From The Gear Closet: My Favorite Backpacking Gear

Like many backpackers, after years of experimentation I’ve amassed a set of gear that I find myself going back to again and again. Of course we all have different needs and preferences, but for anyone curious about the gear that’s accompanied me on the adventures I write about, here is a list of my favorite backpacking gear for your perusal.

In many ways this is a lightweight backpacking gear list, but it’s not limited only to those who count grams and cut handles off their toothbrushes. Most of my favorite backpacking gear strikes a balance between value for money, comfort and weather protection, and lightweight performance. In other words, it’s not top-of-the-line cuben fiber, but it’s also not a true budget setup. I sometimes calculate cost per ounce saved to choose lightweight gear, a system I’ve detailed in this post on lightweight backpacking tips.

This isn’t a gear list for any particular trip, and I would never suggest bringing ALL this gear anywhere, as some of it is redundant. It’s more like the library of gear that I pick from when creating my packing list for a specific trip.

Disclosure: many of these links are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through them. Don’t worry though, I only link to products I personally use and truly love.

Pack

ULA Circuit
The only pack I’ve ever loved (after a few that I definitely didn’t). Lightweight yet sturdy, easy to use, comfortable up to about 30 pounds. Multiple hip belt sizes and shoulder strap styles make for a nearly custom fit.

Shelter

Big Sky Soul Solo 1P Tent (detailed review here)
My go-to lightweight tent for all but the most ultralight solo trips.

TarpTent Double Rainbow
My husband and I have used this lightweight 2 person tent for our joint backpacking adventures since 2014.

Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp (2 person)
Not the lightest tarp out there, but its extra structure makes it easier to pitch (with trekking poles) and very secure in bad weather. Used this in conjunction with ultralight water resistant bivvies on the Colorado Trail and loved it. Also very convenient as fast shelter from afternoon storms!

Borah Gear Cuben Bivy (detailed review here) – ultralight
Ultralight water-resistant bivy with bug netting. A specialized piece of gear to be sure, but for the right use case it’s amazing.

SOL Emergency Bivy
Add warmth to a minimalist sleeping quilt, emergency waterproof protection for tarp users, or even lightweight insurance on a gnarly day hike.

Sleep

Therm-a-rest Neo Air X-Light sleeping pad
Tried and true classic, the only sleeping pad I’ve ever used (and still going strong with only two patches)

Enlightened Equipment Convert -10F hybrid quilt
My go-to for when nights might approach freezing.

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 10F quilt – ultralight
My go-to for fast-and-light trips where nights won’t be too cold.

Enlightened Equipment Hoodlum hoodultralight
Use with the Convert or Enigma for sleeping, or for extra warmth on the trail or in camp.

Water

Sawyer Mini Water Filter
My go-to for all solo backpacking trips, and faster/lighter backpacking trips with my husband.

CNOC Vecto 3L water bag (detailed review here)
I use as a replacement for the Sawyer squeeze pouches to turn my Sawyer into a gravity filter.

Platypus 4L GravityWorks Filter System
Super convenient, my go-to for groups and/or more leisurely trips.

Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Drops
Add waterborne virus protection to a standard filter for travel or especially sketchy water sources, use alone on fast-and-light trips, or carry as backup in case of failed filter.

Platypus 3 liter hydration bladder
Durable, reliable, easy to drink from.

Platypus 1 liter soft bottle
Convenient for adding extra water capacity as needed, and for use in camp or whenever a hydration bladder is unwieldy.

Related: Guide to Water Filters for Backpackers

Food and Cooking

Backpacking Stove With Piezo Ignition
This little thing was the first backpacking stove I have ever owned, and I still use it for most of my trips! It’s super cheap, light, and still going strong.

Esbit Stove and Fuel Tabletsultralight
Hard to cook a full meal with this setup, especially in cold weather or at high elevation. But if you just need to warm up some ramen or crave hot instant coffee in the morning, it’s a nice lightweight setup. The stove just barely fits with the Snow Peak Ti mug listed below, if the mug is balanced very carefully on the inner edges of the support structure.

JetBoil MicroMo
After years of using a traditional backpacking stove, I finally splashed out on a JetBoil for the Colorado Trail. The goal was to carry less food and heat water more efficiently at high altitude and cold temperatures. It definitely delivered and I would absolutely choose it again, especially if sharing cooking gear with a hiking partner. Weight and bulk are similar or even less than a non-integrated cooking system with separate stove and pot, but a bit more than just a titanium mug and traditional backpacking stove.

TOAKS Titanium Short Handle Spoon
Small, light, easy to use.

TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon
Eat directly from taller pots or ziplock bags without getting your hand dirty.

Sea to Summit Collapsible X Mug
Great for either eating or drinking (note there’s also an X Cup which is smaller, I prefer the mug). They do eventually wear out, but it takes a LOT of use.

Snow Peak Titanium Mugultralight
Kind of a splurge (these were a wedding present) but they’re super light and durable. Can be used directly on a stove as a pot, which makes for a nice lightweight cook setup for solo backpacking (especially when using an Esbit stove).

Vapur Flexible 10oz Flask
For those trips where lightweight backpacking means whiskey instead of wine. Very light and packs down to nothing when empty.

Kershaw Scallion Pocket Knife
I’m no expert on camping knives, but this is the one I’ve been using and it works great. It’s compact but can still handle a salami and cheese lunch.

Bearikade Weekender and Expedition bear canisters (detailed review here)
Lightweight and expensive bear canister option, but excellent for those counting pounds in black bear territory. See more bear canister options here.

Ursack Major bear bag
Lighter food storage option for areas where bear canisters aren’t required. Takes some practice and persistence to use and hang properly, so use with caution in bear country.

Clothing

Icebreaker Merino Wool Tech Lite T-shirts (men’s here)
Sometimes I live in these shirts for months at a time. Comfy, lightweight, amazingly stink proof, lots of color options. Not recommended for very humid climates. Light colors will get dirty fast.

Icebreaker 260 Long Sleeve Shirt (men’s here)
Perfect for when you need that extra bit of warmth but a jacket is too much. Comfy for sleeping too. Mine gets a ton of use.

Columbia Omni-Heat Baselayer Tights (men’s here)
Good warmth-to-weight ratio, comfy, and can be worn alone as tights without looking like long underwear. I use them for sleeping and as an extra warm layer on cold days.

Kuhl Horizn Convertible Women’s Hiking Pants
I often hike in running shorts, but there are places and times – like the overgrown and tick-infested trails of Ventana Wilderness in the springtime – when durable long pants make more sense. I’ve tried a few zip-off models and the Kuhl Horizn pants are my favorite for their comfy cut, handy pockets, and chafe-free zip-off leg openings (something I’ve had problems with in the past). I lucked into a gifted pair from Kuhl with no strings attached, and I choose to mention them here because they truly are the winner of their category in my opinion.

Icebreaker Merino Meld Sports Bra
Sports bras are a very personalized fit, but this one works well for me (A cup size). I like the pads for a bit of extra coverage.

Patagonia Barely Sports Bra
Lighter and even comfier than the Icebreaker Meld. Possibly not as supportive for larger cup sizes.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket (men’s here) – ultralight
Super lightweight down jacket for fast-and-light trips. Expensive and not super warm (though the warmth-to-weight ratio is good), so best for ultralight hikers who are really counting ounces.

Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket (detailed review here) – great value
Budget-friendly basic rain jacket with nice features like pit zips and hand pockets. Would recommend to most backpackers.

Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket (detailed review here) – ultralight
Lightweight minimalist rain jacket for fast-and-light missions. Mine has grown less waterproof with heavy use, so would only recommend for ultralight hikers who are really counting ounces.

Arc’teryx Beta AR Rain Jacket (detailed review here)
Bomber 3-layer GoreTex rain jacket with a hefty price tag, but has been so worth it for me (I got a good deal on a used one). My go-to for any trip where getting cold and wet could be dangerous, for example very remote trips, unpredictable mountain weather, or solo adventures where weather could be an issue.

White Sierra Trabagon Rain Pants (men’s here)
Budget friendly, surprisingly light and packable rain pants that always keep me dry.

DryMax Trail Socks
Comfy double-layer fabric helps prevent blisters and is just the right thickness.

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Hiking Socks (men’s here)
Another of my favorite hiking socks, and my first pick for long trips because of the stink-resistance of merino wool.

Darn Tough Hiker Socks
This brand is a thru hiker favorite for their durability and fun patterns. Lots of different thicknesses and styles to suit individual preference. I prefer the thinner ones for hiking, and thicker ones as a luxury for cold nights.

Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes (men’s here)
Super comfy, lightweight, wide toe box. I use these for all my hiking and trail running. If you’re unsure about hiking in trail running shoes, you can read more here.

Buff Headwear
I never go anywhere without at least one of these. It’s a sweat band, hair band, washcloth, mini towel, face mask, eye mask for sleeping… Comes in countless fun patterns and colors too.

Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Gloves
Fleece gloves for moderately cold temperatures. My hands still get cold in these, but they take the edge off (my hands run colder than most). Not waterproof or windproof.

