The author, McKenna Mobley, taking a selfie at the Crater Lake National Park, National Park Packing List

National Park Packing List (26 Things to Bring in 2023)

As someone who’s been to nearly half of America’s national parks, I’ve had my fair share of national park packing list trials. I’ve learned what items are absolute musts and what equipment can be left at home.

The mission of this national park packing list is to help you squander any gear-related questions for your upcoming national park trip. Let’s lace up our hiking boots, lather on the high-SPF sunscreen, and start packing for an epic U.S. national park adventure!

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National Park Camping Checklist

Reusable Water Bottle

Our Pick
Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle

You don’t have to worry about running out of water on the park trails with this 1.5-liter bottle.

A reusable water bottle like the Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle is an awesome eco-friendly option for America’s national parks. It’s ideal because it can hold up to 1.5 liters of water at a time, minimizing the need to pump water.

This wide-mouth bottle is useful year-round, as water bladders freeze in the wintertime. I recommend carrying two Nalgenes for hiking Joshua Tree in the summer, or any other desert parks, to avoid dehydration. 


Our Pick
Sunski Treeline Polarized Sunglasses

Keep your eyes protected from an optical sunburn with highly polarized sunglasses like this unisex pair.

Sunglasses are one of the most important pieces of outdoor gear to include on a national park packing list. This is especially true on long backpacking trips or while on snowy hikes in Yosemite National Park.

The Sunski Treeline Polarized Sunglasses are my top pick for polarized sunglasses. This unisex pair keeps eyes protected against the sun’s harmful UV rays and also features side eye protection, an important option in areas of high wind.


Our Pick
National Parks Touring Map & Guide

Avoid getting lost in huge national parks by having a detailed paper map on hand like this one.

It’s easy to get lost in the huge national parks, which are sometimes thousands of acres wide. As minute as they may seem, paper maps are one of the most important pieces of equipment one can bring into a national park. 

The National Parks Touring Map & Guide is a handy item to stow away in your hiking backpack and may end up saving you in an off-trail pinch. 


Our Pick
Petzl Tikka Headlamp

This top-of-the-line headlamp offers both a regular battery port and a rechargeable battery option, ideal for night hikes or multi-day adventures.

Hike before sunrise to beat big national park crowds with the aid of the Petzl Tikka Headlamp. As one of the more important hiking essentials, a reliable headlamp can save your life in the outdoors if you’ve wandered off the trail after nightfall.

The battery port and rechargeable battery features offer extra security and a longer light guarantee. I never hike anywhere without my Petzl headlamp.

Water Filtration

Our Pick

Filter water on the go from natural water sources with this convenient water filter straw.

The convenient LifeStraw allows hikers to filter water straight from the water source in the backcountry. This is especially handy when hiking in the summer months when chances of heat stroke are doubled.


Our Pick
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 Tent

Why cut your national park trip short? Bring this ultra-lightweight tent and stay a while stargazing under the mesh portion of the tent body.

Day trips are a great way to explore the American parks but with so many outdoor activities in each unique park, camping is the best option to fully explore each one.

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 Tent makes every overnight adventure a comfortable one. At just over two pounds, this two-person tent is easy to carry and spacious, and the removable rainfly option makes stargazing incredible in parks like Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.


Our Pick
Vortex Optics Crossfire HD Binoculars

The high-quality picture of these binoculars allows parkgoers to witness spectacular wildlife from a new zoomed-in perspective.

See your favorite wildlife up close and personal through the Vortex Optics Crossfire HD Binoculars. They’ll come in mighty handy the time you’re in a wildlife-intensive national park like Yellowstone or Glacier National Park.

The exceptional resolution of these binoculars provides outstanding color and sharpness, making them a top Travel Lemming pick.


Our Pick
Canon EOS Rebel
This high-quality camera doesn’t break the bank and still captures National Geographic-quality park photos.

A high-quality camera does the breathtaking beauty of the American national parks justice. The Canon EOS Rebel is one of my favorite high-definition cameras with flexibility for multiple different lenses, built-in Wifi, and HD video.

Don’t miss your chance to capture a grizzly mama and her cubs in a top Colorado national park or nesting owls in one of Utah’s best national parks.

Sun Hat

Our Pick
REI Co-op Vented Trailsmith Hat

This unisex sun hat shields the face, neck, and shoulders from harmful UV rays while hiking all day under the intense summer sun.

Sun hats are especially important when hiking through America’s national parks during the late spring, summer, or early fall months. The unisex REI Co-op Vented Trailsmith Hat is the perfect hat to keep you cool and protected during this time.

The ventilation feature allows a much-needed breeze to cool down your hot head, all the while shading your head, neck, and shoulders from the sun.

