“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”Unknown.
If you’ve read the post about how you should prepare for your backpacking trip by selecting the right boots, bag, and training for the adventure, then you’re ready to start learning about the essentials to gearing. Gear comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes and it can get a little overwhelming when you’re trying to sort out what you need and what you could live without. This list will introduce you to the gear that I find absolutely necessary for successful backpacking, especially if the trip is planned to be a multi-day.
I’m going to list a little bit of information about ultralight tents, as they have become my favorite gear piece and irreplaceable in my opinion, but feel free to select the type of tent you prefer, or one that works well with your budget. For some people the tent, is “just” a tent, but for me, it’s what makes my trip great vs. a little less great.
Choosing your tent (if you’re planning overnights) is going to be crucial to how you can pack the rest of your kit. Many tents take up a lot of space in certain bags so in this case, the smaller and lighter it stows away, the better!
I suggest spending a little extra to get an ultralight tent. These tents can be purchased from single person to four person in most cases and stow away around just 4lbs! The greatest thing I’ve found about ultralight tents is how quick they are to setup and stow away.
Many will have hooks on the outside of the tent that you can attach to the tent structure itself. See the image below. These make it very easy to setup camp. You simply lie your tent on the ground. Set the poles up over it, then clip the clips to the tent poles and cinch down the corners.
Do you think ultralight means less durable? Think again! Many of the ultralight lines are actually built with a higher quality component such as Silnylon (nylon impregnated with silicone to create waterproofing). These lighter weight, high quality materials used in ultralight gear design have “ripstop” stitching and endure the elements of all 4 seasons. Some may only be made for 3 seasons; so double check the listing when purchasing. For tents that aren’t 4 season, they’re intended for this, and usually have a lot of venting for summer-time or very little venting for harsh winter storms. It’s important to know which seasons your tent is made for. The last thing you want is to wake up in a puddle because the tent you purchased didn’t have the proper breathability.
Fun fact: Did you know that are mm measurements in the stitching of tents? This isn’t millimeters, it’s micrometers. That’s right! There’s a micro-science to how the stitch patterns are sewn. “Ripstop” stitching is more than just “tough material”.
Important to note that when you are buying a sleeping bag, make sure to check it’s degree rating. You will want a sleeping bag with a rating lower than the lowest temperature you plan to be sleeping in.
Sleeping bags are an essential item. Do not skip it, even if the weather is supposed to be hammock-able (amicable?) (I crack myself up!). As noted above the degree rating could literally save your life!
Something else to think about when choosing your sleeping bag is the material used for insulation. You have plenty of options here: flannels, down, down-alternative, cotton, and many more. I like to use down-alternative sleepwear. It’s soft, lightweight and packs down small to leave as much space as possible in my pack.
If possible, stow your sleeping bag in a keep-dry stuff-sack. It’ll make for a very unfortunate evening if your sleep gear is soaked because you dropped your bag in a river! I get it, things happen… that’s why we prepare!
Because sleep mats/pads aren’t really an essential, I’m going to leave them out of this post. Just know that those are an option as well. Life-hack: get an ENO hammock with bug net, a rain fly, light sleep bag and a lightweight mat, and you’ve got yourself a wilderness castle that folds down to the size of your tent pocket in the 50L bags, which leaves a ton of room (and carry weight) for other items. This life hack is not storm or snow friendly.
Click here for more info on jungle-hammock camping setups.
You’re going to want to have a change of clothes to stay dry and clean. Probably more than one, honestly. Especially if you find yourself in the mountains, where weather conditions change rapidly.
I’ve been on the mountainside and caught in three different storms within a four hour window before. Being properly outfitted made the journey so much better, and; while my wife and I were pressing forward, we watched as the less-prepared turned back to escape the harsh mountaintop elements.
Again, I’ll list something that’s very useful but not considered an essential: water-hikers!
With attire there are a few things you’ll want to keep on the list: a non cotton-top (such as a polyester, for easy and quick drying capability), if your trip involves any cold conditions then pack insulating gear such as thermals and down-alternative jackets. Things like beanies, gloves, buff, face mask, etc. are dependent on where your trail leads.
Smart-wool socks will keep your feet dry by wicking moisture away from your feet.
Ask yourself: Are you staying long enough to need to cook? The cookware is awesome stuff, but remember, it adds weight to your pack, even if minimal.
If you plan to cook, don’t forget the fire starter or the fuel! Without one or the other, the rainy days can really ruin your trek, especially when you’re out in the middle of “nowhere” (lucky!). There are people who put a lot of trust into starting friction fires, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it when push comes to shove. I highly recommend that no matter how good you are at starting a natural fire, you pack accordingly.
Many outdoors stores sell food provisions that come in full meal kits. You can have a salmon dinner with broccoli and rice tucked into your side pocket these days! Check out some of the local favorites as well. There are a lot of tasty options at places like Cabelas or REI (or any of your area’s large outdoor retailers).
Keep snacks like trail mix, protein bars, or dried fruits stored safely. In a bear canister would be best. Yes, they take up space in your kit. Yes, they’re worth it. Check and know your local guidelines for wildlife safety precautions.
Lighting is hard to come by when the clouds are out to play and there’s no city lights bouncing reflection back to you. Things like string lights and lanterns are good to have, but add weight. There’s really one solution I’ve found for this: my wife and I used many different lights but both of us agree that these were the most useful, packed small & light, and gave off plenty of light.
Pack your emergency equipment.
Short note: first aid kit, snake bite kit, emergency blanket, bear spray, pouch of medicines, life straw, iodine tablets, epi-pen if you require one.
Long note: I’m posting another article just about emergency equipment.
Click here to learn more about emergency equipment.
To each their own on this. Just remember to pack your toiletries! For safety reasons, use unscented wipes that are also biodegradable. You’ll want unscented-everything. Scents attract bears! If you’re in bear county, have your toiletries stored safely in a proper bear canister.
Honestly, the rest is simply for comforts. If you have these things covered, then you’re packed! Next step? Step!
The only thing left to worry about your pack out now, is getting it lighter!
Click here to learn how to navigate the National Parks timed-entry.