Best Backpacking Gear Guide:
What's New
And What Works
For 2020

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

The best backpacking gear is the stuff that works hard for you, day after day, to deposit a satisfying trip's worth of memories into your hiking archive.

Let's use REI Co-op's gear list as a sensible starting point to cover the best backpacking gear available today.

It's also a handy summary of backpacking essentials.

Get your copy of the list


Find the best backpacking gear using a gear list and recommendations from Hiking For Her on backpacks, stoves, tents, boots, clothing and more. #backpacking #backpackinggear #gearlist #hikingforher


Here's how we'll roll in this
Best Backpacking Gear Guide

Hiking For Her's recommendations for specific gear in each category are first.

Links to detailed background information on how to buy that particular type of hiking gear will follow.

We'll work our way through your gear list in no time flat!

Each photo takes you to the REI Co-op website, where you can read technical details and user reviews.

As an affiliate, HFH may earn from your REI purchase when you use the links on this website to buy the best backpacking gear for your plans a nd hiking style.

Pssst! If you're not a co-op member yet, you're missing out on some great benefits!



Best backpacking gear
begins with boots and shoes

The comfort of your feet is directly tied to your enjoyment of the trail.

Get your footwear choice right, and the rest will fall into place.

Here are some top boot and trail shoe recommendations for you.

Hiking boots & trail shoes for beginners

As you learn to backpack, these Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Aero over the ankle lace up boots are going to protect your ankles plus repel mud & grit (mud guards, toe caps, high cut).

At 1 pound, 10 ounces for the pair, you won't notice these on your feet. 

And the price point will get your feet in the game and provide reliable footing on any trail.

KEEN Targhee Vent Low hiking shoes cost less than boots, and give you lots of good features: breathable mesh lining, grippy soles and reliable KEEN quality. 



Salomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX Hiking Shoes are great for trails which take you through variable terrain. Your feet will not slide around in this shoes!

Trail tip:

If you have wide feet, and your load isn't too heavy, choose trail shoes over boots. More shoe brands feature wide offerings, compared with boot brands.

Big cost savings when you catch a sale, too!


Hiking boots for rugged trails

When your plans include lots of miles on rocky, muddy or gritty trails in uncertain weather conditions, you need footwear that will protect your feet while providing comfort and support.

The price point goes up, but it's important to keep your feet happy.

And the way to do that is to keep them safe and stable.

Here are two backpacking footwear recommendations with a balance of quality, price point, durability and features.

  • I know they work because they're on my feet as a backpacker!

Not the prettiest hiking boots you'll ever put on, but certainly one of the most solid pairs for rocky, rugged terrain: Zamberlan Vioz GTX.

If jagged rocks and slippery slopes are in your plans, these boots can take it: leather uppers, Vibram outsoles, and a female foot design.

For trails that turn to mud and throw a lot of grit your way, consider these boots: Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX.

Note the great ankle protection and support, along with seam sealed waterproof membranes.

Lots of excellent reviews on the REI website, too!


Additional backpacking footwear tips

Links to background information so you will find the right pair of hiking boots:

And the best trail shoes:

Hiking socks are going to keep your feet happy as well. Everything you ever wanted to know about them is right here.

Take a peek at two respected brands for technical socks that backpackers need to ward off blisters and wick moisture away from skin inside those hiking boots and trail shoes.

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks

Darn Tough Gatewood Boot Sock Full Cushion Socks

Even more best hiking socks recommendations are waiting for you here.

The merits of compression socks for hikers are considered here.




Best backpacking gear:
your choice of backpacks

Sounds redundant, but there are many types of backpacks out there in the gear universe!

You want to choose the right size, with the right features, for your backpacking adventures.

For short trips, you'll need a pack with a volume of at least 35 liters.

You can go as high as 50L if you want to haul a lot of gear (see comfort ideas at the end of this Best Backpacking Gear Guide for sensible ways to add to your load).

Go up from there for trips lasting longer than 5 days, but no more than 70L unless you like suffering.

Best backpacks for overnights and long weekends

The Osprey Tempest 40 is going to give you a lot to work with, including a top loading main compartment with a zippered sleeping bag and gear compartment below.

Good load transfer from harness to hip belt is part of this design.

Tip: You can squeeze out multi-day lightweight backpacking trips with this pack, saving you money.

The REI Co-op Traverse 35 Pack is a compact backpack for those just starting out and who are lucky enough to have trail buddies to help carry gear.

Use it for your short backpacking trips as well as your training day hikes.

You will quickly come to know why you can trust REI quality and generous features, wearing a minimalist pack like this one.

