The planning phase of your next big adventure is half of the fun of the backpacking or traveling experience. What isn’t the most fun is figuring out exactly what kind of gear you need for any given trip.
To save you the countless hours of pouring over reviews of backpacks, sleeping bags, and clothing, we have asked our backpacking experts to compile a list of the best backpacking gear money can buy. And here it is…
Having done a considerable amount of backpacking across six continents and more than 50+ countries by this point, it took me years of trial and error to figure out what gear works and what doesn’t. Don’t worry, you won’t find anything I didn’t like on my list.
Whether you are a weekend warrior, international traveler, thru-hiker, an adventure family, or an outdoor-minded city dweller, there is something on this list for everyone.
Editors note: This article is updated regularly to ensure we are covering the best gear currently available.
Let’s get right to it…
- What to Take: Backpacking Gear, the Essentials, and Nifty Gadgets.
- The Best Backpacking Gear Mega-Roundup: A Buyer’s Guide
- The Best Backpacking Backpacks
- The Best Backpacking Tents
- Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Pads: The sleep system
- Climbing and Hiking Gear for the Adventurous Traveller
- Warm and Dry Backpacking Gear
- The Best Backpacking Gadgets for the Cyber-Gypsies
- Some Backpacking Accessories and Essentials to Consider
- Eco-Friendly Gifts for Tree-Hugging Backpackers
- What’s New on the REI Backpacking Gear Front
- Travel Packing Tips
- Rounding up the Best Backpacking Gear Roundup
What to Take: Backpacking Gear, the Essentials, and Nifty Gadgets.
Ok, so quickly, what’s being covered in this backpacking gear hunter’s guide?
Here, I’ll cover my top picks of the year for various categories like tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, gadgets, technical clothing, etc.
Our Top Backpacking Gear Picks – Winter/Spring 2020
REI Co-op Trailbreak 60 Pack
- Why we like it > Durable, affordable, perfect for travel or general backpacking.
- Price > $299.00
Salomon 4D Quest GTX
- Why we like it > Excellent fit, great traction, waterproof.
- Price > $230.00
REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Hiking Socks
- Why we like it > Wool certified to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), moisture-wicking, quick-drying
- Price > $16.95
REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent
- Why we like it > Perfect for first-time backpackers, and light enough to travel with.
- Price > $160.00
REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent
- Why we like it > Spacious, reliable, affordable, sexy.
- Price > $229.00
REI Co-op Flash Air 2
- Why we like it > Light, tough, easy to pitch.
- Price > $299.00
REI Down Time 0
- Why we like it > This thing has kept me warm all over the world. It has my full faith.
- Price > $239.00
Nemo Disco 15
- Why we like it > Cozy, packs down small, heat vents.
- Price > $299.00
REI Co-op Magma 15
- Why we like it > Super warm, weighs nothing, cheaper than other ultralight sleeping bags.
- Price > $69.95
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad
- Why we like it > Affordable, super light, Insulated
- Price > $44.95
REI Co-op West Winds GTX Jacket
- Why we like it > Waterproof, wind-resistant, packable, fair-trade.
- Price > $199.00
Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket
- Why we like it > You’ll never be wet again.
- Price > $599.00
- Why we like it > You can purify water on all 7 continents!
- Price > $89.00
REI Co-op Swiftlands Hydration Vest 5 Liters
- Why we like it > Many extra pockets, light, BPA free.
- Price > $89.00
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
- Why we like it > Rechargeable! Bright, affordable.
- Price > $69.95
JBL Flip 5 Waterproof Speaker
- Why we like it > Music in the woods!
- Price > $119.95
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Read our full review of the GRAYL GEOPRESS!
How to Pack for Backpacking
Choosing what to take in your backpacking setup is a matter of experience and knowledge. I’m a strong supporter of the notion that this simply takes practice and trial and error based on the experience of what works for you and what does not.
The first time you take off, you’re going to take some bits with you that later you will regret and you’re going to buy some stuff that you never really needed. The next time around, you’ll do a better job. Traveling and backpacking are simply a matter of leveling up.
There are two questions you’ve got to ask yourself:
- Where am I going?
Specifically, the climate is something to consider. Taking a down jacket to Sri Lanka is just downright stupid unless you’re planning on hitchhiking in the back of refrigerator trucks. Consider the climate of where you’re going and wherever you’re planning on going after (assuming you have plans, you dirty vagrant you) but also remember that you can buy clothes pretty much anywhere in the world.
- What are you traveling for?
Hiking means needing a good pair of hiking boots. Meditating on mountaintops calls for a good down jacket. If you’re traveling to ‘find yourself’, maybe pack a mirror.
As for how to pack for backpacking, remember that ‘less is more’. Overkill is the bane of any beginner’s backpacking gear list and even the veterans still make mistakes.
Not all ‘must have’ backpacking gear is so must-have. Be wise, be resourceful, and keep it light. Your shoulders will thank you in the long-run. The key is dialing in what your needs are and slowly acquiring your backpacking kit to meet a wide range of needs, climates, and adventure scenarios.
The Best Backpacking Gear Mega-Roundup: A Buyer’s Guide
And here starts the roundup. If you were sick of hearing me prattle, don’t worry. We’re gonna break this down right now!
But before we do, check the table below for some of our top picks of the essential backpacking items. One from each section to tickle your fancies just right:
The Best Backpacking Backpacks
Backpacks, backpacks, and backpacks: you can’t go backpacking without a backpack! You could take a suitcase but then you’d be suitcasing… which I guess is just called traveling. Except you’re traveling with a suitcase which is the lamest way to travel.
