Check out our gear checklist for our favorite hiking and backpacking must-haves.
Appropriate gear is critical to having a safe and enjoyable hiking or backpacking adventure. We detail below what trekking clothing and other gear we recommend based on personal experience. The list is rather comprehensive, and everything does not need to be purchased at once. Start with the most important items at the top of the lists, and work your way through buying the gear you see fit.
Hiking gear checklist
1. Hiking boots - Good hiking boots are a must-have for very rocky trails, wet trails or backpacking trips due to their ankle support and water resistant nature. We use the Merrell waterproof hiking boots which are sturdy but also comfortable.
<See Men's Boots> <See Women's Boots>
2. Trail running shoes - In situations where you might not need as much ankle support or the waterproof qualities, trail running shoes can be a great alternative (especially on hot days for keeping the feet cool). Trail runners have much harder soles than typical exercise shoes which makes them much more comfortable for hiking. We love the Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes for our hikes.
<See Men's Shoes> <See Women's Shoes>
3. Breathable, sweat-wicking clothing - The best clothing to wear while hiking is breathable, sweat-wicking clothing made out of synthetic material such as nylon and polyester. Make sure to consider the expected weather when deciding what to wear. Some hiking items are versatile such a pants that can be unzipped into shorts.
4. Hat and sunglasses - This is a critical element to protect your face, neck and ears from the sun.
5. Gloves - Gloves are handy to keep your hands warm, especially if you are using poles and can't stash them in your pockets. For light hand coverage, we love the North Face ETIP gloves, which also work well with touch screen devices (great for tracking yourself via GPS). For colder conditions consider heavier gloves and hand warmers, see below under backpacking section.
<See Men's Gloves> <See Women's Gloves>
6. Down jacket (if it may be cold) - Temperatures can change rapidly, especially if you are hiking through various elevations. If you're hiking in a cold environment a down jacket is what will keep you the warmest. REI brand has some of the best (and cheapest) high quality down jackets to keep you toasty.
<See Men's Jacket> <See Women's Jacket>
7. Beanie/ear warmers (if it may be cold) - Make sure to bring a warm beanie or ear warmers in addition to your warm jacket for cold weather protection.
8. Soft-shell jacket (if it may be windy/cold) - A soft-shell jacket is the ideal barrier to keep you warm on a windy day. In addition, in VERY cold weather it is important to wear a soft-shell jacket over your down jacket to create a layer of wind-sheltered warmth. We have used both the North Face and Mountain Hardwear wind-proof shells which are very similar.
<Mountain Hardwear - Men's> <North Face - Men's> <Mountain Hardwear - Women's>
<North Face - Women's>
9. Waterproof pants and rain jacket (if it may rain) - If there is a chance of getting rained on, make sure to bring a rain jacket and waterproof rain pants to pull over once it starts sprinkling. There is nothing worse than hiking while cold and wet. In extremely windy and cold environments a waterproof jacket can add an additional layer of insulation on top of your down and soft-shell jacket. We have used the Marmot brand rain products which are well made and keep you nice and dry.
<See Men's Jacket> <See Men's Pants> <See Women's Jacket> <See Women's Pants>
10. Change of clothing (to leave in the car) - It's a great practice to keep extra clothes in the car in case you get sweaty or dirty, and especially another pair of shoes or sandals to change into (your feet will thank you). You will be surprised how a change of clothes will make you feel after wiping down with a towel and some water that you have left in the car. It's never a bad idea to have some extra bars or snacks in the car as well. For remote trailheads as a general precaution many keep survival kits in their cars at all times.
11. Trekking poles - Critical to save yourself from falls and twisted ankles, and to help navigate across streams and other difficult paths. We love these carbon composite poles made by REI because they are sturdy and extremely light. They have poles designed for both men and women.
<See Men's Poles> <See Women's Poles>
12. Day pack - Day packs are ideal to carry your water bladder, food, phone, and any other gear you want to bring on your hike. 15 - 25 liter packs with a water reservoir slot and waist strap are your best bet for a day hike. We have used the REI brand backpacks and they work great.
<See 18L Pack> <See 22L Pack>
13. Water reservoir/hydration system - Water reservoirs make drinking water much easier on the hike. Plus, you can carry more water without bulking up your pack. We love the Platypus Reservoir system which is BPA and phthalate-free, works well with most day packs and comes in 1.5, 2 and 3 liter sizes. The sliding top makes this reservoir easy to fill no matter where you are.
