Best Backpacking Gear | Unveiling Top Gear for 2024

Best backpacking gear in Oregon

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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.

One of the most exciting things is opening your gearboxes filled with tents, packs, pillows, sleeping pads, and water filters and remembering all of the soul-filling experiences. Backpacking isn’t just going outside, walking around the woods, pitching a tent, eating a meal out of a bag…okay well it is. However, it is also a happy place for many people, somewhere where we can let go of stressors, focus on the now, and self-reflect. It isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

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. A lot of the gear that I will be covering is meant for ultralight backpacking and why splurging on gear is sometimes worth it. I will cover both topics towards the bottom of the post.

Speaking for myself, I have an athletic build as a woman. Many issues I have come across in the hiking/backpacking world have been brands that seem to think all outdoorsy gals are skinny with small shoulders and small legs. Have no fear, my athletic ladies this article has got you covered. If you have gear issues from thigh-to-waist ratio, strong legs, “swimmer” shoulders, or whatever body type you have, the brands below are the best. 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

Salomon Women’s X Ultra Pioneer Mid: Waterproof, flexible, durable, rubber sole.
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

Salomon Men’s X Ultra Pioneer Mid: Waterproof, lightweight, maximum grip/traction.
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 currently. 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. Opting in for the right socks will additionally make your feet happier campers.

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 Men’s Mountaineer Classic: Great for winter/cold backpacking and 74% Merino Wool.
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. Unless you like a little extra weight for whatever reason, more power to ya.

Yaktrax Walk Traction Cleats: Lightweight and affordable, these have 360 degrees of traction.
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.
Teva Women’s Midform Universal Sandal: Comfortable, secure, and eco-friendly. They are a quick-trying sandal with a lot of cushion.
Teva Men’s Original Universal Sandal: Same as the women’s, just for men.

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. 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: durablility, long-lasting battery life, and water resistant/proof.

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.
Timex Women’s Expedition Watch: Affordable, nylon strap, luminous hands, and water resistant.
Casio Women’s Stainless Steel Watch: Affordable, 100-meter water resistance, bezel ring, and great quality.
SUUNTO 9 Baro Rugged Watch: Route navigation, GPS, unisex, 120 hours of battery life, durable, and tracks daily activities.

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.
Timex Men’s Expedition Scout 40mm Watch: This affordable watch has a nylon strap, a light-up watch dial, and is water resistant.
Casio Men’s Twin Sensor Display Watch: Affordable, water resistant, backlight, stainless steel, and includes 1 battery.

Watch on hiker's wrist.

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. Some people may say that you have to have “backpacking-specific” clothing. I don’t believe that’s the case, as long as you are wearing athletic gear that is comfortable, breathable, and serves its purpose, you will be fine and can save money for other gear.

Hiking throughout Iceland
Exhibit A of my “fashion”.

Brands like Patagonia and Arc’teryx offer a range of hiking-appropriate clothing, however are pricy. With my body build, I love Columbia, Marmot, KUIU, Coalatree, Patagonia, KUHL, and REI clothing brands.

Unisex items:
Merino Wool Neck Gaiters – Protect yourself from sun, dirt, reflection off 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

Down Jackets: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, MARMOT Echo Featherless Hoody, KUIU Elements Hooded Jacket, Columbia Women’s Switchback Lii Jacket
Rain: REI XeroDry Rain Jacket, Rab Kinetic 2.0 Jacket, REI XeroDry Rain Pant
Shirts: REI Sahara Shade Long Sleeve Shirt, REI Sahara T-Shirt (I swear by these shirts), REI Active Pursuit Ribber Bra Top (tank top with a built-in bra, extremely comfortable), Patagonia Capilene Air Crew Top
Pants: Coalatree Trailhead Pants (my absolute fav), REI Trailmade Pants,
Shorts: Patagonia Baggie Shorts
Base Layers: Smartwool Women’s Merino 150 Baselayer (Long Sleeve) and Smartwool Merino 250 Baselayer Bottom
Gloves: North Face Etip Gloves and Black Diamond Midweight

Best Men’s Clothing

Down Jackets: Patagonia Down Jacket Hoodie, KUIU Men’s Elements Hooded Jacket, Eddie Bauer CirrusLite Down Jacket
Rain: REI XeroDry Rain Jacket, Rab Kinetic Plus Jacket, Arc’teryx Beta Jacket, REI XeroDry Rain Pants
Shirts: REI Sahara T-Shirt, Nike Dri Fit T-Shirt
Pants: Outdoor Research Cirque II Pants, KUHL Renegade Convertible Pants, prAna Stretch Zion Pants
Shorts: Patagonia Men’s Baggie Shorts and REI Sahara Cargo Shorts
Base Layers: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Top, KUIU ULTRA Merino 120 Crew-T, MERIWOOL Men’s Base Layer
Gloves: Carhartt Men’s Glove and Outdoor Research Flurry Sensor Gloves


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. 😉

Map of planning a trip to Iceland.

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.
Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator: Ability to preload maps with a waterproof and durable device.


6. Sleeping Bags & Pads: Sleeping Comfortable

Sleep is critical when backpacking because of the amount of exertion during each day. 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.

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. The synthetics in sleeping bags will tend to lose their resiliency if they stay in that compressed state, and let’s be honest…we want them aired out and not be stinky.

