Backpacking Gear

It can be a bit overwhelming stocking up on gear for camping or a backpacking trip. Tom and I have been slowly gathering our gear over the past seven years and I think we've finally nailed down the right amount for us. Some things, like my hiking boots, I've had for over six years, and some things, like our sleeping pads and backpacks, are brand new. Our tent and sleeping bags are also about six years old, and the bear vault was first purchased for our National Park Road Trip four years ago, but Tom's had his camp stove for over 10 years. We plan on continuing our camping and backpacking adventures for a long time and plan on having this gear for at least another 10 years. We've realized that sometimes spending a little bit more and getting a higher quality product means we'll have it for the long haul and for many more trips in our future.

All the products below have links to where they can be purchased at REI. *Note - I am in NO WAY associated with REI. I'm just a huge fan of their store and their membership program.* 

Since recently getting into backpacking we've realized the importance of lightweight gear. Its all on our backs so any ounce we can get rid of is a back saver five hours down the trail. Here's what we generally take during our two to three day backpacking trips. (The only thing we'd take more of for a few days longer trips would be more food and additional pairs of underwear and socks - the most important clothes to have clean!)

Backpacking Gear

1. Tom's NeoAir XLite Therm-a-Rest

2. Tom's Clothes

3. MSR Mutha Hubba NX Tent in a compression sack

4. Wide Mouth Nalgene Bottle (the wide mouth works best with our water purifier)

5. Marmot Tent Poles (we split the tent and the poles between our two packs)

6. Tom's Sleeping Bag

7. MSR Gas Bottle

8. Bear Spray

9. MSR Water Purifier

10. First Aid Kit 

11. Knife

12. Solar Inflatable Light

13. Tripod for GoPro and iPhones

14. USB Charger

15. Cards

16. Lighter

17. Bear Bell (for Bailey to wear)

18. Quick Dry Towel

19. Doggie Shoes

20. Amy's Warm Gloves

21. Amy's Headlamp (Tom has one too)

22. Amy's Sleeping Bag

23. Amy's NeoAir XLite Therm-a-Rest

24. Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow (we each have one)

25. Amy's Warm Hat

26. Amy's Warm Jacket

27. Toilet Paper

28. MSR Stove and Pot

29. Bailey's Therm-a-rest

30. - 31. Amy's Clothes

32. Bear Vault

Not included in picture: Sea to Summit Pocket Trowel.

Tom and I share the load when we go. I take the tent poles, MSR gas bottle, bear spray, tripod for the GoPro, quick dry towel, dog shoes for Bailey, all my clothes and outerwear, my sleeping bag, pillow, Therm-a-rest, toilet paper, MSR Stove and Pot, and Bailey's Therm-a-rest. I also usually take Bailey's collapsable water dish, a pair of flip flops, a small mouth Nalgene, a baseball hat, assorted hair ties, and sunglasses.

Tom takes his personal gear, the tent, water purifier, first aid kit, the inflatable light, USB charger, cards, and the bear vault.

Amazingly it all packs down into our awesome Osprey packs. Here's mine:

Osprey Aura 65 AG Pack

Also, here's what goes into our Bear Box:

Bear Box Contents

For our 2 night backpacking trip brought:

4 Backpacker's pantry meals: dinner, lunch, dinner, plus one extra

2 enamelware cups

2 camp spoons

travel size toothbrushes and toothpaste

mini floss

mini deodorant (yes, we share - like a good old married couple)

Sea to Summit Super Concentrated Wilderness Wash (soap)

mini sunscreen

4 instant coffees (two mornings)

4 Clif bars (breakfast - sometimes we'll throw in instant oatmeal packets)

Bailey's Collapsable food dish with 4 ziplocks of food portioned out. We also bring an additional ziplock full of treats for him.

And all that fits easily into our 11.5 liter bear vault - except the mugs, we carry those separately:

Packed Bear Vault

Now that you can see what we bring, here's a closer look at our gear.

Backpacks

I could definitely write up a completely separate post about backpacks. After our first backpacking trip and feeling the pains in our backs, hips, necks, and everywhere, we decided to do a little research and invest in some good backpacks. As long as we promised we'd continue backpacking and we've gone three out of four weekends in June and July, so I think we're keeping good to our word.

After much research we decided to purchase Osprey packs. Tom has the Osprey Atmos 65 AG Pack and I have the Osprey Aura 65 AG Pack.