<See 1.5L Reservoir> <See 2L Reservoir> <See 3L Reservoir>
14. Headlamp - Bringing a headlamp on your hike is a good idea even if you don't think you'll be hiking in the dark. Sometimes a trail may take longer than expected or you may make a wrong turn, and the last thing you want is to be trying to navigate a trail in the dark with no light. In addition, a headlamp keeps your hands free to use your poles instead of having to hold a flashlight. Black Diamond headlamps have a lot of settings (such as light intensity and red LED), and uses a latch lock to open the casing instead of the typical plastic levers which tend to break. In addition, it has a "safety mode" which prevents it from turning on in your pack and wasting battery or creating a fire hazard.
15. Knife and fire-starter - It is a good idea to bring a knife and a fire starter included with you as a precautionary measure. Being able to cut items and start a fire is important in case of an emergency situation. Some knives come with built in fire starters so you get both items in one package. We have the Morakniv carbon steel knife with fire starter with includes a sheath that you can use to sharpen the knife.
16. First aid/sunscreen - Make sure to bring and apply sunscreen before and during your hike. In addition, bring a small first aid kit in case of injuries. One of our favorite first aid items to carry on hikes are the Band-Aid brand blister bandaids which save you from any foot or ankle blisters you may get from your shoes. They have sizes for the heel as well as the toes.
<See Blister Band-Aids>
17. Bug spray/bug repellant - Beware of bugs! Sometimes when hiking you may encounter large number of mosquitos or other insects which can ruin your experience. If you are hiking somewhere that is especially bug-friendly, make sure to bring bug spray to fiend off invaders. Apply DEET spray to your skin, and treat you clothes in advance with permethrin if needed. ExOfficio is a special insect-repellant clothing brand that you can purchase for the extreme cases.
<See DEET> <See Permethrin> <See ExOfficio Clothes>
18. Dry sack - If there is any chance of rain, make sure to bring a dry sack in which to store your sensitive valuables such as smartphones. This bag will also save your items in case you happen to fall into a stream or some other type of accident. We use the Sea to Summit dry sacks, which come in a variety of sizes depending on your needs.
<See Dry Sack>
Backpacking gear checklist (in addition to items in hiking list)
1. Backpacking pack - The cornerstone of an enjoyable backpacking experience is a comfortable and high-quality backpacking pack. REI is a great place to buy you pack, because the staff can help you select the best pack for your body type, can adjust the strap height, and can even use heat molding on some brand packs to make it fit your body like a glove. Backpacking packs come in a large variety of sizes depending on how much capacity you want to carry (35 liters - 85 liters). We both use 70 liter packs, because we like to have options regarding how much food and other gear we want to bring on each hike. The empty 70 liter packs are only about 2lbs heavier than the 40 liter packs, so larger packs add little weight to your load. We have the Osprey men's pack and the Deuter women's pack which we have used on all of our hikes. The Osprey pack has a detachable top for day hikes (so you don't have to bring a separate day pack), has a comfortable and stream-lined frame, and has a customizable heat-moldable belt. The Deuter pack has a separate 60L and 10L section, and the 10L section is a great place to stuff your sleeping bag to maximize space.
<See Osprey Men's Pack> <See Deuter Women's Pack>
2. Tent - A backpacking-specific tent is a must because they are much lighter than traditional camping tents. We have the REI-brand Quarter Dome 2 tent which only weighs 3 pounds and includes tent, rain-fly, stuff sack, stakes, guylines and tighteners, as well as a pole-repair tube, a pole bag and a stake bag. This tent is surprisingly spacious for 2 and includes two tent opening and many in-tent pouches useful for stashing gear or lights.
3. Tent footprint - Tent footprints are sold separately from the tents themselves, but are built to match whichever tent you buy. Footprints are important to avoid puncturing or damaging the tent.
<See Tent Footprint>
4. Sleeping bag - The way to get a good night's sleep when backpacking? Making sure you have a comfortable and suitably warm sleeping bag to snuggle into at night. Two of the popular brands for men and women's sleeping bags are Big Agnes and the REI brand. When considering which sleeping bag to purchase, it is important to consider the temperature rating of the sleeping bag. If you are planning to hike in cold conditions, or are sensitive to cold, it makes sense to get a sleeping bag with a very low temperature rating, even if it does add some weight to your pack. We have the men's Big Agnes Lost Ranger. This sleeping bag comes with a slip-in sleeping pad which ensures that you don't slip off your pad overnight, and is temperature rated for 15 degrees Fahrenheit. We also have the women's REI Habanera sleeping bag which is temperature rated for 1 degrees Fahrenheit. This bag is no longer sold but the Big Agnes Ethel Sleeping bag is comparable in terms of specs.
