The Superior Hiking Trail stretches over 300 miles, from Canada to Wisconsin, through Minnesota. It is marked by endless waterfalls, epic overlooks, expansive forest, hidden lakes, beautiful wildflowers and views of Lake Superior that will take your breath away.
This Superior Hiking Trail packing list is designed to balance feeling prepared with minimizing pack weight for a 5-day backpacking trip. It includes a complete breakdown of what I carried, what I left behind and what I would do differently next time. This is a mega post – feel free to use the Table of Contents to skip to specific sections you’re most interested in.
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- Where is the Superior Hiking Trail
- Superior Hiking Trail Conditions
- 5-Day Superior Hiking Trail Packing List
- Not-So-Essential Superior Hiking Trail Packing List Items
- Portable GPS with Emergency Locator – Brought
- Buff or Handkerchief – Brought
- Lightweight Chair or Stool – Left Behind
- Bear Spray – Left Behind
- Lantern – Left Behind
- Towel – Left Behind
- Bathing Suit – Left Behind
- Clothes to Sleep In – Left Behind
- Mosquito Net – Left Behind
- Basic Makeup – Brought
- Dry Shampoo – Brought
- Headphones – Left Behind
- Cards & Games – Left Behind
- Rope – Left Behind
- Superior Hiking Trail Backpacking Essentials
Where is the Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail extends just over 300 miles from close to the border of Canada to Wisconsin along the ridgeline that overlooks Lake Superior in Minnesota. The trail takes you all along Minnesota’s north shore through Duluth and traverses through several Minnesota State Parks.
The trail is designed to be easily hiked in sections, as day hikes, multi-day backpacking trips or a thru-hike.
Common entry and exit points from the trail include Grand Marais, Lutsen, Tofte, Two Harbors, and Duluth.
Superior Hiking Trail Conditions
Weather in Minnesota can be unpredictable, especially along Lake Superior. There are a few things to consider when deciding what time of year to backpack the Superior Hiking Trail.
- Spring (March-May) will likely be snowy or very muddy.
- The most popular months to hike the SHT are June through September.
- Fall colors usually change in late September or October, but there is also sometimes snow in October.
- Mosquitoes are generally the worst in June and early July.
- The trail, especially sections in or near state parks, is busiest on weekends and holidays.
- Some sections of the trail are fairly unsafe in the winter due to ice, wind and extremely low temperatures.
Considering all of these factors, I chose to backpack during the week in mid-August. This worked well!
5-Day Superior Hiking Trail Packing List
Wondering what to pack for 5 days backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail? Well, here’s a complete breakdown of what I took and what I’d leave behind.
There are several pieces of equipment and gear that are essential for any Superior Hiking Trail packing list.
Lightweight Tent w/ Rain Cover
The weight of your tent is important since you’ll be carrying it. So, if all you have is a heavier tent and you don’t mind carrying it, that’s just fine. Mine is the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL Solution Dyed 2 person tent, which weighs just 2 lbs 3 oz.
Be sure to bring a rain cover and a footprint or tarp for underneath your tent in case it rains.
Pro Tip: The SHT campsite guideline is to always make room for more at the campsite. This means that the tents can be very close together. Even if rain is not in the forecast, a rainfly will give you some privacy.
Sleeping Bag or Blanket
Personally, I hate sleeping bags so instead I use a Rumpl blanket. Read all about why in this blog post. Whatever you prefer, be sure to bring something to keep you warm at night. Because the temperature varies quite a bit throughout the year, check to make sure that your sleeping gear is suited for the temperatures expected during your hike.
Trust me, after a long day on the trail you will want the added comfort (and insulation) of a sleeping pad. There are so many options to choose from: foam, self-inflating, inflatable.
I carried an inflatable sleeping pad that was lightweight and compact. It weighs about the same as my foam sleeping pad (~7 oz) but is much less bulky. One negative is that the inflatable sleeping pad makes noise when you move during the night. If you’re a light sleeper or move around a lot at night, you may prefer foam or self-inflating. Most self-inflating sleeping pads I have found weigh between 1-2 lbs, which is heavier than I wanted.
