DIY Checklist Mat for Backpacking Gear

I recently discovered the concept of making a backpacking checklist that you lay down as a mat and put your items on top. This method has so many benefits! Plus it is an excuse to get a little crafty.

Making a Tyvek Backpacking Mat

I had a sheet of Tyvek house wrap lying around that I had never used. I received it initially to use as a footprint under my Eureka Solitaire, but the dimensions weren’t quite right and I do pretty fair-weather and easy-terrain backpacking, so I was never really worried about moisture or puncturing the bottom of my tent. I had this noisy sheet hanging out in a camping bin and decided to haul it out during quarantine to see what I could do with it.

How to Make Tyvek Quieter

Many people have instructions on how to make a noisy sheet of Tyvek quieter. The easiest is to run it through the washer, so that’s what I tried. I used a medium load size, warm water setting, and made sure to not put it in the dryer (since everyone warns against that—I can only imagine the result). It seems like it did shrink a bit, but not much. Then I hung it to dry outside.

cat lying on tyvek sheet
Vader tested the softness for me.

The results are pretty decent. It is MUCH quieter and softer. It still seems strong and water-resistant, so I’m not worried about that. Overall, good method.

Making a Backpacking Checklist

I already have a backpacking checklist in the form of a spreadsheet that I duplicate and modify slightly for each trip. I also frequently share the duplicate with others coming on my trips so that they know what to bring vs. what I already have. The reason to make a visual and life-size packing list were:

  1. It sounded like a fun thing to do.
  2. It would help me not overpack.
  3. This ensures nothing is forgotten (I mean you, TP).
  4. Laying everything out helps you pack things in order.
  5. It will help you with space considerations.

This is Fun

I’m under a stay home order. I don’t need to watch any more TV. I usually prefer doing something over reading, but I’ve been reading a lot, and I’m all readed out. I like doing things and making messes. Plus, it gave me a chance to go through and organize a lot of gear, retrieve things from other parts of the house, wash things, combine containers, etc.

checklist mat closeup

Helps with Overpacking

I am guilty of overpacking. Our trips don’t involve a long haul. I bring kids backpacking, so we almost never hike in more than two miles. We found a shorter route to a spot that we love that’s three-quarters of a mile, so even though I like the challenge of trying to be ultralight, it doesn’t really apply to me. That said, I pack too much and it is unnecessary. Someday we will go on longer trips, so I’d like to get to a place where I just don’t need all the extra stuff. Laying everything out in front of me forces me to think do I really need two pans? How many shirts will I actually use? Do I have a smaller tube of sunscreen? Plus, when I get to the phase of starting to put stuff in my bag and realize that it will be a tight fit (it always is!) I can better determine what needs to be shared between our packs or what can be left in the car just in case.

Don’t Forget Anything

Even with a checklist, I don’t know how many times I have forgotten one important thing. The nice thing about traveling with others is that it creates a system where someone usually has what you need. That’s not true if you forget your underwear, however. Forcing yourself to put everything in front of your face, and also seeing if any outlines are empty—that means you’ll never miss anything.

backpacking checklist longshot

Load Your Backpack in Order

One of the best packing tips I’ve heard is to load your pack appropriately. If you do more walking than we do, you’ll want to put frequently accessed items on top, like snacks, water, a knife, your camera/phone, etc. Whereas your sleeping items or spare clothes can go deep down. By starting with everything in front of you, you can pick the order in which you load your bag and be more efficient. I always start loading my bag before I have everything, and then I have to dump it out because I forgot what is in there already, or I forgot to put something on the bottom. Oopsies!

Helps with Space Considerations

People have their must-haves and don’t budge on them, even if weight or space for other more important items suffer. But it’s when you get to your nice-to-haves that you start to realize just how little space there really is in a pack. Along the same lines, I have a tiny one-person tent that’s more of a bivy, but I really love my Big Agnes C-Bar 2. When I bring a kid camping, we always take the two person tent. If I’m solo, however, it can be tempting to still grab the bigger tent. When looking at my gear all laid out, I start to consider whether it’s worth the reduced space or not.

Similarly, when thinking about what gear to upgrade, it’s nice to have a visual depiction of what is big and could be downsized to make a more enjoyable setup.

backpacking checklist mat


Well, you don’t really need instructions to make your own. Tyvek was a good pick, but you could easily do this with a small tarp, tent footprint, sheet of nylon or canvas, etc. And I just used a permanent marker. It helped to start with the big things on one end and kind of group things in ways that made sense—cooking items together, sleeping items together, and so on.

Other than that, it will take some messing around to get things how you want them but that’s it! I have been cruising the intertubes looking at examples from other people and some prefer to lay out areas for the types of gear instead of actual outlines of the gear. That makes sense, but this felt more cartoony and fun. Anyway, let me know if you’ve made or bought one and what you like or would change! Happy packing~