Best backpacking backpacks
for serious multi day trips

When you wear your home on your back, there's no room to mess around.

This is the workhorse backpack you can depend on: Osprey Aura AG 65.

The suspension system on this pack is well worth your attention.

The removable top lid and well designed storage areas make it a versatile choice that will stand up to hard usage.

Be sure to choose the right size: XS, S or M (see tips below).


Looking for a spacious and comfortable backpack?

The Gregory Deva 70 gives you plenty of room for stashing the best backpacking gear.

It has a customizable suspension system and good airflow thanks to plentiful mesh. 

Remove the hydration sleeve and you have a daypack with shoulder harness and pocket.

  • Just right for a layover day when you want to explore without going too far!

More backpacking pack tips to make 
the process of buying one easier

There's a lot to get right about selecting a backpacking pack.

It makes sense to slow down and get to know the basics before you go shopping for a backpack.

These Hiking For Her resources take you through how a backpack is designed, with tips on what to look for when you shop:




Best backpacking gear:
tents

Once you've figured out how to carry your home away from home, it's time to decide exactly what that home will look like.

You can cowboy cowgirl camp, just you and the bugs under the stars.

You can create an overhead shelter with a backpacking tarp.

Or you can use a backpacking tent to shield yourself from insects, reptiles, curious animals, and all forms of moisture (think three phases of water).

The types of backpacking tents available to you reflect the universal needs and personal preferences of backpackers. Let's take a look at a few.

For a straightforward approach to shelter for one person, the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent is a solid choice.

Why?

One door with vestibule for gear storage, decent headroom, and ventilation designed to handle condensation.

Coming in at less than 3 pounds it's worth a serious look if you're solo backpacking.

Or just want your own space on a group trip!


For two person comfort look at the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent.


It's the tent I use, and have never regretted it, even in the midst of wind storms that made me cry.


It's less than four pounds, easy to set up and tear down, and is plenty roomy for two people.

The generous vestibules at each door, created by the rain fly, will shelter backpacks and muddy boots, with some room left over for your soaked rain gear.


More to think about when 
selecting a backpacking tent

Weight is an important consideration for the best backpacking gear, but it's not the only one.

These tips step you through all of the factors that go into making a good decision about a lasting commitment: your backpacking tent.




Best backpacking sleep systems

You've never been as bone tired and sore as when you're a few days into a long backpacking trip.

But that's exactly when you want to feel well rested and full of energy.

Here's the thing:

Pulling together the right backpacking sleep system for your body type, sleep habits and personal preferences takes some effort. No way around it.

But, hey, your comfort and safety is worth it!

What's in a backpacking sleep system?

A sleep system consists of:

  • a cocoon of warmth and softness: a backpacking quilt or sleeping bag
  • a sleeping pad if you're using a ground shelter (tarp or tent)
  • a bag liner in certain circumstances
  • a backpacking pillow (considered optional only by those who haven't found the right one yet)

Here are my top picks for putting together a good sleep system on the first try.

Sleeping bag or backpacking quilt?

Great question! I'm glad you asked it before you bought one.

Read these resources to get up to speed on why each of them makes sense for a particular type of backpacker:

This REI Co-op Joule 21 sleeping bag is appropriate for three season backpacking, rated for temperatures no lower than 21F with 700 fill power treated duck down.

It's the one I use, and you can read why here.

It's a fitted mummy bag style, and has a right hand zipper.

Note the extra room at the hips, and the narrow toe box to trap your body heat.

It's great in wet conditions because it uses water repellent down, and waterproof but breathable fabric panels.

Compare that sleeping bag to this backpacking quilt: REI Co-op Magma Trail Quilt 30.

It is more versatile, because you have options for sticking your arms and legs out.

Its 850 fill power goose down is rated to 21F. 

It's also lighter than a bag, because it eliminates the zipper, hood and bottom insulation.

  • It can be secured to your sleeping pad to keep you cosy.

Down or synthetic?

How low should I go with the temperature rating?

Does the placement of zipper really matter?

So much to think about, but these tips will help you sort out what is most important to you in a sleeping bag for backpacking.

Or a backpacking quilt.


Best backpacking gear: sleeping pads

If you're ground camping or sheltering beneath a tarp, a good sleeping pad will reflect your body heat back to you and give you a deeper night's sleep.

A self inflating pad is really nice at the end of the day.

All you have to do is take it out of your backpack, unroll it, open the valve and let it plump up while you make dinner.

You can adjust the firmness when you crawl into your tent, with a few puffs of air.

This Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad carries a brand name well known for quality.

This pad is the one I use when I don't mind packing a little extra weight (1 pound 6 oz.) to enjoy some insulating comfort at night.