Straps to Secure Bulky Items
It’s common to secure bulky items like a tent or sleeping pad to the outside of your backpack. The last thing you want is for either of those items to flop around while you’re hiking. Not only is it annoying but it could also throw off your balance.
Bring a section of rope, a cable tie or straps to secure your items to your pack.
It’s called backpacking, after all. Obviously, you need a backpack to carry your gear. For a 5-day backpacking trip in warmer weather I recommend a 45+10L pack at minimum. If you have ultralight gear, this will be plenty big. But, a safer bet so that you aren’t tight on space would be a 55+ or 60+L backpack.
Before choosing a pack, visit a store like REI to get properly fitted. An ill-fitting pack can make backpacking excruciatingly painful due to poorly distributed weight, rubbing on either bones or skin/muscle, etc. Once you find packs that fit your body properly, then you can compare features like the layout of the compartments to see what suits your preference.
There is a common misconception that Minnesota is flat. That is a lie! The Superior Hiking Trail has a total elevation gain of more than 37000 feet over it’s 309 miles – and almost the same elevation loss. That means that the trail is essentially a series of never-ending steep up and down sections.
Trekking poles, in my opinion, are essential for the Superior Hiking Trail. They help to distribute the weight away from your hips, legs and feet. Also, they help reduce impact on your knees and hips on downhill section.
Pro Tip: Look for poles that have cork handles. They absorb sweat without getting slippery. These are the ones I carry and love!
Rain Cover or Alternatives
Aside from wanting to keep essentials like your clothes dry, the weight of your pack can increase exponentially if it gets wet. Plus, in humid conditions if your gear gets wet it can take days to properly dry out.
There are several options for rain covers.
- Many new packs come with rain covers embedded in the very bottom of the pack. Check to see if your pack has one!
- Buy a generic rain cover. The size is based on the liter capacity of your backpack.
- Carry a rain poncho that can fit over you and your bag
- Line your pack with a heavy duty garbage bag (though the exterior of your bag will still be exposed)
Dry Bag for Electronics
An ultralight dry bag is a great option for protecting essential electronics and other gear. I carry a 3L dry bag for my power pack, phone cords, lighter, and duct tape.
Emergency & Safety Gear
When backpacking, you should always carry the ten essentials, which I explain in this blog post. These items are all meant to keep you safe and sound on the trail!
Superior Hiking Trail Map
Cell phone service is unreliable on the SHT. While the trail is well marked, it’s a good idea to bring a paper trail map. To minimize weight, leave the SHT trail guide at home and just bring the map for the sections you plan to be hiking.
For extra security, download the SHT trail maps in the Avenza app. Each section’s map is just a few dollars and you can view your location on the map offline (i.e. without cell service).
Pro Tip: Bring your paper map in a ziploc bag to keep it dry!
Hopefully you won’t need it, but a compass is part of the ten essentials and weighs almost nothing.
In the event that you get lost or injured, a whistle is a helpful way for others to find you. Before you go out and buy one, check to see if your backpack has one built in. Osprey and several other brands have one built into the chest strap buckle.
Headlamp with Extra Batteries
A headlamp is essential for getting around the campsite at night or early morning. Bring an extra set of batteries or put fresh batteries in your headlamp before you go!
First Aid Kit
Getting hurt is never part of the plan, but anything can happen. There are pre-packaged first aid kits available or you can create your own. I purchased this first aid kit and supplemented it with additional items, including:
- Neosporin spray – to prevent infection and clean wounds
- Antihistamine – in case of an allergic reaction
- Ibuprofen – for inflammation and pain relief
- Anti-diarrhea pills – because no one wants to have diarrhea on a backpacking trip
- Moleskin – either precut or with scissors so you can cut to size for blisters and hot spots
- Blister pads – cushioned pads that help blisters heal faster. Note that I specifically recommend Compeed brand as they have proven to be extremely durable and stay in place even on your feet.
