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What backpacking gear do I need?

What backpacking gear do I need?

Most people trying to get into the backpacking world ask the simple question: What gear should I buy? And the answer is, it depends. There are some basics every backpacker needs in one form or another, but truth be told, there is no simple answer for such a broad question. What we can answer right now, however, may clear the air around outdoor adventuring.


What are my goals?


Your local outdoor adventure retailer would be more than glad to walk you through your goals. Are you planning on going on a single, week-long trip in the Rockies every year? You may need to make some big purchases for your very own backpack, shelter, or sleeping pad and bag. Are you aiming to become the next great adventure photographer? Let’s start making a list of clothes for layering, ultralight gear, waterproof bags, and so on. Do you want to go on a few day hikes with some close friends? Don’t go crazy about finding the latest and greatest. Instead, focus on what will make the experience the most enjoyable.


You will notice when you have improper gear. But if you bring the right tools, you don't have to worry about things going wrong.


What does my ideal hike look like?


Create a mental image of your ideal morning on the trail, what it should feel like to walk with all your gear, how many breaks you want to take, how you will filter water and prepare food. You rub your eyes as you greet the morning sun and the first thing on your mind is a steamy brew to wake up your senses. The person in this image is comfortable. They have what they need to enjoy their journey, and they have brought along a little extra comfort in the form of some delicious coffee. 


Now consider what sort of lodgings you will keep. Are you going for the height of comfort in the backcountry? Or do you want to be warm at night, stay cool while on the move, and never feel weighed down? An ultralight tent, a down-insulated sleeping bag, and an air-filled or foam sleeping pad might be precisely what this hiker needs.


You end up asking a lot more questions to get to two or three answers when looking for the best gear for the job. But that is part of the journey. When you spend more time thinking about what your outdoor adventure means to you, you get that much more out of the whole experience. Thankfully there are also some answers we can give you straight away.


The big three


For those serious about becoming backpackers, there are some items you likely want to have for yourself. Some folks try to borrow gear from friends. But borrowed gear often becomes the metric for the backpacker's shopping list.


  1. Tent - Your shelter system plays a huge role in your outdoor experience. Shelters range from ultralight tarps to double-walled tents with multiple doors and doorways, or vestibules, for storing gear.
  2. Backpack - There is a backpack out there made for you. You just have to find the right frame, padding, storage system, and size for your needs. Multi-day trips may require 30-50 liters of storage for 2-3 days and 50-75 liters for 4-7 days.
  3. Sleep system - This is your sleeping bag and pad. Getting a good night of sleep is paramount to having energy on the trail. Comfort level and storage space are your main focuses here.

Other gear on your list is going to include your food and how you will prepare it (stove and kitchen), weather protection like a rain jacket or poncho or insulated coat, personal hygiene items, and possibly much more.


The big three are likely to be the largest investment in your backpacking ventures. But obviously, you should bring more than three items with you. The most important thing is using a checklist and filling it before you head out into the wild. So if you aren’t sure where to start, hopefully asking yourself these questions will help.

Thermarest and many others have compiled helpful checklists for all types of adventurers. If you still need some advice, no worries. That is what we are here for.

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