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  • Writer's pictureapriladventuring

My Backpacking Gear List and Upgrades 🥾 | Backpacking for Beginners

Updated: Apr 15

Let's talk backpacking gear!


Starting out can be a intimidating. Gear prices add up quickly and it's hard to know where to begin. Remember that all you truly need is a backpack, a sleep system (sleeping bag or quilt, sleeping pad, pillow if you want), and a shelter (tent, tarp, hammock). The rest is for fun and comfort!


I recommend deciding on your budget, then picking out the items you'll want to bring. Selecting a backpack last means you'll already know what size to go for based on the amount and size of the items you'll be packing.


These are all items I have used and loved. I've updated my gear over the years and have gone through multiple versions of just about everything.


This isn't an exhaustive list and you will need to add whatever toiletries, personal items, and luxury items you want. This I hope it gives you some inspiration for where to start. If you want to see a complete packing list, check out this article.


Feel free to reach out if you have any questions as you're setting out on your backpacking journey!


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Table of Contents:


 

Backpacks



This is my all-around favorite backpack for trips longer than one night. It fits all the essentials and then some while remaining super comfortable and supportive. I love the hip pockets for snacks and the extra large water bottle sleeves on either side.



This backpack is perfect for overnight trips where you don't need to carry as many items. I've kept this as a secondary backpack to loan to friends on trips where we can share the load of carrying everything. It's a great starter backpack that will hold all your essentials.


 

Tents



This has been my go-to backpacking tent since I got it years ago. It's super lightweight, packs down small, and is easy to set up by myself. Although it's a two-person tent, it's more comfortable for one. Usually I take it out solo and it perfectly fits my sleeping setup, my dog, and my backpack inside.




This was the first tent I bought when I was on a tighter budget. This is a great option for two people and much more spacious than backpacking tents will be. I'd recommend this tent more for car/trailhead camping since it's a bit heavier at 5 lbs.


 

Sleeping Bags



This is the sleeping bag that comes with me on 90% of my trips. I actually have the 0 degrres F version, but wasn't able to find it to link! It's super warm, packs down really well, and has a smooth zipper. I love the hood which holds my camp pillow in place throughout the night. This will hold you over easily in three seasons and can get you through winter with the right layers!




This was my first sleeping bag and great for those on a budget that don't need anything crazy insulated just yet. This bag kept me warm through temperatures down into the 50's, but anything colder required lots of layers or another blanket (I'm a super cold sleeper).


 

Sleeping Pads



Warm, compact, lightweight. This sleeping pad has followed me into the backcountry countless times and was a big improvement over the cheaper versions I've owned. It does make a crinkly sound that takes some time to get used to, but I love it for its comfort and warmth.



Another great budget option. This was my first inflatable sleeping pad and it was surprisingly comfortable for the price. It did end up getting a hole, but it comes with a patch kit! This is a good choice if you're just getting started or don't plan on camping very often.



Not a sleeping pad, but this pillow was a serious game-changer for my nights out in the wild! It takes up nearly no space in my backpack, fits into my sleeping bag's hood, and provides just the right amount of support for my head. I keep it a little under-inflated for max comfort.


 

Camp Kitchen



This stove has been with me since the beginning of my backpacking journey after being recommended by an REI employee. It's extremely compact and easy to use. It's reasonably sturdy with any pots and pans I've used on it. Definitely a staple for backpacking to boil water for that blissful morning cup of coffee.



I looove this set for backpacking! It comes on every trip and is perfect for two people. It includes a pot with lid, two insulated cups with lids, two bowls, two sporks, and a carrying/washing case. Everything fits together with space for a small fuel canister and stove!




I bring a tiny bottle of this soap with me for cleaning dishes and anything else that needs more than a rinse. It's super concentrated and biodegradable -- just remember to properly dispose of your waste water in a cathole at least 200 feet away from any water source!




I don't often need a physical filter, but when I do this is the one I bring. I love that gravity does the work for me and it's a fairly large reservoir. I keep this hanging on a tree at camp for filling bottles, cooking, and cleaning up.




Since I'm in bear country often, bringing a bear can is a must. I use a slightly smaller size than this one (the BV450) which has been just enough space for a few days in the backcountry. It can be tricky to open with cold fingers in the morning, but I find this easier than needing to string up a bear bag.




This bear food bags set is a complete steal! I just started using these during my Havasupai trip since my bear can wasn't big enough for three people to share. This set includes everything you need to store tons of food, plus the ropes, carabiners, and rock sacks for hanging up your bags. This saved us a bunch of weight and I loved that they could be compressed down when they weren't as full -- unlike the bear can.



