Tent on top of a mountain in Colorado

Best Backpacking Gear | Unveiling Top Gear for 2024

Tis the season of backpacking prep! It is my favorite time of the year along with many other outdoor enthusiasts where we get to go through all of our gear and make sure we are ready to rock and roll for the upcoming season.

If you aren’t a seasoned backpacker, this post is here to help you choose the best backpacking gear. Now let’s get to “stepping” to see all the best backpacking gear!



Best Backpacking Gear: Personally Tested

A lot of the recommended backpacking gear is going to come from my point of view. I will do my best to include all types of gear, but I want to focus on gear that I have personally tested and why I recommend it.

As a woman with an athletic body figure, I typically have a hard time finding outdoor clothes that fit properly. If you have this struggle, I’ve got you covered.

Lastly, for the gentlemen out there, I have done extensive research and interviewed my outdoorsy guy friends on what they recommend.

Best backpacking gear while hiking in Washington snow

In this guide, we will cover a variety of the best backpacking gear that will elevate your backpacking experiences.


1. Footwear: If Our Feet Aren’t Happy, We Aren’t Happy

Investing in a quality pair of hiking boots is essential for any hiker. Look for footwear that offers excellent support, traction, and durability. Brands like Keen, La Sportiva, Merrell, and Salomon are known for producing reliable hiking footwear that can handle various terrains.

Tip: Don’t attempt to break in backpacking boots on the trail. As you can see below… my boots won in this situation. I ended up having to finish that backpacking trip in my Chacos.

Women’s Boots


KEEN Women’s Targhee 2 Mid Height: My favorite boot. Great ankle support, durable (and when I mean durable…I mean DURABLE), waterproof, and great traction.

Merrell Women’s Siren Edge 3 Hiking Shoe: If you prefer more of a shoe-type fit, these Merrells are a great option. Great for hiking or trail running, flexible, and breathable mesh fabric.

Men’s Boots


Merrell Men’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe: Reinforced heel cushioning, rubber sole, lightweight.

La Sportiva Mens Ultra Raptor II Mid Wide: One of the leading companies in the boot world. La Sportiva makes durable boots that fit exceptionally well for those with narrower feet.

Taped up toes from backpacking

Socks

Boots are important, however socks are high up there on the list as well. It is a gross feeling when your feet are slipping because your socks are so heavy and your feet are sweaty. Or when it is really cold and your toes continually go numb.

Features to focus on for socks are how quickly they can dry, durability, warmth, breathability, and comfort.

Darn Tough Socks: All-day comfort. I wore these every day in the Army and still wear them on every adventure and leisurely.

Smartwool Women’s Hike Light Cushion: Lightweight, great for backpacking/hiking, and durable.

Photo of hiking boots and pineapple with mountain in background

Micro Spikes

Essentially, these are a traction device that will go on your boot for snowy and icy surfaces. If your backpacking trip doesn’t include either, no need to worry about bringing these.

Crampons Ice Cleats Traction Snow Grips: Stronger and safer than Yaktrax due to the actual spikes that these have to grip. Labeled for each foot to create a better fit.

Snowshoes

Again, great for a winter backpacking trip. These Aptreck snowshoes are the best. I have tried many different brands over the years and these have been the winners by a long shot. They are great for backpacking or hiking to a hut in the winter for an overnight stay.

Alptreck Pro Snowshoe Kit: Includes carrying bag, poles, and snowshoes. Lightweight and easy to strap to a backpack.

Snowshoeing on Mt.Baker in WA

Sandals

Helpful for water crossings or to let your feet breathe at night at camp. Many people are either Chacos or Teva fans, however, there are many brands to choose from. I recommend a sandal with a strong sole if you need to do any river crossings and ones that you can cinch down.

Chaco Women’s Z1 Classic Sandal: I live in these sandals year-round. Yes, I live in Washington and wear socks and sandals in the winter.

Anywho, these are incredibly comfortable, have adjustable straps, and are durable. (Chaco is also a great company if you have any issues with a dog chewing up your straps…yes that has also happened to me).

Chaco Men’s Z2 Classic Athletic Sandal: Same thing as above.

Standing in front of waterfall with chacos on.

2. Backpacks: Comfort is the Key

There are many different backpacks to choose from, making it a little overwhelming. Throughout the years my friends and I have used Osprey and Gregory packs and have seen consistent success with these brands. What do I mean by success? These packs come with adjustable straps, multiple compartments, hydration sections, and mini pockets.

