I can still remember my first time camping in the backcountry. I lugged up a yoga mat to sleep on, four semi-warm jackets, a glass Tupperware container of pre-cooked pasta, and no cooking system to heat up any food or drink. The weather was forecasted to be sunny, but it ended up raining most of the time. Let’s just say that it was an experience I’ll never forget. Since then, it has been 8 years and I’ve learned a thing or two about the gear needed for camping in the backcountry. Keep in mind that I haven’t tried every piece of gear on the market, but I do believe in the items below. If you’re looking to start hiking or camping in the glorious backcountry, or if you’re already an outdoor lover but want my opinion on gear, this blog post is for you.
Packing for an overnight trip can be overwhelming, so I’m here to help you as much as I can. Over the years, I created a master packing list that I looked at when I needed to prep for an adventure. With every hiking and camping trip, I learned from my mistakes, what gear works (and what gear doesn’t work), and other people’s outdoor tips, and ended up with a rock-solid list to reference. At the end of this blog post, you’ll find my backpacking checklist. Feel free to download it and use it when packing for your next adventure! Keep in mind that this list is suited for summer adventures. For spring, fall, and winter you will most likely need more layers and/or other products.
Note: there are affiliate links in this post and I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase an item (at no additional cost to you). These funds go right back into creating content just like this and supporting my small business. If you do choose to purchase something, thank you for your support!
COST OF GEAR
It took me years to collect and invest in all of the gear I own and use today. When I first started hiking, I used what I had around the house, borrowed gear from friends, and bought gear second-hand. Don’t be afraid to do the same! If you want to build your perfect backcountry camping setup without breaking the bank, here are a few tips:
- Buy gear that lasts. If you buy gear from brands you can depend on, you will save money in the long run because it’ll last for years. Should anything go wrong with your gear, many of these companies offer repairs (ie. REI, Osprey, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, MSR, Marmot, and more). I’ve had the same MSR tent and cooking stove, Danner boots, Marmot sleeping bag, Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad, and Osprey backpack for 4-5 YEARS! I’ve lost track.
- Buy at the right place. I recommend buying at a place that will allow easy returns if the gear isn’t working for you, has knowledgeable staff, and a lot of selection! Bonus points if it is a co-op and you get benefits.
- If you can, buy at the right time (ie big sales, etc.).
THE TEN ESSENTIALS
On every backcountry adventure, you should have these ten essentials packed in your backpack. They don’t weigh that much in the grand scheme of things and can be distributed among your group. These items may help you in emergencies so it’s good practice to pack them. They are navigation (map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, etc.), headlamp, sun protection (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen), first aid kit, knife, fire (matches, lighter, and stove), shelter (tent), extra food, extra water, and extra clothes!
Osprey Ariel AG 65 Pack (men’s version): I’ve used this pack for 7 years now and I love it. It is pricey though so try and snag it on a sale. I’ve seen it go on sale for 25% on holidays so keep an eye out! There are some awesome features about this pack but the most notable one is that the top ‘brain’ turns into a small day bag. This is great if you’re on an overnight or multi-day trip where you have camp set up and you want to go explore the area without taking all your gear. Another great thing about Osprey is that if something happens to your bag, they will fix (or replace) it. I will say that if you have 65L of space, you will most likely fill it, so this is your warning not to over-pack just because you have the space. I use this pack in the 55L version unless I go on a multi-day trip.
Granite Gear Crown 3 60L Backpack (men’s version): If you want a lightweight option for overnight and multi-day trips this is what you want. It is only 2lb 6.4in, while the Osprey Ariel AG 65 Pack is double (4lb 13.6oz). The lid is also removable like the Osprey 65 Pack.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent: If you’re looking for a two-person tent that is incredibly lightweight (3lbs), can be set up in minutes, is spacious, has two doors and vestibules, and can handle wind and rain, this tent is it. I’ve taken it to 13 countries, including the very windy Patagonia, and it is still my favorite. It’s a three-season tent, and even though I don’t necessarily recommend this, I have taken it winter camping a handful of times.
