I am often asked about what gear I use in the outdoors when backpacking (which is hiking with everything you need in your bag for overnight + longer) so I thought I'd put together a very comprehensive list, divided into must-haves and nice-to-haves.
My goal with this list is to make it seem within reach for you to head out on your own backpacking adventures. To carry everything you need on your back is truly empowering and incredibly grounding. I know that it will change you, as it has me.
In the below photo are all the essentials for backpacking. With these items (+ food and clothing), I could survive in the backcountry...indefinitely! It's beautiful how little you truly need. Of course, thriving is a different story :) Though even then, I just need a book, a journal and pen, some good tunes and my loved ones. More on that another time!
What I currently use: The North Face Women's Banchee 65
What you should consider:
Volume - you probably want a 45L pack as a minimum for overnighters and longer. The reason why I have a 65L pack is because I always have camera gear, my journal and a book and because I love to go for multi-day hikes and need the extra room for extra food.
Weight - you are going to get sick of hearing how important weight is when backpacking.
But this pack is actually 1.6kg as it has a backbone as well as extra features like a floating lid and beaver-tail pocket.
You can get backpacks which are half the weight. However, I love this pack for no real reasons other than I love TNF, the colour and it is comfortable for me.
Features - some prefer a top-loading backpack, some prefer a front-loading backpack. The one annoyance with a top-loading backpack is that if you need something at the bottom of your pack, you'll need to empty everything out to get to it.
What I currently use: REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Tent - but they don't make them anymore!
What you should consider:
Weight - this tent weighs only 1.8kg - you feel every gram after hiking double digits, up mountains in thinner air than you're used to, every day for multiple days...so go as light as possible!
Doors + vestibules - this tent has 2 doors and 2 vestibules - it might not seem like a big deal to have a door each but when it's 1am and you are busting to pee, your adventure buddy will be grateful that you don't have to crawl over them.
A vestibule means you don't have to cram all your stuff into your tent with you but will keep it safe and dry.
Pockets - this tent has handy pockets at your hand and feet as well as in the roof of the tent. You want the essentials like your head torch, your phone and in my case, a knife as easily accessible as possible!
A good sleeping bag
What I currently use: Sea to Summit Talus TS3 sleeping bag
What you should consider:
Warmth - this is more important if you plan on camping in cooler temperatures. My bag has a comfort temp rating of -9°C which means I can sleep comfortably at that temperature (for men, it has a rating of -17°C - this covers most of the conditions I'll probably ever camp in!
Weight - this bag weighs 1.225kg which isn't the lightest possible but not bad for a down sleeping bag
Cost - it cost me AUD 450, which is actually pretty reasonable considering how warmth + light it is
Fit - this bag is a 'mummy fit' which means it is tapered and snug. Theoretically, this sounds ideal as it would keep you warmer...but I toss a lot in my sleep and I often get uncomfortably twisted in my bag as it is so snug!
Sleeping bag liner - whether synthetic or silk, a liner will add extra warmth as well as keep your sleeping bag clean
Figure out your pillow arrangement!
What I currently use: Sea to Summit Large Aeros Pillow
The best pillow arrangement can differ so much from person to person. I know people who just roll up their down jacket or stuff their sleeping bag sack with clothes. Honestly, the pillow situation took me a few goes to figure out but once I did, it had a massive positive impact on my sleeping whilst camping.
A good sleeping mat
What I currently use: Kathmandu Ascent 25mm Short Hiking Mat
Length - I massively regret buying a 'short' sleeping mat. Especially because this mat was $120 and for an extra $90, I could've bought a longer, warmer sleeping back that packs down smaller.
R-value rating - the scale goes from 1 to 9.5 with 9.5 being very well-insulated.
Depth - the higher the depth, the less of the ground you'll feel. My mat is only 2.5cm whereas my friend, Rach, has a Thermarest mat that blows up to 6.3cm and sleeping on hers is like sleeping on a cloud, compared to mine. Depth especially matters if you sleep on your side, as you don't want your hips digging into the ground.
Packed dimensions - the smaller your gear, the better.
What I currently use: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Red night vision - I personally love a red night vision feature as it means we don't blind each other :)
What I currently use: Primus Yellowstone Classic Trail Stove
Weight - not all stoves are equal but some are most definitely heavier than others. A small backpacking stove is all you need for simple camp cooking and this one, at 226 grams, is perfect to me.
Gas usage - this stove uses the isobutane-propane gas canisters...which are not environmentally friendly. Eventually, I will invest in an MSR stove with refillable fuel bottles like this one.
