We’ve backpacked all over the world. In Europe, we backpacked the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2019. In 2020, we backpacked the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. In New Zealand in 2018, our entire family backpacked for 4 days and 3 nights in Abel Tasman. Plus every summer we find the best backpacking trips in the US, such as one of our favorites, Cirque of the Towers.
Backpacking can take you to some of the most incredibly scenic destinations, however, being prepared and comfortable on a backpacking trip makes all the difference in getting to enjoy your experience. This is the essential gear you need, and that we carry with us, on a backpacking trip.
This blog has been updated for 2023.
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Having a good backpack is essential when backpacking. If you’re walking for miles on end in difficult terrain with an uncomfortable backpack, you’ll wish you weren’t there. Trust me, we know the struggle of having a bad backpack. It’s not fun!
I am currently on the search for a new backpack but the girls have hiked hundreds of miles with these 2 backpacks and love them.
- REI Women’s Traverse 60: This is what Gabi uses and she is 5’4″
- Gregory Wander 70 Kids: This is what Isabelle uses and she is 5’1″
Since there are 7 of us, we usually pack an REI Half Dome 4-person tent and an REI Half Dome 3-person tent if we are all going backpacking. But that is really heavy to carry!
REI also has a 2-person Half Dome tent that would be great if there weren’t so many of us!
All of REI’s Half Dome tents are lightweight, easy to set up, have large door openings on both sides, and when you take the rain tarp off you get a ton of fresh air flowing in. Plus, this makes for a great tent on a warm starry night.
For 1 or 2 people the REI Passage 1 and Passage 2 Tents are also light, easy to set up, durable, and affordable.
REI also has this Backpacking Bundle that comes with an REI 2-person half dome tent plus a sleep pad and sleeping bag. It’s an incredible deal!
When shopping for a backpacking tent, take into account the trail weight and packed size. Also, if you know the type of environment and temperatures where you will be using it- alpine, desert, etc- it will help so you know if you need a 3-season (which is not suitable for winter or extreme cold) or 4-season tent.
Shop REI’s Huge Selection of Backpacking Tents Here
Backpacking Sleeping Pads
We have tried out many different brands of sleeping pads over the years and have an entire blog reviewing our different sleeping pads.
My personal favorite is REI’s Camp Bed, but it’s way too big to take backpacking and I only use it when I am car camping.
For a one night trip I use the smaller and lighter Sea to Summit Comfort Light sleep pad. It is self inflating which means you only need a few breaths to finish inflating it. It is still extremely comfortable and you don’t feel like you’re just laying on the ground.
If you want the absolute lightest option, we have been very happy with the Nemo Tensor. It costs a little more but is super lightweight and takes up almost no space.
Last, and in many ways the most comfortable and most reliable sleep pad has been the REI Kindercamp sleep pad. It is self inflating and fairly compact. It’s a kids sleep pad, but honestly, Victor fights over it with the kids all the time.
Backpacking Sleeping Bag
Having a warm sleeping bag can be a game changer. There’s not much worse than being cold and shivering while tent camping. Our absolute favorite sleeping bag is Mountain Hardware’s Bishop Pass.
If you are backpacking somewhere warm, you might prefer packing a camping blanket like this.
Having a good headlamp for when you have to go to the bathroom in the woods in the middle of the night (hey, it’s scary) is very important. It also eases our mind knowing we have some powerful lights in case we have to hike back in the dark (which actually happened and you can watch it on YouTube here.
We’ve tried and tested many headlamps, like the Black Diamond pictured above, but now, our go-to brand that we love the most is BioLite 330 headlamp. It is extremely bright and comfortable if you have to hike with it for long periods of time. I like that is rechargeable so I don’t have to worry about finding batteries.
We also love, and always hike with, the Luci Light by MPowerd. These lights are very bright, easy to hang in your tent, collapsible so they are easy to pack, and create a great ambiance around your campsite at night. We have the ones with charging devices on them so that we can keep our phones powered as long as there is sunshine.
Backpacking Water Filters
For big hikes and backpacking trips we carry HydroBlu Clear Flow Water Bottles. These are water bottles with filters inside them.
While I don’t love that this water bottle is plastic, it has saved us on so many hiking adventures. It’s so much faster to just unscrew the top, fill from a fast moving stream, and then just suck water up the straw. This allows us to keep hiking and not worry about tablets or finding a tree to hang our gravity bag from.
On backpacking trips we do also carry the HydroBlu Go Flow Gravity Bag but we typically just use this to make meals once we set up camp.
The Gravity Bag is great for backcountry camping because it carries so much water. It makes it so once we pitch camp we can walk over to a stream, river lake, or waterfall and fill enough water for the whole night and morning.
Backpacking Camp Stoves & Meals
On some backpacking trips, especially when we want to pack light, we just bring our Jet Boil Flash Java Kit & IsoPro butane. It has a Jet Boil container to boil water quickly and then add in our dehydrated meal.
Honestly, we are huge food snobs so we carry our own whole foods and make salads, stews, and sandwiches in the backcountry.
If you aren’t crazy like us, then carrying out dehydrated meals like Pad Thai Chicken, Kathmandu Curry, or Blueberry Peach Crisp from Backpacker’s Kitchen is our recommended choice.
In order to cook more food we often carry out 1 or 2 Pocket Rockets and a cookset like this. You could also use this Sea to Summit Cookset with collapsible pot, bowl, and mug.
Plus, I don’t want my coffee to taste like chili, so I use my Jet Boil only for boiling water.
While the PocketRocket may be a bit tippy when using large pots and pans, this camp stove has gotten us through tent camping in Norway, Ireland, Germany, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the US. We love that it is lightweight and packs down so small. It’s fantastic for backpacking!
