Backpacking Gear List 101: Essential Gear Picks for Beginning Backpackers
Having the right gear for your first backpacking trip is essential to a comfortable and successful outing. Without proper equipment, you might be miserable, or worse, unsafe in the backcountry. If things go really wrong, you may have to cut your trip short.
With this backpacking gear list, you can make sure you have necessary backpacking gear so you can focus on enjoying the experience instead of worrying about inappropriate gear or forgotten supplies.
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When I was a beginning backpacker, I had no clue where I should invest my hard-earned dollars when buying gear. I read plenty of articles about gear selection, subscribed to Backpacker Magazine, joined Facebook groups, talked to other backpackers and received a lot of advice, some good, some bad. After a few costly mistakes, I found gear that was appropriate for my backpacking adventures, most of which are from 2 – 7 days in length.
If you are interested in a 7-day Machame Route Kilimanjaro trek, which requires more specialized gear, check out my blog post: Kilimanjaro Pack List.
Backpacking Gear List
1. Comfortable Backpack
Since backpack capacity sizes vary, you can usually determine which size you need by deciding how many nights your typical backpack will entail and go from there. For hikes lasting about 3 nights, the Osprey Aura AG 50L pack should serve you well. If you plan to backpack for 3 – 5 nights, then the larger Aura AG 65L might be a better choice.
For my first backpack, I spent two nights in the backcountry and the Osprey Aura 50L was plenty large enough. Osprey’s anti-gravity suspension system with ventilated back panel make the Aura and the Atmos AG 50 and Atmos AG 65L (men’s versions), some of the most comfortable packs you can buy. I found the stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment to be essential since many other brands of packs do not have this feature. I especially like that the chest strap buckle incorporates a built-in whistle so signaling others is quick and easy.
Shedding pack weight is essential to a comfortable and more enjoyable backpack trip and the Aurora 2-person tent fits the bill nicely. What I like about the Salida is that it’s a breeze to set up with its compact folding poles and it weighs in at just 3 pounds 14 ounces. Stow your pack and other gear under the 10 square feet of vestibule space. The tent also boasts higher mesh sidewall protection, so it’s got everything you need for three seasons of the year.
You might also consider the custom-fit Aurora 2-person tent footprint for added protection for the floor of the tent from sharp sticks and rocks. Footprints are not essential, but they do offer increased protection from wear-and-tear and extend the life of your tent.
3. Sleeping Bag
Your sleeping bag will probably be one of the most expensive items in your backpack, but it could easily be your favorite piece of gear too. Budget sleeping bags get down around the $150 range and high-end sleeping bags can easily top $500.
The Kelty Cosmic Down 20°sleeping bag offers great quality and functionality and is comfortable enough to get the job done at a very reasonable price.
If you’re like me, the initial gear budget has to be stretched as far as possible. If that’s you too, and cost and functionality are the most important considerations, the Kelty Cosmic Down is tough to beat.
4. Sleeping Pad
Getting a great night’s sleep in the backcountry can be surprisingly tough to come by. You’d think after a long day of hiking most backpackers would be tired enough to fall asleep standing up. Since restful sleep is vital to a successful backpacking trip, you’re going to want to get the best sleeping pad that you can afford.
I’ve had the Therma-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for a couple of years and it’s still going strong. This pad does come at a premium price, but it’s well worth it once put to use. The main problem with the XLite is that it makes a crinkly sound when you shift around on it (the heat reflective material increases its warmth). It is slightly noisier than other pads but it’s really not that bad and a night of comfortable sleep is worth a little bit of noise.
5. Cooking System
Coffee, anyone? A steamy cup of java on a crisp, quiet morning is just about the perfect start to any day in the backcountry. And a warm meal at the end of a long day on the trail is pretty tough to beat as well. Backpacking stoves can enhance your backpacking adventures in a way that few other tools can.
The compact Jetboil MiniMo cooking system is one of the most efficient backpacking stove and pot combinations on the market. Weighing less than a pound, the MiniMo can bring 2 cups of water to a full boil in minutes. Sturdy metal handles and redesigned cooking cup make for an easy-to-cook, easy-to-eat experience, every time. The MiniMo features Jetboil’s proprietary regulator technology for unbeatable simmer control and reliable cold-weather performance – down to 20°F (- 6°C).
6. Water Filtration System
For an extended trip into the backcountry, you’ll want a treatment method for cleaning your drinking water. But when you start shopping for a good filter or purifier, you’ll quickly find that there are A LOT of different products out there.
The easiest water purification system by far is the Sawyer PointOne Squeeze water filtration system, a lightweight and affordable backcountry water filter. The system can be used in a variety of situations since it comes complete with 16-, 32- and 64-ounce pouches. To filter your water, simply fill up the pouch, screw on the Squeeze, and put pressure on the bag to force water through the filter and into a bottle. Easy-peasy, and clean water is now yours to drink.
7. Hiking Boots
I have tried several styles and brands of backpacking footwear, from trail runners to full-blown and expensive hiking boots. I like a wide toe box, even though I don’t typically wear wide shoes in casual, everyday footwear.
When hiking and backpacking though, I found that the more room your toes have to spread out, the less chance you have of losing toenails. Sadly, I know more about lost toenails that I care to admit, primarily caused by ill-fitting footwear.
I wore the Oboz Bridger B-Dry Hiking Boots in Africa also, and they have served me well on local trails in the U.S. I purchased the men’s boot for the added width, they were comfortable right out of the box, provide plenty of support, and are waterproof too.
Budget friendly, water-resistant and compact, the Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp boasts 90-lumens of lighting power making it perfect for cooking dinner, reading in your tent, or even doing some night hiking. Multiple brightness settings, both dimmable, along with a red night-vision mode makes the Cosmo extra handy if needed in the middle of the night. All modes are accessible via one easy to use switch. The only drawback is that the Cosmo does not come with a built-in locking mechanism, so you need to be careful about it turning on in your pack.
If you prefer a more high-tech headlamp with more features, check out the Black Diamond Storm.
9. Water Bottles
For the lightest water bottle option out there, look no further than the 1-L Smartwater bottles that are easily purchased on your way to the trail. I’ve tried many different bottles types, from collapsible pouches, to hydration bladders, to Nalgene containers and nothing beats the ease and surprising durability of Smartwater bottles.
10. Medical Kit
No matter what your trip length is, you should always include basic first aid supplies as part of your essential gear kit. This comprehesive Adventure Medical Kit includes advanced hospital-grade wound cleaning and closing supplies, and a wide array of dressings and medications. This kit has been chosen by the International Mountain Guides as the official medical kit all their guides carry – it’s truly a must-have for any backpacking adventure.
If you are really serious about spending time in the backcountry, consider taking a Wilderness First Aid Class. I took a NOLS Wilderness First Aid course and the curriculum was exactly what I needed to feel more confident about dealing with medical emergencies when out in the backcountry.
Now that you’re all geared up for a couple of days in the backcountry, you’ll want to purchase appropriate hiking clothes so that you’ll be comfortable and safe while out on the trail!
Do you have other gear recommendations? Let me know in a comment below!
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Great list that you have here, thank you 😁
This is such awesome information! I have a few friends who are going backpacking soon, I’m going to have to forward this post on to them 😊
Great suggestions! I have been looking for a new brand of hiking shoe to try, thanks for the idea.
You’re welcome Donna! I don’t necessarily have a wide foot but I do love the added width that the Oboz Bridgers provide.
Great list! We don’t go backpacking, but we do day hikes and some of these would certainly be handy to have!
Excellent! I’m glad my suggestions were helpful for you.