When we talk about backpacking gear, we most often talk about cutting items out to save weight. But let’s take a minute to indulge — no gear shaming allowed here — and talk about backpacking luxury items.
What’s a luxury item in the context of backpacking? It’s something you carry that isn’t strictly necessary from a practical or safety perspective, but that brings you joy or pleasure. I know, what a concept, right? 🙂
The beautiful thing about backpacking luxury items is that we all derive joy and pleasure from different things, and everyone’s “worth the weight?” calculation is different. Some people hike with luxury items I’ve never even considered, while some of my own favorites seem strange to others.
Here’s a combined list of the most common luxury items carried by backpackers (according to my slightly scientific polls of other hikers on the trail and online) as well as a few favorites of my own that aren’t as common.
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Pot Cozy or Insulated Pouch
My pick: Big Sky Insulated Cooking Cozy
Weight: 1 oz
We all know the disappointment of digging into a rehydrated meal, only to find that it’s already cold. Especially if you backpack in chilly or high-altitude areas, an insulated cozy offers a lot of enjoyment (in the form of hot food) for a very small amount of added weight.
Example: Helinox Chair Zero
Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
If your body doesn’t fold comfortably into a seated position on the ground after a long day of hiking, a lightweight folding chair may be worth its weight. Personally I like sitting flat on the ground — it helps me stretch tired muscles — but my husband’s chronically tight hamstrings makes him a prime candidate for this particular luxury indulgence. To each their own!
Foam Sit Pad
Example: Foam Sit Pad
Weight: 1 oz
If you can’t stomach the thought of carrying a folding chair, you might appreciate a foam sit pad for a tiny fraction of the weight. There’s something strangely satisfying — civilized, even — about not sitting directly in the dirt. It’s especially nice when the ground is wet, cold, or rocky, and can actually save weight if used in conjunction with a 3/4 length sleeping pad at night.
With so many backpackers hiking in comfy trail running shoes, camp sandals have become a luxury for many. Spending a lot of time at a lakeside campsite? Totally worth it. The Xero shoes are light-ish and durable but expensive; a cheap pair of department store sandals works too.
Example: Kindle Paperwhite
Weight: 7.3 oz
This one is definitely on my luxury items list for chill backpacking trips where I plan to spend quality time relaxing at camp. Sure, I can read on my phone or listen to audio books. But a Kindle is easier on the eyes, conserves my phone battery, and doesn’t block out the sounds of nature.
Bluetooth Mini Keyboard
My pick: Samsers Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard
Weight: 5 oz
This is one of my personal favorites, but I’ve yet to see another backpacker carry one. I like to take daily notes each evening at camp, and sometimes my brain goes into creative overdrive on writing projects while I hike. Typing with my thumbs drives me nuts and this little keyboard allows me to write much faster and more expressively.
My pick: Vapur After Hours Portable Flask
Weight: 0.4 oz (plus ~10 oz of your favorite liquid)
Sometimes lightweight backpacking means whiskey instead of wine, and this lightweight foldable flask is the perfect way to carry it. It can also carry olive oil without leaking at the lid, in my experience, but I suggest you ziplock bag it anyway.
Example: Nikon D3500 DSLR
Weight: 15.6 oz
If you love photography, there’s no better place to practice it than on the trail in a beautiful natural setting. For many photographers a quality camera is worth the weight. If I had the photography skills I would probably agree! For now I’m content to save weight and use my phone.
Example: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight
Weight: 2 oz
This one divides people! Personally I think my stuff sack filled with clothing is more comfortable and more lightweight, but my husband prefers his inflatable pillow and thinks it’s totally worth the 2 oz.
Fancy Coffee Maker
Example: Snow Peak Titanium French Press
Weight: 6.3 oz
I’m personally content with some Anthony’s instant coffee and cream powder, but some folks don’t mess around with their backcountry coffee. There are a number of options to choose from, but if a titanium French Press doesn’t scream backpacking luxury I don’t know what does!
I encourage people try backpacking with only one shirt, especially for a short trip. But if I have extra room on a thru hike, a spare shirt for town is one of the first luxury items I throw in. It’s good for morale and for feeling just a little less stinky while roaming the grocery store.
Small Bottle of Lotion
Example: Eucerin Original 1oz
Weight: ~2 oz
All that sun and dust can take a toll on our skin, and a small container of lotion is a lovely luxury. I appreciate a few dabs on my face and hands before bed on the trail, but I especially love it after a shower in town while thru hiking. If you already have a big bottle at home, just decant a bit into a hotel shampoo bottle for a low-cost and low-waste option.
Depending on your device usage, a solar charger can be a luxury item of sorts. If using a smartphone heavily (for navigation, camera, reading and audio entertainment, writing, and occasional communication), not stressing about battery life can definitely feel luxurious.
Warmth and Coziness
I consider adequate layers and sleep system to be necessities rather than luxuries, but “adequate” means different things to different people. I tend to run cold, and for me a few extra ounces of down jacket, sleeping quilt, or warm socks are totally worth it on chilly nights and mornings.
There you go, a wide array of luxury items you could bring on your next backpacking trip. Out of curiosity, I added them all up. Carrying everything in this list (not including the poorly defined “warmth and coziness”) would add 7 pounds to your gear list!
That’s obviously a lot of extra weight. Most people bring only a few on any given trip. The most I’ve ever carried at one time? Six! Town shirt, flask, massage ball, mini keyboard, Kindle, and an extra-warm sleeping quilt. Totally worth it, every one of them. 🙂
Finally, let’s remember that luxury is in the eye of the… luxuriator?… and can depend on the style of trip. I consider my massage ball an essential, while some folks consider a stove and full-length sleeping pad to be luxury items. I’ve done fast-and-light missions with none of these items (and also no stove), but on more leisurely trips I’ll throw a few in. It’s all about finding the balance that helps us achieve our current goals, whatever they may be.
Did I miss your favorite backpacking luxury item? Please share in the comments below!
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