By Michael Lanza
The Wind River Range. The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. Iceland. The John Muir Trail, Wonderland Trail, and Teton Crest Trail. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Glacier National Park. Yellowstone. The North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. The High Uintas Wilderness. The Tour du Mont Blanc. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear and apparel reviewed at The Big Outside—so that I can give you honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you find the best gear for your adventures.
And that’s exactly how I came up with these picks for today’s best backpacking gear.
Three decades of testing outdoor gear and apparel—including formerly as the lead gear reviewer and Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine for 10 years and even longer running this blog—have refined my ability to identify gear that’s truly outstanding, at the cutting edge technologically, and a good value.
In this freshly updated review, I share my top picks for a basic backpacking gear kit, from several of the best packs, tents, boots, and sleeping bags, including suggestions for backpackers on a budget—because everyone has different needs and preferences—to a favorite rain shell, the best trekking poles, down jackets, and air mattresses, the camp kitchen, and water treatment.
Nearly every piece of gear on this list links to my complete review of it, where you can get more details and find links to online retailers for purchasing it. Purchasing through the “Buy it now” affiliate links below or affiliate links in each complete review supports my work on The Big Outside, at no cost to you—in fact, you’ll usually find the best prices at those links. Thank you for doing that.
Please share your questions or thoughts on my gear picks in the comments section at the bottom of this story; I try to respond to all comments. And please forward this story to other backpackers you think might find it useful.
Want to read about the many places I’ve backpacked while testing gear? See my All Trips List or use the search box (above right), and check out my e-guides to America’s best backpacking trips, including the Teton Crest Trail and The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.
Click on any product name to read its review. Click any “Buy it now” link to purchase it.
Best Overall: Osprey Atmos AG 65 (buy it now) and Aura AG 65 (buy it now), both $340, 4 lbs. 11 oz.
Best Weight-to-Performance Ratio: Granite Gear Blaze 60, $300, 3 lbs. 4 oz. Buy it now.
Best-Fitting Ultralight: Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58, both $260, 2 lbs. 14 oz. Buy either now.
Two Best For Heavy Loads: Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60, both $330, 4 lbs. 14 oz. Buy the Baltoro now. Buy the Deva now.
Best All-Around Value: Granite Gear Perimeter 50, $250, 3 lbs. 3 oz. Buy it now.
Best Budget Pack: Sierra Designs Gigawatt 60L, $125, 4 lbs. (buy it now).
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Best Ultralight Pack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
$379, 1 lb. 15 oz.
Many ultralight packs lack the support for carrying more than about 25 pounds comfortably. HMG’s 3400 Windrider handles up to 35 pounds, its 55 liters deliver the capacity for a week between resupplies, and it weighs much less than some best-selling competitors. Its tough Dyneema Composite Fabrics is fully waterproof and built to survive the apocalypse. The fixed suspension comes in four sizes and the simple harness system works. Its minimalist design, durability, capacity, comfort, and low weight will appeal to many backpackers who prefer hiking over simply hauling.
Read my full review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider and see all of my picks for the best ultralight backpacks.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com.
Best Two-Door Tent That Pitches with Trekking Poles: Slingfin 2Lite, $505, 2 lbs. 10 oz. Buy it now.
Best 2-Person Ultralight: Big Agnes Tiger Wall Solution Dye, $450, 2 lbs. 3 oz. Buy it now.
Sturdiest and Roomiest 2-Person Ultralight: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2, $825, 1 lb. 2 oz. Buy it now.
Best Solo Ultralight: Gossamer Gear The One, $299, 1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Budget Tent: Kelty Grand Mesa 2, $150, 4 lbs. 1 oz. Buy it now.
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Great Balance of Space, Features, and Weight
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
$550, 2 lbs. 11 oz.
For years, the Copper Spur HV UL2 has remained a leading choice for backpackers seeking an ultralight tent that doesn’t compromise on sturdiness or livability. While some would call it merely “lightweight,” semantics aside, it sports an abundance of features and space for a freestanding, two-door shelter well under three pounds, starting with the most conspicuous: two awning-style doors that can be set up in rain to allow cooling ventilation without getting wet inside or rolled up for maximum ventilation and stargazing. The DAC Featherlite hubbed poles create steep walls that make the tent feel roomier than its 29 square feet, 40-inch peak height, and 88-inch length. It pitches easily, the two vestibules are spacious and ventilation excellent, and the Copper Spur has abundant interior pockets. Very few freestanding, two-door tents strike such a space-to-weight balance.