Before I tell you about all the must-have backpacking items for your setup, I’ve gotta tell you about what you’re putting them in. No backpacking kit is complete without a backpack! Expect a lot of Osprey backpacks on this list because they’re the best: if Osprey was an ice-cream flavor, I’d get very fat, very fast.
REI Co-op Trail Break 60
Finally. A trail-ready backpack that is more than capable of serious multi-day adventures and won’t break the bank. 60 liters is one of the most versatile backpack sizes you can go with. It makes for an ideal long-term travel backpack size or the perfect weekend vessel for backcountry exploration.
This size is slightly too large to carry-on a plane (unless your airline is very generous with their carry-on rules). That said, if you are going on a multi-month mission around South East Asia or Central America, you want to be able to carry some trekking gear and all of the right clothing with you.
The Trail Break 60 covers all of your bases at a reasonable price point. If you are wanting to upgrade to a solid backpack without spending heaps of money, this is the pack for you.
Osprey Aether AG 70 and Ariel AG 65
My baby. He’s seen me across many land borders, long hitches, and walks up mountains over the last two years.
When it comes to recommending a backpack, this is my go-to every time. I’ve put it through its paces and I can confirm that this thing is a beast! To me, Osprey is the king of backpacks for backpackers.
The Osprey Aether (and Ariel) have a solid selection of pockets, they’re tough as hell (I’m still waiting for my Aether to show obvious signs of wearing out) and it comes with the Osprey All Mighty Guarantee. Even if it’s not the perfect backpack for you, it definitely won’t be the wrong one.
Osprey Men’s Atmos AG 65
A wee bit smaller than the Aether and then past that the difference isn’t huge. It’s still an expertly designed beast imagined by the dudes (and dudettes) that make the best backpacking backpacks.
I will say that the angle of the water bottle pocket is a very nice touch. No more asking your mate to yank out and jam your water bottle back in in the pocket for you while you’re on the trail.
You already know how I feel about Osprey packs. One day you may aim to go lighter but this is a good starting point for anyone with ultralight backpacking and hiking gear in mind. Again, here’s a full review so you can be a savvy consumer.
Gregory Stout 45
Why’s it called the Stout? Cause it’s little and tough! Why’s it called Gregory? I dunno but I’m guessing Gregory was a pretty rad dude cause this is a pretty rad pack!
Ol’ Greggers here is a real nice choice of backpack for those heading into the backcountry for some rigorous walking. It’s also an excellent travel backpack for those who are upping their minimalism game.
The Little-Big G-Man streamlines nicely to the body, is plenty comfy, and also comes in smooth blue and high-intensity “Ow, my eyes” orange. You’ll never get lost in the ranges again (that is in no way a consumer guarantee).
And he’s cheap!
Aer Travel Pack 2
This backpack is more for travel than backpacking. Does that make sense? Lemme explain.
This is the backpack built for people belonging to a much more contemporary school of travel (as opposed to traditional backpacking). Digital nomads (as they like to be called), minimalists, and people that like to take short frequent trips.
It may not quite fit your needs, but you can’t deny that it’s an extremely stylistic travel backpack. Every pocket and pocket-within-a-pocket has been carefully considered to serve a function. It’s also got a head-spinningly wide array of features: too many too list so you can check out the full review here.
Sitting at 40 L and built with traveling adults in mind (as opposed to traveling dirtbags parading as adults), the AER Travel Pack 2 is either going to hold you tight at night or leave you unfulfilled and unloved. Either way, it comes with a lifetime warranty!
Osprey Daylite Plus
Oh, look, another Osprey product – surprise! The Daylite Plus is light and frameless which makes stashing it in your larger (Osprey) backpacking pack easy-breezy.
It’s got nicely considered pockets and an extra padded sleeve for your favorite device (always a plus). There’s not else much to say. The Osprey Daylite knows it job (containing your other crap) and it does it like a champ! It’s a great as both a daypack when traveling around the sights and for those day-hikes into the sticks.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
The Best Backpacking Tents
When we’re talking budget backpacking gear, I reckon a cheap tent is more than acceptable. A budget backpacking tent is going to cover you for most basic situations. Granted, this is coming from someone that usually sleeps out under the stars.
That being said, if you’re traveling with the intent of seeing some truly epic stuff (good on ya), maybe don’t skimp too hard on your tent. I’d miss you if you went and died from exposure.
REI Co-op Passage 2 Tent
For backpackers just starting out, the Passage 2 tent is a great way to get into the outdoor game.
Waterproof, simple to set up, strong design— these are just some of the great features that make this tent worthy of its salt. One of my favorite aspects of this tent is the doors; there are two of them. This makes getting in and out when you have a tent mate much more enjoyable.
The main draw back to this tent is the weight. At 5 lbs. 10 oz., this is a tent best carries between two people. Also, weight is a factor to consider when choosing a tent to take traveling.
REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent
The Flash Air 2 is a new minimalist shelter designed for big mile days on the trail. If you are prioritizing weight over anything else, this tent provides an excellent warmth-to weight ratio.
Ultralight gear tends to be more expensive in general, but leave it to REI to come out with an affordable lightweight option.
The Flash Air 2 saves weight by incorporating you trekking poles to pitch the tent (which you are already carrying presumably).
REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus
This is more the choice for those in the market for budget backpacking gear. It’s got all the perks of a top-notch backpacking tent without all the freakishly high numbers on the price tag.
Yeah, it may not quite make the cut as ultralight backpacking gear but think of what you’re getting! The REI Half Dome 2 (Plus: Tent of the Year Edition) is mega-roomy and has multiple of pockets for keeping your self organized when settling in for the night.
