Top 10 Backpacking Essentials

Want to hit the road, hike out into nature and set up camp for the night? Need to know what to bring? Here are my top ten essentials for a successful backpacking adventure!


1. Backpack

The first item you will need is a backpacking pack to carry everything. This is one of those items that you don’t want to buy off of Craigslist for the cheapest price you can find. Instead, go to your local REI or other outdoor store and get fitted for one. There are tons of sizes and styles, so it’s best if someone helps you find the right fit. They will fill those that you want to try on with weights and let you take it for a spin around the store. This is a huge advantage because a slight discomfort in the store will only be magnified by several miles of trail hiking. You may have to splurge and spend anywhere from $100-$300 on average, but this is a purchase where comfort should be your focus more than price.


I have a Gregory Pack DEVA 60 and Adam uses an Osprey Ather AG 60. Mine comes with a rain cover and a day pack, which you would generally have to buy separately, so find out if the one you purchase comes with any extras like that!

2. Tent

Let’s be real, the most important piece of gear you need to set up camp is a tent! There are so many options out there to choose from, so you want to make sure you get one that best fits your adventure style. Some questions to ask yourself before buying: will you be using it for backpacking? How many people will need to fit inside? During what seasons will you be using it?

Tents are sold with a weather approval rating of a specific temperature and recommended seasons to be used in. A 4-season tent means it can be used in snowy conditions with very cold temperatures and is specifically made for conditions below 32 degrees. 3-season tents are generally warm enough for most mountain top adventures.


We use a Big Agnes Tumble 3 mtnGLO Tent, which is made for 3 people and 3 seasons. A three person tent allows both of us and Cosmo to fit in comfortably with enough room to fit our packs inside as well. It is lightweight, weighing 5 lbs 13 oz and is perfect for backpacking, but can also be used for regular 3-season tent camping. There is a rain fly that is optional to put on if it is windy, cold or rainy, but does not have to be used if the weather is nice and you enjoy stargazing at night. We have been very happy with this tent and love the easy set up and take down!

Also, consider buying a footprint to put under your tent in order to prevent wear and tear from the ground.

*Tip: when they say a 3 person tent, it means that if you set up 3 sleeping mats they will touch, and there will be no extra space for anything else inside. If you have a furry friend or want more storage, get a larger tent than how many people will sleep in it like we did.

3. Sleeping Bag

There’s more to choosing a sleeping bag than one might think and REI has some great advice to assist with the decision making process. You will want to know what temperatures you will be camping in: summer: 35 degrees and above, 3-Season: 10 degrees and above, Winter: usually below 10 degrees. Also consider the weight of the insulation materials , the size bag you prefer, and the shape you want to maximize warmth and comfort.

I have an REI Co-Op Lumen Sleeping Bag and Adam has an REI Co-Op Lumen 20 Sleeping Bag  and we have been very happy with them! These ones are easy to pack into a small stuff sack and use for any type of camping. I do wish mine was a bit warmer because I get cold easily, but you can always purchase a sleeping bag liner to put inside to add extra warmth if need be.

*Fun fact, if you buy the same sleeping bag in women’s and men’s, you are able to zip them up together and turn them into one big sleeping bag with room for two!

4. Sleeping Pad

This is one piece of gear you do not want to go without! You will need a sleeping pad not only for comfort when lying on hard ground, but also for insulation and warmth. Trust me, it makes a difference when you sleep on cold, hard ground.

I use the Women’s ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad and Adam uses a Therma-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad. The difference between regular and women’s is that the women’s pad has more insulation and will keep you a little warmer. They both weigh just over 1 lb and are perfect for backpacking!


5. Pillow

Having a comfortable pillow to sleep on while camping is a game changer. Our first time backpacking, we tried putting some of our clothes in a stuff sack to sleep on, but it flattened out easily and left us with stiff necks in the morning. So do yourself a favor and invest in a camping pillow!

We love the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium because it is a mere 2.8 ounces and can be stuffed into a tiny sack the size of your hand. SO WORTH IT for a good night’s rest!


6. Jet Boil

I bet one of the first things you will want to do when you reach your destination is EAT! In many of the mountains in California, you are not allowed to build a fire (and you probably won’t want to lug cooking supplies along with you anyways), so using a Jet Boil is the perfect alternative. It boils water in about 1 minute so you can quickly have a backpacking meal or cup of coffee. Make sure to bring some plastic utensils with you, as well! I recommend a longer spoon if you plan to eat right out of a dehydrated pre made meal like Mountain House.


7. Trekking Poles

I am such a believer in using trekking poles when backpacking. They take some of the load off of your knees and legs and are especially a lifesaver when hiking down. DO NOT GO WITHOUT THEM. Even if you don’t think you need any, bring some anyways. I guarantee you will not regret it 🙂 I use REI Traverse Poles.


8. First-Aid Kit

Another must-have is a first aide kit. Adam handmade ours and it includes:

  • Medical tape
  • Medical gloves
  • Gauze
  • Butterfly closure strips
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Safety pins
  • Rolled up duct tape
  • Antihistamine tablets
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lighter and survival matches
  • Cotton balls with vaseline (fire starter)

9. Water Filter

If you hike somewhere where there is a water source, you can use a water filter to refill your water bladder when it runs out so that you don’t have to carry extra water in your pack. We each have a Sawyer Mini Water Filter.

10. Headlamp

When it starts to get dark, you definitely want to have a light source to help you see what you are doing if you need to leave the tent or grab something in the middle of the night! Here’s what we use: Petzl Actik Headlamp, but you can always order one from Amazon. Just make sure it is high quality!


Other items we like to bring with us:

  • Knife
  • Lighter or matches
  • Portable charger
  • Trash bag to carry out all of our trash
  • Camping chair: this camping chair is lightweight and easy to pack so you can sit in comfort!
  • Bear canister: depending on where you backpack, you may be required to bring a bear canister to hold all of your food and scented items and place it away from your campsite. It takes up a lot of space in your pack, so be aware of that!
  • Hammock
  • Backpacking meals
  • Utensils
  • Extra pair of comfortable shoes like moccasins to wear around camp
  • Extra socks

Always remember to pack the items you will use often at the top of your pack, and those that won’t be used until you set up camp at the bottom. It may take a few times before you get it just right, but you will eventually find the best place for all of your gear. Now don’t you want to get outside and go backpacking?! I know I do!


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