- Medical tape – to keep bandages and moleskin in place
There is also Moleskin padded tape that is extra durable and designed for use on feet. I haven’t used it but will be trying some next time I’m on the trail.
A knife can be used for so many different things on the trail including food prep, first aid, and gear repair. Also, as a woman who often hikes alone, carrying a knife gives me some peace of mind in case I come across a dangerous situation (or person) on the trail.
I cannot tell you the number of times duct tape has saved me, both on the trail and when traveling. Buy a small roll of it at most outdoors stores or roll some duct tape around a pen that you plan to carry with you.
Mosquito, Tick and Deer Fly Repellant
There is an ongoing joke among Minnesotan hikers where everyone asks for a ‘bug report’ and it’s almost always ‘really bad’. There isn’t a month that will be bug-free on the SHT, so it’s best to come prepared.
I don’t love using harsh chemicals on my body, but mosquitoes seem to love me so I make an exception. Permethrin spray can be used on hiking clothes and socks to keep mosquitoes and ticks away. It lasts multiple wash cycles so you only have to do it once or twice per year.
Click to read my complete breakdown of what bug repellants work (and which ones don’t).
Much of the Superior Hiking Trail is shaded, but there are sections that are exposed. Be sure to bring whatever sun protection works best for you body. Some common methods of sun protection include sunscreen, SPF-rated lip balm, sunglasses, hat, and UPF-rated clothing.
Check out my specific recommendations on what to wear for hiking in summer, which covers sun protection gear in more detail. Also, read about my favorite brand of polarized sunglasses for hiking on my list of recommended outdoor travel gear!
To minimize my pack weight, I carried as little clothing as possible. So, if you are willing to carry more, add in additional items based on your preference. All clothing should be breathable and lightweight. Here are all of my tips on what to wear for hiking in the summer.
Before selecting your clothing, be sure to check the latest weather forecast. For instance, if it’s warmer (80F+), make sure you have at least one pair of shorts. If it’s higher humidity (60%+), your socks won’t dry overnight so consider bringing extra socks to keep your feet dry and blister free.
For a 5-day backpacking trip on the SHT, plan to pack:
- Underwear x3
- Socks x3
- Sports bras x2
- Rain jacket x1
- Lightweight long sleeve layer x1
- Short sleeve layer x1
- Tank top x3
- Hiking pants/ leggings/ shorts x2
- Hiking boots
- Compression bag for clothes – 12L was perfect for 5 days
Unless the temperatures are going to be really low (<50F), a lightweight long sleeve layer can be combined with your rain jacket to keep you warm. This means you can leave behind bulkier and heavier layers.
Rain pants are not required, but be sure to check the forecast before you leave. If it calls for rain, a pair of rain pants could be well worth carrying.
*I did not bring sandals because my Chaco’s weighed almost 2 lbs, but I wished I had some at camp. Next time I plan to carry lightweight sandals like these.
Hygiene & Toiletries
For a 5-day backpacking trip, it’s likely you won’t have access to or plan to take a shower. So, I’ve left shampoo and body wash off of this list. Unless there is a drought, there will be several water sources to rinse off in but be sure to Leave No Trace by not using soap or other chemicals when doing so.
- Toothpaste tabs
- Unscented baby wipes
- Cathole trowel (for going #2)
- Small amount of toilet paper in resealable bag
- Kula cloth
- Face wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel pack of Kleenex
- Travel-size deodorant
- Prescriptions (including eyeglasses, if needed)
- Hair ties
- Contact and contact solution (if needed)
Pro Tip: Since you’ll be hiking in bear country, wherever possible bring unscented toiletries and keep scented items in your bear bag or bin.
Electronics & Other Essentials
Many people venture out onto the Superior Hiking Trail in order to disconnect. But, realistically most people still carry their cell phone and/ or wearables, such as Garmin or Apple Watch, to track their distance and elevation.
Cell Phone with Charging Cable(s)
Whether you plan to use your phone as a camera, to stay connected or just in case you have an emergency, be sure to bring your charging cable!
