How to Pack Your Pack: Day Hikes to Multi-Day Treks

March 21, 2018 | 10 comments

Inspired by our Spring Obsidian Collection and the sweet Gregory pack it included, the Cairn Crew has put together a quick and dirty guide to packing your pack for maximum efficiency and comfort. We've created a guide and checklist for both Day Hikes and Multi-Day Treks. No, not every scenario is covered and surely there will be items that you'll decide you can't live without that haven't made our checklist; but consider these your foundation.

Along the way, we've called out products that the Cairn Crew has field tested and included in a previous Cairn Monthly or Obsidian Collection

Need to upgrade your gear? Subscribe to Cairn to discover the freshest innovations, best-in-class products, and brands you may not meet on the shelves at your local outdoor retailer (yet). 


Day Hike


Nobody wants an overabundance of gear for a day hike, but efficient packing of some key essentials and a truly comfortable backpack can extend your time, and enjoyment, on the trail. Hey, and if find yourself with space to throw in a couple of extra snacks, we're pretty sure you'll be MVP amongst your trail crew. Save frustration and discomfort by following a few easy guidelines when loading up your gear.

First in: Stuff sack with extra clothing layers and gear and that you may not need during your day hike.

Last in: Items you’ll want to have easy access to, like your rain jacket.

Outer Organization: Use hipbelt and accessory pockets for quick-grab items.

Backpack: Your pack is clearly the foundation for everything here. Get the pack fit and capacity right, and you've already got this hike started on the right foot ;). Cairn curated gear: Gregory Sula 24 and Salvo 24 (Get yours in the Spring Obsidian Collection!)

Packing for a Day Hike

Day Hike Packing Checklist

  •   Tech T-ShirtCairn curated gear: Craft Mind SS Tee 
  •   Merino Socks - Cairn curated gear: Smartwool PhD® Outdoor Socks
  •   Compression Stuff SackCairn curated gear: Gobi Gear SegSac Compress
  •   Outer Layer / Raingear - Cairn curated gear: Marmot Featherless Hoody
  •   First AidCairn curated gear: Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight .7
  •   Suncap / Beanie - Cairn curated gear: COAL Headwear The Standard Beanie SE Merino
  •   Headlamp - Cairn curated gear: UCO Air Headlamp
  •   Sunscreen - Cairn curated gear: Zealios Sun Barrier SPF 45 Pocket Packets
  •   Water Bottle - Cairn curated gear: Hydro Flask 32 oz. Wide Mouth Bottle
  •   Water Purifier / Filter - Cairn curated gear: Lifestraw Universal
  •   Fire Starter - Cairn curated gear: Outdoor Element Firebiner
  •   Map + Compass
  •   Sunglasses - Cairn curated gear: Nectar Coltic Polarized Sunglasses
  •   Microfiber Towel - Cairn curated gear: Packtowl Nano

  • Cairn Crew Hack: Since day hikes require less gear, fill just three of the four segments in your Gobi Gear SegSac Compress. For maximum comfort, place the SegSac in your pack so that the empty segment is against your back.

    Multi-Day Trek


    Whether you’re headed out for the weekend or for an epic thru-hike, efficient packing and a truly comfortable backpack are essential. Save frustration and discomfort by following a few easy guidelines when loading up your gear.

    First in: Sleeping bag – You won’t need to access it until you’ve reached camp and set up shelter.

    Second in: Gear and meals – These heavier items helps create a stable center of gravity and won’t likely be needed on the trail.

    Last in: Layers you’ll want to grab for varying conditions along your trek.

    Outer Organization: Use lash-on points for easy access to your shelter and accessory pockets for quick-grab items.

    Backpack: Selecting the right backpack based on your trip length, feature preferences, and fit is the essential foundational element of any backpacking trip. You're going to be wearing this bad boy for miles on end, so make sure it's as comfortable as possible while meeting your capacity and feature needs.  Cairn curated gear: Gregory Optic 48 and Gregory Octal 45 both with integrated rainfly (Featured in the Spring 2018 Cairn Obsidian Collection).

