My Backpacking Gear List – A Lightweight & Comfortable Approach (updated for 2023)
My approach to backpacking gear is to be as lightweight as possible while still providing enough comfort items to make trips enjoyable. This is my complete list of gear with info about what I like about each item, updated for 2023.
- Sleeping Bag/Quilt
- Sleeping Pad
- Kitchen Gear
- Food Storage
- Hydration & Water Filtering
- Essentials & Electronics
- First Aid
- Personal Hygiene & Bathroom Kit
- Additional Gear: backpacking chair, trekking poles
- Camera Equipment
- Clothing & Outerwear
Considerations before you buy gear
When it comes to choosing your gear for backpacking, it’s important to find what works for you based on your individual needs, and not necessarily what is used by your friends (or me), or the most popular or award-winning. However, it can be helpful to hear about what works for others.
Consider the trifecta of cost vs. weight vs. comfort and where your needs fall within each. For example, if carrying less weight matters, you may need to spend more money on ultralight gear and forgo some comfort items. On the other hand, if comfort is king, your pack will most likely be heavier to carry. If you aren’t in a position to invest a lot of money into backpacking gear, look for used gear from retailers like REI Co-op and Next Adventure, or in online marketplaces. As you gain experience, you can slowly add or replace items if you choose to do so.
My initial approach was to buy the best gear based on what was highly rated. Over time, I realized that I needed to focus more on the weight of every item I carry so I ended up replacing a lot of gear. My goal for the gear I use is to strike a balance between low weight and comfort. I think of it as being “comfort-light”.
Related post: How to Lighten the Load of Your Backpack
Take only what you need
This is a full list of my backpacking gear. However, I don’t take every item listed here on every trip. What I pack depends on many variables, including the weather, trail conditions, hiking distance, etc. For example, on shoulder season trips in the spring and fall, I bring a warmer sleeping bag and extra layers, while in the summer, I use a backpacking quilt instead and add sun and insect protection gear. If there’s a good chance of rain, I’ll add rain pants (a rain jacket goes on every trip, no matter what the forecast is), and I might take an ultralight tarp to setup for group cooking out of the rain. Every trip is different!
REI Co-op Flash 55 Women’s backpack
For 2023, I’m testing the newest version of the Flash backpack. I love the design of this pack – especially the larger side pockets plus water bottle pockets on the exterior – so I’m hoping it’s comfortable to carry.
- weight: 2 lbs 11 oz (women’s small)
- price: $199
- view at REI Co-op
Osprey Aura 50 AG backpack
For the past seven years, I’ve used Osprey backpacks, starting with the Osprey Aura AG 65 and downsizing to the Osprey Aura AG 50 liter pack. This smaller pack has plenty of space for all of my gear. If I need extra capacity, I use the lid, otherwise, I remove it from the pack to save weight. The Osprey Aura is a heavily padded pack with a suspension system that hugs your body. In other words, supremely comfortable. The shoulder straps are thick and cushy to prevent rubbing on my arms and shoulders. The hip belt is constructed with mesh that connects it directly to the lumbar support and transfers the weight of the load to my hips instead of pulling on my shoulders. Overall, I find that the way the pack carries the load provides me with more stability on the trail without moving around on my back. The comfort of this pack is worth every ounce that it weighs.
- weight: 4 lbs 3 oz – XS/SM size
- price: $280
- view at REI Co-op: Women’s Osprey Aura AG 50 | Men’s Osprey Atmos AG 50
For more info on what to look for in a backpack, see Gear Basics: How to Choose a Backpack.
Rain protection for my backpack
I use two methods for keeping my pack and gear dry, depending on the probability of rain in the forecast.
- waterproof pack liner: Nylofume pack liner (0.9 oz, $2.40)
On every trip, I use a waterproof pack liner inside my backpack for storing my sleeping quilt, puffy jacket and clothing items. This ultralight pack liner is made from nylon polymer and is much more durable than it appears.