As far as budget backpacking tents go, the REI Half Dome 2 (Plus: Remixed and Remastered) is one of the best. It’s a happy medium between the ‘prepared for anything’ mode and the ‘I wanted to go for a trek so I bought this for 2000 rupees’ afterthought’.
REI Co-op Quarter Dome
Ok, so we’re dropping it down 0.25 of a notch.
I hiked the Appalachian Trail with this tent and loved they way it performed. Light, easy to use, and crucially— held up in an insane multi-day rain storm which left me stranded in my tent with a miniature bottle of wine for 14 hours.
For solo backpackers, this tent is great value and in terms of ultralight backpacking tents, you want find one at a similar price point that delivers the same top notch performance. Thanks REI, this tent was my home for months and months!
MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2
Ahh, Hubba Hubba. You’re one letter away from my favorite childhood brand of bubblegum (which is probably why I always mispronounce you).
This thing took me right down the length of New Zealand and then back up again… and then halfway down again. Through some real rough storms too.
MSR is known for top-quality products (it wouldn’t be unfair to call them the Osprey of backpacking tents) and the Hubba Hubba NX may just be their magnum opus. It’s an excellent choice of gear for both lightweight camping and backpacking.
Breathable, tough, and with those bodacious curves that just won’t quit, the Hubba Hubba NX is one of the best backpacking essentials money can buy. It may be a bit of a luxury backpacking item at the price but that’s why I included a budget option next: because you’re cheap and easy – like me!
Check out the review on the Hubba Hubba NX here if my magnificent prose hasn’t convinced you of its excellence.
Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Pads: The sleep system
Moving right along now, let’s see how your backpacking equipment is looking. You’ve got the backpack to put your crap in, you’ve got the tent to put yourself in, and then… Oh, ok, I see what’s missing.
I could just tell you to sleep straight on the floor sans sleeping bag but then this would be a terrible backpacking gear guide and I’d expect you’d drop me some angry emails. Let’s just say that a proper backpacking sleep system – and a proper backpacking sleeping bag – is a must have item.
REI Co-Op Down Time 0
For years, I was looking for a sleeping bag that was at once affordable and warm as hell. When we start talking about 0-degree bags for backpacking, the prices can be pretty astronomical.
While not the lightest bag on the market, the Down Time 0 delivers great value in a high-performance package.
This bag combines supreme warmth, great loft, packs down to almost nothing, and has kept me toasty at 17,000 feet on multiple occasions. If you don’t have the cash to drop on an expensive ultralight alpine bag and are planning a trip to a cold-weather destination, look no further.
REI Co-op Magma 15
This sleeping bag is for both backpacking and a solid winter’s night. It’s the most expensive entry on this list but still rates as a budget piece of backpacking gear comparatively to other sleeping bags in this category.
The REI Magma has got the same temperature rating as the Nemo Disco but between the higher down-count (it’s all about the down-count) and the tighter fit, you’re probably in for a warmer night’s sleep. It’s also that classical mummy shape meaning it’s less of a load to carry and the feeling while sleeping is more claustrophobic if you’re like me and tend to get in Bruce Lee combat scenarios in your dreams.
Nemo Disco 15 Sleeping Bag
Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s not a mummy bag. It’s a spoon bag (sort of; Nemo has a very loose definition of a spoon-shape). The result is a roomier bag built for sleeping in funny positions – side-sleepers represent!
Rated down to -9° Celsius (15° Fahrenheit for the weirdos) this backpacking sleeping bag will keep you toasty warm (unless you’re heading out somewhere that’s colder than -9° Celsius).
The downside of that extra roominess is that the Nemo Disco comes in at noticeably heavier weight and size than other sleeping bags on the market. This means it’s still one of the best sleeping bags for camping but not necessarily for ultralight hiking. It’s also pricey (though far from as pricey as a top-end sleeping bag can get) but I’ll reiterate: don’t cheap out on your sleeping bag!
Marmot Never Winter 30 Sleeping Bag
This is mine! Remember how I said I’d upgraded my sleeping bag (courtesy of some cold nights in Japanese parks and Indian jungles). This is one I went with and it’s a damn solid bag!
This sleeping bag isn’t for hardcore adventures in the Karakoram Ranges: it’s for backpacking with enough wiggle room in the temperature rating (1° Celsius/30° Fahrenheit) to let you get stuck somewhere chilly for a night. And, if you get stuck somewhere really chilly, it’ll still keep you alive to see the sunrise.
What do I like? Well, it’s comfortable which is an important start; it’s got a bit more give around the shoulders which makes a huge difference. I also dig the full-length two-way zipper.
I do wish it was a bit lighter and smaller but I think at this point I’m just trying to eat my scrumptious cake.
Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner
This is the liner I’ve been traveling with for more than a year-and-a-half and it’s served me super fine. As of yet, there’s no damage or real wear-and-tear to speak of (though I should probably wash it soon…).
Maybe some would disagree, but I consider a sleeping bag liner an essential backpacking item. It gives some extra warmth, keeps your sleeping bag clean, and it doubles as an extremely light sleeping bag/mosquito protection in hotter climates. Even if you’re backpacking without a sleeping bag, I’d recommend investing in a liner.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad
A favorite among ultralight hikers and mountaineers, the insulated Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol sleeping pad is an indestructible pad that will keep you from direct contact with the ground on freezing night. Having an insulated pad is important for many reasons, but the main reasons to go with the Z Lite Sol are price and lightness.
