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Backpacking Gear 101: Essentials for the Perfect Trip

So, you've caught the bug for backpacking, huh? But let me guess, diving into the gear world feels like stepping into a maze blindfolded? Been there, done that! Trust me, I've had my fair share of frustration, wasted time, and even a few spats with my better half over which tent is "the one." Fear not, fellow adventurer! I'm here to share some hard-earned wisdom that'll save you from the same fate.

a backpacking tent and bags

First things first: think of backpacking gear as an investment. Sure, it might seem like a splurge upfront, but quality gear pays dividends in the long run. Take it from me, most of the stuff we snagged nearly two decades ago is still going strong.

Now, when you're browsing gear, keep three things in mind: weight, comfort, and cost. Weight matters, especially if you're eyeing up multi-day treks in far-off lands. Comfort? Well, that's a bit like finding the perfect pillow—it's different strokes for different folks, especially when you've got kiddos in tow. And cost? Yeah, it adds up quicker than you can say "campfire s'mores."

Alrighty, disclaimer time: this gear rundown is straight from the heart, sponsor-free. No fancy endorsements, just what's kept our crew cozy and content on countless escapades.


1. Tent

Picking the perfect tent is practically an art form. Our pick? The Big Agnes Copper Spur. It was worth every penny. Though it is a 3-season tent, it has withstood blustery winds in Patagonia, heavy rains in New Zealand, and snow at the high altitude of the Himalayas. It is spacious, which is essential when four persons are in there, it has two vestibules to keep shoes dry. Plenty of pockets are a bonus. We love our tent! Recently we also added Big Agnes Copper Spur for 2-person and Nemo Dagger for 2-person in our gear galore. 

a backpacking tent on snow

2. Sleeping Bags

We opted to invest a bit more upfront and splurge on water-resistant down sleeping bags. These bags are super compressible and built to last, I’m talking about almost two decades of cozy nights under the stars!

Instead of cluttering up our gear closet with multiple bags for various temperatures, we each have a trusty three-season REI bag. And let me drop a pro tip here: sleeping bag liners are a game-changer for keeping things fresh between washes. REI bags are like puzzle pieces – you can zip 'em up together! Perfect for those chilly nights when my son used to insist on a cuddle buddy.

3. Sleeping Pads

We goofed on sleeping pads. Went for the budget option at first, totally underestimating the importance of a good sleeping pad. But fear not, we've seen the light and upgraded to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. It's like sleeping on a cloud, seriously. Plus, it's a champ at keeping the cold ground from cramping our style. Tested 'em out in the snow, and zero complaints. Though I also pack a Nemo switchback sleeping pad now for extra cushion.


Now, onto threads. Layer up like a pro, my friend. Base layers are your besties for regulating temps, while mid-layers bring the cozy when things get chilly. My favorite base layers are Smartwool and Icebreaker. A few shirts made with moisture-wicking and sun-protective fiber are perfect for summer hiking. A trusty Patagonia jacket for chilly nights. And trust me, a good rain jacket is worth its weight in gold. Marmot’s rain jacket has never failed me. Oh, and rain pants? Non-negotiable, my friend. REI makes great rain pants that can be pulled up without taking boots off.

Remember to pack your hat and gloves, weather changes at the drop of the hat in PNW. I layer my gloves, with Smartwool liners for extra warmth.


1. Freeze-dried breakfasts and dinners

They're like magic meals in a pouch! Just add boiling water, zip it up, wait a bit, and voila! Dinner is served right out of the pack. No fuss, no mess. Our go-to favorites are Backpacker's Pantry and Mary Jane's Farm. Ordering them online in bulk is a breeze. And hey, always stash an extra breakfast and dinner for that sweet dessert treat after a long day on the trail.

backpacking food

2. Lunch and snacks

For lunch, we swear by protein bars, and for the kiddos, it's all about the healthy snacks—think almond nut butter, Clif Bars, and Honey Stinger waffles.

3. Beverages

Picture this: a cozy campfire, a starry sky, and a cup of hot chocolate. Bliss, right? 