Copper Spur HV UL3 Tent: If you’re looking for a three-person (or two-person + space, two-person + a furry friend, etc.) this is a really great option. I bought this 3-person by Big Agnes to try out the brand and I could not be happier. It is incredibly light at 3lb 14oz (not much heavier than their two-person option or the MSR Hubba Hubba), has 8 interior pockets, and is super spacious and well structured.
Eureka! Tetragon NX 2 Tent: If you don’t want to break the bank, this is a great option. It’s a 3-season design but is a touch heavier (4lb 14oz) than the other options.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad: This pad is 3inch thick and really comfortable (with minimal added weight). It’s also rated for colder temperatures so this is a great option if you winter camp.
Sea To Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad: If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll like this option. If you have a Sea to Summit pillow you can lock it to your pad which is a cool feature.
NEMO Equipment Tensor Alpine Ultralight: This is a great ultra-light option (and the next sleeping pad I invest in). It is great for cold weather camping as well.
Marmot Xenon 15F Sleeping Bag: If you make the right choice when buying a sleeping bag and take care of it, you can keep the same bag for years. I use a bag similar to this (mine is not sold anymore) and I love it. I find it’s a great temperature rating for me and my adventures. It has a cinchable hood for when it gets chilly, is water-resistant and it is designed to maximize warmth without weighing you down.
Western Mountaineering 20F Alpinlite Sleeping Bag: This is an ultralight option weighing in at 1lb 15oz vs the Marmot Xenon at 2lb 14.5oz) which means it is more pricey. Even though it’s super lightweight you will stay just as toasty as other options. This bag will be my next purchase.
Kelty Cosmic 20F Sleeping Bag Women’s (unisex option) This is a great budget-friendly option that will save you a few bucks but still be great for backpacking trips. It doesn’t pack down as much as the other options but it has down insulation and water-resistant finish.
Jetboil Zip Cooking System: Although I don’t own it I’ve used it many times and can say that it is almost identical to the MSR Windburner. It’s a brand preference in my eyes. If either one is on sale, I’d go with that! You can use the Jetboil Power Fuel, although the fuel doesn’t need to be brand specific.
MSR PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit: This is a great option for those who want a lightweight stove. I used this for years before I upgraded to the MSR Windburner because I wanted protection from wind.
MEC Deluxe Pillow: I didn’t think a camp pillow was necessary for backpacking because I always used a sweater under my head and wanted to cut weight where I could. Then, I bought this and everything changed. This pillow is incredibly light but a little long so it’s nice if you like hugging your pillows. I believe I got a size medium.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Cinch: I’ve seen many friends use this pillow and they say great things! The cinch adjustor customizes firmness for each individual’s comfort and the pillow is soft.
ALPS Mountaineering Apollo Pillow: This is the lightweight option if that’s what you’re looking for. It basically will feel like a sleeping pad so it’s not as comfortable in my opinion.
You can always use a puffy or fleece for a pillow if you don’t want to invest in one yet or you don’t want to pack ‘luxuries’ (although I highly recommend it for a great night’s sleep!).
Hydro Flask Water Bottle: I bring a water bottle like this Hydro Flask to the airport/road trip portion of every trip. I don’t bring it in the backcountry because it’s heavy and that’s not want we want on the trails.
Nalgene 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle: I always bring a Nalgene on trips because they are super lightweight!
CamelBakCrux Water Reservoir 2L: I also always bring a water reservoir because I can slip it into my backpack and sip water whenever I need it (and not ask friends to grab my water bottle for me all day). This is also how I store more water (vs. bringing several Nalgenes).
Grayl UltraPress Purifier Bottle: There are so many options for purifying water out on the market today but I love this bottle! It’s great for personal use and it filters quickly (but it does require some force).
Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Filter System: This filters 4L in 2.5 minutes without any need for pumping or any effort at all. I usually bring this if I am camping with friends, which is most times.
HEADLAMP & LANTERN:
BioLite Head Lamp 425: I bought a version of this headlamp four years ago and have used it ever since then. It’s rechargeable, lightweight, and has many levels of brightness.
Petzel Tikka Headlamp: This is a great budget-friendly option that is almost as bright as the BioLite option (it’s 300 lumins vs 425 lumins).
Black Diamond Moji+ Lantern: to be honest, I don’t pack a lantern often. I find that my headlmap works just fine but it is nice to have to hang in the tent.