<See Men's Bag> <See Women's Bag>
5. Sleeping pad - In addition to your sleeping bag, invest in a high quality backpacking sleeping pad. The Big Agnes sleeping pad provides insulation and comfort with minimal weight and size when collapsed. The pads come in various sizes for men and women. Big Agnes sleeping pads come with a patch kit which has saved us from a night of sleeping on the hard ground after a full day of hiking. If your pad does not come with a patch kit make sure to get one and bring it.
<See Sleeping Pad> <See Patch Kit>
6. Camping stove/cooking system - A high quality camping stove is another must-have item. You can use this stove to boil water to make it safe to drink (if you do not have another way to filter or treat the water), boiling water for dehydrated meals, and to cook a variety of items. The Jetboil systems are popular cooking systems which can boil water in 2 minutes or less, and have a controllable flame for all types of cooking. We have the Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System which was Winner of Backpacker magazine's 2015 Editors' Choice Award.
7. Camping stove/cooking system accessories - In addition to the Jetboil, we have the backpacking-stove compatible frying pan that is more suitable for sautéing. To use this pan, pair it with the Jetboil pot support.
<See Pan> <See Pot Support>
8. Fuel - Jetboil Jetpower stove fuel is sold separately from the cooking system. The fuel comes in canisters that usually last for several trips, depending on how much you use the stove. You do not need to purchase Jetboil brand fuel to use on the Jetboil stove, any Isobutane/Propane mix compatible canister should work.
9. Camping dishes & utensils - Along with your cooking system, you will need dishes and utensils to eat your food. We use the Sea to Summit collapsable bowls and cups. These dishes collapse down to a flat surface which makes them compact and ideal for backpacking. Flexible silicon walls allow you to easily pour liquid from one container to another, and the nylon base is durable enough to cut on, although be careful not to cut the collapsable walls. We also have the Sea to Summit spork and knife set, made of extremely durable and light aluminum alloy.
<See Bowls> <See Cups> <See Spork and Knife Set>
10. Camping suds - To wash your dishes, use water with a small about of biodegradable camping suds and a cut-off piece of sponge.
11. Portable charger - One of the things we bring every time we backpack is a portable charger. This is an important so that you can use it to re-charge your phone or other electronic devices while on the trail. If you're following a GPX route, it is critical. The RawPower portable charger allows for more than 9 full recharges of your phone and can charge up to 3 devices at once.
<See Portable Charger>
11. Water filtration - You need to bring a water filtration system in any situation where you may be taking water from a non-regulated source such as a stream or lake. We love the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L Water Filter because it can process large volumes of water quickly, letting gravity do the work. This isn't the best filter to get water out of a small water source with high debris content such as a pond, for something like that we would recommend the Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Filter but either should be fine in most conditions.
<See Camp 6L> <See PRO>
12. Hand warmers - When you are backpacking, lots of times one of the things you'll miss is being able to get comfortably warm, especially if no campfires are allowed. One of the items we have discovered is a must-have for any possible cold situations are hand warmers. They are cheap and easy to use - just open and shake the packs and they produce heat that can last 10+ hours. They are perfect to stuff in mittens, socks, or at the bottom of sleeping bags. We especially love using these late at night or first thing in the morning to get your hands warmed up when making breakfast!
<See Hand Warmers>
13. Bear canister - If you are planning to backpack in an area where there are bears, it is a good idea (and often required) to bring and use a bear canister. You put your food or other scented items such as lotions in this canister, away from your campsite at night. The canisters are bear-proof in that they cannot be opened or carried by bears. These canisters also protect food from other scavengers such as raccoons and rodents. We have the Backpacker's Cache canister which is light, has a lot of volume for storage and a reputation of being impenetrable by bears.
<See Bear Canister>
14. Sleeping pillow - One of our favorite "splurge" items is the backpacking-designed camping pillow. You can definitely get by stuffing your clothes into a stuff sack to make a pseudo-pillow, but there's something about this pillow that really helps with getting a good night's rest. And at only 0.1 pounds, it's a no brainer!
15. Collapsable chairs (optional) - Sometimes we like to backpack-glamp, especially if only going short distances each day. For these expeditions, we love the Travel Chair. This chair is great to have in general for any outdoor activity!
17. Fun extras - We love to bring lights to brighten up our campsites at night. This is especially nice is campfires are not allowed, but truly great in any situation. We love the inflatable solar-powered Luci Aura light (which floats) and the backpacking LED lights. They come in a variety of colors and color settings and make for a cheerful evening at camp. Also, music from a small Bluetooth speaker can make the campsite feel like home but please be respectful of your neighbors.
<See Luci Aura> <See LEDs> <See Speaker>
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