Backpacking gear changes over time. You’ll need slightly different things with the changing seasons and learn that you prefer certain clothing or items over others. There are things to love and rave about your gear, and things you second guess bringing. I have narrowed down my packing list from an over-packer, to outdoor minimalist. Here is the current backpacking gear I bring every trip!
What Gear Do I Take?
(updated July 2021)
→ Osprey has some of the best backpacks out there and I have found them to be the most versatile when it comes to outdoor activities. Check out this KYTE 46 pack from them. Its one of their most affordable outdoor packs and has some of their best features like hip packs, a built in rain cover, and an easy access zipper for your sleeping pad or tent on the bottom of the pack.
For longer adventures, check out the Ariel AG 55 bag
If you’re wanting to get the Ferrari of backpacking packs, there are few better than the Hyperlite Packs. My boyfriend, Reid, used the Hyperlite 2400 for the PCT in 2019 and it’s still going strong.
✓ Sleeping Bag
→ I primarily use Marmot Sleeping bags like their Trestles Elite Eco 20. They’re synthetically insulated, and have kept me cozy in a bunch of climates. I prefer mummy style bags that can pack down small, and have extra layers near the feet- and this does just that.
→ In June 2021, I made the switch to a down sleeping bag, the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15. Man, did I not know what I was missing. This bag is exceptionally lightweight and packs down to about the size of a Nalgene Waterbottle. During warm summer nights it is a bit too warm, but has dual zippers on the top and bottom you can use to air out the bag. 10/10. Its a bit pricey but I think investing in a good pack, bag and pad are worth it.
✓ Sleeping Pad
→On short trips, I tend to bring a thicker pad that is more comfortable, even if it adds a little weight. I love the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI and always bring it on car camping trips. Its self inflating, soft, and extremely thick, which is great for extra insulation from the ground. My boyfriend has had the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir in XL. It packs down to about half the size of mine and does not wear out as fast as the folding pads by Therm-a-Rest. He started the PCT with the folding pad, and switched to the NeoAir after about 3 weeks because it started to flatten from heavy use.
If you don’t want to break the bank- start with Therm-a-Rest pads like the Z Lite Sol. Their lightweight design and inexpensive price make them a top choice for long and short treks.
→ We use my boyfriends ZPacks Duplex that is an ultralight tent he used on the Pacific Crest Trail. It uses your trekking poles as the main stand. It compacts down to a 7″ x 13″ roll and weighs only 19.4 ounces. A huge contender in the ultralight backpacking gear community.
If you are not planning on doing the PCT anytime soon- start with a cheaper option! The MSR Hubba NX 1 Tent is great for one person. MSR tents have been extremely popular for their freestanding and relatively lightweight design.
✓ Trekking Poles
→I use the Black Diamond Back Trekking Poles and found them for cheap at an REI garage sale. Score!
✓ Nalgene Waterbottle
Rather than bringing a heavier item like a Hydroflask or Yeti waterbottles, opt for something like Nalgene or Hydrapak. Even if they might not keep things cold, they are far lighter for the amount of water they hold. They can also be filled with hot water and put at the bottom of your sleeping bag if its a cold night and your feet cant get warm.
✓ Water Filter & Smart Waterbottle
→We have been using the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter with a Smart Waterbottle. I recommend the original filter instead of the mini because the water flow of the mini will start to slow very quickly. A smart water bottle will secure right on the filter and you don’t have to worry about a tear or leak in your filter bag.
✓ Portable Stove
→ I have been using the MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove for several years without fail. Its compact and light, and can be affixed to different sized canisters depending on your needs. Its also extremely affordable. Jetboil systems like the Flash Cooking System are also extremely popular for their ability to boil 16oz in 100 seconds. Great for saving on fuel and time when you are getting hangry after a long day.
I have also been using the GSI Outdoors Haululite Minimalist II Cooking System this outdoor season and am really loving it. It holds your iso container inside along with a pot grip and fold-able spork. You can use the sipping lid as a cover when boiling water and it has a coozy for hot drinks or food.
That being said, a lot of people cold soak their food if they don’t want to add the extra weight of a stove. I just find joy in hot meals and tea!