Hydro Flask Coffee Mug: I bring this mug with me on every camping trip and use it at night when I drink tea (a great way to stay warm) and in the morning when I drink coffee. It keeps my drink hot as I take in the views—where ever I may be.
Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork – Long: This is the only utensil I bring outside with me and the only one I need! The long handle is a game-changer when eating dehydrated food.
AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press: This is definitely a luxury because the lighter option would be to use instant coffee packets.. but the coffee is just so good! I don’t bring it on every trip, but most.
Note: I don’t bring bowls into the backcountry because I eat my meals right out of the bags they come in. To me, they are a pain to wash properly with keeping LNT in mind.
FOOD AND SNACKS:
I eat dehydrated meals when I camp in the backcountry. They are easy to make, have an easy clean up (if you eat them in the bag as I do) and, if you choose correctly, they taste great. Everyone is different so you’ll need to try out a few to see which you like. I almost exclusively eat the Happy Yak Pad Thai because it’s easy on my stomach and there are veggies! I love snacking on energy bars, protein bars, nuts and seeds, and candy. In terms of electrolytes, I cannot survive without Nuun Immunity Electrolyte Tablets.
I always bring a power bank with me when I go on an overnight adventure to charge my phone, camera, and headlamp if needed.
Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator: I almost always have no service when I’m hiking and backcountry camping, so this Garmin is needed perfectly in case of an emergency or to let loved ones at home that you are safe. It’s precise and comes with preloaded TOPO maps and two-way messaging. It’s more than a basic GPS with features like a digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer (which are a part of the Ten Essentials). Note: you will need to buy a subscription for the SOS and text features.
HART Health Multiday First Aid Kit: This is a part of the Ten Essentials. Everyone in your group should have their own medical kit. It’s light as air and inexpensive—no excuses.
Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray: always carry bear spray (clipped to a strap where it’s easily accessible) and bear bangers (not pictured) (in the side pocket of my backpack). Bear spray is needed if you are going to be spending time where bears reside.
BearVault BV450 Food Container: I also put everything that has a scent into a bear bin. It’s dangerous to leave anything that smells in the tent—this includes food, cosmetics, toiletries, lip balm, etc. I usually go the bear bin route as it’s worlds easier to use (vs. hanging a bag in a tree) to me. This one is great for a 1-2 night trip but the BearVault BV500 is bigger and can hold up to a weeks worth of food.
INSECT AND SUN PROTECTION:
Having these items (or similar)l in your backpack on any hike or camping trip is necessary. I have 5 colors (don’t judge me) of the Patagonia Trad Cap and I love it. Another hat I wear often is the Fjallraven Helags Cap.
Osprey UltraLight Pack Raincover: This is necessary because you never know if the weather could turn for the worst in the mountains—they have a mind of their own! It packs down super small so I always bring it even if the forceast says clear skies. When the temperature drops, I put it on while I sleep to protect my bag from due and moisture.
Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles (Unisex:) Hiking poles are crucical for me these days… not sure if that’s because I’m almost 30 or because I couldn’t stop using them once I tried them out for the first time. They help distribute weight and reduce the impact on your joints.
Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool: This is a handy item for repairs or day-to-day tasks to bring especially since it has a knife.
Packtowl Ultralite Towel: This is a light option of the towel I use which is great for a backcountry trip. It’s definelty a luxory since you could air dry or even dry off with a piece of clothing you don’t need for sleeping.
Black Diamond LiteWire Carabiner: These are great to help strap things to my bag.
Helinox Chair Zero Camp Chair: This is pure luxory. I bought this chair for a seven night trip in Mexico and it was life-changing. It’s only one pound and it’s incredibly comfortable. Would I use it on a one-night trip? I’m not sure.
Therm-a-Rest Z Seat: If you want an lighter option you can go with this seat!
Danner Mountain 600 Mid WP Hiking Boots (men’s version): I have tried three brands in the last five years and the Danner Mountain 600 boots are my all-time favorite. They are incredibly comfortable, waterproof, lightweight, and stylish. That said, boots are really hard to recommend because everyone is so different. What may work for me, may not work for you.
