The perfect backpacking kit takes ages to assemble and mine is still a work in progress. They are constantly bringing out new things and it’s impossible to keep up, but I do know that I want to buy the entire REI store every time I visit America and that it’s a real issue for my bank account.
I’ve been backpacking since I was a small child, but most of my know-how has come straight from my Mountain Man father, who is an expert on all things hiking and camping. Unlike my dad, who owns about 20 backpacks at any given moment in time and is constantly swapping out old ones for the latest release, likewise boots and tents and basically everything else in his Mountain Room, I have only made my way through a few, but as of a couple years ago, I am finally super happy with my own gear. I wanted to pass on some of my recommendations for anyone looking to get into a bit of wilderness adventuring.
The 10 essential pieces of backpacking gear:
- Backpacking pack
- Hiking boots
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping bag
- Mattress pad
- Ultralight pillow
- Microfibre towel
- Camp stove & cookware set
Backpacking pack: Osprey Aura AG 50L
I struggled to find a backpack for ages because I’m a fairly small female with a very short torso, which makes for an awkward fit with a lot of bags. After extensive searching and a lot of size adjustments, I totally fell in love with this bag. It’s specifically for women, comes in different body sizes (I bought a size small), and you can adjust the hipbelt and the actual torso length of the bag so it will be perfect for your exact body shape and size. It also has a super rigid hip belt and suspension system that pulls all the weight off your back and shoulders and puts it on your hips, so it actually feels like you’re carrying nothing, it’s crazy. Plus, my backpack included a waterproof cover, which is totally essential even though the bag is fairly waterproof itself. All in all, best backpack ever.
Daypack: Camelbak 20L Hydration Pack
I’ve actually had my favourite daypack for about 10 years, so they don’t sell the exact model anymore, but I have used it flat out and it is still in awesome condition. I have a heap of other packs that I like, but no where near as well as my Camelbak, which just fits a small female frame better than most bags. For a daypack, I would always choose something with a separate bladder pocket so you can carry water, carrying a water bottle is so outdated (hair flip).
Hiking boots: Salomon Quest 4D II GTX Women’s Hiking Boots
I love these boots, they are super comfortable and lightweight, not at all clunky to walk in. I have another pair of lower shaft boots, but these are far better in terms of ankle support and overall stability since they come up a bit higher on your ankle. They are also Goretex, so very waterproof, which is excellent if it’s raining or you’re walking through puddles/shallow streams.
Trekking poles: Black Diamond Trail Women’s Trekking Poles
For any multi-day backpacking trip where you’re carrying a heavy pack, especially if you are making steep ascents and descents, poles are a huge life saver. On past hiking trips in Peru and Patagonia, I’ve had to buy cheap poles or rent a pair from a local mountain shop because I didn’t want to lug poles around for my whole trip, but it’s definitely cost me more than just investing in a sturdy, compact pair of trekking poles! I bought these last year and I absolutely love them, they fit easily in my pack, are super comfy, and they are v pretty. A necessity for all those granny-knee’d gals (and guys) out there!
Tent: REI Co-Op Half Dome 2
My dad bought me this tent a few years ago as a gift, and I absolutely love it. It’s so easy to set up, incredibly rain proof, and remarkably lightweight and small to pack. It has tons of clever pockets and such as well, so you can shove your camera in and not lose it in piles of clothing. It’s a fairly compact two-man tent, so there isn’t oodles of spare room when you have two people in there, but I find I can get two backpacks inside around my foot area if the weather is really bad. You should also buy the “footprint”, which is a waterproof sheet that goes under your tent to make sure you don’t get any moisture coming up through the floor of the tent, and also to protect the tent from damage.
Sleeping bag: Thermarest Vela Down Sleeping Quilt- Double
I didn’t even know double sleeping systems existed until my parents told me about theirs a few years ago, but now I’m totally obsessed. You’ll need 2 mattress pads (see below), sheets (like these ones from Thermarest specifically for this setup), 2 long nylon straps with buckles (DIY), and this down sleeping quilt. When I’m really tight on space, I leave the sheets at home, but they truly don’t take up much room and they are quite nice– they have loops all around the outside into which your sleeping quilt will hook to really seal the heat in. Plus the quilt has rounded elastic corners at the end that hook around the ends of your mattresses to keep you somewhat contained under the covers. My only complaint is that the pads still separate in the night and you may find yourself sleeping on the floor between the mattresses if your hiking buddy is an aggressive spooner. A simple solution is to buy some nylon straps and plastic buckles from an outdoor shop and fashion 2 straps, one that circles both mattresses near the head and one at the feet– no more separation! Put the straps under the sheets and you will truly never know.
Mattress pad: Big Agnes Air Core Sleeping Pad
These pads look a lot more like inflatable pool mattresses than the Thermarest pads I used to use, but they are so much more comfortable. (I couldn’t find my exact mattress on REI anymore, so I linked to a nearly identical Big Agnes pad.) My number one test is does my hip touch the ground through the pad when I’m on my side? Nothing makes for a crappy hike like waking up in agonising shoulder and hip pain, and this pad passes that test for me! And it packs up incredibly small and it easy to inflate, even if you have small lungs.
Ultralight pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow- Large
This is something I bought in New Zealand after staring enviously at my parents’ pillows night after night, and it is the greatest thing ever. It packs up into the size of a child’s fist and inflates super easily to be a large, fleecy pillow. Expensive, but easily makes camping 10x more comfortable without adding really any weight or occupying any room in your bag. Also love to take this traveling for airplanes and train rides! I would never ever go backpacking without this now, and once you use it you won’t be able to go back either.
Microfibre Towel: Kathmandu Microfibre Towel- XL
I have used ultralight towels since I was a child, and they usually feel like you’re drying off with a lens cloth the size of a kleenex. Then my stepmother bought two of these Kathmandu towels on a buy one/get one free deal and I received the free towel before we went to NZ. Yes, we sacrificed a little bit of space for these towels, but it was so worth it– It’s actually a normal, usable size (see it wrapped around me like a sarong in photo!) and it’s super plush and absorbent. If I was crazy concerned about weight and room in my bag, maybe I wouldn’t bring it, but I have yet to reach that point because I don’t want to go back to the miniature lens cloth that is ultralight towels. (I did recently buy a large microfibre towel from REI and it’s better than the towels of my youth, but still nothing on the Kathmandu towel.)
Camp stove: MSR Pocket Rocket Backpacking Stove
My stove is actually from Primus, but I can’t find the exact one online anymore, so here is a super similar one from MSR. I love this incredibly tiny, yet surprisingly stable camp stove. A lot of other small camp stoves I’ve used in the past have been super rickety and you pretty much have to hold your pot on or it will just tip right over, but this is an awesome stove that is minimalistic and very functional all at once. And it came in the most adorable little bag <3
Two bowls and two insulated cups pack up into the tall pot, it’s amazingly compact. Plus, I can easily fit my stove and cutlery in the pot as well! I bought these new cutlery sets maybe a year ago, and they are so awesome, compact yet you still get to have the full spoon/knife/fork experience on the trail instead of using a spork to spread peanut butter (although, I have these sporks and do really like them). And I always pack 1 super long spoon to stir the pot or the pouch of mountain food, so you don’t end up with your hand in the food using a short spork. Another one of the many things I picked up from my dad!