Day Pack

Our Pick
Osprey Daylite

This lightweight backpack makes all the difference when hiking backcountry trails, especially in hot parks like Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

A compact, lightweight day pack is an essential packing list item and is more than enough for a one-day U.S. national park trip. The unisex Osprey Daylite is comfortable yet durable and is the perfect high-quality backpack option.

Backpacking Backpack

Our Pick
Osprey Eja / Exos Backpacking Pack

We tested 8 backpacking packs head-to-head and the Osprey Eja / Exos series came out as the winner. Made from 100% recycled materials, this lightweight pack excels at comfort and functionality.

Planning a thru-hike or overnight stay within a national park? You may want to consider investing in a good backpacking pack.

Abigail recently put several of the top backpacking packs to the test on a five day trek. Of the eight bags she tested, the overall winner was the Osprey Eja backpack (men’s version: Osprey Exos).

Hiking Shoes

Our Pick
Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-tex Hiking Shoes

Hike comfortably through any weather with these Gore-tex hiking shoes. Complete with a heavy-duty grip, you’re almost guaranteed not to slip on the trail.

I’ve hiked in more than 20 national parks in my trusty Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-tex Hiking Shoes. Also available in a Men’s hiking shoe, the Salomons are extremely comfortable shoes and have some of the best traction on the market.

They also feature Gore-tex properties, ensuring your feet stay warm and dry in notoriously wet national parks like Crater Lake and Hawai’i Volcanoes national parks. They’re an essential for hiking in national parks!

Sleeping Bag

Our Pick
NEMO Forte 20 Sleeping Bag

This mid-weight, twenty-degree bag is the perfect temperature for exploring most parks during the non-winter months.

A warm, good-quality sleeping bag makes all the difference when camping in a top U.S. park. Even desert parks like New Mexico national parks can cool down significantly in the evening.

The NEMO Forte 20 Sleeping Bag is an essential packing list item when camping overnight. Comfortably rated to get you through most seasons, you can also pair the bag with a sleeping bag liner for added warmth during the winter months. Don’t forget to check out this bag in its men’s sleeping bag option too.


Our Pick
Thinksport Clear Zinc Active Face Sunscreen

A high-SPF sunscreen like this one is needed when exploring America’s outdoor parks.

The alluring magic of the U.S. parks makes it easy to get stuck hiking all day in the outdoors. Be prepared for a full day of fun under the sun with one of the most protective sunscreens out there.

Thinksport Clear Zinc Active Face Sunscreen is my go-to sunscreen when playing outdoors. The high zinc and SPF content guarantees all-day protection when hiking at either 14,000 feet at Mount Rainier National Park or below sea level at Death Valley’s Badwater Basin.

Sleeping Pad

Our Pick
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Sleeping Pad

One of the most popular sleeping pads on the market, this pad is ultra-lightweight, comfortable, and easy to pack.

You won’t get a good night’s rest without a comfy sleeping pad. This must-have camping necessity makes or breaks an overnight trip and is one of the top camping essentials whether camping in Arizona, camping in Utah, camping in Colorado, or any other U.S. state.

The blow-up and collapsable mattress features of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Sleeping Pad make it easy to pack and extremely comfortable. Camp like royalty with this high-end sleeping pad.

Trekking Poles

Our Pick
Leki Khumbu Lite Trekking Poles

Lightweight poles like these are a must when hiking all day or while on a multi-day excursion.

Lightweight gear is a key component on a top national park packing list. This is especially important when backpacking and every ounce matters. The Leki Khumbu Lite Trekking Poles weigh in at just over one pound and are one of the lightest trekking poles on the market.

Zip-off Hiking Pants

Our Pick
REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants

Pack less with these zip-off pants. Equal part pants and shorts, this clothing item is one of the best two-for-one deals on the market.

Zip-off hiking pants are a good idea to wear in many national parks. The two-for-one REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants can be worn as either shorts or pants, depending on the weather.

This is especially important when hiking with children in Southwestern desert parks like Canyonlands or White Sands when daytime temperatures can be excruciatingly hot but freezing come nightfall. Also, check out these versatile pants in the men’s style.


Our Pick
Peak 2 Refuel Granola

Dehydrated snacks and meals like these are essential while exploring U.S. parks. Just add cold or hot water and a full protein meal is ready in just minutes.

You can never be overprepared with too much food while exploring the deep trenches of America’s parks. I always carry extra dehydrated snacks and meals like the Peak 2 Refuel Granola in my day pack just in case.

Just add hot or cold water depending on the meal, and a high-protein delight will be ready to satisfy your starving hiker’s appetite.

Neck Gaiter

Our Pick
Buff CoolNet Multifunctional Neckwear

Neck gaiters can be used in multifaceted ways. Employ this gaiter as a scarf, a bandana, a shield from intense winds, or a hair tie.

