What to pack in a go bag for last minute adventures

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

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Ever gotten off from work on a Friday and wished you could just run off and go camping? But then you’ve got to go home and get everything packed and ready to go… Then, in the end, you don’t go anywhere? Well, keeping a go bag packed and ready in the trunk of your car is a great idea.

Not only will you save time, but that way you can take advantage of unexpected changes of plan when you’re just itching to get out to nature but on an otherwise limited schedule.

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

Ultralight and Portable

Traditionally, the backpack, tent, and sleep system will be your biggest and bulkiest items.

One of those monster packs can take up half your trunk space by itself, which is not ideal during the rest of the week.

When putting together a go-bag, I’d really recommend taking a lead from the ultralight backpacking community or thru-hikers.

Experienced thru-hikers are able to be comfortable on the trail for extended periods of time with less gear or less weight than most of us.

The small size and weight allow you to keep it packed and ready to go in the car without taking up too much trunk space during the rest of the week.

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

The Big Three

I would recommend a lightweight, frameless backpack, a sil-nylon or cuben fiber tarp shelter (which is pitched with trekking poles), a lightweight, inflatable sleeping pad, and a high quality down sleeping bag which is appropriate for a range of temperatures.

Those three are your heaviest and bulkiest items so it helps to invest in high quality and lightweight gear.

There are tons of great options, but Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) has been a long-time favorite of mine for tarps and packs.

Specifically, I use and recommend:


The next big consideration is the stove, and I would recommend a lightweight alcohol stove (you can even make one out of an old soda can) rather than a traditional stove.

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

Alcohol stoves are great because you don’t have to store fuel canisters in your hot trunk, which can be potentially dangerous, but rather just a small bottle of alcohol like methyl alcohol (among various options).

You can also easily encounter methyl alcohol at nearly every gas stations, just search for the yellow bottle of HEET, a gas-line antifreeze.

That makes for an easy stop on the way to the trailhead, rather than heading across town to a specialized gear store at the last minute.

Along with the stove, be sure to keep sufficient food on hand for 1-2 nights.

Splurge for a titanium pot that is lightweight and durable to keep your overall weight down.


I like to keep a few freeze-dried dinners around, like those from Mountain House, some packets of instant oatmeal, Starbucks Via packets, and plenty of packaged snack foods like granola bars, peanut butter crackers, etc, that won’t go bad.

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

You can supplement with a few fresh items as you fight the Friday traffic out of town.

Hiking Odds and Ends

Beyond that, don’t forget to keep a set of hiking clothes and boots (or better yet, trail runners) along with your other standard day hike essentials and other hiking and backpacking gear.

Remember that less is more.

Some people have the misconception that ultralight means sacrificing comfort, but that’s not necessarily true.

I’ve found my comfort has increased dramatically while on the trail.

What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

Being able to keep a go-bag at the ready can also increase your opportunities to enjoy nature during those unexpected last-minute opportunities or free weekends.

Do you keep a “go bag” packed and ready for adventure? What would you pack? Sound off in the comments.

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What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures

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What to Pack in a Go Bag for Last Minute Backpacking Adventures


Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West. Since then he set out traveling to Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

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    I only have 1 bag that I take on day trips week trips doesnt matter. It stays set up for 3 days but the only difference between a longer stay is the amount of food otherwise all the gear stays in it full time

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    Great read! I agree that you should be careful of the carry weight as I myself have brought more than I can carry several times and it almost ruined my experience..

    I would also like to suggest that carrying a set of water-resistant socks is a must. You never know when they might come in handy 🙂

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