Read my full review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com or another version of the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL series at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Get the right gear for your trips. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and “The 10 Best Backpacking Tents.”
Shoes and Boots
Best Lightweight Shoes: Danner Trail 2650, $170, 1 lb. 7.5 oz. Buy them now.
Best Lightweight Backpacking Boots: Scarpa Rush Mid GTX, $199, 2 lbs. Buy them now.
Best Midweight Backpacking Boots: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, $329, 2 lbs. 7 oz. Buy them now.
Most Breathable and Sticky: La Sportiva TX3, $159, 1 lb. 9 oz. Buy them now.
Best Trail Running/Ultralight Hiking Shoes: Hoka One One Speedgoat 5, $155, 1 lb. 4 oz. Buy them now.
Killer Value: Oboz Sawtooth X Mid Waterproof, $175, 2 lbs. 7 oz. Buy them now.
Buy smart with my pro tips on buying a backpack, backpacking tent,
hiking shoes or boots, a rain jacket, and a sleeping bag.
Cushiest Lightweight Boots
Hoka One One TenNine Hike Gore-Tex
$275, 2 lbs. 2 oz.
Lacing up these lightweight boots for the first time felt a little like suiting up for a moon walk—if moon boots feel exceptionally cushy, light, supportive, and surprisingly stable, given their oversized platform. Most distinctively, the TenNine Hike sports a conspicuously broad, compression-molded, EVA foam midsole platform projecting farther outward behind and to each side of the heel than has yet been used in any hiking footwear —even more so than Hoka’s signature oversized, foam midsole found in other models—creating a more efficient heel-to-toe transition. After wearing them carrying 25 to 35 pounds on a four-day, 45-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite, I’ll definitely hike many more miles in them.
Read my full review of the Hoka One One TenNine Hike Gore-Tex.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the Hoka One One TenNine Hike Gore-Tex men’s or women’s boots at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
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Best Down Bag: Feathered Friends Hummingbird and Egret UL, $529-$629, 1 lb. 5 oz.-1 lb. 9 oz. Buy a Hummingbird UL 30 or 20 now or an Egret UL 30 or 20 now.
Best Value 800-fill Down Bag: Nemo Riff 30 or Riff 15, $360-$430, 1 lb. 12 oz.-2 lbs. 9 oz. Buy it now.
Most Comfortable: Sierra Designs Cloud 20 or Cloud 35, $220-$264, 1 lb. 7 oz.-2 lbs. 1. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight: Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 or Hyperion 20, $430-$580, 15 oz.-1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Quilt: Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 35/20, $180-$200, 1 lb. 5 oz.-1 lb. 11 oz. Buy it now.
Best Winter Bag: Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0, $640-$680, 2 lbs. 7 oz.-2 lbs. 11 oz. Buy it now.
Best Budget Sleeping Bag: Kelty Cosmic Synthetic 20, $100-$110, 3 lbs. Buy it now. Or Kelty Cosmic Down 20, $155-$185, 2 lbs. 7 oz. Buy it now.
Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.
Best Value Down Bag
Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30F/-1C
$245-$265, 1 lb. 12 oz.
When shopping for sleeping bags, it’s helpful to compare certain key specs: temperature rating, type and amount of insulation (or fill), total weight, and, of course, the price. Using those metrics, the Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30F/-1C looks really good, with RDS-certified, flourine-free, 650-fill-power down, enough warmth for many backpackers on typical overnight temps of summer in most mid-latitude mountain ranges (except for people who tend to get cold more easily), and a cut that delivers more generous space than many bags—all at a weight south of two pounds and it packs down to 7×13.5 inches. Among down bags, this is a good price for a bag of this quality. It also comes in 15-degree and 0-degree versions.
Read my full review of the Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or a women’s Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30F at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or other versions of the men’s and women’s Bishop Pass bags at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Click on any product name to read its review. Click any “Buy it now” link to purchase it.