✓ Food & Snacks
→I will do an entire post about this at a later date but some of my favorites are: Backpackers Pantry meals, ChunkLight Tuna in Sunflower Oil, Bobs Red Mill Instant Oatmeal, Peanut Butter Filled Cliff Bars, Nuun Tablets, and Mikes Mighty Good Craft Instant Ramen.
✓ Bear Can
→Make sure to check if your hike will require a bear can. The Bear Vault BV500 is one of the most popular cans on the trail. Ursak sells bear bags that can hold a large amount of food and be packed a little tighter. It also doesn’t waste space once your food supply gets low. The bags are relied on by many wilderness agencies- but not all. They recommend checking with your restrictions before you travel.
✓ Poo Kit
→Make sure to use proper LNT (Leave No Trace) Etiquette and pack out all your toilet paper on trail and bring a trowel like TheTentLab The Deuce to dig a cathole for your waste.
Bring a Ziploc bag to keep everything in and you can use duct-tape around the outside of your bag to keep it discreet and labeled.
→I have been using a Petzl Tikka Headlamp for nearly 5 years and still love it. I recommend finding a headlamp with a red led for low-light activities like reading or cooking where a bright headlamp might be a little annoying.
During car camping trips or short backpacking trips I also love bringing an inflatable lantern like the MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern . They can be tied to the outside of your pack or set out on your car dash to recharge. A few brands also make ones with USB ports that can charge your phone. I love these- but they don’t last as well as the classic.
✓ Blister Tape/ First Aid
→BRING A MEDICAL KIT. Even if its for a day, just bring one. You never know when you could be in a situation where it is necessary. At the very least, compile your own of stuff you already have and some premade fillers from your local drugstore or outdoor supply store. REI has pre-made packs like the Adventure Ultralight Medical Kits as well as small ones to resupply your kit.
As a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) I recommend your backpacking gear kit at least has the following: blister tape, medical tape, sized band aids, medications, irrigation syringe (for cleaning wounds or scrapes without rubbing), antibiotic ointment , ACE wrap, and topicals for things like insect bites. I also like adding things like KT Tape and hand sanitizer.
It sounds like a lot, but trust me on this. Accidents can happen even when you are careful. Realizing you don’t have medical supplies when you need them is not a good feeling.
✓ Toiletries and Medications
→The Humangear GoTubb containers are favorite of mine to store toiletries like face cream or wash as well as a small amount of medications that I don’t need the jar for. I have one dedicated to my backpacking meds like ibuprofen and absolutely love them.
Make sure you pack sunscreen in your backpacking gear! I really like the Bager brand because most of their sunscreens are natural and biodegradable! I also bring a high SPF lip balm because I am prone to sunburn there.
Hygiene is really important on the trail so pack accordingly! I have a folding toothbrush and travel toothpaste but toothpaste tabs like Bite or Hello are also gaining popularity. I also have been bringing the Sea To Summit Pocket Shampoo with Conditioner and a travel sized Dr. Bronners Organiz Liquid Soap.
I also put ear plugs in my kit! There have been many night where the crickets are deafeningly loud or the nearby sites are a bit close…
✓ Pee Rag
→ If you are sexually female, I 1000% recommend bringing a microfiber cloth like the REI Multi Towel Lite and using a cloth as your #1 wipe as apposed to wet wipes or TP. Microfiber cloths can be hung outside of your bag to dry and will minimize how much you need to pack in or out. They are easily washed and quick drying and are a sustainable alternative to paper products. You can also check out the brand Kula Cloth. They make rags that are specifically designed for this, and come in different of prints and colors.
I also opt for a Diva Cup instead of traditional cotton feminine products for the same reason.
✓ Down Boots
→This is a recent addition to my backpacking gear for colder trips but they have been a lifesaver! I have very poor circulation in my feet and down boots have helped me retain heat while I sleep, and keep me from waking up with painfully cold feet. I found mine on Amazon here.
→ A must have for cutting cheese or making repairs. Get a folding one like the Gerber Mini Paraframe Serrated Knife
→I use a Buff Brand as a headband, sun protector, sweat rag, eye mask, and sometimes a bandeau. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, and I also have one in Merino Wool that I use during the winter.