- raincover for backpack: Osprey ultralight rain cover, medium (4.9 oz, $40)
When it is raining, I like using a rain cover so my pack doesn’t get wet (and heavier with water weight). Since I keep the backpack in my tent, this keeps the inside of my tent drier too. It has elastic cording to pull it tight on your pack regardless of the load or shape. I only take this on trips when there is a chance of rain in the forecast. Otherwise, I leave it at home. Note that I have an older version that weighs 2.8 oz, the new version linked above is heavier. : (
Tarptent Aeon Li 1 person backpacking tent
This is a one person, ultralight, single-wall tent made with Dyneema fabric. It can be set up using a trekking pole, or with an additional pole available from the manufacturer. After using several other types of tents, this is my top pick for most backpacking trips. I love how light it is, and the setup is easy once you learn how to do it. For a one person tent, it’s fairly spacious and has plenty of room inside for storing all of my gear, including my backpack. Vents on both ends of the tent and another at the top help to prevent condensation, and the vestibule doors open wide for big views. See my full review of the Aeon Li tent.
- weight: 16 oz
- price: $569
- view at Tarptent
REI Co-op Flash Air 2 person backpacking tent
For trips when I need more space, I use the Flash Air 2 tent. This version is no longer available, but there is a new version of this tent from REI. See my full review of the Flash Air 2 tent.
Tent stakes and footprint
- tent stakes: MSR Mini Groundhogs – 6 (1.5 oz, $22.95)
These stakes are small, lightweight and have a better hold than stakes provided with most tents.
- tent footprint: Gossamer Gear Polycro ground cover (1.8 oz, $11.00)
I always use a ground cover to protect the tent floor, and you can’t get much one lighter than polycro – a thin, clear plastic material that is strong while being very lightweight. It’s the same material used to insulate windows and can be found at hardware stores or from outdoor retailers online.
Therm-a-Rest Parsec Sleeping Bag
After exclusively using quilts for five years on backpacking trips, I spent too many nights cold in temps below 40 degrees, so I recently purchased the Parsec 0 degree sleeping bag. It has plenty of room inside for movement so I don’t feel claustrophobic, yet it’s not so big that it’s difficult to warm up inside. The Parsec is a unisex bag, so the 0 degree rating is based on the limit temperature, while the comfort rating is 14 degrees. If you are comparing to a women’s sleeping bag, they are marketed at the comfort rating. Therm-a-Rest offers this bag in three sizes: small, regular, and tall. Since I’m 5’1″, I bought the small size and it fits with some extra space at the bottom.
- weight: 2 lbs 2 oz (small size)
- price: $530
- view at Therm-a-Rest
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Down Quilt
In warmer weather, I like to use a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. Quilts are much lighter than comparable sleeping bags due to not having full length zippers or hoods. Instead, they have clips and snaps on the bottom for attaching straps to go around a sleeping pad, or can be clipped together to close them up in colder conditions. Some have enclosed footboxes, while others can be opened all the way and used like a blanket. This custom Revelation quilt is rated to 10 degrees, with a 20 denier outer fabric and 10 denier inner fabric. It can be opened fully and used as a blanket, or closed at the footbox and strapped to a sleeping pad (which is most frequently how I use it). See my full review of the Revelation Quilt.
- weight: 1 lb 6 oz (custom quilt)
- pricing starts at $250
- view at Enlightened Equipment
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Women’s sleeping pad
I upgraded to the Ether Light XT Insulated sleeping pad when I was looking to replace an older Exped UL M. With an R-value of 3.5, this pad is warm enough for three seasons, and it’s extremely comfortable due to the 4″ thick mattress-style tufting. The women’s version of the Ether Light is a bit shorter and wider than standard pads, at 22″ x 66″. I used the Ether Light on seven backpacking trips in 2022 and found that I sleep better overall, especially on my side – my hips never touch the ground with this pad, unlike with others. It comes with a stuff sack that has an integrated pump, but I haven’t been able to get the pad to fit back in the stuff sack and I use a small pump to blow it up instead.
- weight: 17.5 oz
- price: $189
- view at Sea to Summit | REI Co-op
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad
With an R-value of 6.9, the NeoAir Xtherm is the warmest sleeping pad available for the weight. Since staying warm in colder conditions relies on a sleeping pad warmth value as much as the rating of a sleeping bag or quilt, this is my preferred air mattress whenever the temps go below 35 degrees overnight. Some people find it to be noisy due to the reflective material inside the pad, but it’s never bothered me. I’ve been using this pad since 2015, but newer versions are updated with improvements that include a different type of valve as well as material updates to make it quieter.
- weight: 15 oz
- price: $229.95
- view at Therm-a-Rest | REI
A good pillow is essential for sleeping well on backpacking trips. After trying stuff sacks filled with clothing, I found that I needed more support. I’ve tried quite a few air pillows and tend to like those that are designed with an indented center to cradle your head. Fill partway with air for better comfort (about two-thirds full).
Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow
After trying many air pillows, I finally found the most comfortable one for me. The Aeros has an internal air bladder with synthetic fill on top that cushions the air bladder for better comfort and provides insulation for additional warmth. A multi-function valve allows for easy adjustments for firmness level. The Ether Light sleeping pad includes “pillow lock” pads for holding the Aeros pillow in place on the pad.
- weight: 2.8 oz (regular size)
- price: $44.95
- view at Sea to Summit | REI Co-op
Additional pillow options
- most comfortable pillow (left): Therm-a-Rest compressible pillow, small size (7 oz, $29.95)
This foam-filled pillow feels the closest to sleeping at home, but it’s a bit heavy and bulky for packing.
- ultralight pillow (right): Outdoor Vitals Ultralight Stretch Pillow (2.6 oz, $24.97)
The fabric on this air pillow is soft and stretchy for better comfort, while the indented center helps to keep your head cradled.
I usually make all of my own dehydrated meals, so I need a backpacking stove with an adjustable flame so I can simmer foods in it. I also prefer to eat from the pot, so it’s nice to have a separate mug to drink coffee or tea from while I’m cooking a meal. This ultralight setup nests together and doesn’t take up too much space in my pack.
- stove: Soto Amicus stove with Piezo igniter (2.8 oz)
Features that I like about this stove: it’s ultralight; packs down small; has four supports for stability; has a concave burner for better wind resistance. And it’s been reliable for several years, including the piezo igniter.
- stuff sack for stove: Zpacks wallet/camera stuff sack (0.8 oz)
- pot: Soto New River pot with lid (5 oz)
I purchased this aluminum pot as a set with the Amicus stove. It has long coated handles, a non-slip base, and a silicone tab on the lid so you don’t need a pot holder to remove it when cooking, plus a small opening for steam to escape from.
- ultralight mug/pot: TOAKS LIGHT Titanium 550 ml pot with lid (2.6 oz)
I use this pot as a mug on backpacking trips. Features that I love: it’s ultralight; has a lid; can be heated on my stove; doesn’t retain odors/tastes like plastic does. Bonus! This pot nests inside my cook pot for packability.
- soap: Dr. Brommer’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap – unscented (2 oz)
One soap, two purposes: for the camp kitchen to wash dishes, and in my toiletries kit for sponge baths.
- mini-dropper bottle for soap: Garage Grown Gear mini dropper bottles
- towel for washing dishes: camp towel, small – 14″ x 10″ – green (1 oz)
Using pack towels is a great way to reduce the amount of disposable items taken on trips. This brand is lightweight, dries fast, and is antimicrobial.
- spoon: Toaks Titanium spoon (0.6 oz)
- stuff sack for kitchen kit: Zpacks Dyneema cooking pot stuff sack, 1.3L size (0.14 oz)
My Food Storage Gear
- bear bag: Ursack Major XL Bear Bag (8 oz)
My preferred food storage method, the Ursack is made with bulletproof Spectra fabric for keeping bears from getting your food. Unlike a traditional bear bag, an Ursack doesn’t need to be hung high in a tree. Instead, I tie it around the trunk of a tree at least 100 feet from my tent. So far, it has also kept rodents out. Note that an Ursack cannot be used in areas where hard-sided canisters are required.
- bear canister: Wild Ideas Bearikade Scout (28 oz)
When I backpack in areas where bear canisters are required, instead of relying on the rental canisters available at ranger stations that are often heavy and bulky, this carbon fiber bear canister fits in my backpack and weighs much, much less. The Scout’s capacity is 500 cubic inches, which can hold up to 5 days of food.
To learn more about what to look for in backpacking kitchen gear, see my Backpacking Kitchen Gear & Food Storage post.
Hydration & Water Filtering
Initially, I used a hydration reservoir in my backpack, but I’ve switched to using lightweight water bottles. With a reservoir, it can be difficult to tell how much water you have, and it’s almost impossible to pull out of a fully loaded pack for refilling. The potential for leaking and getting gear wet is another reason I made the switch, as well as wanting a much lighter option. With this setup, I created my own gravity water filter system.