Each backpacking backpack has a number associated with the name to reference the pack’s capacity in liters. As a rule of thumb, these are the number of days that I typically go by when choosing which pack I want to use:

Day Trips: 40 liters and below
Overnight Trips: 30-50 liters
Weekend: 40-70 liters
Extended Trip: 70 liters and up

Photo of a girl taking a photo with Mt.Rainier in the background

The recommended backpacks may be a bit on the more expensive side, but once you buy one, it will last you forever.

Best Backpacks for Women

Osprey 65L Women’s Backpacking Backpack: Lightweight backpack, great for 3+ day backpacking trip, able to cinch down straps, multiple compartments, with an adjustable back panel to fit a woman’s torso perfectly for adventures.

Gregory Mountain Products Women’s Amber 34 Backpack: Adjustable back panel, top zipper (great for storing smaller items you may need quickly), durable, and includes a rain cover for the pack.

Best Backpacks for Men

Osprey Rook 65L Men’s Backpacking Backpack: The men’s version of the women’s Osprey 65L pack, but the back panel is meant for a men’s build/structure.

Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Paragon 48 Backpacking Backpack: Lightweight, side zipper for quick access of gear, created a great structure for comforting the back.


3. Watches: Telling Time on the Trail

There are ways to tell time by the sun, but we are going to keep the time telling to our watches for this post. I have always used Garmin watches for backpacking. I can track my heart rate, distance traveled, the ability to check a map if trails are washed out, elevation, incident protection, and more.

The brands you will commonly come across are Garmin, SUUNTO, Timex, and Casio. I wouldn’t recommend an Apple Watch due to its short battery life. I always choose smartwatches, but this isn’t for everybody.

Hiking South Sister Trail in Oregon

Best Watches for Women

Garmin Fenix 6s Pro Solar: This is the watch I have and wear every day and for outdoor adventures. The solar ring allows the watch to have an extended battery life. The features I like about this watch are the preloaded TOPO maps, GPS, compass, and more. The Fenix is a bit on the pricy side, but in my opinion well worth it.

Casio Women’s Stainless Steel Watch: Affordable, 100-meter water resistance, bezel ring, and great quality.

Best Watches for Men

Garmin Instinct Watch: GPS, heart rate monitoring, 3-axis compass, durable, trackback feature, and the battery lasts up to 14 days.

Casio Men’s Twin Sensor Display Watch: Affordable, water resistant, backlight, stainless steel, and includes 1 battery.

Watch on hiker's wrist.

No one wants to waste their battery bank on simply having to charge a watch daily. This leads me to cover what factors are important in a watch: durability, long-lasting battery life, and water resistance/proof.


4. Clothing Essentials: Not a Fashion Show (Picture Proof)

Choosing the right clothing is key to staying comfortable on the trail. Lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable materials are essential. Invest in quality hiking pants, moisture-wicking shirts, and a waterproof jacket.

Hiking throughout Iceland
Exhibit A of my “fashion”.

Brands like Patagonia and Arc’teryx offer a range of hiking-appropriate clothing, however are pricy. Columbia, Marmot, KUIU, Coalatree, Patagonia, KUHL, and REI clothing brands are perfect for those with athletic body builds.

Unisex items:

Merino Wool Neck Gaiters – Protect yourself from the sun, dirt, reflection of snow, and wind.
Outdoor Research Breathable Hat: Easy to wash, breathable, and comfortable.

Outdoor Research High Leg Gaiters: Waterproof, breathable, and fitted. Easy way to keep snow out of boots, legs warm on chillier adventures, and dirt out of boots.

Best Women’s Clothing

Best Men’s Clothing


5. Navigation Tools: Understand Before Stepping Off

You never want to be in a situation where you need your navigation tool and realize you have zero idea how to use it. Whether you prefer traditional maps, a GPS device, or a smartphone app, having reliable navigation tools is crucial for a safe hike.

Take the time to get familiar with the tool that you plan on using before you go backpacking. It isn’t the best backpacking gear if you don’t know how to use it properly. 😉

Garmin inReach Mini 2: Compact, ability to share location with loved ones, 14-day battery life.

SUUNTO M-3 D Leader Compass: Precise and reliable for all conditions.

Map of planning a trip to Iceland.