Every hiker or other outdoor enthusiast should have at least one neck gaiter, one of the most important national park essentials. The Buff CoolNet Multifunctional Neckwear can be worn in many different ways but is most commonly used as sun protection.

I also wrap my Buff around my mouth and nose during cold winter hikes in California, use it as a headband, and stretch it to use as a shirt when backpacking. Versatile equipment is a must for your complete packing list. 

Rain Jacket

Our Pick
Outdoor Research Aspire II Gore-tex Jacket

This Gore-tex rain jacket keeps park visitors dry during even the most intense winter storm.

America’s Pacific Northwest and East Coast parks are typically the wettest. Bring an Outdoor Research Aspire II Gore-tex Jacket to explore parks in these regions in any season, a top travel essential.

Also available in a Men’s rain jacket, this Gore-tex jacket defies water-resistant properties by completely rejecting seeping water altogether. Parkgoers are guaranteed to stay dry with this high-quality rain jacket.

First Aid Kit

Our Pick
HART Outdoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit

This small but mighty first-aid kit packs a punch with all the survival essentials you’ll need for an accident in the backcountry.

Anything can happen in the great outdoors and it’s best to be prepared with a handy first-aid kit. The HART Outdoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit has everything you need for a day hike or smaller backpacking trips.

I’ve used this kit for years and can confidently confirm its usefulness. I also like to add my own needle and thread to the mix, for dealing with hiking blisters while out and about.

Hiking Socks

Our Pick
Darn Tough Hiking Socks

Leave the blisters behind by wearing these epically cushioned Merino wool hiking socks.

My absolute favorite hiking socks, Darn Tough Hiking Socks are one of the most comfortable socks available. Thanks to their fine-gauge knitting, I’ve never gotten a blister while hiking in this pair.

These tough socks will be your ultimate companion in any outdoor situation and even come in Men’s hiking socks and mountaineering sock options. You mustn’t forget your Darn Toughs when packing for your family vacation to the U.S. parks.

Lightweight Sandals

Our Pick
Teva Hurricane XLT2 Sandals

These waterproof sandals are ideal during a summer visit to desert parks like Death Valley and Chaco Canyon. 

There’s no better feeling than slipping into pillow-cushioned outdoorsy sandals after a long day exploring the parks. The Teva Hurricane XLT2 Sandals are not only comfy but also water-resistant and stylish too. 

Also available in a Men’s hiking sandal option, the Teva Hurricanes can easily function as a lounging sandal at camp or can adapt to steep terrain on hiking trails. Trade in heavy hiking boots in the summer for these lightweight, breathable sandals.

Long Sleeve Sun Shirt

Our Pick
REI Co-op Sahara Solid Long-Sleeve Shirt

This UPF-rated sun shirt protects parkgoers from sunburns. The roll-up sleeve option is also an ideal feature in the hot summer months.

The REI Co-op Sahara Solid Long-Sleeve Shirt helps to prevent sunburns with its UPF 50 sun protection property and quick-drying fabric. 

Both the women’s and men’s styles have buttons for easy sleeve roll-up access and back vents to keep explorers dry and cool. Comfortable yet protective hiking clothes are a must for an epic park hiking adventure.

📚 Related Reading: New Mexico Packing List

Camp Stove

Our Pick
Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Have hot water ready in a flash with this quick camp stove, which is perfect for boiling water to eat a quick meal on the go.

Quick access to warm food is especially important when exploring or hiking in national parks during the winter. The Jetboil Flash Cooking System boils water in no time, giving you warm coffee or hot water for your camp food in a flash.

Camp Pillow

Our Pick
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

Wake up in the backcountry without a kinked neck, thanks to this lightweight, packable camp pillow.

Camping in a U.S. park is as comfortable as your bed at home with this Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow. This lightweight camp pillow, when paired with the hyper-comfortable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Sleeping Pad, gives campers the most relaxing night’s rest possible.

Other National Park Essentials to Pack

  • Fire starter
  • Firewood
  • Cell phone
  • Lightweight jacket
  • Multi-tool 
  • Flip flops
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Insect repellant
  • Camping Chair
  • Garmin Inreach Satellite
  • Emergency shelter
  • Extra food
  • Bear canister
  • Cooler
  • Gloves
  • Beanie 

Clothing to Pack for National Parks

The best clothing to pack for the American national parks depends on what season you’re visiting in. The best rule of thumb is to layer in every season with short sleeves, long sleeves, pants, and shorts, and to always have a rain jacket on hand. It never hurts to have backup socks and an emergency down jacket too, in case you run into some sour weather.

So what clothing should you pack for the U.S. national parks? Here is a quick clothing checklist for the U.S. parks: 

  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 2 hiking pants
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 tank top
  • 1 sundress
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 ball cap or sunhat
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks 
  • 1 pair of hiking or lightweight sandals
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 rain jacket

Here’s a more in-depth analysis of some of my favorite national park clothes, including flexible hiking shorts, my favorite sundress, and comfy undies.

