Backpacking is perhaps the best way to experience nature and the outdoors in an incredibly intimate and immersive way. The opportunity to fully escape the urban landscape and vices of the modern world is enjoyed by millions each year all over the world, anywhere from the meadows, trees, and peaks of Yosemite National Park, to the winding paths and snowy ascents of the Himalayas in Nepal.
While backpacking is the most natural way to enjoy all that nature has to offer, it can often be very demanding. The act of leaving behind your daily comforts and conveniences for a life in the wilderness does require a certain degree of knowledge and skill, as well as a full array of gear.
Backpacking involves carrying all of your essentials with you everywhere you go, and making a new home each night before the next trek. This is where your gear comes into play.
When it comes to backpacking, the gear you bring along is just as important as your knowledge of the outdoors and navigational skills. Sure, you are more than welcome to bring along whatever you’d like, but choosing the right gear and the right features will make a huge difference in how your trip goes.
Bring too little or the wrong gear, and you may find yourself in some precarious situations without the adequate tools and items to deal with it. Bring too much gear, and you may find yourself tiring out halfway through the day because of an excess load. Balance is crucial, as is being properly prepared for your conditions.
Backpacking requires a large amount of gear, so traveling light is a high priority. The gear made for backpacking often resembles conventional camping gear, but is often smaller, more compactible, and definitely lighter. This allows you to carry more items in your backpack, while also keeping weight at an acceptable level.
The reasons for keeping your backpack weight low aren’t just for comfort. The lower your pack weight, the less energy you'll expend on the trail, allowing you to move fast and for longer periods of time. Lower pack weight is also easier on your body, especially your legs and feet.
Keeping your pack weight down should always be a high priority, but not at the expense of using mediocre gear, or not bringing enough in the first place. Be sure to aim for a balance.
As the heart and soul of your backpacking gear inventory, the backpacking backpack is the means of which you'll be carrying all of your items during your trip. This makes it worthy of plenty of attention when choosing the one that’s right for you.
Your backpack should be spacious, lightweight, and comfortable. This is something you will have on your back for hours on end each day, after all. Capacity is often one of the biggest qualities to consider, followed by weight,and any additional features.
Although many backpacking backpacks differ greatly, there are only really three basic types to choose from.
You’ll rarely see someone with a daypack on an extended trip, unless they are some kind of survival genius. Daypacks are what their name implies -- only for a day. These backpacks are the size of a normal backpack, and only have room for a limited amount of gear.
These packs are generally used on day hikes, and maybe an overnight trip at most. They can hold food, water, some tools, a change of clothes, and maybe a backpacking tarp or compactible sleeping bag.
Some ultralight backpackers may choose to opt for large daypack if they are venturing out into milder weather, but again, not likely.
Internal frame backpacks use a frame system, but the frame itself is contained inside the backpack. The frame is used to give the bag better stability, durability, and a more even weight distribution, while also letting it keep its shape when fully loaded.
The frame can constructed from many different materials, such as aluminum, plastic frame sheets, and more. Many of the better-quality internal frame backpacks have a mesh backing, making it soft and more breathable on your back.
These are the backpacks that often come to mind for many when they first picture a backpacking backpack. With these, the frame is on the outside, with the bag attached in various places. This gives it extra sturdiness and more space to neatly hold a wide range of gear.
External frame backpacks often extend a few inches away from your back, allowing better breathability. Thy can also extend quite high and well past your head, making them less suitable for more difficult terrain. While the frame get in the way at times, it does give you some more options for attaching gear like sleeping pads and trekking poles.
The way you load your backpack is an essential aspect of its use. Backpacks that are loaded correctly ensure a more comfortable and energy efficient trip by distributing the weight properly. It also gives you access to the items you may need in a hurry while out on your trek.
Here’s some quick guidelines to follow when loading your backpack.
No matter what type of terrain you encounter on a backpacking trip, your feet always bear the brunt of every single inch. Rocks, streams, hills, mud -- all of this takes a toll on your feet, especially when considering the fact that you are carrying anywhere from 30-50lbs of gear on your back, further adding to the stress.
Taking care of your feet is paramount in ensuring a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience. Using the wrong footwear can result in blisters, bruises, and sprains. Backpacking boots give you the support, cushioning, and stability you need to successfully tackle all the terrain that comes your way.