6. Sleeping Bags & Pads

Being able to properly recover each night will enhance backpacking the following day. Features that are important in sleeping bags and pads are insulation, weight, comfort, durability, and temperature rating.

Sleeping Bag:

Nemo Riff Down Sleeping Bag: Absolutely everything about this bag. This bag has kept me warm in single digits, packs small, and has vents in case it’s warmer outside.

Kelty Cosmic 20 Sleeping Bag: 3-season camping, large foot box, more budget-friendly, easy to pack, and keeps you warm

Sleeping Pad:

Big Agnes Insulated Sleeping Pad: Comfortable, lightweight, adds warmth, not difficult to inflate.

Sleeping Pad Pump:

Big Agnes Sleeping Pad Pump: Blowing up a sleeping pad at altitude is exhausting after a long hike or with less oxygen.

Sleeping Pillow:

Sea to Summit Inflatable Pillow: Easy to inflate, holds air well, able to adjust the firmness of the pillow.

Backpacker’s Tip: The best way to store a sleeping bag when not in use is by hanging it instead of keeping it in a stuff sack. This lets it breathe and keeps the material resilient.

59 gifts for outdoorsy girls

7. Trekking Poles: Save the Knees

Trekking poles provide stability, reduce strain on your knees, and improve balance, especially on challenging terrain. Look for lightweight and adjustable poles from brands like Black Diamond, Cascade Mountain Tech, or REI.

Black Diamond Trail Trek Poles: Lightweight aluminum and easy to adjust the height to fit each person well.

Snowshoeing girls on Mt.Baker

8. Backpacking Stoves + Eatery

Backpacking in Switzerland with stove and mountain meals.

9. Water Filtration: Drinking Clean

Access to clean water is a must on any hiking trip. Carrying a water filtration system such as a portable water filter or purification tablets will help you safely hydrate from natural water sources.

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter: Collapsible, quick fill, doesn’t need extra chemicals. This is great to bring on backpacking trips where there are a lot of water sources.

Camelbak 3L Water Reservoir: Leak-proof cap that has a lever on it to allow you to seal the tube shut when you aren’t drinking.

Gregory 3D Hydro: Fits perfectly in the Gregory backpacks. A magnetic bite valve is very convenient and the reservoir fits flat against your back which helps with stability.

Portable Aqua Drops Chemical Treatment: Important to carry with you at all times to be safe drinking water.

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter: Easy-to-use portable water filter that has a built-in and removable flip top.

Backpacker’s Tip: The beverage below is only recommended for 21+. Drink responsibly and clean up after yourself.

Drinking a beer in a hammock

10. Headlamp/Flashlight: Bring Batteries

Something I learned from the Army is to put illumination tape on your headlamp strap or the side of your water bottle.

This creates a glow under dim or dark lighting so you can find these items in the dark. This saved me a couple of times in the Army or backpacking when I accidentally dropped my headlamp at night.

Glow in the Dark Safety Tape: Help mitigate losing items in the dark and having to use a phone light to search.

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp: 600 lumen light & red light

LED Inflatable Solar Lantern: Tie it to the outside of a backpack to charge while backpacking has, the ability to charge a phone or other device

INIU Portable Charger: Charges phones fast, USB-C and USB-A charging capabilities, and even comes with an emergency flashlight built in.

Investing in a durable headlamp and flashlight will be extremely helpful if you are hiking/backpacking during low light or overnight. I always bring a couple of extra batteries just in case.

Night hike with dog

11. First Aid Kit: Anything Can Happen

Accidents can happen, so it’s vital to have a well-stocked first aid kit. Include essentials like bandages, pain relievers, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medications you may need. I always have the Ultralight .7 Kit in my back for any distance of a hike.

Additional items:

Medical kit for backpacking

12. Hygiene Kit: What to Bring

Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays with sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat. Look for high-SPF sunscreen and sunglasses with UV protection to keep yourself safe during sunny hikes.

Some of the principles when backpacking are to respect nature, pack it in, pack it out, and no landmines (aka dig a hole if you have to go 💩).

Everyday Hygiene Kit

  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste
  • Medications
  • Lotion
  • Wet wipes
  • Floss
  • Hair tie
  • Makeup wipes (these are really helpful to get tough dirt off your face)

“Toilet” Hygiene Kit

Everyone does it, there isn’t a reason to be embarrassed when you hit that moment of “I gotta go”.