Men's Medium: 4 lbs, 6 oz

Men's Medium: 4 lbs, 6 oz

Women's Small: 4 lbs, 2 oz

Women's Small: 4 lbs, 2 oz

We love these packs because of so many things. We love all the extra pockets and additional dry sack that came with our packs. They also come with waterproof duck covers to keep our packs dry when we're out hiking while its raining. And we both really like the Anti-Gravity ventilated mesh back panel that allows the breeze to reach our backs while we're wearing the packs. Here are the Osprey specs for both men's and women's from REI.com:

  • Top-loading main compartment with fully padded, 3D suspension contouring promotes ventilation and upper body mobility
  • Upper and lower side compression straps reduce bulk and stabilize loads for optimal weight distribution and carrying comfort
  • LightWire™ peripheral frame, structural load lifter bars and a suspended mesh wrap hipbelt, provide exceptional load transfer and optimal comfort
  • Fully adjustable gender specific Anti-Gravity™ mesh wrap hipbelt provides optimal load transfer and comfort
  • Anti-Gravity ventilated mesh back panel contours automatically to the body, providing outstanding fit and unrestricted movement
  • Removable floating lid contains 2 zippered pockets for quick-access essentials
  • Integrated FlapJacket™ protects contents from foul weather and rain during lidless use
  • Dual stretch-mesh side pockets, zippered hipbelt pockets, and large front stash pocket offer additional storage and organization
  • Back bottom contains zippered sleeping bag compartment and removable sleeping pad straps
  • Pack exterior also features 2 front panel zip pockets, ice tool loops with bungee tie-offs and trekking pole attachment
  • Hydration sleeve and ports (reservoir not included)

After several trips, including an incredibly difficult and long climb up several feet in elevation in Mammoth Lakes, we're huge fans of these backpacks.

Tent

I think tents are a very personal purchase. We've looked and looked and looked at new tents for years, trying to find the 'perfect one'. We have an amazing tent from REI that Tom bought in 1997 and is finally starting to wear down. They don't make it anymore, but it is absolutely perfect for car camping late into the fall. It came with us on our Western National Park Road Trip and has been with us in sun, snow, rain, wind, and everything in between! The only problem is that it is too heavy to bring with us backpacking.

REI Tent Soaking in Redwoods National Park
REI Tent in Lassen Volcanic National Park
REI Tent in Tahoe

About five years ago we got the Marmot Aeros 3P 3 Season Tent. Packed its 6lbs, 1 oz, but Tom and I split the load - I carry the poles, he carries the tent and rainfly. Floor dimensions are 90 x 76" with two vestibules. Its a great tent. My only concern is that when the rainfly is off the tent is all mesh - so even when the rainfly is on cold air tends to sneak it through the open spots at the bottom. Its great on warmer nights, but when the temperature drops into the 40s I tend to be a little chilly. Our REI tent fully zips closed leaving us in a warm cocoon and I never get cold in it even when it drops down into the 30s on some of our fall trips.

Marmot doesn't make this tent anymore, but its still being sold (at the moment) on Sierra Trading Post. The Marmot Tungsten 3P tent is probably the closest thing to what we have.

UPDATE! We recently purchased the MSR Mutha Hubba NX Tent as our new backpacking tent. We took it out this past weekend on a trip up the California coast camping in Mendocino and it was awesome! We had been looking for a tent that would be light enough for backpacking, but warmer than the Marmot. The MSR is great because unlike the Marmot with mesh sides that came all the way down to the ground, the MSR tent has a thicker fabric from middle to bottom, and mesh at the top, allowing a cool breeze to come in from the top and to block the wind at the bottom. Our night in Mendocino on the coast was super windy and I was amazed at how warm I stayed in it.

Sleeping Pads

Just as important as a good backpack and tent is a good sleeping pad. This summer we upgraded to the Therm-aRest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pads and I absolutely love them! 

Large: 1 lb

Large: 1 lb

The sleeping pad is crazy lightweight and packs down into about the size of a Nalgene bottle. I'm a side sleeper and usually by morning my hip is digging into the dirt below me, but these pads kept both of us off the ground. They're actually incredibly comfortable and you can inflate to your desired squishiness. These come in three sizes:

  • Small: 47 x 20 x 2.5 inches (8 oz)
  • Regular: 72 x 20 x 2.5 inches (12 oz)
  • Large: 77 x 25 x 2.5 inches (1 lb)

Tom is 6'2" and needs the large. I was going to get the regular (at 5'5"), but I like the extra 5 inches of width in the large - I tend to sprawl - and it is perfect.

