Whether hitting the trail at a nearby state park for your first overnight, heading into the backcountry for a week, or thru-hiking the PCT, proper planning and appropriate packing together make a successful backpacking trip. While hike prep lands solely on you, we’re here to help with a backpacking checklist to dial in your gear.
Working within the construct of the longstanding “10 Essentials” list, we’ve selected the following 10 newly released backpacking gear picks to both help guide new hikers and show veteran backpackers some fresh pieces they may want to integrate into their setups, too. But before we dive in, it’s important for hikers to have both a comfy pair of hiking shoes and a fair understanding of what’s truly “essential” in a backcountry situation (headlamp), what may be deemed unnecessary (collapsible camp chair), and what at the very least, is a luxury item (camp shoes).
For example, sun protection, like sunscreen, a sun hat, or bandana, is always a good idea. As is a first aid kit, and a repair kit (a little duct tape and a couple zip ties can go a long way). Toiletries like a toothbrush and toothpaste could be left at home, especially on shorter trips. While hand sanitizer, a lightweight trowel, and a little toilet paper are recommended regardless. (Bury your business! Leave no trace!)
Now that we’re on the same page, the following gear list represents a few of the finer options from well regarded brands, suitable for most any backpacking trip or outdoor adventure. Read on, click around, then log off and get out there.
10 Essential Backpacking Gear Picks for Happier Trails
Selecting the best backpacking pack for you will take some effort, but this new PCT pack (named for the legendary Pacific Crest Trail) is our top pick for 2022. Available in 55L and 70L volumes with men's, women's, and unisex models, the spacious pack has plenty of internal room for spare extra clothing, backpacking food, even a bear canister if necessary. Multiple exterior pockets (including oversized side pouches for water bottles), straps, and adjustment points add on-trail convenience, and inside, a hydration bladder pocket detaches to function as a standalone daypack for day hikes with mesh shoulder straps. Once worn, the trampoline mesh back panel provides support with ample ventilation. And the flexible, padded hip belt centers the pack’s load and features dual zippered pockets for quick access to snacks, a pocket knife, headlamp, spf lip balm, etc. Rain cover not included. (You don’t really need one anyway.)
Price: $280-300 SHOP NOW
With a minimum packed weight of 2 lbs 5.1 oz, the Strato UL 2 is an ultralight backpacking tent that comfortably sleeps two hikers. Arching, lightweight poles increase overall interior volume for a best-in-class weight to space ratio, and a dual-entry gear vestibule means weather protection for your pack and hiking boots (or trail running shoes, for you UL nuts), without wasting internal sleep space. As a cherry on top, the durable nylon rain fly is fully waterproof and free of dyes and flame-retardant chemicals.
Price: $450 SHOP NOW
There's nothing like slipping into the comfort of a warm, down-filled sleeping bag at the end of a long day on the trail. The fifteen-degree rating of this mummy bag makes it especially suitable for use during shoulder seasons and in environments like the high alpine and desert where temps really drop at night. Lightweight 650-fill down provides ample insulation while Gore-Tex Windstopper fabric offers added protection against the elements, whether you prefer a tent, hammock, or cowboy camping.
Price: $395 SHOP NOW
A comfortable air mattress is worth its weight in gold on any backpacking trip. Outdoor gear brand Sea to Summit's trusted ultralight sleeping pad comes in four sizes to suit bodies of all types and weighs between 10.4 and 17.5 ounces. Once unpacked, the sleeping pad stuff sack doubles as a makeshift air pump by threading onto the intake valve compressing captured air. Weight saved means room for an extra pair of hiking socks.
Price: $109-139 SHOP NOW
On pretty much every backpacking checklist you’ll find Mountain Hardwear’s legendary Ghost Whisperer down jacket. And rightly so. But for the sake of variety, we’re highlighting another MH innovation in the Stretchdown Light Pullover. The half-zip down hoodie utilizes a single abrasion-resistant stretch fabric to weave pockets of insulating down fill. The result is a lightweight and warm down jacket that provides a full range of movement (trekking pole enveglists rejoice). When not in use, the 15 oz pullover packs down into one of two zippered hand pockets for easy storage.
This genius 2.3 ounce personal water filter uses hollow fiber membranes dotted with 0.2-micron openings to block 99.999% or more of bacteria, parasites, microplastics, silt, sand, and cloudiness. As its name suggests, the purifier Straw can be used on its own to drink directly from sketchy water sources. And thanks to a recent redesign, it now features universal threading compatible with standard screw-cap bottles like Smartwater (ultralight hikers, take note). At 7.7”, it’s admittedly longer than the popular Sawyer Squeeze and Platypus Quickdraw, but it’s also up to a full ounce lighter and from our experience, less fragile. Either way, all three are certainly better water treatment options than boiling water to drink.
Price: $20 SHOP NOW
Lightweight titanium cups and pots from Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak are a staple of any backcountry kit we put together. The minimalist single-wall construction of this 600 ml mug makes it suitable for placing directly on the flame of a backpacking stove (the MSR PocketRocket 2 is our go-to) as a cook pot. The removable yellow silicone HotLips piece is key when sipping hot drinks or soups. And don't forget your Titanium Spork for boil-in-bag backpacking meals!
Price: $43 SHOP NOW
A lightweight, hooded midlayer is a must when headed into alpine territory. And this full-zip softshell hoodie traps heat with a grid of moisture-wicking fleece squares that allow outside air to evaporate accumulated perspiration, keeping you warm and dry. Wear it over a merino base layer or synthetic long-sleeve shirt for high-energy activity, under a shell around camp, and as a cozy sleeping top with a beanie on cold nights..
Even when the forecast is clear it’s smart to pack a rain jacket. This lightweight 2.5 layer option is both weatherproof and sustainable, made with 100% recycled materials. The suitably named jacket is made for movement and features a soft and quiet ripstop outer layer (no one wants to be that swishy rain jacket person). You’ll also find an array of pockets, one of which the jacket packs down into, and a welcome set of pit zips. Pair with Stretch Ozonic Rain Pant for head-to-toe protection.
A sturdy pair of hiking pants (or shorts) made for the trail will outperform casual cotton counterparts any day of the week. Mountain Hardwear's Trail Sender shorts and pants both use an ultralight stretch ripstop fabric that's as durable as it is comfortable—and carries a UPF 50 rating for sun protection. Slight variations in pocket layouts shift from men's to women's models, but both feature secure-zip pockets (the thigh-position pocket is reportedly perfect for a pocket knife or multi-tool) and an adjustable drawstring waist for a comfy fit, both while hiking and at camp. The 32” inseam length is perfect for gaiter-sporting hikers.