Inflating pads are prone to getting punctures and that sucks when you have spent lots of money on them. Shave weight and fear no middle-of-the-night air mattress leakage horror: go with a Z Lite Sol.
REI Co-op AirRail Plus Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
A good sleeping pad is a must for getting a good nights rest whilst out on the trail. Without one you probably won’t sleep too well.
REI does it again with another ace-in-the-hole product! I have tried a few sleeping pads that employ a similar style (some by Big Agnes for example) and overall my preference is now firmly for the AirRail.
At the end of the day, it is a damn fine backpacking sleeping pad that won’t steal the cash and credit cards from your wallet after you’ve nodded off.
The weight-to-R-value ratio is right there with its competitors in a similar price range
Sure, if you’re not heading anywhere too extreme, you could definitely sleep on palm fronds and moss… but… well… this is definitely more comfortable.
Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Sleeping Pad
Just quickly, this is the sleeping pad I’ve been using while backpacking for the last couple of years. Stats-wise, it doesn’t stack up to the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm’s deliciously tight 5.7 R-Value but I can confirm it’s awesomeness.
In two years it hasn’t punctured once (I’ve slept some weird places without a tent to accompany too. And, as a perpetual side-sleeper, it’s a very comfy sleeping pad.
I like Sea to Summit. I’d still marry Osprey first but Sea to Summit would definitely be my Sally on the side.
Climbing and Hiking Gear for the Adventurous Traveller
Right, so you’re a mega-adventurous human that likes getting dirty and scratched up with a chance of hideous death. Excellent – what an adventure!
You need the best! The coolest hiking gear and the best climbing equipment found below.
Momentum Harness Package
How do you not fall to your death when you’re scaling routes? A harness! Well, there are some exceptions but that just proves the rule!
The Momentum Harness Package is a choice option (and their fitted for a lady’s pathologically honest hips too)! It’s comfortable as someone warmly embracing your nether region – you won’t even feel that wedgie! The waistband is easy to adjust, comes with four gear loops, and the harness comes packaged with a screw-gate carabiner, chalk, and a chalk bag! What more could you want?
Looking for badass climbing shoes? Check out this epic list of the best bouldering shoes.
What else do you need in your life right now… carabiners! No life is fully spiritually realized without some carabiners to dangle your bits from. Your backpacking bits, fool; get your head in the game!
The Hotforge Quickpack carabiners aren’t just your deadbeat, alcoholic father’s carabiners either! These carabiners are built for climbing (hence why they come with quickdraws).
Use them when you’re up a wall, hang your backpacking accessories off them, or get really wide ear stretchers and use them as earrings. I met a dude with carabiner earrings once – it was dope! Not him though… he was kinda weird.
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
Other than that, these hiking boots will serve you well when you’re stomping through the wilds. They’re tough enough to get you through pretty much any type of terrain (I haven’t tested them in lava), they have excellent ankle support, and the eyelets and laces have a very clever design. That may seem like a weird thing to highlight but as someone who’s bought enough laces off Indian shoe-repairmen, I can tell you that that’s super important.
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid
From wet jungle treks to the high mountains of Pakistan – I have used these boots in all kinds of conditions. They offer solid foot/ankle support, have fantastic grip, and are very comfortable for long distances. That said, they can feel heavy when they get soaked so I try to avoid submerging them completely in water.
For an all-around winner 3-season boot, the Lowa Renegade GTX are hard to beat.
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Another pair of boots from one of the best hiking gear brands out there.
Why choose the Salomon X Ultra 3 over the Quest 4D 3? (God, someone in their product naming department needs to be laid off.)
Well, they’re lighter for a start. A much more streamlined boot with a trail-running design in mind. You’ve still got the Salomon quality and you’ve still got the ankle support but they just don’t feel quite as heavy on the feet.
Warm and Dry Backpacking Gear
What if it rains? What if it snows? Maybe an avalanche will fall on you… who knows!
Well, that’s where this backpacking equipment comes into play – not so much an accessory as a necessity. Jackets and hoodies time!
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
What can be said about the Nano Puff Jacket? Well, it’s made from 55% recycled materials so that’s pretty damn special!
This jacket is an excellent top-layer jacket. It weighs in super light and the material is thin (so treat it well) yet, despite this, the Nano Puff packs both a punch in insulation and holding its own in the rain. Choose your size accordingly based on your finely-crafted layering system (and I do love a good layering system).
Fair warning though, this isn’t a down jacket; it’s synthetic. Look below for your down options in backpacker clothing.
Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie
Yay for hoodies! I love a good down hoodie; you look like such a punk. Even in a down hoodie you still look like such a punk… just a punk with too much disposable income!
This is not a cheap piece of backpacking gear. It is, however, both incredibly light and warm. Some sacrifices have been made to the hoodie’s durability to bring its weight down so remember to treat it well.
REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0
REI Co-op really does make some of the best budget backpacking gear. It’s never cheap enough to be pointless but it always cuts enough off the price – without sacrificing on quality – that it’s worth the investment.
Here we have another hoodie (because hoodies are sick). Once again, it’s full-power down – a touch heavier – but it craps all over the Arc’teryx Cerium in price. Also, the positioning of the pockets has been given great thought in regards to backpack hip belts and that makes so much difference.
Patagonia Down Sweater
My go to down jacket for the mountains or the city. I can’t recommend this jacket enough really! After a few years, I had problems with feathers leaking from the seams. Another reason to love Patagonia? They replaced the jacket without me even having to produce a sales receipt.
Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket
So all that backpacking gear is excellent for the cold and the gentle showers but what if it’s properly raining down? When the cats and dogs start falling or when you visit the UK where it even rain INDOORS, it’s time to suit up a bit more appropriately.