Pro Tip: To make your cell phone battery last longer, put it into airplane mode OR go into your cellular settings and turn off cellular data for any apps you won’t need on the trail.
For 5 days, I recommend a minimum of 20,000mAh power pack which equates to about 5 charges.
Whether it’s for an emergency or just for getting to and from the trail, don’t forget to bring your photo ID, a debit or credit card, some cash and a health insurance card.
Pro Tip: Be sure to download books, podcasts, shows or movies you may want to access before you head out on the trail. Perfect for a rainy day or to relax around the campsite!
Food Prep & Water
On a normal year, there are plenty of water sources along the Superior Hiking Trail. However, there are years (like 2021) with extreme drought conditions where many of the water sources are dry. Do some research before you go to find out what the current conditions are before you hit the trail. My go-to sources are the Superior Hiking Trail Association website and Facebook group.
Bear Bag or Bin
The Superior Hiking Trail is in bear country. Black bears are very common along the trail, even though they generally aren’t interested in humans it is necessary to take the appropriate precautions.
Currently, a bear bin or bear bag are acceptable. To minimize weight, I recommend going with a Ursack bear and critter proof bag. A 10L Ursack All Mitey was just the right size for 5 days backpacking on the SHT.
Pro Tip: When packing your bear bag, leave room for your scented toiletries each night. Bears cannot distinguish between food and toiletries, so all items you carry that have a scent should be stored in your bear proof container away from camp.
To further minimize scent inside of your bear bag, the use of scent-proof bags is recommended. Opsak is the brand I used, but there are several options if you search Amazon or other online stores. For 5 days, I brought (2) 7″x7″ and (4) 9″x10″.
Did you know that you can pour boiling water into freezer bags? I try to avoid single use plastic, but carrying a few freezer bags of different sizes is super helpful on the trail. Use them to store trash, dirty clothes or even to cook in!
Staying hydrated is so important when backpacking! At a minimum, be sure to have 2 liters with you most of the time. If you plan to make meals that require water or coffee, be sure to carry enough to drink plus prepare those items. Not all Superior Hiking Trail campsites have access to water.
Unfortunately, most reusable water bottles are heavy. If you are looking for a lightweight alternative, Smartwater 1L water bottles are very lightweight and fit the Sawyer Squeeze water filter attachments. I reuse mine to minimize waste.
Collapsible water containers are a great lightweight option to carry with you for sections where you need to carry more water. I carried 2 of these (that came with my Sawyer water filter) as ‘overflow’ on particularly dry sections of the trail.
Pro Tip: The Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail is a helpful resource published by the Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA). For each section and campsite, it breaks down where you can expect to find water! Find an electronic version on Amazon or paperback through the SHTA website.
Have you ever drank water from a mucky beaver pond during a drought? The water looked disgusting, but it was all that was available. There were minnows, algae and even leeches right near the surface. But, my Sawyer Squeeze filtered it all out.
The Sawyer Squeeze comes with 2 collapsible containers. I labeled one as ‘D’ for dirty water and one as ‘C’ for clean water. That way I was only ever using the dirty water container for unfiltered water. Everything else is for clean, filtered water.
Another popular water filter is the Katadyn BeFree. It’s comparable in size and weight, but reviews share that the life of the filter is relatively short compared to Sawyer.
Some might say this is optional, but I recommend carrying a form of water purification. That mucky leech-filled beaver pond water was slightly brown, even after filtering. Water purification is an added layer of protection if you are unsure whether the water might be contaminated.
Aquamira is a two part chemical treatment that takes under 30 minutes to treat a liter of water. After filtering the water, add the treatment and hit the trail. In 30 minutes your water is ready to drink!
Stove with Fuel
A lightweight backpacking stove is essential for the Superior Hiking Trail. The most popular backpacking stoves are the MSR PocketRocket (REI or Amazon) and Jetboil MightyMo (REI or Amazon). Both are super lightweight and compact. However, they do not come with a container to boil or cook in. I carry the MSR WindBurner (REI or Amazon). It’s got a built in insulated container, adjustable flame and wind protection plus the fuel canister fits right inside of it.