13. Tents: Hooray for Shelter

There are many different brands to choose from, different designs, different human capacities, and different weights. Try not to focus on all of the bells and whistles at first. Instead, focus on the necessities of what you need.

MSR Hubba Hubba 2P Tent: 3-season, 2-person capacity (I have fit 2 people + a 70 lb dog), rainfly, nylon material.

Nemo Hornet Ultralight: 3-season, 2-person, 2lbs, nylon fabric, ultralight tent.

Tent on top of a mountain in Colorado

14. Gear for Camp: “Fancy” Backpacking

  • Lightweight Folding Chair: This chair has gone to many countries and trips with me. Takes about 20 seconds or less to set up.
  • Rumpl The Original Puffy Blanket: Warm insulation, lightweight, easy to clean, multiple colors.
  • North Face Slipper Shoes: I have multiple pairs of these and am obsessed. These slipper shoes are extremely lightweight and completely worth bringing. They are one of my favorite purchases ever due to the warmth, packability, and traction while I am relaxing at camp.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: Up to 10 weeks of battery life and waterproof. I bring my Kindle everywhere and always enjoy reading at night before I go to sleep or in the morning while I am drinking my delicious Black Rifle coffee.
North Face slippers with Mt.Raininer in background

What is Ultralight Backpacking Gear?

“Ultralight” backpacking gear refers to equipment that is designed to be extremely lightweight without compromising functionality or durability.

The goal of ultralight gear is to reduce the overall weight of your pack, which results in less fatigue, and the ability to cover more ground.

Best backpacking gear laid out in living room

The best backpacking gear that is listed throughout this post is for the most part ultralight gear. This type of equipment is particularly important for long-distance trips or those who would like a lighter-weight pack.


Gear is Expensive…Is It Worth the Splurge?

There are several reasons why I would say that investing in high-quality backpacking gear is worth the money. The main reasons are durability, performance, and overall value. It might feel painful to pay the cost initially, but the long-term benefits are worth it, and justify the enhanced experience that you will experience outdoors.

🔵 Durability: Designed with higher quality materials which lead to a longer lifespan and save you money in the long run from not having to replace equipment as frequently.

🔵 Reliability: Having dependable equipment is critical when you’re out in the wilderness. Higher quality gear is less prone to malfunctions which leads to fewer issues on your adventure.

🔵 Comfort: Imagine wearing 45 lbs on your back for 3 days, walking 10+ miles each day, and having gear that is rubbing wrong or tearing up your hips or feet. Splurging on quality gear can make a significant difference in the comfort of your trip.

🔵 Ultralight Gear: Lightweight gear continues to advance over the years making backpacking even more enjoyable. If you are on a longer backpacking trip, this allows you to carry all of your necessary gear with less fatigue.

🔵 Customer Service: Many of these brands that are a bit on the pricy side have great customer service. If I have ever had questions or needed help with anything, I have been able to communicate easily. There is a reason why they are the top tier brands.

Backpacker’s Tip: If your budget is limited but you want nicer gear, check out Facebook Marketplace or your local used gear shops.

Best backpacking tent during sunset

How to Pack the Best Backpacking Gear

Alright, now the fun begins! You have done the research, you have planned your trip, bought all of the gear, and gotten your meals and snacks ready.

Now, how on earth do we fit it all in the pack?

I have had many experiences of trial and error to make living out of a backpack more comfortable and easy. Shoutout to the Army for the number of times I had to pack a rucksack and continued to learn little tips and tricks throughout my tenure. Packing your backpack correctly may not be something that you think about until you have something uncomfortable jamming into your back mid-trail.