    Pack your Backpack


  •   Tech T-Shirt Cairn curated gear: Craft Mind SS Tee 
  •   Merino Socks - Cairn curated gear: Smartwool PhD® Outdoor Socks
  •   Wicking Underwear 
  •   Base Layer 
  •   Insulated Layer
  •   Rain / Wind Jacket
  •   Lightweight, Quick-Drying Hiking Pants - Cairn curated gear: prAna Stretch Zion Pants
  •   Suncap / BeanieCairn curated gear: COAL Headwear The Standard Beanie SE Merino
  •   Compression Stuff Sack - Cairn curated gear: Gobi Gear SegSac Compress

    Shelter + Sleep

  •   Tent
  •   Rainfly / Tarp (during rainy season) - Cairn curated gear: Grand Trunk Abrigo
  •   Sleeping Bag - Cairn curated gear: Klymit KSB20 Down Sleeping Bag
  •   Sleeping Pad - Cairn curated gear: NEMO Astro Lite Sleeping Pad

    Gear + Food

  •   First AidCairn curated gear: Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight .7
  •   Trail Snacks - Cairn curated gear: Heather’s Choice Packaroons
  •   Lantern - Cairn curated gear: LuminAID Packlite Max 2-in-1 
  •   HeadlampCairn curated gear: UCO Air Headlamp
  •   TrowelCairn curated gear: TentLab Deuce of Spades
  •   Camp Stove + Fuel
  •   Cookware
  •   Water Bottle
  •   Utensils - Cairn curated gear: Toaks Outdoor TiTongs
  •   Water Purifier - Cairn curated gear: Lifestraw Universal
  •   Fire Starter - Cairn curated gear: Outdoor Element Firebiner
  •   Map + Compass
  •   Sunscreen - Cairn curated gear: Zealios Sun Barrier SPF 45 Pocket Packets
  •   Meals - Cairn curated gear: Good To-Go Entrees
  •   Microfiber TowelCairn curated gear: Packtowl Personal
  •   Game KitCairn curated gear: Bushsmarts Game Kit
  •   Stuff Sack - Cairn curated gear: Gobi Gear SegSac
  •   Bear Bag / Canister (when in bear country)

    What gear have you discovered through Cairn that you'd add to this list? What's your favorite packing hack? Share in the comments below!


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    10 Responses

    Jennifer from the Cairn Crew
    Jennifer from the Cairn Crew

    March 26, 2018

    Thanks for the great feedback and ideas, everyone! Glad this list has been helpful and sparked some conversation.

    Denise, good call on the packing list for kids and dogs. We’ve definitely got some members of the Cairn Crew that have experiences – good and bad :) – with those sidekicks.

    Margaret, for sure, there is opportunity to streamline even further based on your level of experience and imagination! There are certain things that are essential for most treks, but it’s important to review your pack list based on what is most valuable to your inidividual experience. For some, that’s a small game or extra snack, and for others, it’s shaving ounces to stay quick and light.

    Jodi, haha, good point. If only for the benefit of our tent mate, we should add toiletries :).


    March 25, 2018

    Rope! Light rope; just bigger than parachute cord.

    April Fickling
    April Fickling

    March 24, 2018

    this came at the perfect time!!! I’m a Girl Guide Leader in Canada and I’m just starting to get my girls ready to go on their first Backpacking Trip in August. the videos will massively help one of my girls to pack more effectively, as she needs to see it vs being told. I’ve forward the email to them.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you

    Denise Walker-Brown
    Denise Walker-Brown

    March 24, 2018

    Add a pack list that includes your dog. Another is how to pack your kids pack based on age and wieght. Even better, how to pack with your kid and dog!

    Margaret Little
    Margaret Little

    March 24, 2018

    What is the weight of all this stuff as suggested? I would pare it down even more. Games? Multiple source of light? Where your imagination for brain games and wilderness tracking challenges?

    Jodi Morrison
    Jodi Morrison

    March 24, 2018

    Don’t forget the toiletries! (Toothbrush/paste, toilet paper, powder,etc.)

    Jeff Ski
    Jeff Ski

    March 23, 2018

    Hammock instead of tent.
    A good knife.
    Ultralight chair
    A good torch.

    Celene Molina
    Celene Molina

    March 23, 2018

    My kids always ask me for a packing list, this is prefect. Thanks

    Carol Hoppe
    Carol Hoppe

    March 23, 2018

    I would love to see the “How to pack your pack” and the checklist in the monthly Cairns box. It would be nice to have.

    Robyn Allan
    Robyn Allan

    March 23, 2018

    You guys are awesome. I can’t wait until the US Canadian exchange rate gets more reasonable to get a regular delivery of your collections.

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