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HIKING AND BACKPACKING GEAR
People often ask me for advice or opinions on outdoor gear, so I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite items. While gear is a very personal choice and there are many, many options out there, I hope that the items and thoughts here can help give you good leads on what might be useful for your dayhiking and backpacking adventures.
Equipment for Day Hikes:
- Osprey Stratos 24 Pack (Men's): There are many, many backpack brands and models out there, but I have always been a big fan of Osprey's sleek and efficient designs. The Stratos 24 is my favorite light backpack of all time, perfect for dayhikes when you want to go small and light. Aside from the main storage compartment, it has a flat back pocket, two top pouches for small valuables, a bottom pouch with rain cover, waist-strap pouches on both sides, and yes, it is water bladder compatible. The side straps can even be used to carry a small to medium-sized tripod. The Osprey Sirrus 24 Pack (Women's) is the similiarly designed women's model.
- La Sportiva Bushido II Trail-Running Shoes: I am a big fan of hiking in light trail runners and La Sportiva has always been my favorite brand for decades now. Similar to the discontinued Akyra shoes, these are wonderful on sandstone and granite. These shoes do not have GORE-TEX so they can breathe and drain water quickly, making them a good shoe for the Zion Narrows and other canyoneering hikes, and they do dry quickly in arid environments. They are light, comfortable, and I have never gotten a blister from wearing these after hundreds of miles of hiking and backpacking. (Note: La Sportiva sizes are always a bit small when converted from EU to USA. So even though I am a men's USA 9.5, the EUR 43.5 fits me best even though that supposedly converts to a USA 10.5.)
- Black Diamond Trekking Poles: I will be the first to admit that I don't really like using trekking poles as they get in the way of photography as you constantly have to set your poles aside to grab your camera or other supplies. But on strenuous hikes where you want your leg muscles to last as long as they can or when you are hiking on unstable ground, the extra balance and support can save the day.
- Anker Portable Charger: If you carry your smartphone with you for emergency use or for navigation, having a power bank with you can be a wonderful safety net for a long day in the wilderness. The Anker 20000mAh battery pack can charge a phone 5 times while the 10000mAh model is a bit lighter for shorter day hikes.
- Marmot PreCip Lightweight Rain Jacket: On many questionable weather days, it's a good idea to bring some rain protection with you. While there are many thicker and heavier rain jackets out there, I love the Marmot PreCip as a just-in-case item. Weighing in at just 12.3 ounces, it's barely noticable in your pack. I bought this one size larger as I like a loose fit for rain gear which allows you to comfortably wear a fleece underneath it for added warmth.
- Gregory 3D Hydro 3L Reservoir: I'm a big fan of hydration reservoirs over water bottles when hiking. Back in the day, Camelbak was the king of water bladders before they over-engineered their products and made several models that leaked at the cap. While there are now many brands of reservoirs on the market, I love the Gregory because it is simple and well-built. The bite valve works very well and has a close switch to prevent it from accidentally dripping. The bladder has a vertical baffle that helps it keep its shape and also dry out quickly. And my favorite feature: the round top opening is the same size as Nalgene bottles so it attaches easily to many water filters like the Katadyns mentioned below.
- Nalgene bottles: Nalgene bottles have been the tried and true water-carrying container for decades. Coming in many different colors and designs and weighing 6.25 ounces (without water), these bottles are BPA-free and are practically indestructible. If you are looking to save on weight, consider getting the Ultralight HDPE (32 oz.) model; sure it might be a boring color but it weighs only 3.5 ounces! And backpackers may appreciate the larger Ultralight HDPE (48 oz.) model weighing in at 5.5 ounces.
- Headlamps: It's a good idea to bring a headlamp on day hikes as well as backpacking trips, just in case you get caught out after dark. Two current lightweight models that I like are the Petzl Actik Core (dual LEDs with settings up to 300 lumens) and the Black Diamond Cosmo 350 (dual buttons to turn on/off without having to cycle through different modes and IPX8 waterproof rating).
- Katadyn Vario Water Filter: I have had this water filter for many years and it's never let me down. It has strong pump action and aside from the standard output tube at the bottom, it can also screw directly onto Nalgene bottles for spill-free convenience. A slightly smaller and newer model is the Katadyn Hiker Pro Clear Microfilter.
- Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bag: For hiking in the rain or in wet canyons where your pack may get wet or even submerged, I love using a drybag inside my pack to keep my valuables dry, from electronics and camera gear to spare clothes. The Sea to Summit Dry Sack is a wonderful lightweight solution that can even be used in canyons that require several swims. The 20L model is big enough to stow a medium-sized camera in a top-loader camera bag in addition to several other small items. The 35L model is even more versatile if you have a lot of bulky gear to protect. (Always test out how your gear fits inside your drybag and backpack before your big hike!)
