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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, 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), 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!
I want to mention that 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 set up 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 YEARS! I’ll link all of these items below.
- 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!
BACKPACK (FOR DAY HIKES):
I always look for features like, mesh in the back and/or straps for breathability, a place for a hydration reservoir, a lot of pockets, at least 20L of space, and has some sort of waist strap—and these bags have all of that and more. I like the 36L version if I have extra layers or camera gear.
BACKPACK (FOR OVERNIGHT TRIPS):
A good quality, comfortable backpack makes ALL the difference when you’re about to head on an overnight adventure. I’ve used an Osprey backpack for 7 years now and I think it’s the best out there—and I can’t be the one who thinks that. Next time you’re on the trails or at a campground, take a look around… I bet you’ll see a few of these packs around. There are some awesome features about these bags but the most notable one is that the top part turns into a small day bag. This is great if you’re on an overnight or multi-day trip and 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.
“What tent do you have?” may be one of the most asked questions I get. If you’re looking for a two-person tent that is incredibly lightweight (3lbs), can be set up in less than two minutes, is spacious, has two doors and vestibules, and can handle wind and rain, this tent is it. You’re looking at the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent! I’ve taken it to 12 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. I’m only providing one option because that’s how much I believe in this bad boy.
A good sleeping pad is needed to stay warm and comfortable. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad and Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Sleeping Pad are my favorites because they are lightweight, easy to set up, and help with catching those zzzs!
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 the Marmot Ouray 0 Sleeping Bag. It has 650-fill-power duck down, is water-repellent, and has a 0F (-18C) rating. It’s great for winter, fall and spring, but is a little on the warm side for the summer. I still use this sleeping bag all year round, but if you’d like you could purchase a summer sleeping bag specifically for the warmer months (which would be a touch lighter to carry) check out the Marmot Xenon 15F bag.
I’ve used all of these and they are all winners in my books. I own both MSR systems, but I use the Windburner exclusively now. It is lightweight, easy to use, and boils water within minutes. I have also linked the fuel I buy. When I started to camp, I used the MSR PocketRocket—if you’re looking for a simple option, this may be for you. It works well, but I have never looked back since I upgraded to the Windburner and believe spending the extra $50 is worth it in the long run.
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 and small. It’ll completely change the way you sleep and will be one of the best purchases you’ll ever make.
I bring a water bottle like the Hydro Flask for the airport/road trip portion of every trip and on short hiking trails, and I use a Nalgene and Osprey Reservoir for hiking/backpacking. I always bring this Nalgene and 2.5L reservoir with me on every backpacking trip.
There are so many options for purifying water out on the market today. I’ve used both this bottle and tablets for years and bring them on day hikes and overnight camping trips.
HEADLAMP & LANTERN:
I bought this headlamp two years ago and have used it ever since then. It’s rechargeable, lightweight, and has many levels of brightness. This lantern is handy for when the sun has gone down and you want some extra light in your tent or wherever you may be.
I used to say that I won’t be that person who uses poles when they hike. Why? I’m not sure. Well, I tried them out once and now I don’t want to set out on an overnight backpacking trip without them. They help distribute weight and reduce the impact on your joints.
I bring the Hydro Flask Coffee 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.
I use the AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press and love it. It’s a bit of an “extra” piece of gear because a lighter option would be to use instant coffee packets. It’s worth the extra weight for me!
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.
This is all the food I buy from REI before every hiking and/or camping trip. Everything else I purchase from a grocery store. Click on which item you’d like to purchase below!
I always bring a power bank with me when I go on an overnight adventure to charge my phone, camera, and headlamp if needed.
I almost always have no service when I’m hiking and backcountry camping, so these options are perfect in case of an emergency or to let loved ones at home that you are safe. They are precise, 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.
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.
I 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). Do not leave anything that smells in the tent—this includes food, cosmetics, toiletries, lip balm, etc. I usually go with the bear bin route as it’s worlds easier to use (vs. hanging a bag in a tree).
INSECT AND SUN PROTECTION:
Having these two items in your backpack on any hike or camping trip is necessary.
These items aren’t completely necessary, but they sure will help! The footprint will keep your Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent dry and the backpack cover will keep your Osprey Ariel AG 65 Pack. I never knew I needed down booties in my life until I bought a pair and brought them into the backcountry. I actually look forward to the moment when I get to camp, take my hiking boots off and slip my feet into them—they are life-changing.
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.
I honestly can’t figure out which pair I like more, Tevas or Chacos. Apologies if that’s not very helpful… but both of these sandals are winners.
I like to wear thin, but warm, long sleeves when I hike or camp in the colder months and lightweight tanks during the warmer months. I have both of these and love them!
I always bring two warm layers with me on every camping adventure—even in the summer months. The first layer is a fleece. I usually wear Patagonia or Eddie Bauer.
The second warm layer I bring is an insulated down jacket (and really never go out in the mountains without one). These are my two favorite jackets that I’ve had for 5+ years. They are an investment but they’ll last you for so many adventures to come!
These rain jackets repel water and will last you for years. I have both of these and they are still going strong.
As you can probably tell from my photos, I almost always wear leggings. 90% of the time I wear Glyder leggings. Make sure you size down one size! Usually, I am small or medium in bottoms but I wear an xsmall in Glyder leggings. The Arc’teryx option is great if you’re keen on pockets.
I’ll be honest, I rarely wear waterproof hiking pants (because I feel restricted when I move), but I pack these with me on long treks or trips in climates that are more unpredictable. For example, I packed them on a 5-day trek in Patagonia.
Socks are key. Here are some options for thinner or thicker socks. I usually go with a thinner sock, but that is just my preference!
HAT AND BEANIE:
I always carry this hat and a beanie like this with me on every hiking and camping trip.
Having sunglasses in the backcountry is key and it’s a part of the Ten Essentials. I like to use these Ray-Ban as I can wear them out on the trail and in the city. They block 100% of harmful UV rays.
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 support my small business.