Be sure to bring enough fuel for the length of your backpacking trip. For 5 days, I brought (2) 4-ounce canisters which I partially shared with three other people. I used just over one full canister.
Don’t forget to bring something to light your stove with! Some stoves come with a built-in lighter, but many do not. Be sure to check and test your stove lighter before you go!
Mug or Bowl
Depending on your food plan, you may need some sort of lightweight mug or bowl. All of my ‘big’ meals were the kind you cook inside a bag, so no bowl needed. But I do like to drink coffee and sip tequila (not at the same time, that would be weird). So, I carried a mug with me.
If you plan to carry a bowl, look for a collapsible bowl to minimize space and weight!
Pretty much anything you eat on the trail can be consumed with a spoon or a fork. Lighten your load by carrying a spork for a utensil! A long handle is helpful for eating dehydrated meals out of the package.
Most people would call this optional but I’m a big fan of treating yo’ self after a long day on the trail. I carry a lightweight flask with tequila, which I sip with water around the campsite.
Aside from when you pass through a state park, there are no trash containers along the Superior Hiking Trail. So, it’s important that you plan to pack out what you carry in. Bring a bag or container to use for your trash, remembering to keep your trash scent-proof just like you do your food.
A large portion of your pack weight will be dedicated to food. Planning meals that are nutrient and calorie dense is important for maintaining your energy on the trail. Before you even start planning your meals, do some research to figure out how many calories per day you need. For my body weight, size and fitness I planned to carry 2500 calories per day with some extra calories just in case. This was perfect for me, but may not work for your body.
My target was around 400 calories per day for breakfast. This included a GoMacro bar, instant coffee and some collagen protein powder. Other common breakfast items are protein bars or instant oatmeal.
For lunch, I planned an on-the-go ~600 calorie meal. My go-to is 1-2 pouches of tuna/chicken, a mayo packet, and string cheese on a tortilla. I would usually supplement this with a meat stick and a packet of almond butter. On some days I replaced the tortilla with gluten-free wasa crackers – the gluten free versions are more sturdy for backpacking, in my opinion.
On one day, I ate pepperoni, precooked Spanish rice, mayo and string cheese on a tortilla.
I really enjoyed all of these meals and found them to be satisfying.
Pro Tip: As someone who worked in food manufacturing for over a decade, I take food safety seriously. After much research I learned that low moisture cheeses such as string cheese are (relatively) safe to eat unrefrigerated for up to a week.
For dinner, I planned about 700 calories per day. All of my dinners were dehydrated meals that just required boiling water. My favorite brand was Camp Chow, which is based in Minnesota. Look for dehydrated meals that sound comforting to you. After a long day of hiking you will be craving a comforting meal.
Pro Tip: Plan to carry at least one extra dehydrated meal just in case your body needs more calories on one day. I ended up eating mine on my longest mileage day.
Every day I planned for about 600 calories of snacks. I prepackaged a ziploc bag for each day with a mix of snacks and electrolyte powder that met my calorie goal so I knew I needed to eat what was in the bag.
My snack bags included a mix of dried mango, dried apricots, nuts, meat sticks, candy (Mike-N-Ikes or Sour Patch Kids are my favorite), and protein/ granola bars.
Whatever your daily meal plan, I strongly recommend carrying some overflow calories. My overflow consisted of one dehydrated meal and a combination of snacks. I also brought some chocolate-based granola bars to have as dessert some nights.
Not-So-Essential Superior Hiking Trail Packing List Items
This Superior Hiking Trail backpacking packing list is pretty bare bones so far. If you’re wondering what other options you might want to consider carrying with you, here you go! These are all items I originally planned to carry and either brought with me or left behind.
Portable GPS with Emergency Locator – Brought
Portable GPS can give you extra peace of mind while backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail. Some, like the Garmin InReach, allow you to setup a few prewritten messages that go by text along with your GPS coordinates to a phone number you choose.