We always carry a knife like this and don’t forget to pack a few cooking utensils and a spork. Now is a good time to also throw in waterproof matches, trash bag, ziplock baggies, paper towels, toilet paper, and baby wipes.
If you somehow don’t need or want coffee when backpacking, I envy you. But if you’re a good ol black coffee lover like us, we never backpack without our JetBoil Flash Java Kit.
We personally can’t have French Pressed coffee without it being freshly ground so we always carry this GSI coffee grinder.
Depending on your preference and itinerary, you may want to pack a Hydroflask coffee mug, a 20 oz Hydroflask for the trail, or a collapsible mug to save space.
If you are packing out your own healthy snacks, we love using the Blue Water Bento 3-in-1 lunchboxes because they pack more efficiently than regular food packaging, they are lightweight unlike most Tupperware, and they seal up really well.
We usually pack nuts, our famous trail cookies, crackers, chips and by packing them in our Bentos, our food doesn’t get smushed and broken by other stuff in our packs.
Bentos are completely seal proof so you can even pack hummus, soup, our premade backpacking dinners in never worry about spillage.
Wine lovers will want to pack out wine and a wine tumbler. Beer fanatics might want to fill up this growler with their favorite brew. And cocktail lovers may want to pack this mini cocktail box.
If you plan on having a campfire on your backpacking trip, make your life easier by also packing Fire Starters. These fire starters from Bushcraft Survival are wax-infused natural hemp cords that work in all weather conditions, so you can safely start a fire whenever you need it and the wick can burn for hours.
Backpacking Navigation & Safety
You can go old school with an actual paper map but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your hands on one of those these days. You can use your smartphone as an offline GPS but if you are heading deep into the backcountry and are worried about getting lost, we recommend carrying this personal locator beacon.
While backpacking is a super safe outdoor activity, it’s always good to be prepared with a first aid kit.
If you’re backpacking in bear country, you need to carry bear spray and pack your food in a bear canister.
Clothing & Personal Items
Pants & Leggings
Our Kuhl pants have been everywhere with us and are truly one of our favorite hiking pants!
My personal favorite, the women’s Splash Roll Up’s are one of my top picks. They’re stylish, comfortable, and durable and have been on adventures with us for 26 countries, which goes to show truly how long-lasting they are!
The women’s Trekkr pants are another top choice, due to their slimmer fit and cinched capri-fit. Kuhl has a style for every hiker with skinny, straight, and relaxed fits for both men and women. “Fueled by independence,” Kuhl combines a mountain mindset with effectively designed, stylish apparel for active people. Shop now at Kuhl.com.
Base layers are totally optional and it all depends how cold it is where you’re backpacking. I’ve backpacked all over the world in these Smartwool Merion base layer top and Smartwool Merino base layer bottoms and love how comfy they are to sleep in. I also use them for skiing so I really have gotten my money’s worth with them.
For shirts while backpacking, you’re gonna want anything that’s either lightweight and loose or tight fitting and wicking. Check out our entire line of swag here and DEFY THE NORM with us!
Each of us has our usual go-to for sun protection. For me it’s a plaid button up, for others in the family it’s a loose long sleeve. Either way the point is light and loose. While a tight, sweat wicking long sleeve would work too, we prefer looser clothing for when it’s really hot because it protects our skin but keeps is cool.
We never hit the trail without our Patagonia Nano Puff or Down Sweater Jackets. These are basically the most versatile jackets ever! They’re insulating and warm for when it gets really cold but they’re also just a great windbreaker.
You should always pack a rain jacket just in case. We’ve made the mistake of listening to the weather report, “Nah, we don’t need em’, it’s not supposed to rain”… only to be getting soaked while hiking on a mountainside because we didn’t have our rain jackets.
Best Shoes For Backpacking
La Sportiva’s Bushidos are the absolute best trail shoes. We all own them and they are our go to shoe for all our adventures. They are comfortable, flexible, and versatile. Click here to see our full review of La Sportiva Bushidos and find out why they’re our #1 shoe for hiking, backpacking, and adventure.
I don’t like sleeping in dirty socks so while I tend to just hike in whatever socks I have (typically the Costco pack), I love having comfy warm socks to sleep in. If it’s really cold then these Darn Tough Socks are great. They keep your feet dry (aka less smelly) and are super warm. Personally, we love all of our Stance socks the most. Whether it’s for hiking, skiing, or just hanging out, Stance socks are not only comfy, they look cool and having the L and R on the toe satisfies my O.C.D. nature. 😜
Backpacking Sun Protection
We always hike with a hat because 1) We like our stylish hats, 2) They protect your face from the sun, and 3) I mean, come on, you gotta look good for the trees.
Sunglasses are especially important when hiking in glacial valleys or at high altitude. I never would’ve though looking at the ground as you walk through snow could hurt your eyes so bad. Avoid snow-burn and pack some sunglasses.
We have pretty dark complexion so we just use layering shirts. You may want to throw in Sun Bum sunscreen because it doesn’t have bad chemicals and it’s reef safe.
Pooping while Backpacking
Some people love it, some people hate it, either way, you have to leave no trace when pooping in the woods. Always dig a 6-8 inch hole with a trowel and throw all your used toilet paper in a trash bag.
Hope this helped you pack for your backpacking trip! Feel free to ask us questions in the comments section below or let us know your favorite backpacking gear!
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Tuesday 4th of May 2021
WOW What a great list :-) As a backpacker you have really good sense of design :) hehe, and what a great page of information. It's gonna take me a while to look through it all more closely.
Monday 15th of April 2019
I'm obsessed with hydro flask.
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Monday 3rd of September 2018
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