Backpacking boots are designed differently from regular shoes, and even hiking boots, who may share similarities, but have vastly different applications. Here are a few of the main aspects that go into making a quality pair of backpacking boots.
Tracton is crucial when navigating the backcountry. Backpacking boots usually have a stiff mid-sole with a minimal amount of flex. This helps provide stability in treacherous areas, while also relying on the boot’s traction/tread profile.
Rubber is a common outersole material for backpacking boots, but it’s much stiffer than a conventional shoe’s outersole. The lug pattern of the outersole is usually blocky and extended, helping provide stability and traction on large rocks, tree roots, and uneven terrain.
Backpacking boots are engineered for traversing over water and streams. This requires a solid, ventless waterproof outer, which is almost always made with full-grain leather. This cuts down on your foot’s ability to breathe, which can be offset by wearing moisture-wicking socks and using Gore-Tex liners.
Backpacking boots have outstanding ankle support, and for good reason. The added stability can reduce stress on your feet and legs overall, heping bare some of the weight. The boots’ ankle support is also helpful in protecting you during slips and falls. A twisted or sprained ankle could spell disaster when you’re 30 miles deep into a forest.
Having a cozy and comfortable sleeping bag to doze off in each night is vital to ensuring that you get good sleep that can both keep your immune system up and replenish your energy. You’re putting your body through quite a bit during a backpacking trip, so you need to let it rest up as best you can.
Backpacking sleeping bags are often quite different from a standard camping sleeping bag. They tend to have much better insulation and heat retention, along with the ability to dump heat if you have too much. Perhaps most importantly, they are lightweight, and easily collapsed down to a small size.
Backpacking sleeping bags can come in different shapes and sizes, and with numerous features, but there are three main types they can be classified in.
Easily the most used backpacking sleeping bag, single sleeping bags have room for one person only. The are often tight in their fit, to both save space and weight, while also retaining heat better.
Double backpacking sleeping bags can hold two and sometimes more occupants. These sleeping bags tend to be very plush, with extra insulation and thick outer shells. This essentially doubles your bag size and weight, however.
Ultralight backpacking are the lightest sleeping bags, and are usually made with less material. They also fall on the thinner side of things, making them more suitable for warmer times of year.
Backpacking sleeping bags can certainly vary from mode to model, but there are some core aspects they all share that can help you determine your buying decision.
Temperature ratings are used to identify what time of year or what climate your sleeping bag is best suited for.
A sleeping bag’s Insulation is the material used inside to retain heat and provide cushioning.
Hood - Many backpacking sleeping bags have a drawstring hood that can either be used to insulate your face, or stuff with clothing and used as a pillow.
Tents are easily one of the most used and utilized gear items in regards to backpacking. It’s easy to see why -- they give you a way of having a transportable shelter that can be set up relatively quickly, giving you refuge from the elements, as well as anything walking or crawling along the ground.
Backpacking tents are still tents in essence, but they are vastly different from the ones you may be more familiar with from leisurely camping. They are often very small, very thin and lightweight, and can compact to a size that is sometimes not much bigger than your fist.
Here are the four main factors that should be considered when deciding on the tent that’s right for your backpacking needs.
This refers to the amount of sleepers you plan on accommodating each night in the tent. The vast majority of backpacking tents available are for a single occupant, but there are plenty of double occupant and even triple occupant models available.
Capacity shouldn’t be confused with space, however. A tent may accommodate three people, but it will still most likely have a low ceiling, and be very cramped in general.
A tent’s seasonality refers to the type of climate or weather that it’s best used for. This is in relation to the construction and design of the tent, as well as the materials themselves. While you can definitely use whatever tent you’d like, sticking with the appropriate tent seasonality can not only be more comfortable, but safe as well.
These tents are lighter, and more suitable for temperate climates and seasons during spring, summer, and fall. 3-season tents aren’t designed for severe weather conditions, but they can withstand light snow and downpours when used in conjunction with a rainfly or tarp.
3-season tents often have an abundance of mesh for better airflow and insect protection, along with a bit more headroom and less tent poles.
These tents are good for warm weather use, but they can also be used in cooler locations that may have snow or higher wind chills when the sun goes down. Extended season tents give you a feel that is quite similar to a 3-season tent, but they usually have a lower amount of mesh, and slightly thicker material for heat retention.