- Nalgene Ultralight 1 liter water bottle (3 oz, $14.81) View at Amazon
- One Bottle Hydration System for wide mouth bottles ($28) View at Etsy
This system has a hydration hose, insulated cover, and a cap that fits on Nalgene bottles for easy access to water. The hose goes inside to the bottom of the bottle and has a bite valve on the other end, just like those on hydration bladders. I place the water bottle in the side pocket of my backpack with the hose connected to the shoulder strap on my backpack. See my full review of the One Bottle Hydration System
- HydroBlu 64 oz. collapsible canteen (1 oz, $3.50)
These collapsible water containers are great for storing filtered water while at camp. The handles at the top make it easy to carry, and the carabiner at the bottom makes it easy to backflush a water filter by hanging the bag to push clean water back through the filter. If I’m not camped near a water source, I take two of these containers for more capacity.
View at HydroBlu
- HydroBlu Versa Flow filter (1.4 oz, $22.95)
I’ve been using this filter for several years. It’s easy to backflush and the flow rate is consistently fast. See my full review of this filter.
View at Garage Grown Gear | CNOC Outdoors
- Sawyer Fast Fill Adapter
This kit helps to connect a hydration hose to filters and water containers. I used one on the Hydroblu collapsible canteen so I don’t have to hold the hose while filtering water.
View at REI Co-op | Amazon
- HydroBlu silicone hose
Water flows much faster from the filter when adding a hose to a gravity setup.
View at HydroBlu
- CNOC Vecto 2 liter water container (2.6 oz, $22.99)
The Vecto is the only water bladder with openings at both ends for ease in collecting water to filter. Remove the slider at the top to fill with water, then connect a water filter to the small opening at the bottom for filtering.
View at Garage Grown Gear | CNOC Outdoors
- HydroBlu Water Filter System Package ($25.95)
This kit includes water filter, two collapsible canteens, hydration hose, and a clamp – and costs much less than purchasing each item separately.
View at Amazon | HydroBlu
Total storage capacity with this system: 5 liters
Total weight of this setup: 10 oz
Essentials & Electronics
These are the hiking essentials and electronics that I take on backpacking trips:
- headlamp: Princeton Tec Axis rechargeable headlamp (2.7 oz, $47.59)
This headlamp has high-power LEDs that are dimmable, a red lamp, and it’s rechargeable using a mini USB cable so there’s no need to carry spare batteries.
- battery backup: Anker PowerCore 10,000mAh + two connection cords (4.9 oz, $41.75)
For recharging my DeLorme InReach, rechargeable headlamp, camera battery, and iPhone.
- Personal Locator Device: DeLorme InReach SE (7 oz) no longer available – I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini instead.
I added the InReach to my backpacking kit for the peace of mind that comes with an SOS device, but also so I could stay in touch with my husband when I’m out backpacking. The InReach SE is a two-way satellite communicator, so you can text back and forth as needed, which could be critical when an emergency requires it. The SOS button contacts emergency responders with your location and message. The device pairs with smartphones for use with the Earthmate app, adding mapping and the ability to type messages on a keyboard instead with the device’s clunky four-direction button. Annual or monthly service plans are required.
- fire starter: Bic Mini and Sweetfire Fire Starters
- repair kit: I take repair patches that came with my air mattress and tent, a spare carabiner, extra cordage, a small circle of screen repair, and Gear Aid Tenacious Tape.
- multi-tool: Leatherman Squirt PS4 Multi-tool (2 oz) No longer available, so I recommend the Leatherman Micra.
The Leatherman Squirt multi-tool includes pliers, scissors, 2 screwdrivers, wire cutters, wood/metal file, straight knife and a bottle opener. Of all the tools on it, I use the scissors the most.
- hex tool for making adjustments to the Peak Design camera clip
- air pump & lantern: Flextail Gear Tiny Pump (3 oz, $29.98)
Save your breath (and prevent mold inside the pad from the moisture in your breath) and use this small air pump to blow up your sleeping pad. This pump is rechargeable and includes a powerful light with three settings – perfect for hanging inside your tent to read at night.
- dry bag for essentials: Zpacks Ultralight Small Dry Bag (0.4 oz, $29.95)
This roll top dry bag is made from waterproof Dyneema fabric and has velcro across the top for easy closing of the bag.
When I first starting backpacking, I carried a full-featured first-aid kit that weighed a pound. Over time, I discovered that I could carry fewer items while still having everything I need to deal with emergencies on trail. The weight of the kit shown above is 3 oz. For more info, see What’s in My First Aid Kit.