Enter the Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket. The review is here and the verdict is in: it’s glorious.
Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: this jacket is cripplingly expensive. But from a performance perspective, there is no weather protection live Arc’teyrx pro-grade level protection.
But (here comes the counterpoint), if you want the absolute best-of-the-best backpacking and hiking gear, you’re looking at it. This is about as high-end as it comes and the quality of the jacket shows.
If you find yourself spending heaps of time in the mountains – this is the jacket to get you through just about every type of weather system.
REI Co-op West Winds GTX Jacket
This jacket is a great addition to your outdoor wardrobe. The REI Co-op Westwinds GTX jacket uses 2-layer GTX system that provides excellent protection from the wind and rain. Plus it packs down small so it is useful for travel or hiking.
The hand zip pockets on the outside outside and chest pocket on the inside give you storage options in addition to the zippers being weatherproof. A great jacket score on all fronts!
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Jacket
Yes, I know, we all can’t drop more than half a grand on a jacket. This is a much more budget considerate option for a backpacking essential (yes I would definitely consider a rain jacket an essential).
It may not have all the finishing touches of an Arc’teryx jacket but it still does more than enough to keep you dry in most downpours. It also weighs noticeably less making it a much more viable option for lightweight budget backpacking and it’s more than roomy enough for some more sweet winter-layering moves.
The Best Backpacking Gadgets for the Cyber-Gypsies
GoPro HERO9 Black Camera
This is the latest and greatest GoPro camera – with so many awesome features it will make your head spin.
GoPro keeps leading the pack when it comes to action cams and the latest Hero9 Black model is no exception.
Fantastic image stabilization, time lapse, 5k shooting, new front display – this is THE action camera of the year by leaps and bounds.
If you are an aspring content creator then this is absolutley the GoPro for you.
Can’t be bothered to shell out the $350 for one? Check out this list of the best GoPro Alternatives
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire GPS Watch
I can’t really talk about the coolest backpacking gadgets without talking about GPS watches. You remember how in ‘Get Smart’ Maxwell had a phone shoe and people were all like “The future is coming!” Well, now we have watches that display topographic maps and stream music while we climb mountains and then can order you a pizza on the way back down.
The future is here and it’s called the Garmin Fenix GPS Watch! Music storage, contactless payments, and full-color maps for when you’re adventuring somewhere hectic (or trying to navigate the streets of Delhi). It even monitors your stats at high altitudes!
Yep, this thing is hella expensive but what did you expect from a James Bond watch? It’s one of the best new pieces of backpacking gear on the market. I wouldn’t wear it anywhere you don’t want people thinking you’ve got cash to splash though (so maybe scratch Delhi).
For more time keeping inspiration, check out our epic review of the best outdoor watches.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ 2-Way Satellite Communicator
This is a 2-way satellite communicator: that means it can send and receive messages. This isn’t such an essential backpacking item if you’re philandering around the tourist bubbles but if you’re someone that enjoys getting properly lost, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ is absolutely crucial. Mum needs to receive a “Not dead yet” message ideally once a week (minimum).
It’s got maps, messaging, and measurements to keep you alive and safe with an insane battery life. You may not need it scootering around Thailand but once you’ve gotten lost in some far-out places in Central Asia, you’ll be glad you brought it.
Also, you can Bluetooth connect your phone to it because typing on the thing sucks big time. Check out a full review for the similar (and cheaper) Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator here.
-> Want to see more GPS options? Check out our EPIC review of the best handheld GPS.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Yes, you should buy a headlamp for backpacking – no questions! They are an absolutely indispensable backpacking tool.
Past preparing smokable delights, headlamps are going to keep you seeing no matter where you are from pitch-black dorm rooms to pitching tents in the middle of the night. I’m really hoping I don’t have to iterate the usefulness of a headlamp while backpacking. Take it from us, a headlamp is an essential item.
Petzl is strong in the headlamp game and the Actik Core is no exception; it’s one of the best out there and it’s rechargeable!
Eukarya Origin Headlamp
Of all of the headlamps on this exclusive list, the Eukarya is probably the coolest and most unique product we have tested.
It’s the only headlamp that I am aware of that is made using sustainably harvested wood for the body. With 300 powerful lumens of light plus up to 15 hours of battery life, the Eukarya Origin headlamp is an excellent addition to your long-term travel kit. Plus, you never have to buy batteries or worry about disposing of them properly.
The Origin also has 3 light modes (high, low, and strobe), so you can choose the level of brightness you desire. For some reason, many headlamps on the market are not the most attractive things. Eukarya combines beautiful aesthetics with quality build design, which has resulted in a badass overall product.
MPOWERD Luci Base Light
You have two options for ambient lighting. You could stick your phone torch under a water bottle or you could get yourself a lantern.
That’s where the MPOWERD Luci Base Light comes in: lightweight, collapsible, and solar-powered. Again, I can’t reiterate enough the importance of carrying some light sources with you in your travels. No backpacking kit is complete without something that lights up the dark.
Goal Zero Venture 70 Recharger
Power banks are a dime a dozen and you can pick them up pretty much anywhere in the world. Hell, I’ve seen vending machines that stock them!
Mine is excellent. I picked it up in India (the Indians do some good tech) and it’s a total brick. It charges my electronics in a ridiculous amount of times and is weighty enough to fight off a small bear with.
The downside is I had to go to Hyderabad to buy it and I wouldn’t wish going to Hyderabad on even my worst exes. To avoid having to go tech shopping in the bowels of Asian “digital” (hah) cities, I’d recommend buying one before you depart.