Designed for colder weather and snow, 4-season tents are much thicker and sturdier than their counterparts. They have barely any ventilation due to the need of better heat retention. Using one of these in the spring or summer may prove to be a bit stuffy and hot.
4-season tents usually include more tent poles, rounded domes to withstand snow accumulation, and rainflys that extend all the way to the ground.
If you’re looking to trim as much weight off your load as possible, the weight on the tent can make a big difference. Some of the better quality tents are strong, sturdy, and durable, and accomplish this with material that is less dense, and easy to compact.
A tent’ livability refers to the level of comfort and any added features that makes your tent a more endearing place to spend some time in if need be, as well as any increased versatility.
Some of the common features that affects a tent’s livability include things such as the height of the tent, any extra doors, storage compartments, ventilation options, and even the color of the tent itself.
If you think that hammocks are only for lounging on a front porch or a backyard, you’re missing out. Backpacking hammocks are one of the more versatile gear items you can bring along on your excursion, and there’s plenty of reasons why.
In fact, many now prefer to use backpacking hammocks in place of a tent. Others bring both, and choose one each night depending on their surroundings. Tree-heavy hikes are the most conducive to hammock use.
Backpacking tents are lighter than their conventional counterparts, but they still tend to weigh your pack down, especially when you throw in the stakes, rainflys, and any other parts. Hammocks can weigh substantially less, and take up even less space.
Backpacking tents aren’t known for being very spacious, and that can be fairly bothersome to more than a few backpackers. Sleeping in a hammock lets you experience the open air, with no close in roof three feet from your face.
Tents also depend on the ground for their overall comfort levels. If you are forced to pitch on rocky terrain or uneven ground, you’re going to feel it in your sleep. Hammocks have no such issue.
Hammocks give you more versatility when it comes to creating a custom setup. Pitch a tarp over your hammock for privacy and protection from the wind, or attach a mosquito net to keep out bugs while still taking in the pristine views.
There really isn’t all that much variation with backpacking hammocks. The types revolve around the capacity and overall weight and thickness of the hammock.
Single hammocks can accommodate one camper, while doubles obviously accommodate two, though not necessarily for sleeping purposes.
Ultralight backpacking hammocks are very thin and a bit smaller, often trimming the overall weight to under 1 lb. Backcountry backpacking hammocks are usually heavier, thicker, and come with additional features such as a mosquito net and built-in covers.
If you are going to be backpacking above tree lines, in national parks that prohibit using trees to hang hammocks, or an area with sparse trees, a hammock stand is your only hanging option.
These stands collapse similar to backpacking chairs, and can be attached to the outside of your backpack.
Tree straps are the most common way to hang a hammock. These straps allow you to easily adjust the tension and height of your hammock, while also protecting the tree itself.
Backpacking hammock enthusiasts almost always have a tarp on hand to use with it. Tarps can be used to form a shelter over the hammock, protecting you from rain and wind, similar to a tent. Tarps can also be used to block wind from one side.
Don’t feel like you have to pick either a tent or a hammock. Both of them have their advantages, and as we mentioned earlier, there are countless backpackers that choose to bring both on their trip. This can allow you to ease into it over time, and get comfortable setting up and sleeping in one as you go along.
Although a backpacking tarp is one of the more primitive and simple pieces of gear to bring on a backpacking trip, it is also the most versatile item in your pack. These tarps have seemingly endless uses, and can be used in conjunction with most of your gear.
A backpacking tarp is a more heavy-duty incarnation of a basic camping tarp. Like tents, nylon and polyester are the materials of choice. These tarps often come in some variation of a square shape, and feature guylines, grommets, and loopholes that allow you to set them up in any number of ways.
The tarp can be staked to the ground like a tent, suspended in the air with ropes like a hammock, or used to cover gear during rain and snow. Whatever work for you.
There are numerous answers to this question. Price is one main factor, as backpacking tarps are almost always cheaper than a tent or even hammock. They also weigh hardly anything at all, making them a great choice for experienced ultralight backpackers.
Versatility is the biggest factor of them all. These tarps can be used for almost anything, and creative backpackers can figure out several different ways to make their lives easier when immersed in nature.
Hey, you need to eat when you’re in the wilderness, right? Obviously, you can’t just go and bring an entire cupboard's worth of food with you, nor can you even bring along many of the camping kitchen items that you could use at a stationary camping spot.