Best Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket
$449, 11.5 oz.
Throughout more than two weeks in Iceland—trekking hut-to-hut for a week on the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails and on dayhikes along the Ring Road—I lived in this lightweight shell for hours a day, zipping it up against cool wind and rain most days and occasional wind-driven deluges. Hiking in the hardest conditions most hikers, backpackers, and climbers will face, it rose to the challenge.
Combining durable Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric with OR’s waterproof-breathable AscentShell membrane, the Helium AscentShell delivers solid weather protection and superior breathability and comfort. Its adjustable, helmet-compatible hood kept rain off my face when hiking into heavy, wind-driven mist. With four zippered pockets, two mesh stuff pockets inside, hook-and-loop cuffs and an adjustable hem, it delivers excellent performance for a packable shell weighing under 12 ounces.
Read my complete review of the Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket at moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com.
Best Budget Rain Jacket: Black Diamond Treeline Rain Shell, $140, 10 oz. Buy it now.
See “The 6 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking.”
Best Down Jacket: Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket, $409, 11 oz. Buy it now.
Best Synthetic Jacket: Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie, $199, 11 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Down Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody, $360, 8.8 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Synthetic Jacket: Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody, $329, 9 oz. Buy it now.
Versatile Down Jacket: Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket, $280, 15 oz. Buy it now.
Warmest Down Jacket: Black Diamond Vision Down Parka, $465, 1 lb. 4.5 oz. Buy it now .
Which puffy should you buy? See “The 10 Best Down Jackets” and
“How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is.”
Best Overall: Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ, $210, 12.7 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight: Gossamer Gear LT5, $195, 10 oz. Buy it now.
Most Versatile: MSR Dynalock Ascent, $170, 1 lb. 1 oz. Buy it now.
Need a good headlamp? See “The 8 Best Headlamps.”
Best All-Around Air Mat: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated and XT Extreme, $189-$249, 1 lb. 1 oz.-1 lb. 9 oz. Buy it now.
Best Comfort-to-Weight Balance: Nemo Tensor Insulated Air Mattress, $190-$220, 13 oz.-1 lb. 5 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite, $200-$260, 6-12 oz. Buy it now.
Best Value and Comfort: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra, $80-$140, 1 lb. 4 oz.-1 lb. 15 oz. Buy it now.
Best Inflatable Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultra Light, $40-$45, 2.5 oz. Buy it now.
What do you really need for backpacking?
See my “Essentials-Only Backpacking Gear Checklist.”
Best Ultralight Pot: MSR Big Titan Kettle, $100, 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Cook Set: Sea to Summit X-Set 31, $110, 1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Solo Stove: Jetboil MiniMo, $165, 1 lb. 1 oz. Buy it now.
Best Family/Group Stove: MSR Windburner Group Stove System, $250, 1 lb. 4 oz. Buy it now.
Best Bear Canister: Bear Vault BV500, $93, 2 lbs. 8 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Stove
MSR PocketRocket 2
$60, 3 oz. (4 oz. with plastic case, included)
Backcountry stoves come in a variety of designs these days. But in many respects, the simplest design remains the most versatile and reliable, and the PocketRocket 2 continues to embody everything a backpacking stove should be. It fires up easily every time, boils water fast, has good flame control for wilderness gourmands, weighs next to nothing, and costs less than many of its best competitors.
Whereas some types of stoves have limitations on what you can cook with them, you can use the PocketRocket 2 for cooking almost anything, almost anywhere, for any size party (or more than one stove for a large group). That may explain why it’s so popular.
Read my full review. The PocketRocket Deluxe ($70) adds a piezo push-button igniter, but as with that feature on other stoves, its performance can be erratic.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.
Find out more here.
Best Pump Filter: MSR Hyperflow, $150, 9 oz. Buy it now.
Best Gravity Filter: Katadyn BeFree Gravity 6L or 10L Filter, $115-$135, 9-10 oz. Buy it now.
Best Filter Bottle: Lifestraw Go, $40-$45, 650ml to 1L, 7.8-8.6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Personal Filter: Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System 0.6L, 1L, or 3L bottle, $45-$55, 2.5-3.5 oz. Buy it now.
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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
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