Personal Hygiene & Bathroom Kit
Instead of bringing everything that I use at home, I only take a few essential toiletry items on backpacking trips. To save pack weight and bulk, I repackage toiletry items into mini containers and only bring the amount that needed for each trip.
- lip balm, toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, mini containers with sunscreen, lotion and insect repellent, hair ties, nail clippers
- containers for various lotions and ointments – humangear GoTubb 0.9 cu. in.
- laundry kit: cordage, gallon-size plastic bag, soap in mini dropper bottle, mini binder clips for hanging clothes
- towels for sponge baths: REI Co-op Multi Towel Mini (0.6 oz)
- stuff sack for toiletries: Space Bear Bags Poop-Moji Pouch (0.3 oz)
- insect repellent: Sawyer Picaridin
To learn more about how to stay clean while backpacking, see Personal Hygiene for Backpackers.
I carry a separate kit for using the bathroom in the backcountry so I’ll have everything I need when it’s time to dig a cat hole. I always pack out toilet paper by using an odor proof plastic bag, concealing the contents with a pet waste bag. And I use a portable bidet to stay fresh and clean, which reduces the amount of toilet paper needed.
- trowel: Vargo Dig Dig Tool (1.2 oz, $24.95)
A lightweight, heavy duty trowel with serrated edges for easier digging.
- odor-proof bag: Loksak Opsak, 11″ x 9″
An odor-proof bag is the best way to pack out used toilet paper. I place a color plastic doggie bag inside it to conceal the contents and keep the outer bag clean.
- bidet bottle: Cynpel Peri Bottle (2 oz, $8.99)
There’s nothing like a strong spray of water to keep you feeling clean and refreshed on an overnight trip. This portable bidet is small and lightweight, and for going #2, it makes toilet paper almost not necessary. I use it every time I need to pee too… then my pee cloth is just used to dry off and stays cleaner.
- hand sanitizer in mini-dropper bottle
- stuff sack for bathroom kit: Granite Gear Air Zipditty Pouch (0.3 oz, $17.99 – set of 2)
- toilet paper or wipes in a small plastic bag (always carried out after use)
- pee cloth: Kula Cloth (0.5 oz, $19.99)
Instead of using tp for peeing, I use a bidet to spray water and use the Kula cloth (which is antimicrobial) for drying off. I keep it on the outside of my pack and it dries super fast.
backpacking chair: Helinox Chair Zero (16 oz, $129.95)
While a chair is considered a luxury item for some people, I take a chair on every trip to prevent back and hip issues. This chair is ultralight, easy to setup, and comfortable. It’s also a great way to carry gear back and forth to a camp kitchen. I keep my chair in the tent vestibule overnight and place my water containers and filtering gear in it to keep them off the ground.
sit seat: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Pad (2 oz, $24.95)
One of the most versatile item in my pack is this seat pad. Besides using it to sit on for breaks when day hiking, I also use it as a doormat outside my tent door to protect my knees as I get in and out of my tent. When it’s cold out, I place it silver-side up in my backpacking chair to reflect body heat, or under my torso when I sleep for radiant heat. And if you need to fan a campfire to get it going, or a wind screen for your stove, the seat pad works for those purposes too. One more potential use is as a sling support if you get injured. All for just two ounces.
trekking poles: Leki Cressida Cor-Tec Women’s Trekking Poles ($159.95)
I always hike with trekking poles, no matter the trail. They help to reduce strain on your lower body by distributing some of the work to your upper body, and provide stability on trail while ascending or descending or when crossing streams. Most people find that they help reduce strain on their knees on downhill sections. I can also use one of the trekking poles to setup my tent.
One of the main reasons I backpack is to spend time in scenic locations in the wilderness. In order to capture some of that beauty, camera gear is one of the few items that I’m willing to carry extra weight for. I use a Sony full frame mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses that I can choose according to what I plan to photograph. For a full list of my camera equipment, see Professional-level Camera Gear for Hiking and Backpacking.
Clothing & Outerwear
Since every ounce counts when carrying a loaded backpack, I take as few clothing items as possible, relying on layering techniques instead of bringing items for each day. For a full list of options, see Clothing & Outerwear Layers for Hiking and Backpacking.
For a guide to footwear for backpacking and hiking, including my favorite footwear and socks, see Gear Basics: Footwear for Hiking & Backpacking.
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