Let’s talk about five essential backpacking gear items that I feel should be the items that you invest in first to ensure that you have a great experience on the trail.
Starting a new adventure hobby like backpacking is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your mental health. It gets you disconnected from pop-culture, politics, and indoor masked-up spaces and drops you into the most remote and beautiful places on earth. To be frank, you just can’t beat grabbing your gear and entering the unknown for an adventure.
However, when you start shopping for your essential backpacking gear, its a bit easy to get overwhelmed and end up buying stuff you don’t need, wasting money on the wrong type of gear that doesn’t fit your location and activities. So, to avoid all that mess, let’s chat about the essential backpacking gear to get FIRST.
Budget’s a really important part of this, because the gear items that I’m about to show you may not fit within your budget, or you may not be interested in these particular items. So, just know that your personal investment is different for every single person. And what you choose to buy should be the right piece of gear for you. Alright, budget issues addressed, let’s jump into the Essential Backpacking Gear to buy FIRST.
The first item is going to be your backpack. A backpack is the key part of a backpacking experience. That’s why it’s called backpacking! You are loading all of your gear and survival options into a beautiful piece of equipment, and that goes on your back.
I recommend trying them on in a store or your friends first. If you just jump into something and buy it off of any website without trying it on, or you don’t really know what you’re looking for, you purchase the wrong size, those kinds of things, you are not going to enjoy yourself on the trail, because it’s going to fit weird on your back or just be uncomfortable. A poorly fitting backpack can put pressure in weird places and it’s just not going to be a fun time. So, a backpack really should be the first thing that you invest in, and make sure that it fits you properly.
Shelter (Tent, Tarp or Hammock)
The second piece of gear that you should spend your money on, and invest in to get something that’s really good is a proper shelter for your area that you plan to recreate in. If you’re in the deep south, you need to consider humidity levels and heat levels. Personally, all my time is spent in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, so I consider the cold factor and dry elements.
We do have pretty big rainstorms that come in, but they don’t last the same kind of way that they do out on the East coast or up in the Pacific Northwest or that kind of scenario. So, make sure that you take time to really research and find a shelter that fits within your budget, but also gives you the protection that you’re going to need for the environment and the conditions that you will experience in your particular area.
Depending on your preference, you may want a full tent, a tarp shelter or a hammock. It all comes down to preference. Hammocks are great, and they have a lot of different options to be able to do something that gives you really good weather protection. But if a being a ground dweller and using a tent is your cup of tea, then go with a tent and find something that fits you, fits your gear, and is going to protect you from the elements that you will experience.
Sleeping Bag (or Camping Quilt or Blanket)
Next up is the sleeping bag. This is another scenario where you need to focus on what works best for your body, your location, and your budget. Spend what your budget allows and get the best piece of gear possible for your budget. That could be a quilt like an REI Magma Camping Quilt, or it could be something off of Amazon that is kind of a more generic brand and maybe synthetic fill, which could be a benefit for the area that you are backpacking in. If your camping in a wet environment, don’t get a down quilt because do it loses its ability to keep you warm.
Synthetic could be a good option for you, and also save you money by doing that, but, invest in a good sleeping bag, something that’s going to keep you nice and warm for the conditions that you’re going to experience.
Sleeping Bag Ratings
Not every sleeping bag manufacturer has their degree ratings as a comfort rating. Very often, they are set up as a “cold rating”. So, if it’s 30 degrees as a cold rating, then 40, 45 degrees is going to be your comfort rating. So it is important to do your research and even email ask questions, talk to other people on forums that may have used that product and make sure that you understand that going into it.
Whatever it is, if you are going to invest in a sleeping bag, make sure you do your research to get the right temperature rating for the conditions that you will be sleeping in, whether it’s only summer or three-season, and even adding winter into that, you need to make sure that you stay warm and comfortable in the backcountry.
Sleeping Pad (Sleeping Mat)
Now, the next piece of gear to talk about is a proper sleeping pad. Again, for the conditions that you plan to experience, while out on the trail.
There are hundreds of different sleeping pads for you to choose from, and they all are going to have different features, different thicknesses, different temperature ratings, and a thing called R-Value ratings. To be honest, when you’re starting out, this can be pretty complicated, but well keep it simple.
For example, a NEMO Tensor Alpine is a four-season sleeping pad. This is a highly insulated pad, so, you may not need to purchase this if I never intend to do any four-season backpacking or if you’re a weekend warrior that does only summer trips. If you are going to be doing three-season backpacking, then getting in the insulated pad, maybe not this extreme, but just a basic insulated pad that has an R-value of at least three is going to be a good way to go to keep you nice and warm and comfortable.
Maybe for you, it could be the Thermarest XE Light. That is an accordion-style type of pad or the NEMO Switchback there’s even really well rated generic sleeping pads on Amazon that will do just fine depending on your situation and budget. There are lots of different options out there but invest in a pad that is going to be long enough wide enough for your body type and is going to keep you warm or comfortable for the weather and temperatures that you plan to experience.
Water Filtration Devices
Now, I intentionally talked about the big three items at first, because I do feel like those are really important pieces of gear that you should invest in first. They are your most expensive pieces of gear, your most bulky, most important pieces of gear. In my opinion, for you to spend the bulk of your money on everything else, you can go way more inexpensive with and invest in more expensive things later.
Next up? A water filtration system. There are lots of options here and most are not expensive and will get the job done. You could use the Sawyer bags, or use the Sawyer Mini. You could buy a UV filter like a Steri-Pen. You could not take a water filter and just use Aquamira drops. There are so many options of things to do but invest in something that’s going to work for you and be what you want to use.
Adventure Medical Kits
I want you to invest in a medkit that fits within your medical training, your medical understanding of first aid, and have a kit with you so that you can take care of yourself or others while in the backcountry. Although it may be tempting to just roll with duct-tape and super-glue, your not special forces in Falluja, Iraq, you’re a recreational adventurer in 2021, get something sterile and helpful to your needs.
Personally, we have two types we love, the MyMedit MyFak and the VSSL First Aid Kit. Both are of phenomenal quality and have thoughtfully crafted designs that help save lives. Read more here about Adventure Medical Kits. If you get a massive cut and an infection in the backcountry, and you didn’t bring anything to be able to take care of that, man, that would suck. The first aid kit needs to have all of the elements to be able to properly take care of injuries and cuts and medical things in the backcountry.
Welp, thats a wrap! I hope this was helpful to you and it helps you make a desision is a sea of options out there. The last thing you want to do is get overwhelmed with gear and bring out stuff you dont need and forget the essential backpacking gear, thats why you should get these first! See you out on the trail and go GET OUTSIDE!