 

Electronics



This is the headlamp I've been using since I started backpacking and it's still going strong. It's not the brightest headlamp out there, but is great for people just starting out since it's amazing value for the price. The best features are the motion sensor to easily turn it on and off and the red light.




A necessity for me in the backcountry is a portable charger. I use this one from Anker, which can fully charge a phone up to 5 times! This has always been enough for me to charge my phone, headlamp, GoPro, and any other electronics. It has covered me and one other person for multiple days. The peace of mind is worth the weight for me, though some may opt for a smaller bank.



Not a necessity, but a super fun luxury item to bring backpacking. These lights weight next to nothing and are powered via USB. These almost always come with me! They make camp so much cozier, especially in areas where campfires aren't allowed.




These string lights are an amazing option if you don't mind a small increase in weight. They're still lightweight at just 0.6 pounds and can be used in four ways: as string lights, a lantern, a flashlight, or a portable charger. The versatility and the fact that they don't require an outside power source are what drew me to these.




I held out on getting a Kindle for years. When I finally caved, I only wished I had done it sooner. Traveling with this thing is so easy and I love that I can read in the dark (dark mode always) and bring tons of books for whatever suits my mood. Reading on my Kindle is my favorite way to pass the time before bed while cozied up in my sleeping bag. Plus, the battery lasts for ages!




Not everyone will feel the need to bring a separate camera while backpacking, but I always have my GoPro on my for capturing videos. I love this camera most for its video quality, size/weight, and the fact that it's waterproof. It has been buggy for me on occasion, but it's a staple in my filming gear.


 

Safety



What's camping without a campfire? Growing up in the PNW, it wasn't unusual for camp to be pretty soggy. When there's no dry kindling and the fire ring is practically a puddle, having some firestarters on hand is a life saver. I pop a few of these into a ziploc bag before any trips that I plan to have a campfire.




Speaking of making fires, I like to bring a fuel-less lighter to get those campfires going. I like this electric lighter because it's rechargeable and the long flexible neck makes it easy to light under piles of wood and kindling. There's also a safety on/off switch to prevent it from lighting when you don't want it to.


 

Personal/Luxury Items



Having a chair at camp is one of the greatest luxuries after hiking all day with your pack. This one by Helinox is incredibly light at 1.1 pounds and is so much more comfortable than plopping down on a stump, rock, or the ground. It's a splurge, but I think it's worth it to rest my body at the end of a long day.




This Kootek hammock has served me so well over the past five years! It's an incredible deal, especially since it includes the straps and is awesome quality. Get the large size, which easily fits two people. You won't regret it.




These Stall Mates wipes are the best flushable wipes for travel. Since they come individually wrapped, you can bring just as many as you need and they're super discreet. No more lugging around an entire pack of wet wipes anytime you need to go to the bathroom. When you're done, fold it up and stick it back in the sleeve before throwing it in your trash!




Bringing a lightweight towel is crucial on backpacking trips, especially ones where you'll be swimming. Bring the body size for drying yourself off after swimming. The hand size is perfect for drying your hands after washing them or cleaning up spills or dirty dishes in a pinch.




One of the best parts of backpacking is taking your boots off at camp after all that hiking. Let those feet breathe! Bringing a pair of camp sandals is always a priority for me and Teva is my go-to. I seriously wear these sandals 95% of the time in daily life. The "Haze Aragon" pattern is my daily shoe, but the ones pictured above in "Sun and Moon Aloe" are next on my list. 😋




If it's not sandal weather, the Tevas above get switched out for these moccasins. The first time I saw these, I was absolutely smitten. I waited patiently for them to go on sale, then snatched them up! I wear these around the house in the winter (just clean off the soles first!) and love them as a cozy camp shoe. The closed heel helps keep your feet and socks clean. I own and love the "Neutral Multi," but there are tons of great colors.




Not many things ruin a trip faster than a swarm of mosquitoes or other pesky insects. Bringing bug spray is a must on all my backpacking trips. I love the Murphy's brand since it's plant-based, DEET-free, smells great, and really works.


 

Your backpacking gear list will evolve over the years, but this list should get you a solid start. Keep things simple. The point is to get outside and enjoy nature!


If you'd like a closer look at my entire packing list, check out this article next. If you want some help cutting down your pack weight without needing to splurge on ultralight gear, check out my tips here.


Best of luck and I hope to see you out there!


Happy adventuring,

A

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