- Deuter Backpacking Packs: I have always liked Deuter's backpacks and I still use an old AirContact model that I bought about 12 years ago. Deuter's larger overnight packs have a good balance of features, simplicity, and light weight, and these packs feel very comfortable on the back. My current overnight pack of choice is the simple and very lightweight ACT Zero 50 + 15 although it has less compartments than the comparable Aircontact Lite packs.
- Marmot Sleeping Bags: There are many good sleeping bags to choose from, but I did learn the hard way many years ago how miserable it is to use a cheap summer bag when temperatures dip below freezing. While winter down bags like the Marmot Helium are on expensive side, they are great investments if you backpack often and want the versitility of being able to sleep out in all seasons. I've spent several nights out in 0-degree (F) weather, staying snug as a bug in my Marmot bag. Down bags are also extremely light and can be stuffed into very small compression bags like the Sea to Summit eVac Compression Dry Bag. (13L is good for a lightweight sleeping bag.)
- Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated Sleeping Pad: Sleeping pads are admittedly a very personalized choice. Since I like going lightweight, the Sea to Summit pad is one of the lightest and most compact pads available and it is adequately comfortable without making the loud squeeking noises that the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLites do.
- Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium: It took me years of waking with a sore neck to realize that having a good backpacking pillow is just as important as a sleeping pad. This pillow is so light and small, it's a no-brainer to bring something like this along to enjoy a comfortable night's sleep.
- Big Agnes Backpacking Tents: There are many backpacking tents out there, but if you want to go lightweight, Big Agnes is hard to beat. They make several excellent models with slightly different styles, but my favorite is the Fly Creek series. The 2-person model is great for a solo backpacker or very "cozy" for two people, but the weight and size make it a winner.
- Outdoor Research Helium Bivy: And if you want to go ultra-lightweight and forgo the tent altogether, OR's Helium Bivy is an excellent option. You can sleep completely covered or flip open the mesh window to truly sleep under the stars while still being protected from insects. An optional support pole gives a bit more room inside, but I rarely use it.
- MSR WhisperLite Backpacking Stove: There are fancier and newer designs out there, but MSR's WhisperLite is a great little white gas stove that heats water up quickly when you're in the backcountry. I have had my WhisperLite for over 15 years and it is still working great.
- Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Cookset: For ultra-lightweight backpacking, this extremely compact stove and pot set is great for the solo hiker. It usually takes two Esbit Solid Fuel Tablets to bring 16 ounces (2 cups) of water to a boil. While this method of cooking is a lot slower, the size and weight saved over traditional gas stoves is amazing.
- BearVault BV450 Food Container: When backpacking in bear country like Yosemite, you need to stow all of your food, food leftovers, and fragrant items in a bearproof canister so black bears never associate humans with easy food. The BearVault BV450 and larger BV500 are excellent canisters that allow you to see the contents inside. The only downside to bear canisters is that they are relatively heavy (2 pounds) and large so you need to verify that it can fit in or strap onto your pack.
- Solid Waste Removal Bags: Discussing human waste (poo) isn't very pleasant, but you have to deal with it when you go backpacking. Many wilderness areas allow you to dig holes to bury your solid waste, but in very pristine areas like the Zion Narrows and other wilderness canyons, you need to pack out everything. EVERYTHING. Solid waste bags like the Restop 2 and the Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet Kit Waste Bags contain waste bags and odor neutralizers to help you pack everything out as pleasantly as possible. Ziplock bags and used Mountain House pouches are also useful...
- Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System: If you like winter hiking, Kahtoola MICROspikes are invaluable when encountering icy sections of trail or traversing slick ice formations along large frozen lakes or under ice caves. I always bring these with me when exploring the Great Lakes in winter and they have saved the day more times than I can remember. They slip right over your winter hiking boots and claw even wet and slippery ice, giving very secure footing. They are worlds better than the cheaper options offered by Yaktrax.
- HT Enterprise Safety Ice Pick with Lanyard: If you like walking on frozen lakes in winter, there is always a chance you will fall through, especially when exploring the unpredictable ice on bodies of water like the Great Lakes. This cheap and light ice pick set can be warn around your neck and in the event of an emergency, you can use it to stab and grab the ice and get back out of the water.
Note: The links on this page are REI affiliate and Amazon links. You can support this site by buying through these links; it will have no effect on the cost to you. I only recommend gear that I have actually used and think is worthwhile. REI is one of my favorite stores for outdoor gear and accessories.