Danner Trail 2650 GTX Hiking Shoe: (men’s version) I’ve been loving these trailrunners for more low-imapct or easy trails. They feel more lightweight yet sturdy enough for hiking. I also wore these on a 7-day packrafting trip in Mexico so they’ve been put to use!
Chaco Mega Z Cloud Sandal (men’s version): This sandal is my go-to if I want to hike around camp a bit because of the great support and traction. There is a little weight to it because of the thick rubber sole.
Teva Original Universal Sandal: These are a more lightweight option than the Chacos but they no where as much grip as Chacos do. They are, however, incredibly lightweight! If you can’t see yourself exploring much past camp these are great.
Columbia Alava Sandal: This is a more affordable option that may not have the best support for hiking but would be great for camp.
Baselayers are key for keeping you comfortable while wicking moisture as you sweat.
- Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Crew Baselayer (men’s version)
- Patagonia Capilene Air Crew Top (men’s version)
I tend to hike in long-lined crop tops or sports bras when it’s warm out. I usually put on a shirt with more coverage when I’m exposed to the sun or if I’m chilly.
I always bring two warm layers with me on every camping adventure—even in the summer months. The first two fleeces are more on the thin side and the latter two are a bit more cozy.
- Eddie Bauer Quest Fleece 1/4-Zip (men’s version)
- Patagonia Micro D 1/4-Zip Fleece Pullover (men’s version)
- Patagonia Los Gatos 1/4-Zip Jacket (men’s version)
- Patagonia Retro Pile Marsupial Pullover (men’s version)
The second warm layer I bring is an insulated down jacket (and really never go out in the mountains without one). There are so many options for insulated jackets out there… but these are some of my favorites that I use. They are an investment but they’ll hopefully last you for many adventures to come.
- Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket (men’s version)
- Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket (men’s version)
- Eddie Bauer MicroTherm® FreeFuse™ Hooded Jacket (men’s version)
- Arc’teryx Cerium Down Hoodie (men’s version)
Patagonia Pack Out Tights: If you like pockets (I love it to hold my phone and snacks) these tights are great for you!
Glyder High Power Leggings: I wear Glyder a lot—they’re comfortable. Make sure you size down one size! Usually, I am small or medium in bottoms but I wear an XS in Glyder leggings.
Fjallraven Nikka Curved Trouser (men’s version): I love these hiking pants when I want a bit more coverage, warmth, and protection. They are a bit too long for me but I’ve heard that if you take them into a Fjallraven store they will hem them for free.
Kari Traa Ane Hiking Pant: These are great pant that is more lightweight than the Fjallraven option.
Arc’teryx Gamma Pant (men’s version): I feel like I can move the most in these hiking pants. The soft-shell fabric resists wind and water, provides light insulation, and is stretchy for freedom of movement.
SOCKS & BEANIE:
I love both Smartwool Performance Hike Light Cushion Crew and Smartwool Classic Hike Light Cushion Crew Sock. Quality socks are important and while they may seem pricey, you only need a few and they’ll last for a long time.
LEAVE NO TRACE
In case you’re new to backcountry camping, I want to reiterate that I’m not suggesting getting every piece of gear listed today. Instead, invest in gear at the right time (like when on sale), use what you can from what you already own, borrow from friends and buy second-hand for the time being. The most important thing is that you have all the Ten Essentials, you’ll be comfortable and happy outside—everything else can wait. Before you go, I wanted to also mention the Leave No Trace Principles. If you’d like additional info, this article goes into more detail. They are guidelines so that we can minimize our impact on the outdoors and they are:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
One last thing: Are you Canadian? Please know that even though I share links to American retailers, you can still shop! Not all brands can ship to Canada and you’ll have to pay for duties when the package comes across the border. I usually go to the US (Washington specifically) and get my order shipped to a US post office or shop in-store. Then, I stay and hike in WA for a couple of days so that I’m allowed to bring the gear back. If you don’t go to the US often and you’d like to place an online order (for the brands you can shop), I suggest doing so when there’s a sale so it helps balance out the duties. It’s worth it for me because I value the selection and quality of gear.
Note: there are affiliate links in this post and I may earn a small commission if you choose to purchase an item (at no additional cost to you). These funds go right back into creating content just like this and supporting my small business.