What Are the Big 4 in Backpacking?

By Alice Nichols

Backpacking is a popular form of outdoor recreation that is often associated with long-distance travel. It involves carrying all of the necessary supplies and equipment on one’s back, and is usually done on foot. The “Big 4” are the essential pieces of gear that every backpacker should have when heading out into the wilderness.


The first piece of gear that a backpacker needs is shelter. This can include a tent, hammock, bivy sack, or tarp.

Depending on where you plan to go and how long you will be away from home, your shelter should be lightweight yet durable enough to keep you safe from the elements. Additionally, it should be easy to set up and take down quickly.

Sleep System

Your sleeping system is just as important as your shelter. A good sleep system should include a sleeping bag or quilt rated for the temperature range you expect to encounter during your trip. Additionally, a sleeping pad or mattress provides insulation from the cold ground and helps ensure a comfortable night’s sleep.


A quality backpack is essential for any backpacking trip. It should be large enough to fit all of your gear while still being comfortable to carry over long distances. Look for features such as adjustable straps and torso length adjustments that make it easier to dial in the right fit for your body.

Cooking Gear

Finally, cooking gear is necessary for most backpacking trips so that you can prepare meals while out in the wilderness. Stoves are typically preferred over open fires due to their convenience, safety considerations, and minimal environmental impact. Additionally, they come in many different sizes and fuel types so you can choose one that fits your needs.


The Big 4 in backpacking are shelter, sleep system, backpack, and cooking gear; all of which are essential pieces of equipment for any outdoor adventure. With these items in hand (or on your back), you will be able to confidently explore nature without sacrificing comfort or safety.