  1. Choose the backpack that fits you the best and the volume for the number of days you will be gone. I touched on the volume-to-day ratio earlier in this post under the “Backpack” section.
  2. Make a checklist of everything you need. Like Santa says, check it twice! Lay out your gear before packing your bag so you can make sure you aren’t missing anything.
  3. There are essentially packing “zones” for packing your backpack. This helps with weight distribution will help your balance during your hike and maintain your center of gravity.
    • Zone 1: The Bottom
      • This is where you want your midweight items. An easy place to access your camp clothes, sleeping bag, camping pad, and camp pillow.
    • Zone 2: The Middle Back
      • Your heavy items will be in this section. Closer to the back panel is where you should put the heavier items, stove, water reservoir, food, etc.
    • Zone 3: The Middle Front
      • Your lightest items will be in the middle front such as clothing and other items of that weight. I like to use packing cubes for my clothing and will either separate by each day or bottoms into one and tops in another.
    • Zone 4: The Top
      • Many backpacks have a top lid zipper that you can use to access small lightweight items that you may need quickly. I typically have a flashlight, kleenex, camera, compass, first aid kit, and snacks in mine.
    • Additional Compartments/Loops/Cinches/Pockets
      • Hip Pockets: Most phones can fit into these pockets. I always keep my leatherman, chapstick, and an extra set of medication in these pockets.
      • Side Pockets: Water bottles or fuel canisters.
      • Cinches/Loops: Caribeaners will be your best friend for your wet sandals and other gear. The loops are really helpful for holding your trekking poles. Cinches are great for strapping down a tent or foldable sleeping mat.
  4. Packing Tips
    • Tape your dangly straps – they can be annoying when they tickle your back or get caught in the way of other items.
    • Don’t have items just dangling freely – hinders balance, and can snag on trees/bushes.
Best backpacking gear outside

How to Prep Physically for Backpacking

Regular exercise can help condition your body and reduce the risk of injuries. Of course, anything can happen while on the trail, and having safety awareness is important.

If you start to experience pain, stop what you are doing and asses. Coming from someone who has had 3 knee surgeries and 2 shoulder surgeries, don’t push through something that may be an injury. I’ve listed a few tips below on how to physically prepare.

Note: None of those injuries have been from hiking or backpacking, but from basketball and the Army.

🔵 Stay in physical shape and drink your water.

🔵 I focus on workouts that imitate backpacking. Walking up hills, lunges, step-ups, jump squats, heal-down exercises, deadlifts, shoulder shrugs, and working on a strong core are my favorites. Focus on proper form, keep your core tight, and if it feels “wrong”, it probably is.

🔵 Mental blocker – “I need a gym to get strong”: Reality – No you don’t. Don’t let this mindset deter you from physically prepping.

My recommended at-home workout gear:
Resistance Bands
Leg Bands
Jump Rope
Kettlebell
Ankle Weights

🔵 Yoga and stretching: It’s important to warm up and cool down after workouts to prevent injuries. Yoga is helpful not only physically but mentally as well. Staying limber helps the recovery process as well.

🔵 Change up your workouts and work different muscle groups. You will be surprised which muscles are activated from backpacking. When my backpacking trip gets closer, I like to put 30 lbs or so in my backpack and walk around and up hills to make sure all of my adjustments fit my body properly.

Post knee surgery

How to Prep Mentally for Backpacking

If you are new to backpacking it can be a bit overwhelming to learn all of the new gear, where to go, ensuring safety, and understanding the importance of being mindful while on the trail. Mental preparation is just as important as physical, I have listed out a few examples to help with that preparation.

🔵 Plan ahead: Understand what the trail route is, weather conditions, and any challenges that others have potentially faced. I always research trails on AllTrails before stepping off.

🔵 Set realistic expectations: Understand your physical capabilities, if you are hiking with others don’t be afraid to ask for a short break if you need to.

🔵 Mental resilience: Even if you have all of the physical capabilities in the world, if you don’t have a proper mindset, this can hinder you with unexpected challenges and the need to adapt. Cultivate a positive mindset and be open to these new experiences.

🔵 Embrace uncertainty: Spending time outdoors is known to help us mentally. Part of the fun of backpacking is to embrace new views and challenges that may arise. Use these as opportunities for personal growth. Be flexible on the trail, you never know what it may bring you.

🔵 Mindfulness: One of my personal favorites while being in my outdoor happy place. Experience the beauty of nature around you, take the time to appreciate the journey, and don’t focus on just reaching the end.

Sunset in Oregon
Photo by: Alexandria Packard

Best Backpacking Gear Wrap-Up

Growing up hiking and backpacking has been a never-ending learning experience. It is exciting to learn from others what tips they have, places they have traveled, and types of gear used.

Backpacking is an incredible way to connect with nature while challenging yourself mentally and physically.

Best backpacking packs on a wall

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or just starting, having the right gear can make or break a backpacking experience. Investing in top-quality hiking gear not only enhances your outdoor experience but also ensures your safety and comfort on the trail.

Be sure to research and test your gear before embarking on any hiking adventure. With the right equipment, you can confidently explore the great outdoors and create lasting memories along the way.

Happy Trails,
Mindful PNW Travels