4. Stove

Our trusty sidekick is the MSR PocketRocket backpacking stove. It's lightweight, comes with its own lighter, and fuel is a breeze to find. Plus, it's been our faithful companion on international adventures. Oh, and a little tip: don't forget a windscreen for those breezy days—trust me, we learned the hard way in Patagonia!

backpacking stove

5. Utensils

Meet our MVP—the GSI Outdoors Halulite Tea Kettle. Boiling water is its jam, whether it's for meals, hot drinks, or even just washing up afterward. And when it comes to digging into those food packets, our GSI long spoons are the perfect tool. 

6. Hydration

To keep our water clean and safe, the MSR Guardian purifier has been  filtering water for us for almost two decades without any trouble. It is super easy to use, fits on Nalgene bottles like a charm. Nuun is my preferred electrolytes, great taste and fast recovery.


1. Boots

Treat your feet right and they'll carry you through miles of adventure. Comfort and durability are non-negotiables here. For those casual strolls, lightweight boots or even trail-running shoes might do the trick. But when you're tackling the real-deal trails, you'll want something sturdier. Waterproof? Oh, absolutely – Gore-Tex is your best buddy here.

And here's a pro-tip: never, ever buy hiking boots online. You gotta try them on in person. Better yet, go shopping in the evening when your feet have had a full day to swell up a bit. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

We have been using Lowa and Vasque for many years and they are absolutely wonderful hiking boots. Recently I gave La Sportiva a whirl myself, and let me tell you, it was love at first step.

Speaking of happy feet, let's talk about socks. Wool socks are where it's at – thick, cozy, and tough as nails. Smartwool and Darn Tough are my go-tos. 

2. Hiking Poles

Alright, let's talk about these magical sticks called hiking poles. If you're eyeballing some seriously steep trails, trust me, you'll wanna invest in a pair. Your knees will thank you later, promise. We've been rocking those Black Diamond adjustable poles for over sixteen years now, and they've never let us down.

hiking poles and boots

Other Important Stuff

Navigation - A topography map – this is in addition to navigation app(s) on our iPhones. My preferred apps for navigation are CalTopo and FootPath. Always keep a backup map!

Sun protection – I haven’t come across a better sunscreen than Aloe Gator Super Total Sunblock Gel SPF 40+ and a better lip balm than Aloe Gator SPF 40+. Sunglasses with wide frame for maximum coverage. 

Insect Repellent – I prefer to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts to minimize sun exposure and insect bites. I pack Natrapel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent to keep these pesky creatures away.  

First-aid kit – Adventure Medical Kits UltraLight / Watertight .7 First-Aid Kit, include a Blister kit (Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Kit) to your first-aid kit.

Repair kit – Gear Aid Fix Anything Camp Kit

Personal Hygiene Kit - shovel (for digging cat hole), toilet paper, hand sanitizer, dog poop bags (for used toilet paper), Kula cloth, toothpaste, toothbrush and hair brush (if you prefer)

Waterproof matches

Headlamps with extra batteries – Petzl  

Lantern (Luci inflatable solar-powered)

Swiss army knife

Emergency Blanket – Space Emergency Blanket

Solar charger – We use Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit to charge our devices.

Aftersun lotion – Aloe Gator Green Stuff After Sun Moisturizer is my only moisturizer on backpacking trips.

Almond or walnut oil – to keep the noses moist while backpacking in arid conditions.

Sturdy Trash bags

Nylon Cord

And to pack all your gear, you need a backpack

Your backpack is your trusty sidekick on your adventures, so it better fit like a glove, be adjustable to your body, and tick off all your needs. Oh, and don't skimp on a good pack cover – it's like an umbrella for your gear, keeping it dry and happy in all sorts of weather.

Osprey and Deuter are my choices for the backpack.

backpacking bags

I hope this comprehensive list of my backpacking gear proves helpful as you make your gear selections. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Happy trails!


Now, that you got your backpacking gear, let's take it to wilderness. Join us on our upcoming overnight hike.

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