Buff or Handkerchief – Brought
I tie a handkerchief around the pressure point on my wrist. In hot weather, I wet the handkerchief, which helps cool my body. It’s also helpful for wiping sweat off of my forehead (girls with bangs will understand) and can be used as a washcloth.
Lightweight Chair or Stool – Left Behind
All of the SHT campsites have benches to sit on around a campfire. These were more than suitable for what I needed to be comfortable after a long day on the trail. However, if you are hiking shorter days and plan to be at camp for longer periods of time, you may want to bring a lightweight chair, stool or hammock. Here’s a chair that weighs just 1 lb!
Bear Spray – Left Behind
Yes, the Superior Hiking Trail takes you through bear country. But, also, black bears generally will leave you alone. So, if you take the appropriate precautions by using a bear bag/ bin and scent proof bags for scented items, you really don’t need bear spray.
I tend to err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to bear safety, so it was difficult for me to leave my bear spray behind. But, realistically, I felt very safe without it.
Lantern – Left Behind
A headlamp is all you need. I would bring spare batteries for your head lamp over packing a lantern.
Towel – Left Behind
For a 5-day backpacking trip, a towel is optional. I did not have an actual shower over the 5 days but did use unscented baby wipes to freshen up. For a trip longer than 5 days or if you plan to shower or swim, you may want to bring a lightweight microfiber towel.
Bathing Suit – Left Behind
Since I was hiking during a drought, it didn’t make sense to bring a bathing suit. Even in normal conditions I would tend to bring a sports bra and underwear or shorts I was comfortable wearing in the water over carrying a bathing suit.
Clothes to Sleep In – Left Behind
Originally I had planned on having a clean pair of clothes to wear to bed each night. But as I weighed my pack, I realized that I didn’t want the extra weight. Would it have been nice? Yes. Was it worth it to me? No.
My solution was to have a baby wipe shower in my tent before bed and, if I planned to wear clean clothes the next day, to change into them before bed. On several nights I opted to sleep in my sports bra and underwear so that I wouldn’t have to wear dirty clothes to bed.
Mosquito Net – Left Behind
Because I backpacked during a drought, there were practically zero bugs. During a normal year, mosquitoes and flies can be really bad. If I were hiking in a more normal year, I would carry a mosquito net for my head.
Basic Makeup – Brought
Even on a backpacking trip, I bring a basic set of makeup. I know a lot of people would say this isn’t essential but it makes me feel better, especially when I plan to take photos of myself. My basic makeup includes a cover up, blush cream and eyeliner.
Dry Shampoo – Brought
Five days is a long stretch without a shower, so I brought dry shampoo to to keep my hair from becoming a greasy mess. My favorite brand of dry shampoo is by Lush. It’s powder (not a spray), so it’s easy to just bring a small amount with me.
Headphones – Left Behind
When I’m backpacking I like to be alert and aware of my surroundings. However, some people enjoy listening to a podcast, audiobook or music in their tent before bed. I left my headphones behind and didn’t miss them.
Cards & Games – Left Behind
A fellow hiker brought a game called Farkle. It was really fun to play it at the campsite at night and super lightweight. I wouldn’t have carried it but I did appreciate that she brought it!
Rope – Left Behind
Rope can come in handy for so many things when backpacking, but the most common use on the SHT is for hanging your bear bag. After much research, I learned that doing a proper bear bag hang is really difficult and many campsites along the SHT don’t have great trees to hang from. So, knowing my own limits, I chose to not hang mine. Instead, I tied mine to a tree trunk well away from camp every night. Both of these are acceptable options according the US Forest Service.
Superior Hiking Trail Backpacking Essentials
There are a lot of things to consider when packing for a Superior Hiking Trail backpacking trip. This Prepared Girl’s Guide is meant to help you balance feeling prepared and confident with minimizing how much weight you are carrying. Hope you have an amazing time exploring some of the most beautiful parts of Minnesota along the Superior Hiking Trail!
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