We also have a Therm-a-rest for Bailey that rolls up tight and self-inflates, but I can't find one anywhere online. We bought it about five years ago and use it all the time when we camp. Its great for Bailey to be off the hard ground after a long day of hiking and we can tell he really appreciates having it!

Bailey's Therm-a-rest

Pillow

As much as I want to be a hard core camper that can sleep anywhere on anything, I'm not (hence the Evolite Sleeping Pad), and I need a pillow. I've tried sleeping on jackets or clothes or stuffing everything into my sleeping bag stuff sack, but I just can't do it. Luckily, there's gear for that. I love the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium. Its a little bit of luxury in the wilderness and really helps me get a good night's sleep. They're definitely a splurge at $39.95 and $44.95 (depending on the size), but totally worth it. They pack down super small and only take a couple of breaths to inflate.

Regular: 2.8 oz

Regular: 2.8 oz

Camp Stove

Tom has had the MSR WhisperLite International Backpacking Stove since 2001 and it still works GREAT! (Well, not this exact stove - the earlier version of it. This stove is now 10% lighter than our current stove!) It packs down super small and can run on white gas (what we bring), kerosene, or auto fuel (in a pinch!). 

Stove & Pump: 10.9 ounces

Stove & Pump: 10.9 ounces

Fuel Bottle

And to go along with your stove, you'll need a fuel bottle. MSR makes them in 11, 20, and 30 oz sizes. We bring the 20 oz bottle on our short trips and our 30 oz bottle on longer trips.  We like the MSR Fuel Bottle with CRP Cap better than other brands because these bottles are reuseable. We've been out camping a couple of times and have come across empty Jetboil fuel bottles just laying around in the dirt. Pack it out, people!

Water Purifier

The MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter is AMAZING. It makes a difference not having to haul in gallons of water and keeping that weight off our backs. I was a little skeptical of it working (for no good reason), but after my first sip of purified alpine water I was sold. The important thing to note is to carry a wide mouth Nalgene bottle because the purifier screws right on the top, or a wide mouth bladder from your backpack.

14.6 ounces

14.6 ounces

We made good use of it this summer!

MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filer in action
MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filer in action

And here's a great video from MSR with more details about the filter.

Bear Vault

Camping in California means camping with bears. Luckily they're mostly harmless as long as you respect their environment. If you're camping or backpacking in California you need a bear vault. If you're out hiking and come across a ranger they will fine you if you are not carrying your food or toiletries in a bear vault. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will come find you if you leave your food out. A few years ago we were at a campground near Lake Tahoe that had bear boxes in each campsite. I opened our tent that morning to see a gigantic brown bear stroll by and head into the campground looking for breakfast. It was terrifying! He seemed harmless, but walked right past our site since we had all our food, toothpaste, deodorant, and bug spray locked up in our vault.

BearVault BV500 Food Container

Unpacked: 2 lbs, 9 oz

Unpacked: 2 lbs, 9 oz

Backpacker's Pantry Food

A few years ago we switched from bringing regular food car camping to bringing freezed dried camp food. I was really hesitant to make the switch - I grew up camping with a cooler and eating off of plates and having full meals, so changing to a meal where I just added hot water didn't seem appetizing or fulfilling. Wow, was I wrong! After trying a few brands we really like Backpacker's Pantry. They even have a TON of vegetarian and vegan options. I've never felt hungry after splitting a meal (that serves two) with Tom. Especially after a day of hiking. Its the easiest thing to make (especially when you're tired), its super lightweight to carry (about 6.6 ounces each), and simple to clean up. And all you have to do is add hot water. Our favorites are Chana Masala, Katmandu Curry, Louisiana Red Beans & Rice, and Pad Thai. Here's a link to all of REI's Vegan Freeze Dried Meal Options.

Dinner Time in action!

Dinner Time in action!

Along with the food we bring in the bear box we also pack in the following: GSI Outdoors Baked Enamelware Cup - 12 oz, these are our all-purpose cups for eating and drinking. And you've got to have something to eat with! Light My Fire Spork XM works great. And the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash is a great multi-purpose wash for dishes, clothes, hands, and everything in between! We also pack bug spray, Burts Bees lip balm, and deodorant in our Bear Vault.

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Its a lot, I know. And sometimes we feel like these folks from Portlandia, but in the end we're happy with our gear!