I may not see that many travelers with headlamps, but everyone has a power bank. It’s without-a-doubt a must have backpacking gadget.
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel
This is either a nice companion to your power bank or an alternative replacement altogether. A solar panel to charge your bits! Provided the sun is shining of course.
It will charge most devices (though not tablets) and has readouts to help you optimize the charging efficiency. It’s also weatherproof but you’d kinda hope it would be considering that its purpose is to be exposed to the weather.
I mean, hell, you could even use it to charge your power bank. It doesn’t get much more meta than that!
I once met a traveller who brought one of these up to Svalbard in mid-winter. Needless to say his phone soon went dead. If you don’t know why that’s stupidly funny, go and Google it.
One of the best investments you can make is a worldwide travel adapter that will work anywhere! The one featured here is tough, reliable and a solid buy – Don’t leave home without one.
Buy your travel adapter on Amazon now.
Some Backpacking Accessories and Essentials to Consider
Accessorizing is important. It tells people about yourself. Sometimes I wear a peacock skirt but the outfit isn’t truly complete unless it’s accompanied by my frilly purple silk blouse on top.
Backpacking accessories are also super-important and also tend to be a tad more functional than gaudy outfits. That said, South Asian men and West Sydney Adidas lads love my blouse-and-skirt combo.
Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle
Meet my favorite piece of backpacking gear to come out over the last few years: the Grayl Geopress.
Water purification is mega-mega-important in the majority of the world (157 of 198 countries to be precise). My traveling companion of three-ish months Tyrone can attest to that – he was the little Giardia lamblia that could.
After writing a full roundup on the best filtered water bottles (yay, for shameless self plugs), I now know an excessive amount of information about water purification. With any luck, that’ll help prevent me from contracting Giardia again!
I can tell you that there are a lot of good choices on the market for a filtered water bottle and I can tell you that the Grayl Geopress stands as a clear leader in the race: this thing is mint! It eradicates pretty much anything from the most gank of water and it has an extremely unique (and cool) purification system. None of this drinking through a straw like a damn sippy-cup crap!
There are a lot of good reasons for investing in a filtered water bottle but a special shout-out to my mate, the environment (love ya, buddy). Any step away from plastic bottles is a step in the right direction even if it’s off a cliff. I like to be all “We are freedom; you do you, man” but when it comes to plastic bottles…
We have all probably owned a Nalgene at some point. This Epic Nalgene OG filter bottle by Epic Walter Filters takes the same classic bottle we all enjoy up a few notches by adding the cleverly designed water filter element. Practical, easy to use, and very importantly – this bottle won’t break the bank either.
The Epic Nalgene OG uses their patented Everyday Filter system – and as the name implies – it is intended for everyday use. Like any filter bottle, the filter does not have an endless life span and the filter will need to be replaced after roughly 75 gallons. Speaking from experience – I typically end up filtering 3-4 liters of water per day when I am traveling so one filter can get me through almost two months on the road or. in the mountains.
These days we also need to think about all of the little ways we can reduce our plastic footprint and having an Epic Nalgene OG (like the Geopress above) in your backpack will cut down the need to buy plastic bottles – which is HUGE first step in changing our relationship with single-use plastic!
For the best budget filter option on this list – The Epic Water Filters Epic Nalgene OG is a truly excellent product!
MSR Pocket Rocket 2
Much like a tent, a backpacking stove is one of the best bits of gear stove you can carry for budget control. Mine doesn’t get so much use in cheap Asia but once I’m back in the West sleeping in parks, it’s porridge for brekky every morning!
I’ve had the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 stashed in my pack for two years and it’s still going strong. Occasionally, a screw has come loose but that’s why screwdrivers were invented. I’ll also freely admit that there are better options on the market for cooking stability but, for the price, it’s hard to look past this backpacker stove.
That right there, folks, is verbatim what I wrote about the Pocket Rocket 2. After penning it, I found out that they’ve since released the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe and – other than being a touch more expensive – it’s better in every way. Here’s the review for the Pocket Rocket 2 and here’s for the review for the Deluxe; see which suits your needs.
Leatherman Skeletool CX Multi-Tool or a Gerber Paraframe I Knife
One, the other, or both – it’s your call. Some people like having a multi-tool so they can mosey around the seven continents tinkering with everything Wallace and Gromit style. In that case, I’d recommend the Leatherman Skeletool CX: it’s a nifty beast of a thing that’ll get you through most sticky situations.
Others (myself included) find that having a knife while backpacking can be extremely useful. You never know when one might come in handy, whether it be in the backcountry, for making lunch, or preparing yourself for a zombie apocalypse. You can’t really go wrong with a simple blade!
I’m quite a fan of Gerber knives. My experience with them has been that they have excellent construction and the blade never seems to dull (though the blade lock is hella annoying). Little and small is the name of the game so it fits in the palm of my hand and with a razor-sharp tip. If you’re currently questioning my intentions of traveling with a knife… well…
Active Roots Money Belt and Anti-Theft Belt
Pockets are great but belts with pockets are better. I can attest to that after I had my money pouch (presumably) stolen in the south of India. The culprit was either a cow or an eccentric Russian man…
The Active Roots Money Belt is essentially a glorified bumbag to keep your goods in. What I like about it is that it’s sleek and fits tightly to any ol’ dad bod. This ain’t no chunky doof belt.
The Anti-Theft Belt is a much more unique design. It’s a belt (like for your pants) but it has a zippered pocket on the interior side to stash your cash. This means that unless the person mugging you was specifically looking for a new way to hold up their pants, the bulk of your cash will remain with you.