Not worried about expending a little effort to blow up a pad?

Want a longer pad to make sure your legs and feet stay warm in wet, cold conditions?

Ready to go all in for a good night's sleep?

Then this sleeping pad is for you: Big Agnes Q-Core.

I love mine for its cushy adjustable comfort and insulating abilities when the temperatures dip.

Packs down small, and I don't notice its negligible weight in my pack.

You can choose the right length and width for your needs.


Sleeping bag liners are part of the
best backpacking gear list

Some backpackers want to extend the lifetime of their gear by choosing add ons to reduce grit and grime.

A good example is a bag liner.

A sleeping bag liner is a great way to keep your body odors and dirt away from your synthetic or down fill sleep system.

Another reason for a liner?

  • Extra warmth to extend the seasonality of your backpacking sleeping bag.

Read more reasons why carrying a sleeping bag liner makes sense here.

Here's what I use to extend the seasonality of my sleeping bag: the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner.

Love its softness, and its ability to roll up small but give me the reassurance of additional warmth when I need it.

Read my detailed review here.

Tip: Just carry the liner for hot hiking destinations when you want to go as lightweight and unencumbered as possible.


Backpacking pillows are a thing!

Good support for your neck is important when you bed down after a long day of hiking.

Trail facts:

  • Your backpack will tug your neck to the point where it gets sore.
  • Your posture on the trail might be sub-optimal., as you crane your neck forward or hunch over to bear the load.

Solution?

Rest your weary head and sore neck on a comfortable backpacking pillow like this one.

Four ounces isn't much to carry, and it delivers big benefits for a tired backpacker.

This Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow is a nice indulgence to pull out of your backpack.

Adjustable firmness with a valve makes it easy to get comfortable.



Best backpacking gear:
stoves

A stove is an important comfort and safety item on the best backpacking gear list.

Hot water, no matter what you pour it on or dissolve in it, spells immense comfort when temperatures dip and the sky drips, day after day on a backpacking trip.

Be sure you understand the types of backpacking stove choices, using these tips.

When weight is an issue, don't mess around with all the bells and whistles.

Use this simple, well designed MSR PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit.

Less than 10 ounces, compact and reliable.

I've been using this elegant MSR PocketRocket technology for decades, and it has never let me down.

Here's another bombproof MSR design, the MSR WindBurner Stove System.

I've used this in the backcountry when something hot to drink in a hurry means safety as well as comfort in difficult weather conditions.

It takes up more space in your backpack, but could be the solution to fast hot water when you're doing a group trip.

You might be wondering...

Why is the fuel canister grayed out in these photos?

The "fuzziness" indicates you need to purchase them separately.

Tip:

  • They cannot be taken onto commercial planes, so make arrangements to purchase them at your destination.




Best backpacking gear
for your camp kitchen

If gathering all of the best backpacking gear on your gear list is working up an appetite, take that as an omen.

Your camp kitchen is going to play a big role in a successful backpacking trip.

And this gear is exactly what you need to pull off nourishing and satisfying meals when your hunger level skyrockets.

If you're a hiking duo, take a look at this cookset:

It's the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Cookset.

One pound, 13 ounces delivers 2 bowls, 2 mugs with lids, a 2 liter anodized aluminum pot with lid, a frypan, pot gripper and a welded sink basin that doubles as a carry sack.


Prefer a one person titanium cookset, or an ultralight set for two hikers?

In other words, eating out of the pot is cool with you.

Here's the minimalist, rugged set to use: Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset.

Weighing in at 6 ounces, and giving you a 30 fl.oz. pot, frying pan and lid, it will make your ultralight heart go pitter patter.


This 9.6 ounce mess kit makes meal prep easy: GSI Outdoors nForm Crossover Kitchen Kit.

No scrambling around to improvise a stir stick. 

All your spices in one place!

Dish up your dinner, and do a fast clean up afterwards, with these backpacking kitchen supplies.


More tips on backpacking kitchen essentials

For a thorough discussion and solid recommendations for the best backpacking gear for cooking on your trip, read this.

Titanium cookware has a lot of benefits, outlined here.

You'll also want to know how to do dishes to keep yourself in good health.

  • Tips and supplies you'll need here!



Backpacking food choices

REI Co-op offers lots of options for a hungry backpacker.

My favorite brands of lightweight, nutritious food are highlighted in this Best Backpacking Gear Guide.

Curry is always a welcome meal after a long day on the trail because it's full of warming spices.

GOOD TO-GO Thai Curry is a good choice because it's not overwhelmed with salt or weird tastes, yet delivers that warm hit of flavor.