Backpacking food is a whole different genre in and of itself, and it has many restrictions and aspects that you will need to work around to ensure that you carry a supply of food that is not only nutritious for you, but tastes great as well.
With some strategic planning, and a little imagination, you can ensure that you have a well-rounded food supply that is easy to make without weighing you down
As with anything else during backpacking, weight and space is always paramount when determining what to bring along.
A standard food amount is 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. (2,500 to 4,500 calories) per person, per day. It is worth noting that this number can fluctuate slightly depending on your size, weight, and fitness level. While packing light is always the goal with backpacking, it’s always best to fall on the side of bringing extra food along in case.
There are a few things you need to consider when planning your meals and snacks for a backpacking trip.
Here’s a quick list of some of the more time-tested and popular backpacking foods that are easy to make and/or consume, aor add to other foods. These foods also have high caloric value and nutritional value.
Many of these can be both meals and snacks:
Opting for pre-made backpacking food can often be a very convenient choice that barely adds any weight to your pack. Manty of these freeze-dried or dehydrated choices only require a little water to cook or reconstitute, and you can eat them out of the bag, which saves on dishes as well.
Unless you’re planning on eating raw or packaged foods every day on your trip, backpacking cookware is essential in helping you properly prepare your food. As with all other backpacking gear, backpacking cookware should be as light as possible, while taking up a very small amount of space.
You may be tempted to just bring along your favorite small pot or pan and a few utensils, but it’s always best to be prepared and use the right gear. You’ll be glad you did.
Backpacking cookware is not only lighter, it often comes in sets that can be compacted down, with all of the smaller pieces fitting into the biggest piece of the set. You’d be surprised at how small some of these sets can get. Folding handles, puzzle piece-like design, detachable parts -- all of these aspects work together to create a compact set that travels easy.
This is also a big reason as to why you should opt for a complete set rather than assembling your own set with individual products.
Be sure to consider these aspects when deciding on a cookware set that is best suited to your anticipated uses for it.
Unless you feel like eating with your hand like a caveman, ,make sure you pack a good solid sport. A spork with a serrated edge is even better, giving you a true 3-in-1 eating utensil.
These aren’t necessarily considered essential, but they might can definitely make your trip a little easier - and even safer.
You obviously can’t bring along your trust Coleman camping stove from your childhood, but you can purchase mini stove burners that are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
These stoves attach to butane and propane canisters to give you an extra-hot flame that can sometimes heat up a pot of water in a matter of minutes. Backpacking stoves truly provide a way to set up a portable kitchen of sorts, which you can use to cook multiple dishes, or simply boil water.
Hey, sometimes it’s nice to have your own seat when you’re walking through the wilderness for 8-12 hours a day.
Backpacking chairs are light, fold up to a very small size, and can often attach to the back of your backpack. This gives you a quick and easy way to take a load off without having to go search for that perfect rot or ground spot to kick back on. This is especially handy when stopping for a quick break mid-day.
Your personal water supply is the most important thing you can bring with you on a backpacking trip. Unfortunately, you run out eventually, leaving you to depend on any locals, or hope to find a crystal-clear like or river -- and even then you’re at risk of getting sick.
Backpacking water filters posses the ability to take water from a natural source, and pass it through several filters and right into your cup where it’s safe to drink. This turns any water supply into an endless drinking supply, while also saving you from having to carry lots of treatment tablets, or spend hours boiling water every day.
Who says you have to rough it on a backpacking trip? There are still lots of things you can bring along for added comfort. One of those things is a backpacking pillow.
These handy pillows can easily be inflated from their compact state, and usually come with an ultra-soft cover that helps give your head better support and comfort resulting in a much better night’s sleep.
Wondering what the consensus backpacking gear list is for backpacking essentials? Perhaps you’re looking for a backpacking checklist? There are actually two answers to that. We’ll start with the older and more “classic” answer, according to the authoritative 8th edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (2001.)
In 2003, the list was modernized to take an approach that included “systems.”
Now you should have the proper knowledge of backpacking gear basics, and all that’s left at this point is to actually plan your trip. We’ve got plenty of resources that can help guide you along in that as well, along with a wide range of gear reviews that can help you make an informed buying decision.