
“Cell phone: Even if you do not have service, you can call for help in an emergency.”
Um, what? If you don’t have service your cell phone will not be useful.
The list is missing: Sun hat!! The author is a Colorado native but leaves this off?!
It seems like the author has either not done very much backpacking or just hasn’t considered the issue of weight when planning her backpacking trips. So many people have a miserable (or overly difficult) time backpacking just because their packs weigh far more than necessary. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Hi Erica, Thanks for the feedback. We’ve updated the camelback to 70 ounces instead, which is probably what the author meant. Thanks again for the alternatives and additions to this post. We’d love to have your insights on the site, so do get in touch if you have any packing tips of your own you’d like to share! 🙂
I work in the outdoor recreation industry and am glad to see some more “outdoorsy” packing lists on this site. I’m going on a backpacking trip later this summer in Colorado, and would just like to add a few of my own thoughts for this type of trip.
– The food she listed is great for backpacking, but I find the items listed not very filling. I get really hungry after hiking all day with a pack and definitely need more than just tortillas, beef jerky, and noodles. I usually bring a few of the freeze-dried meals (such as those from Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry) for dinners. Get ones with lots of carbs for more energy. A lot of them come in servings of 2 so you can split it with another person and not have to pack as much food. That being said, you should also always pack an extra day’s worth of food when backpacking in case of emergencies.
– I also recommend bringing a pair of “camp shoes.” They can be an old, lightweight pair of flip-flops, or something like a Keen or Teva sandal. I just know that I usually want to be out of my boots ASAP at the end of long day of backpacking. If you’re not wanting to take the extra weight of another pair of shoes, get a super thick mountaineering sock to wear as “slippers” around the camp. (Make sure they are wool or a synthetic blend though. No cotton.) Bonus points if your camp shoes double as water shoes in case you can need to ford a river and don’t want to submerge your boots!
– If you are doing some more technical, difficult backpacking, I would also recommend getting a pair of trekking poles. They help stabilize you (and your heavy backpack) on rocky terrain and can help you with steeper inclines.
– A few more things that are may be important to have as a woman backpacker: emergency reflective blanket, a few aspirins for altitude sickness, quick drying camp towel (I use mine to wipe my body down before bed and as a kind of sarong when I have to go to the bathroom and want some privacy), and Exofficio underwear. That stuff will change your life.
Love this website!!!
Shovel? Rope for bear hang? Water tablets in case the filter breaks?