And please don't forget a method to light your stove :)
To go super lightweight (my style), you just need a pot with a lid (like this), a spork and a knife. The lid becomes your mug as well.
Bring extra plastic bags for trash and organisation (I know that plastic bags are a big no-no but I've still yet to figure out what to replace them with, that is actually backpacking-friendly).
Layers + good shoes
There is no such thing as bad weather - just bad clothing! So the saying goes.
Please ditch the idea that you're going to look stylish in the outdoors. Once you're out there, you just want to be warm and practical.
I used to pack a change of clothes but if I'm just going for one night and the weather is moderate, I no longer bother (perhaps to my adventure buddy's dismay!)
I typically backpack in the cooler months and generally pack the same layers each and every time:
long Lululemon tights - the Aussie bush will scrape the crap out of your legs otherwise
Mountain Designs Brass Monkey fleece pants - one of the best items I've ever bought.
a long-sleeve layer - either Lululemon or a Uniqlo thermal
a Columbia PFG shirt - lightweight, ventilated, sun-safe :)
a North Face lightweight fleece with collar
Macpac Uber Light Hooded Down Jacket - lightweight, cosy, hooded, pockets
a North Face Gore-tex rain jacket
beanie, good socks, sometimes gloves, underwear, trail running shoes
Chances are they you'll have to fill up at lakes and streams (unless you want to carry ALL your water) so you'll need a method of water purification that is faster than boiling water.
What I currently use: Aquatabs
Cheap and easy to use: 1 tablet purifies 1 litre of water. You need to wait 30 minutes before drinking though.
What is ideal is a SteriPen, a portable water purifier that uses UV light to destroy microbes in just 90 seconds. They're about $130 whereas it's like $11 for 50 Aquatabs tablets...
First Aid kit
Bandaids, antiseptic, gauze bandage, tape, little Swiss knife, extra batteries for my head torch
Water + food
The biggest factor with water is how to carry it. I like to use dromedary bags and reservoirs to transport and a water bottle to drink from.
The biggest factor with food is weight and bulk.
Here is a typical menu for an overnighter:
breakfast = Quick Oats + banana + coffee/tea
lunch = Safcol salmon pouch + avocado + wrap/sandwich thin
dinner = curry kit + canned chicken + rice
snacks = Clif Bars, baby food squeeze pouches (I love these because it's an easy and tasty way to get in some micronutrients)
dessert = chocolate...and sometimes, wine!
For those really concerned about weight, dehydrated meals are a good option.
Map + compass
Especially important for longer, multi-day adventures. And it should go without saying but please know how to actually use your map + compass!
I use a dry bag for my sleeping bag (the yellow bag in the photo above) as well as carry one on-hand in case it rains for electronics, clothing etc. But of course, you can always just use garbage bags.
Camelbak Hydration Reservoir
I really enjoy using my Reservoir because it makes staying hydrated when backpacking so much easier. No needing to stop, take your pack off, fetch your water bottle, put your pack back on, try and regain your rhythm.
To charge your phone and keep your socials up to date, ya know? I have a Goal Zero Venture 30 PowerPack, which goes for around $130.
Book + journal...or basically an activity for downtimes
Contrary to belief, you can't always have a campfire when camping, due to rules and regulations.
And once it turns dark and cold, you'll be confined to your sleeping bag and tent...at as early as 6.30pm.
For this reason, I will often carry a book and/or journal.
I especially love to carry my journal because the outdoors is one of my biggest inspirations in life so after a day in the big outside, I am brimming with ideas and thoughts that need to be jotted down on paper to be later manifested into writings, projects or just to be guarded as beautiful memories.
This is a nice-to-have because you will not perish if you don't brush your teeth for one night. In fact, I often forget my toothbrush and toothpaste!
Here are the toiletries I do carry, more often than not:
insect repellant - mosquitoes love me.
sunscreen - keeping my face wrinkle-free thanks!
Lucas' Paw Paw Ointment - good for everything
Hand sanitiser - save your water for drinking
Toilet paper and ziplock bag to carry it out in... - please don't leave your TP laying around the bush. It's unpleasant to look at and bad for the environment.
And there you have it.
I hope this list gives you some clarity on how simple it can be. You really do just need to cover the basic human needs of food, water and shelter. And yes, some of the items are expensive but once you have them, you will likely never have to replace them!
As I said at the beginning, backpacking is empowering and grounding. I honestly believe that everyone needs to experience it, especially in this age of materialism and consumerism. I hope this list facilitates just that.