Neck Buff ThermoNet Multifunctional Headwear
Another of my personal must have backpacking items; I love a good buff. So much so that I travel with two (actually three if you count the wool one I found on the side of the road in Japan).
They’re warm on the neck, offer some protection against the dust and odors of the road, and there is like fifty-odd ways you can wear them. There’s not much else to say really: they’re an essential backpacking accessory and I wouldn’t hit the road without one.
Sea to Summit Stuff Sacks, Dry Sack, and Compression Sacks
Man, there are soooo many options for backpack organisation around but you already know how I feel about Sea to Summit i.e. that I’d cheat on my wife for them. Interior organisation like this is my number one rule for how to pack for backpacking. Leave no piece of backpacking gear un-sacked!
- Stuff sacks are the basic option. They have some water resistance but they won’t survive a downpour.
- Dry sacks, on the other hand, will and therefore are a must have backpacking accessory for your electronics. There are even hardcore dry bags for the hardcore travelers that go to hardcore places to do hardcore things.
- Compression sacks are excellent for clothes and anything else that… well… compresses. There’s also a dry/compression sack too – you have limitless options!
World Nomads Insurance
Accessorizing with safety! Yeah, ok, this may not be a physical item that exists in the material world but it is definitely a backpacking essential. That’s unless you like loan-sharks showing up at the hospital to re-break your legs because you couldn’t pay your medical bills.
Yeah, it’s expensive and it’s annoying and insurance companies are also basically the antichrist but it’s a necessary evil of the travelling world. You’ll be grateful you have it once you meet your own Tyrone.
The selling point of World Nomads is that their business model appeals to people like us. People that think that itineraries are dumb and return plane tickets should only be purchased once you’re at visa counter at the airport and they’re telling you they won’t let you in the country without one.
Find out why we recommend World Nomads. Check out the World Nomads Insurance review.
REI Membership Card
An REI Membership Card is a pretty sweet deal if you like shopping with REI. And you should like shopping with REI because their products are actually pretty tight!
You pay $20 and you get a lifetime membership. No renewals, no subscription: just sweet, delicious, wise investment pie.
What are the perks of an REI membership? Honestly, there are quite a few so I’d advise having a browse and seeing if the whole deal suits your needs. But to list a few perks: special offers, member events, and annual dividend returns.
How does an annual dividend work? I dunno, the minute you start throwing around words like ‘dividend’ and ‘superannuation’ and ‘you owe taxes’ my brain goes to its happy place.
REI Gift Card
Yeah, there’s not much else to say really. It’s a card you gift to someone. There’s money on the card and then they use that to buy something they actually want. That way, you don’t buy them the wrong thing and ruin their birthday.
See, Dad! It’s not so hard!
Eco-Friendly Gifts for Tree-Hugging Backpackers
Slam this in your eco-friendly rainbow-hippy happy-hole! Here at the Broke Backpacker, we love nature. We love nature so much that we may even say that it tickles our fancies in that oh-so-special place.
That’s why I made this section. All of the best backpacking items that don’t hurt Mother Nature! Take care of your mum, yeah?
Hydro Flask Tumbler 22
To again touch on the subject of plastic: it sucks. Rainbow-hippy or not, travelers should care about this topic. I can’t force you to care but I can repeatedly enforce the point until I break your spirit and you submit.
Ok, so maybe I can force you to care!
This is a large tumbler cup – insulated and a little over the standard size for a medium drink in The States. (Which is an excessive amount of liquid everywhere else.)
Get your coffee in it, your beer at a party, or catch a wayward spider inside and send him back to Mother Nature’s embrace. One way or another, stop using plastic.
Dr Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap
I first learnt about Dr Bronner’s Soap from a rainbow-hippy in New Zealand and those dudes care about the environment! It’s about as good for Mama Nature as a soap can be: it’s made from bio-degradable ingredients (organic and Fair Trade), smells fresh, and even the bottle is made from recycled materials!
What’s it good for? Pretty much anything! Your skin, your clothes, your dishes, your eyeballs (maybe not the eyeballs).
I mean, I’m not exactly one to talk. I usually just “borrow” the soap left behind by the last person who used the shower. But if you’re going bush for a while, there’s no better soap to take.
Prana Henna E.C.O. Yoga Mat
I could have filled this section with prAna products. Their whole shtick is having environmentally-friendly products! Not ‘shtick’ sorry; I’m quite sure they genuinely care about the environment.
Ahh, who cares anyway? The ends justify the means, right?
If I have to explain the usefulness of a yoga mat, I don’t think you’ve been around very much. The prAna Henna E.C.O. Mat is made from non-toxic material and a much better mat than you’ll find at the markets in Rishikesh.
If you’re one of those white chicks that went to Thailand to do their Yoga Teacher Training Course and then didn’t actually continue practicing yoga afterwards, then this is the product for you!
Smartwool Light Hiker Socks
Another piece of backpacker clothing gear and nothing feels so good as a snug pair of socks. Smartwool clothing is cruelty-free: no Kiwi sheepies were harmed in the making of these socks.
Merino socks are excellent! Warm, lightweight, and breathable – perfect for hiking or sliding around the house.
What’s New on the REI Backpacking Gear Front
Sure, it may seem redundant putting in a ‘What’s New’ section considering it’ll become outdated pretty quick, but I am going to link you to the new arrivals page on REI. Sometimes you find some nice surprises. Case-in-point…
JBL Flip 5 Portable Waterproof Speaker
JBL released a new speaker! The Flip 5 is the successor to the Flip 4 (obviously) and it comes with a bigger battery and better sound quality and yet, somehow, is still lighter than the Flip 4.
