Most of my favorite fishing trips involve a long hike in and, often, staying overnight. Not only does backpacking allow you to get to some pretty remote areas, but it also gives you the chance to stay long enough to figure the area out. Not to mention, you get to enjoy the solitude and stars at camp. While packing for a fishing trip isn’t rocket science, it’s nice to have a comprehensive checklist of everything you may want to throw in your backpack.
Of course, depending on the situation, the selection may vary. For example, if you’re planning to eat your catch while out, you’ll need to plan for that. I’ll cover that below, but there are plenty of other situations I may not account for, so tweak the list as needed. Similarly, if you’re hiking in but not staying the night, you can leave sleeping gear out.
This is what I carry in my pack on any given hike and fish trip. At the bottom, I’ll go over a couple more niche things that occasionally make it into the pack, but aren’t necessary on all trips.
Camping, Hiking, and General
Tent – You could also do a bivy, or go without if you choose. Make sure you match the tent to the terrain and weather you’ll be dealing with. Tent camping is totally doable in the winter, but it’s going to require different equipment than summer.
Sleeping bag – Another one you’ll want to adjust based on the circumstances. Winter will require a heavier bag, and you’ll want to decide between down and synthetic. Down is nice and cozy, but if it gets wet, it’s useless.
Sleeping pad – A sleeping pad serves two main purposes: giving you a soft place to sleep and keeping you warm. Pick one that you find comfortable, lightweight, and easy to pack.
Headlamp – A headlamp is important both for getting around camp and for hiking at night. Some are just a bare-bones light, while others have multiple settings, brightnesses, and light colors. I like one with lots of variety, but choose whichever one best serves your needs.
Knife – I like to have a knife on me at all times, but especially while camping. I use it for everything from cutting paracord, to gutting a fish, to spreading cream cheese on a bagel.
Digital map/GPS – I like to have both a digital and paper map with me when I backpack. I don’t usually carry an actual separate GPS, but that is a great option for some people. Instead, I opt for a phone app that does the same thing to cut down on extra equipment. Digital maps offer convenience, ease-of-use, and extra features like route tracking.
Paper map – Although I usually use a digital map when I can during a trip, I don’t like to make electronics my only navigation option. Between dead batteries and water damage, the risks are too high for my liking. So, I like carrying a paper map of my area, as well. I usually don’t end up pulling it out at all, which is my ideal situation. But, if I need it, it’s there.
Compass – A paper map is more helpful if you also have a compass (and know how to use it). Again, I rarely pull my compass out, but that’s what my goal is. I often consult my phone’s digital compass in conjunction with a digital map to determine which way to walk, but I always have a physical compass as well.
Lighter – This should be pretty self-explanatory. I always carry an extra lighter in addition to the one in my emergency kit. You can never have too many ways to start a fire.
Emergency kit – This is the same emergency kit I mentioned above. In an ideal world, you’ll never need it. But, that’s no reason not to take it. Additionally, I find myself pulling things from it in non-emergency situations, like when my backup lighter isn’t working or I want some dry kindling. Just remember to restock once you’re home.
First aid kit – Another self-explanatory item, the first aid kit is a mandatory addition to the backpack.
Clothing – Obviously, the clothes you bring will depend entirely on the trip you’re taking. The key is to bring layers, and opt for materials like merino wool instead of cotton. In general, I find that I don’t need to bring too many changes of clothes. No one’s going to care if you re-wear your shirt. The two exceptions are underwear and socks. Changing these out each day will make a huge difference in comfort level.
Battery backup – Since my phone is my communication, my map, and my camera, I really don’t want it to die if I can help it. So, I always carry a battery backup that holds a few phone charges. That way, I have it handy throughout the whole trip.
Handkerchief – I actually usually carry more than one handkerchief. I use one for washing my hands and face, and another for cleaning dishes and other similar tasks. They’re so lightweight and versatile that I see no reason not to throw a few in your backpack.
Trash bag – I don’t usually bring a full-size trash bag, but I take along one or two plastic grocery bags to put my trash in. Double-bagging trash is sometimes necessary if one bag has a hole.
Toilet paper – Self-explanatory. Pack it out in your trash bag when you’re done.
Watch – I like having a watch on the trail so I don’t need to pull my phone out every time I want to check the time.
Reading material – I bring either a paper book or my Kindle on every backpacking trip. It’s a great way to entertain myself before bed.
Gloves – Even during the summer, mountain weather can change quickly. Although I rarely use gloves during the height of backpacking season, I’ve never regretted bringing them.
Sunglasses – These are crucial for both fishing and just hiking on a sunny trail. You’ll find out very quickly if you forgot to pack them.
Hat – I always bring a hat, either for warmth or to keep the sun off my face.
Soap – I usually don’t fully clean myself unless it’s a longer backpacking trip, but I still like to give my face a wipe-down at the end of the day to get the grime off. I bring along Dr. Bronner’s since it’s concentrated and relatively eco-friendly. That said, you should still use it far away from water sources to minimize your impact.
Toothbrush/toothpaste – Again, I try to brush my teeth far away from water to minimize my impact.
Rod/reel – Don’t leave home without the most important gear!
Wading gear – This will often be waders and boots. If you won’t need waders where you’ll be fishing, replace that with a pair of durable sandals you can wear in the water.
Flies – You’ll obviously need something to entice the fish.
Tackle and accessories – What’s included here will vary by person. For most, it will include tippet, leaders, split shot, indicators, floatant, nippers, hemostats, and similar items.
Fishing license – A necessity.
Net – This can be cumbersome and may not be necessary if you’ll be fishing for tiny backcountry trout, but for larger fish, it’s worth the haul.
Food and Water
Stove – While you can cook over a fire if they’re legal where you are, it never hurts to have a stove with you. It’ll be easier to cook, more reliable, and useable during fire bans.
Fuel – Can’t use a stove without fuel! Make sure you get the right one for your stove.
Pot/pan – A lightweight backpacking pot and pan are great for backcountry meals. Boil water for dehydrated food, or cook fresh food as you would on any other pan.
Utensils – Any utensils will work, but backpacking-specific sets are lightweight and easy to store.
Food – Even if you’re planning to eat what you catch, I still recommend taking enough food to supply your entire trip. Here are some backpacking meal and snack ideas.
Water purifier – On a single day or overnight trip, you may be able to just carry enough water. But, it’s often easier to carry a purifier, and on longer trips, it’ll be a must. You can use a UV pen to kill the harmful organisms, but I like a filter/purifier to clean the gunk out of the water, as well.
Backpacking chair – It’s always nice to recline at the end of the day. This is definitely not a necessity, but I’m never upset to have it around.
Hammock – Hammocks aren’t an every-trip item for me, but they’re lightweight and make a great place for an afternoon nap.
Games – If you have others on the trip with you, bring a game to play at the end of the day. It could be a bona fide board game, or just a lightweight deck of cards.
Fish-cooking equipment – If it’s legal to keep your catch and you want to, make sure to bring what you’ll need. If you already have your cookware, it won’t require much extra. I usually just take along oil, spices, and aluminum foil, and then roast my fish whole. If you want to also fillet your fish, a fillet knife may be handy.
Belly boat – This one can be tough if you’re also carrying a tent and other bulky gear. But, if you have a lightweight sleeping setup (a bivy or hammock, for example), you may be able to throw a belly boat in your pack to make the water more accessible.
Beverages – This one may be on many people’s list of essentials. I usually have something besides water to drink, but it’s not necessary if that’s not your jam.