Accessories

CastKing Hiwassee Polarized Sport Sunglassesgreat value
Budget-friendly sunglasses picked off Amazon that work surprisingly well. Nice full coverage, unisex, yet they fit my smaller face just fine.

Tifosi Radius Sunglasses
Mid-range sports sunglasses that fit my smaller face well, and I like the interchangeable lenses. I even had prescription lenses made to fit mine, for when contacts are hard to wear on the trail.

Julbo Monterosa Chameleon Sunglasses (men’s Montebianco here) – fancy splurge
Fancy photochromic polarized lenses with a steep price tag. The photochromic lenses are really nice though, and the full coverage is great for protecting your eyes during long days in the sun. Probably not worth the money for most casual backpackers, but those who spend a ton of time on the trail might find them worthwhile.

Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sacks
Reliable and durable waterproof protection for electronics or clothing. The 8 liter size makes a perfect pillow when stuffed with something soft.

Black Diamond Carbon Z Polesultralight
Super lightweight z-fold trekking poles. Would not recommend to most casual backpackers (the tradeoff for light weight is high cost and higher risk of breaking), but for ultralight types these are great. See more hiking pole options here.

Electronics

SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger
The classic “SOS button” emergency device and GPS tracker.

Garmin InReach Mini Satellite Communicator
More flexible device for emergencies and also sending custom text messages. My go-to for solo adventures and group trips in very remote places.

Timex Ironman Essential Sports Watch (men’s here) – great value
Simple and cheap sports watch for keeping track of time when I don’t keep a smartphone handy (or don’t want to waste its battery). Have put mine through all sorts abuse and it’s still going strong.

Anker 13000 Power Bank
Reliable, good capacity for most backpacking uses, and relatively compact.

Olympus Tough TG-6 Waterproof Camera
I broke a few cameras before discovering this one, which is waterproof, dust proof, and reasonably drop-proof. I’m not particularly into photography, but I think the photo quality is decent considering the small size and rugged construction. It has a lot of manual options for those interested in fiddling, and some easy automatic modes too.

Galaxy S8 Active Smartphone
I know most people probably don’t choose their smartphone mainly for backpacking, but I do a lot of hiking / bike touring / traveling where my smartphone is my primary navigation device. I’ve killed a number of smartphones by water damage and dropping, but not since discovering the Galaxy Active line. I’m not always a fan of Samsung devices otherwise, but I really appreciate the waterproof and drop-proof properties of these phones.

Other

Poison Oak Wipes
When hiking in areas with poison oak, these are always in my med kit (learned the hard way).

Tick Remover
Where ticks are common, especially in the spring, I throw this in my med kit.

Dude Shower Wipes
Definitely a luxury item, but if you’re hiking in places without plentiful water for rinsing off, one of these can be amazing.

RumbleRoller Beastie Massage Ball
Not exactly ultralight, but I have been known to throw this in my pack on certain trips if I’m working through a bit of stiffness or minor injury. The relief at camp each night is totally worth it.

Mini Exercise Band
You might be wondering why one would bring exercise bands on a backpacking trip – aren’t you getting enough exercise already? But these bands saved my knees while I was still building strength. I use them at home regularly, and sometimes on the trail.

Diva Cup
Lady backpackers, if you haven’t made the switch to a menstrual cup yet, now is the time. See all the nitty gritty details here.

Soy Sauce Containersultralight
These tiny squeeze bottles are great for packing tiny amounts of toiletries on lightweight backpacking trips.

Gear Repair Tape
A little square of this can fix your punctured sleeping pad, ripped rain jacket, torn tent, or any number of other things. I prefer the clear color, and always keep some in my med kit.

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the western US. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more or say hi.

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Pictures of backpacking gear with text: My personal all-time favorite backpacking gear

1 thought on “From The Gear Closet: My Favorite Backpacking Gear”

  1. Awesome info Alissa!

    I have been an avid backpacker since the early 1970’s. State of the art back then was heavy “waffle stomper” boots, blue jeans and canvas pup tents. Pack weight of 65+ pounds were considered normal!

    I have been blessed to hike all over the world, including a 2-year long trip in Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1982-84. Backpacked just about everywhere I went. Thankfully gear had improved a little by then and 50-ish pounds was the norm.

    Now my base weight is about 35 pounds. Still far from ultralight, but I mostly hike alone in Colorado mountains so I take a few extra just-in-case things with me.

    Thanks for the awesome info and tips! I have never owned a Merino wool shirt, but based on your suggestion, it is on my wish list!

    Thanks again and happy hiking!

    Jeff

    Reply

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