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. Will forever be my favorite.
REI Magma 15 Sleeping Bag: Lightweight and not too tight while sleeping, but fitted. Downproof shell, water-resistant, fitted hood that cinches up, and interior stash pocket for personal items.
Kelty Cosmic 20 Sleeping Bag: 3-season camping, large foot box, more budget-friendly, easy to pack, and keeps you warm
The North Face Eco Trail Sleeping Bag 20: Mummy shape, premium insulation, and designed for more width at the knees for easier mobility.
Big Agnes Insulated Sleeping Pad: Comfortable, lightweight, adds warmth, not difficult to inflate.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad: Rolls up to be the size of a Nalgene bottle, lightweight, and is designed to minimize convective heat loss.
NEMO Tenser Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad: Doesn’t have that rustling noise when you move around, durable, stable, and ultralight.
Big Agnes Sleeping Pad Pump: Blowing up a sleeping pad at altitude is exhausting after a long hike or with less oxygen.
Sea to Summit Inflatable Pillow: Easy to inflate, holds air well, able to adjust the firmness of the pillow.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow: Not only do these have fun designs, but they are also packable, washable, and lightweight.

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.
Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles: Carbon fiber with quick adjustable locks.

Snowshoeing girls on Mt.Baker

8. Backpacking Stoves + Eatery

GSI Outdoor Lightweight Travel Cup: Extremely lightweight and durable.
Ultralight Rodent and Bear Proof Dry Bag: Waterproof and odorproof. The last thing you need is for a rodent or bear to eat all of your food and snacks. I don’t even want to begin if they stole my coffee…
Black Rifle Coffee Company Instant Coffee: High-quality coffee created by a veteran-owned company. (I keep these in my purse at all times too – great for on the go or in the woods).
Titanium Flatware Lightweight: Lightweight, reusable, eco-friendly.
Collapsible Silicone Bowl: Versatile, lightweight, and sturdy.
Jetboil Flash Camping Stove System: Water boils quickly, and the device is compact and durable.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2: Ultralight, minimalist design and the bowl is hot and cold safe. Important to buy the kit, or buy a separate aluminum pot since one is not included with just the Pocket Rocket itself.
GSI Outdoors Cooking & Eating Solution (2 person): Heat-resistant set that has multiple cooking components.
Backpacking Meals: Some of my favorite brands are Heather’s Choice, Mountain House, and GOOD TO-GO.

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.

Note: 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.
Black Diamond Headlamp: Waterproof, battery life, and various settings of light. My other favorite brands of headlamps are Petzl and Energizer.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp: 600 lumen light, red lighting, rechargeable (with a rechargeable battery or AAA batteries), and has a full tilt feature so you can illuminate the surroundings that you need to without cranking your head weirdly.
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. Headlamps need batteries as well, double check that you have working batteries in your headlamp. 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:
Leatherman Multi-Tool: One of the first things I always pack, this tool has saved me from fixing gear to opening food.
Bear Spray: If needed one can protect oneself from any threats.
Emergency Thermal Blanket: Important addition to a safety kit in case of emergency to help stay warm.
Stormproof Match Kit + Waterproof Case: Easy to light, durable, replacement striker included

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
Make up wipes (these are really helpful to get tough dirt off your face)

Bathroom Hygiene Kit

Everyone does it, there isn’t a reason to be embarrassed when you hit that moment of “I gotta go”. These are some helpful ways to keep yourself a little cleaner, while also being eco-friendly.

Kula Cloth: Absorbent, fun designs, easy to clean (let’s normalize feminine hygiene in the outdoors folks).
Ultralight Backpacking Trowel: Be mindful of human waste in the beautiful outdoors.
Outdoor Wet Wipes: Biodegradable (still need to pack it out), durable, and can be used on sensitive skin.
Sea To Summit Wilderness Wipes: These can be used for the bathroom or just in general. They help remove salt from all the sweat while hiking and any other dirt or stink.
Cleanwaste Toilet Bag (aka WAG Bag): Keeps used toiletry items more private with a sealed bag


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.

How many people will be sleeping in the tent? Do you get claustrophobic? (I do so I use a 2-person tent, and then, of course, there is more room for my dog). Will you be backpacking in warmer weather or harsher conditions? Once you get these types of questions answered, it becomes a bit easier to choose the perfect tent for you.

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.
Big Agnes Copper SPUR HV UL2: 4-season, 2-person, nylon material, comes with new awning vestibules with double zippers.

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.

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. My mindset is to buy ultralight gear for everything, that way I don’t have multiple different tents and sleeping bags and can save money.

Best backpacking gear laid out in living room

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.

If your budget is limited but you want nicer gear, check out Facebook Marketplace or your local used gear shops. I have had great success with both of these. However, you typically won’t be able to find exactly what you need whenever you go due to the best backpacking gear selling out quickly.

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? AND what is the most efficient way?

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. Since I have epilepsy, I always inform my hiking buddies where my medication is and what to do in case of a seizure. Making your friends aware of where your medication is can be super helpful in case of an emergency.
      • 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. Engaging in physical activities to improve stamina and strength before your trip will help prepare you.

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. For those who can’t afford a gym membership or maybe are not able to drive, I feel for you and you are not alone. I was diagnosed with epilepsy in April 2023. It has been a mental challenge, as well as physical. I haven’t been able to drive since then, so I have made my surroundings my “gym” and I am still able to kick my butt.

My recommended at-home workout gear:
Resistance Bands: You can do any type of workout with these
Leg Bands: Working out glutes and legs are crucial for backpacking
Jump Rope: Cardio workout and improves heart health
Kettlebell: Great for strength training and comes in different weights
Ankle Weights: Adjustable sets and help with knee strength

🔵 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. A lot of research shows that going outside and performing mindful breathing practices leads to increased happiness for people. When we spend multiple days out in the wilderness, imagine how much good that can do for our bodies.

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. Making the investment 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