I’m quite a fan of traveling with a JBL speaker. Originally, I travelled with the Flip 4 but switched to the Clip 3 simply for the lighter load. JBL speakers are hardy and good quality but come in at a more digestible price than some of the other top-end competitors.
If you’re someone that likes to bring the tunes no matter where you go, take a peek.
Garmin Instinct GPS Watch – Tactical Edition
It’s like the Garmin Fenix except this one is tactical! It’s also a helluva lot cheaper.
This watch is heavy-duty. Like, really heavy-duty. It’s built to U.S. military-grade standards and the backlight is adjustable to be compatible with night vision goggles… in case night vision goggles were on your backpacking packing list.
The Garmin Instinct GPS Watch is purely for that purpose: mapping and personal metrics. There’s no music streaming or pizza ordering, just adventuring. This is a watch built for the extreme – skydivers and ocean divers rejoice!
Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch
Another super watch… once upon a time our loser ancestors used watches for telling time. How far we’ve come.
Fitbits are smartwatches; not tactical watches for parachuting behind enemy lines. I wouldn’t suggest taking it diving either.
It’s got all the capabilities of a smartwatch: music storage, contactless payments and connection with your phone for making swiping on Tinder always a viable option no matter where you are. Honestly, I wouldn’t travel with one – expensive jewelry makes you a target – but I do see the occasional backpacker with one.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles
These poles are light. Super light! It’s like trekking with a pair of marshmallows in your hands. And what could be more perfect for long-distance trekking?
Black Diamond is another of the best hiking gear brands around. They make top-notch gear for the wild backpacker and the Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles are no exception.
These poles have been designed in conjunction with professional endurance athlete Joe Grant. This beast scaled 57 summits in Colorado exceeding 14,000 feet in a month… in one link.
REI Co-op Trailbreak 20 Sleeping Bag
It’s a sleeping bag that works. It does exactly what it says on the box. You get in the bag and you sleep in it.
This a budget sleeping bag for those that don’t want to heed my advice of investing in a good one. It’s a heavier bag and it’s synthetic. The REI Trailbreak’s lower limit comfort rating is -9° Celsius (20° Fahrenheit) but I would be very, very skeptical about that.
It’s not my first choice of a sleeping bag for backpacking (or 2nd through 5th for that matter) but it is an option for anyone shopping around for some real cheap budget backpacking gear. Here’s the men’s model, here’s the women’s, and here’s me signing out from having to say that again.
Buying the Best Backpacking Gear: To cheap out or not to cheap out
Should you get the best backpacking gear and gadgets money can buy? Is it better to go for the discount and used backpacking gear? Maybe that garbage bag poncho will get you through the night after all.
This is a topic worthy of discussion. I’m of the belief that not all your backpacking tools and equipment need to be top-shelf goods. I know a guy who walked across New Zealand without shoes and a hand-woven flax backpack filled with hand-made stone tools.
That may not be the best example of minimalist hiking but it does pay to remember that long before we had GPS watches (tactical edition) and hiking poles with built-in sorbet makers, we had loincloths and sharp sticks. Of course, we also died a lot more in the loincloth/pointy stick days.
Some stuff you can skimp on and other stuff I’d recommend not being cheap about. For example, the first time I travelled I had a bang-on tent (that is now sitting – full of holes – under my mum’s house) and a crap sleeping bag. Now, I have no tent and a snuggly-as-toasted-marshmallows sleeping bag built for colder climates.
Not all your backpacking gear needs to be the best but, similarly, not all your backpacking gear should be cheap. Knowing what works for you (by practice) is the best way to learn, but, generally, you can’t go wrong with the items on this backpacking list. After all, they’ve been finely selected by our team of our veteran vagabonds for your adventuring pleasure!
Travel Packing Tips
Because I didn’t want to end this piece talking about an extremely mediocre sleeping bag… So here’s the tips section! Things I’ve picked up over my time on the road both for what to take backpacking and the actual process of packing it.
- You can never have too many sacks in your life – I wanna see a backpack full of sacks! Organization is key.
- Don’t go overboard with clothes – Clothes can be bought, found, or traded for pretty much anywhere in the world. And besides, the clothes you do take are just going to end up stained, torn, and full of joint burn-holes anyway.
- Love a good shawl – It didn’t make the backpacking gear list, but there’s nothing like a good shawl or sarong. It’s such an extremely versatile item. Just pick one up on the road (preferably with something more unique then elephants on it).
- Carry some repairing tools – A small sewing kit, super glue, duct tape… things like that. Sooner or later, you’ll be glad you have them.
- Locals are fantastic repairers – If something is really carking it, go find a local tailor or repairman. These guys know their stuff and can fix most things (or make modifications to improve it).
- Learn to let go of your crap – Your material crap I mean (but also your emotional crap). Things are gonna break and go missing and that’s one of the biggest lessons of travel. Everything changes.
Rounding up the Best Backpacking Gear Roundup
We’re at the end! Is this every piece of backpacking gear on the market that’s going to tickle your fancies. Na, probably not; there’s a lot of good stuff out there!
But this is still some truly killer backpacking equipment. After all, this is The Broke Backpacker and this is what we’re all about: grand adventures and the gear that makes it possible!
Gear up for what you got in mind and suit up appropriately. You’re gonna make mistakes and you’re gonna find what works for you. You’ll find your favorite brands, and, eventually, you’ll find your own must have backpacking items.
Everyone’s backpacking checklist is different. Don’t stress it. Keep traveling, keep practicing, and, eventually, you’ll find the ideal system that works for you.
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