Another great meal for backpackers is this one: Wild Zora Paleo Meals To Go Caldera Chicken Curry.

I use it on all of my backpacking and remote hiking trips because it delivers nutritious gluten free and paleo flavor.

It's not as curry centric as the meal above, so it's a good choice for most backpackers.

Tip: If you love spicy food, you'll need to boost the heat factor in this one. It's also less salty than most brands.

Lots more backpacking food tips for you!

Here's an important one.

When you buy 8 or more full priced backpacking food items, you save 10% at REI!

To select exactly the right food for your backpacking plans, explore these tips:




Best water treatment supplies
and water bottles for backpackers

Staying hydrated is a big deal for anyone who intends on staying healthy and strong during a backpacking trip.

That's you, right?

So pay attention to your choice of hydration system, and be prepared to have a Plan B to supply your clean water for cooking and drinking on the trail.

Here are some tried and true water treatment methods.

Your cheapest, lightest option is chemical treatment of surface water.

Use these Potable Aqua Iodine and Taste-Neutralizer Tablets for effective water treatment.

Iodine kills the water borne microbes. The taste neutralizer makes the idonie taste disappear.

Carry these as a backup plan for the next water treatment methods.

If you don't mind carrying the weight of batteries, this Katadyn Ultra Water Purifier uses ultraviolet light to zap protozoa, bacteria and viruses.

Carry a solar charger to replenish the batteries on a long trip.

Handle and store it carefully.


Not a fan of relying on water treatment batteries on a backpacking trip?

Then consider a filter.

A backpacking water filter needs to be chosen carefully, taking into consideration the amount of effort it takes to push water through it and the volume of water needed per filtration event.

Here's an easy choice for backpackers who need high volumes, the 4 liter Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System.

One bag for dirty water, one for clean, and let Mother Earth do the work!


Going solo or want to handle your water separately from others? 


Use this 24 fl.oz Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle.

It removes microbes, particulates, heavy metals and chemicals.

That's an impressive list!

This is a great choice no matter where your trails take you.

Maintain the filter, replace it when necessary, and you'll have an easy, reliable water treatment set up.



Water bottles or a hydration backpack?

This is a personal preference.

The simplicity of water bottles, and the ease of cleaning them, are two big factors in carrying them in the outer mesh pockets on your backpack.

Your hiking pace needs to factor in time to stop and sip.

If you go with the Geopress above, you've solved your filtration and bottle problems in one go.

Water bottle choices I've used and continue to use:


A hydration system (reservoir, tubing, bite valve) in your backpack, on the other hand, delivers water all along the trail without having to stop to fish bottles out of your backpack.

Keeping this somewhat complicated system clean?

An important commitment that cannot be overlooked.


Speaking of compatibility

Whatever approach you choose, be sure it's compatible with the water treatment equipment you chose above.

  • Test your entire water treatment & carry/delivery system before you leave for your backpacking trip.
  • Everything has to fit together and work seamlessly, and be well maintained, or you're going to be in trouble.


More details on your water strategy choices

Water will become something you crave as you work up a sweat, regardless of the temperature.

But some backpackers report not feeling thirsty as they hike.

Yikes!

Read up on why making time to stay hydrated on your backpacking trip is so important:




Multiple clothing layers
are considered best backpacking gear

The topic of dressing in layers is one of those backpacking fundamentals that keep all of us out of weather and temperature related trouble.

A beginner backpacker might not want to commit to expensive technical layers.

On the other hand, a serious layering system for those who know they're in this backpacking thing for the long haul is a smart idea.

A beginner backpacker layering system

These inexpensive but indispensable pieces of clothing will keep you happily layered up.

You'll probably stick to decent weather for your backpacking trips, so you won't need "long underwear" or complete arm coverage.

Instead, choose a base layer shirt like this one in polyester/spandex to keep yourself dry and temperature regulated: REI Co-op Active Pursuits Tank Top.

For a mid layer, you won't need much to keep you warm except after dinner before you turn in, or on chilly, moist mornings.

This long sleeve fleece can layer over your base layer shirt or be used alone: Columbia Glacial IV Print Half-Zip Fleece.


Hiking pants are meant to be moved in.

These 4 way stretch fabric REI Co-op Screeline Hybrid Pants give you freedom of movement as well as protection.

The mid rise waistband will work well with your backpack hip belt.

They're "hybrid" because you roll them up when conditions permit you to show a little leg.

The durable water repellent fabric is going to keep your legs protected from ticks, abrasions and plant toxins, too.


Your outer layer is your line of defense against moisture and temperature swings.