Hiking Shorts

Our Pick
Patagonia Baggies Shorts

Hiking shorts don’t get more stylish than this colorful pair. They’re also water resistant and made from recycled fishing nets, a true ecological masterpiece. 

Easy, breezy, beautiful, Patagonia Baggies Shorts. Hike in style this summer with these multi-pattern hiking shorts, also available in simpler colors for Men’s shorts

These eco-friendly shorts are made from recycled materials but still allow complete mobility for boulder hopping on the trails.


Our Pick
Zesica Women’s Bohemian Maxi Dress

This stylish sundress makes the perfect national park profile photo and the sleeve feature ensures sun protection.

Sometimes you need to add some color to your national park clothes. If you’re not going on an intense hike, a sundress like the Zesica Women’s Bohemian Maxi Dress is the ideal option for sightseeing during a hot summer day.

This dress keeps the shoulders protected from sunburn and makes national park photos spectacular. 

Short Sleeve Shirt

Our Pick
Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt

This breathable short sleeve shirt is guaranteed to keep you cool and dry during the hottest summer days while exploring parks such as Saguaro and Great Basin.

Short sleeve shirts can be worn year-round in U.S. national parks on a sunny day. The Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt has sun-protectant properties to help you stay protected while playing in the sun all day.

The quick-drying shirt is also available in a Men’s style and guarantees hikers will stay dry from start to finish.


Our Pick
ExOfficio Give-N-Go 2.0 Sport Underwear

Hike throughout the American national parks comfortably with this non-slip underwear, a pair so lightweight you’ll hardly notice they’re there.

Comfortable, non-slip underwear is preferable, especially when hiking long trails throughout the U.S. parks. I hiked 400 consecutive miles in Arizona, through Saguaro National Park and other popular Arizona state parks wearing the ExOfficio Give-N-Go 2.0 Sport Underwear, which isn’t limited to women’s underwear with this Men’s underwear option.

Down Jacket

Our Pick
Arc’teryx Cerium Lightweight Down Jacket

This down jacket is one of the highest quality on the market and is guaranteed to keep you warm through even the most intense storms.

The Arc’teryx Cerium Lightweight Down Jacket is a top-of-the-line down jacket that’s guaranteed to last you a while. This down jacket also packs into its pocket, saving space in your backpack for other essentials. Don’t forget to check out the Men’s jacket style too!

National Parks Packing Tips

Consider Making Your Visit a Camping Trip

A camping tent on the trail in Saguaro National Park at sunset
Camping on the trail in Saguaro NP, Arizona

There’s so much to see in each national park that sometimes a day trip barely even scratches the surface. Consider an overnight stay in the park for more time to hit the top hiking trails or sightseeing attractions.

Buy National Park Guides at the Visitor Center

Buying a map or guide beforehand can be helpful if you want to study hiking routes prior to your trip. Of course, national park guides usually have the best, up-to-date information at the visitor center.

Be Prepared With Bear Spray

Panoramic view of the landscape and snow covered Glacier National Park
Glacier NP is known for frequent grizzly sightings

It’s never a bad idea to carry bear spray with you through grizzly-infested national parks like Grand Teton or Yellowstone parks. 

Pack Multi-purpose Clothes

Clothes with multiple functions are ideal when considering national park packing. For example, a bandana or buff can be used as sun protective wear, to clean up spills, or as a sweatband.

Consider Purchasing a National Parks Pass

Save some money by purchasing an annual national parks pass, good for all 63 U.S. parks. You’ll save some serious cash in the long run if you visit more than one park per year with the America the Beautiful Pass.

FAQs About National Parks Packing List

How should I dress for a national park?

The best way to dress for a national park is in layers. The weather in national parks can vary greatly depending on the season but it never hurts to wear zip-off hiking pants, a tank top, a long sleeve sun shirt, and have sunglasses and a hat handy.

What should I bring to a nature park?

Since nature parks are full of top hiking trails, you will want to bring the hiking essentials. This includes a reusable water bottle, a water filtration system, a sun hat, polarized sunglasses, hiking shoes, and trekking poles

What can’t I bring to a national park?

Dogs aren’t allowed in many U.S. national parks like on the Joshua Tree National Park trails, as well as illegal substances like weapons and illicit substances. Some national parks like Glacier National Park also limit the size of motorhomes due to space issues. 

What shoes are best for visiting national parks?

Hiking shoes are best for visiting national parks. Even if you don’t plan on hiking many park trails, odds are you’ll still walk a good amount getting to and from scenic points.


Thanks for reading my national park packing list guide! For more great packing information, check out my camping essentials guide. 

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