✓ Bug Wipes
→The times where you need bug spray, you need something strong and long-lasting. I love the Bens Insect Repellent Wipes because they are light and I don’t have to worry about a bottle spilling over the rest of my backpacking gear. They also last forever and are very strong. Lately we have also been treating our clothes with Sawyer Permethrin Spray for extra protection.
✓ Navigation/ Safety Tools
→Whether its a map on your phone, one you got from the store, or something you have printed out- bring it. A compass can also be a great tool to have. We also use a Garmin Messenger to send pings of our GPS coordinates to a pre-programmed list of responsible individuals and it can also ping other devices with messages. A necessary tool for long or short trips.
I have also used the SPOT device before to send pings via an app and found it very useful.
✓ Camera Equipment
→ Most of my “unnecessary” backpacking gear weight comes from the camera equipment that I bring on trail, but to me, it is a necessity! I have a Sony Alpha 6500 Mirrorless Digital Camera that I love for trips like this. Its lighter than most DSLR cameras and performs as well, if not better. I can easily secure it to my pack with a Peak Design Capture 2.0 Camera Clip to my shoulder or waist straps on my back for easy access while I am walking. I will usually bring 2 lenses, a 16-50 f3.5-5.6 and a 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 Telephoto Lens. These lenses are relatively inexpensive and I feel more comfortable taking them on trail then other higher end lenses. I keep my zoom lens in a Ape Case Padded Camera Bag inside of my pack and will also bring a ND Filter and my Joby GorillaPod if I know I will be capturing something like night photography or moving water.
What Clothes Do I Wear?
✓ Quick Dry or Merino Wool Shirt/Top: I go back and fourth between my REI Sahara T-Shirt and a high neck muscle tank. I haven’t liked the long sleeve outdoor shirts as much but those are extremely popular because of the sun protection they offer. I recently invested in a long sleeve, bug repelling shirt from ExOfficio and love it.
✓ Hiking Shorts: After trying a lot of options anywhere from hiking shorts, to gym shorts, spandex shorts, or zip off-pants I have found lightweight spandex shorts to be the best for me. They don’t cause any un-comftorability around my waist where my pack sits and I find them the most comfortable to move in.
✓ Hiking Socks: Darn Tough and Smartwool make some of the most popular outdoor socks out there and Darn Toughs Guarantee means that if your socks wear out enough to get a hole in them- you can send them to their warehouse and get another pair on them.
✓ Hiking Boots or Shoes: I use the Altra Lone Peaks . For a lightweight shoe, they are the best out there in my opinion. I prefer hiking in shoes than boots because I don’t like the extra weight around my feet and the lone peaks are fairly breathable and very comfortable once they’re broken in.
Keen also has great options that are not too expensive and have a great reputation.
What Clothes Do I Pack?
✓ Baselayer Pants: I have the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Thermal Bottoms and use them at night or around camp if I want to change into something besides shorts.
✓ Merino Wool Longsleeve: I really love the REI Merino Midweight Baselayer Top in Nomad Brown
✓ Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket: I recently bought the Patagonia Womens Nano Puff Hoody (Spanish Red) and its my favorite thing I own. It packs down super small, fits well, and keeps me warm even without a mid layer. I will likely not need another puffy after this one and I am so happy to finally have a great puffy in my backpacking gear!
✓ Extra Underwear: Pretty basic but if you want to invest in Merino Wool underwear– you wont regret it.
✓ Rain Gear: I have a Marmot Precip Jacket that does a good job at keeping me dry but also doubles as a bug shield in extreme mosquito conditions. You can also pack lightweight rainpants like the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants and Gaiters for extra protection in wet climates.
✓ Campsite Shoes: I love open toe shoes. If I could hike in them regularly and feel great- I would. Until then, I always bring either my Chaco z/1 Classic Monochrome Sandals or my Chaco Flip Flops (similar to these Chaco Lost Coast Web)
Tips: Find the right fit for YOU. I have tried a lot of different things on the trail and change it almost every single time.
Remember: Backpacking gear is all personal preference so create your own personal checklist as you go. You’ll find there will be a few “wish I would have brought’s” and “could have left this behind’s”.
There will always be people on the trail or off the trail who will judge you for all the things you bring, or the things you don’t bring- but it’s your experience! Bring the things you want, leave the things you don’t and don’t “Karen” people on the trail for doing otherwise.
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