That's why how to choose a good rain gear combination is vital information for a backpacker to have.

Luckily, I've got you covered:


A technical layering system

If you're doing three season backpacking or plan to stay out for weeks at a time (lucky you), it's time to get serious about your layers.

There are a lot of nuances and factors that go into creating your perfect backpacking layering system.

Take a deep dive here:



Best backpacking gear for
emergencies and good trail hygiene

It might be an emergency when your face feels like a grease pit and your hair is standing up in dirty clumps.

But not if you carry hiking hygieine supplies!

To meet a more serious emergency, carry a basic first aid kit.

  • And know what to do with all of its components.

Two ways to go, a basic kit for yourself, or a kit for larger groups of backpackers:


Detailed female hiker hygiene tips and tricks

You don't want to feel gross on a backpacking trip.

And you don't want to scare your trail buddies, either.

These tips will help you put together exactly what you need to care for all of your personal hygiene needs when you're in the outdoors 24/7:



Don't forget your Ten Essentials
as part of the best backpacking gear!

As a backpacker, you've got most of them already because you're hiking, cooking and navigating. 

These mighty essentials are in your backpack to give you a margin of safety on a backpacking trip.

For the sake of extreme caution, let's call out the Hiking Ten Essentials.

The quick list:

1. Extra clothing

2. Extra food and water

3. Sunglasses

4. Knife

5. Fire starter

6. Matches

7. First aid supplies

8. Illumination

9. Map

10. Compass

Lots more details, with recommendations here.

Go beyond the essentials and put together your own backcountry survival kit with these tips.




A backpacking gear repair kit
is also considered essential

You're only as good as your gear when you're out there.

If you're using this Best Backpacking Gear Guide, you're going to a lot of trouble to select the right technology.

Now learn what to carry when a gear repair is necessary (and it will be, sooner or later).




Best backpacking gear for comfort

REI's gear list suggests that backpacking comfort gear is optional.

I say otherwise.

Your sore, tired body will be grateful for a few comforts like these!

Sometimes it's worth the weight to feel comfortable day after day.

Take a load off your knees and back as you enjoy your backpacking meal with an REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair.

  • Meet the entire Flexlite family here.

Cushion your sore sit bones with this decadent but lightweight closed cell foam Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad.

It folds up and tucks into your backpack, ready to be pulled out whenever you stop to rest.

Kneel on it to protect your sore knees as you do camp chores, too.


Support your feet in their relentless weight bearing duties with a pair of Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort Hiking Insoles.

  • Read more about why insoles can make a huge difference in your trail performance and comfort.


Trekking poles for backpackers

It feels weird to put trekking poles on the list as a "comfort item", but it's true.

A well designed pair of poles relieves strain on your knees during descents.

They give your upper body the ability to contribute to your balance and stability.

And they have been shown to have lots of other benefits for hikers.

Many backpackers scoff at the idea of poles - until they try them.

You'll be amazed at what a difference trekking poles make in the way your body responds to the trail, and feels at the end of the day.

What to look for in trekking poles?

You want a pair of poles that feel comfortable in your hands, and will extend to the correct length for your height.

You also want to get them into a tiny footprint and lash them to your pack when you don't need them.

Other factors to consider: ultralight, shock absorption, and brand.

Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles are what I use in all four seasons.

Their flick lock design makes it easy to adjust these poles to the terrain.

  • Sometimes one pole is shorter than the other to match the trail I'm on, and that lock design makes it easy to adjust on the go.

You can switch out the carbide tips and the baskets to match the terrain and the season, too.

The grips are foam, so they will absorb your sweat but stay put in your hands.

The aluminum shafts have never let me down, even when I lean on them and probe ahead during rocky descents.



But why stop there with comforting
best backpacking gear ideas?

Here are forty more backpacking comfort ideas!

And if you really like the idea of being comfortable no matter where you hike and car camp, here's a Comfort Guide just for you.


So now you know how to select
the best backpacking gear!

Congratulations! You've reached the end of this Best Backpacking Gear Guide.

It's designed to give you all the information and recommendations you need to get yourself ready to hit the trail.

  • I've shared what I know works, and what is worth the money.

I hope this backpacking gear guide been helpful!

Send your questions to me and I'll give you even more opinionated hiking advice ;)

Happy Backpacking Trails to you!


Hiking For Her gear reviews


You might like to read these next


Home page > Best Backpacking Tips >

Best Backpacking Gear Guide For 2020



About the author

Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.

She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.


Disclosures

Privacy

Copyright

Media


All rights reserved. 


Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.


As an Amazon Associate, Hiking For Her earns from qualifying purchases.