12 MUST-HAVE Backpacking Gear Essentials for this Summer

Are you looking for new backpacking gear in 2023? This article will help guide you through everything you need (and don’t need) before you set off on some fantastic adventures.

Below, I’ll highlight the backpacking gear that I rely on for my trips and which I can comfortably recommend to you as well. Once you load up on backpacking gear, you’ll be ready to conquer some of North America’s best trails and views.

Above Colorado's Blue Lake. One of my favorite backpacking locations in the USA.

Backpacking Gear Essentials for your EPIC Adventures

There’s a lot of backpacking gear out there. Some are flashy. Others aren’t. But when it comes down to choosing the best backpacking gear for your adventures, you want to prioritize quality and reliability over everything else.

Below I dive into what I believe is the best gear that has helped propel me on dozens of trips and hundreds of miles in the backcountry.

My top 12 pieces of backpacking gear you need to prioritize

Let’s dive into the gear you need for an epic trip. (And that will last you years and years.)

Lightweight Tent – 1, 2, or 3P

Your tent is your number one protector regarding inclement weather and sleeping. Therefore, you want it to be sturdy but light. While most backpackers will shy away from a trip with potential weather issues, rain could appear if you’re in the mountains.

As for choosing a tent size, a single-person tent speaks for itself. Now, for a 2P, it’ll be tight with two people, but it’s doable. However, you can score lightweight 3P tents and have a much more enjoyable sleep with your partner.

Lastly, there’s a difference between freestanding tents and semi-free standing. Freestanding tents mean that all corners have a pole in them to give them shape. Semi-Freestanding requires one of your ropes to pull it out. This is usually semantics, but some places (Patagonia/Canada) have you sleep on wooden platforms, and freestanding is the best option here.

How to choose the right backpacking tent?

I’d love to say that price isn’t a factor, but that’s not the case. Everyone factors in price. So first, find a budget range you’re happy with. Then, look at weight and size. I just snagged the Big Agnes CopperSpur 3P as my partner, and I have wide sleeping pads, and the 2P Big Agnes tent wasn’t cutting it anymore.

If it’s just you, I think you can find a good 2P Tent at around three-pounds for a decent price.

A tent high above in the Washington mountains. For these hikes, its important to have light backpacking gear.

Lightweight but Warm Sleeping Bag

Regarding backpacking sleeping bags, aim for those in the two to two-and-half-pound range. This is considered ultralight.

Or go with a quilt that doesn’t have the head wrap to cut down on weight. Additionally, aim for a down-fill of 800+ and or a 15-degree bag. This will keep you warm enough into the 20s.

I’ve filtered the sleeping bags to the range stated above.

How to choose the right backpacking sleeping bag?

Find one that is in your budget, but will also keep you warm at the antipcated degrees you will be backpacking in. If you never plan to do cold weather camping, you likely don’t need anything below 30 degrees.

Furthermore, I prefer down vs synthetic. It’s more expensive, but natural and does a better job at keeping you warm

Two Gregory backpacks. This is what all of my backpacking gear looks packed up.

Comfortable Sleeping Pad and Pillow

There are so many varieties of sleeping pads it can seem a bit overwhelming. For most, I wouldn’t suggest going to ultralight as your comfort will be minimal. Still, aim for backpacking gear in the two-pound range.

I personally love this Big Agnes one. It’s on sale at the moment.

How to choose a sleeping pad?

Keep an eye on the “R-Value.” This is a guideline for how warm it will keep you. The higher the number, the more insuluation it offers. But, this also will add weight. You could combine a ridge rest (those foam, spongy pads) with an inflatable sleeping pad for more warmth.

55L-65L Backpacking Pack

This is the perfect size for those looking to max out at four or five days in the backcountry. My 65L Gregory Baltoro (currently on sale) has been great doing four days and 40 miles in Wyoming’s wilderness.

I stumbled into Gregory because it was all REI had before my Havasuapi trip in 2018. Six years later, it’s still doing great! Osprey is also top-of-the-line.

As for sizes, 65L should get you up to five days. After that, if you want to do longer trips, maybe bump to 75L. For women, I’d say aim for 10L less than men, only because you’re supposed to carry a smaller percentage of body weight. (Obviously, you decide what you can carry.)

What size backpack is best for my trip?

One Night: You could probably get away with a 40L backpack for just one night and hang things on the outside.

Two Night: I’d go with a 55L backpack which will be able to hold enough food/clothes for three total days.

Three-Night: At this point, getting a 55L-65L backpack will be smart. You’re going to have a lot of food for four days, and the clothes may start to add up.

Four Nights and Up: At a minimum, go with a 65L, but if you’re pushing it, a 75L should provide you enough space for all your gear.

And remember, use your straps and zippers to maximize your space!

A hiker looks out on the Wyoming wilderness.

Reliable Water Filter (preferably Gravity Filter for my backpacking gear)

I started using gravity filters when they were in their infant stage and have enjoyed the versatility and ease of use. However, they tend to get mucked up if you don’t use them for a while, so double-check their flow rate before you go on a trip.

I’ve used the MSR Gravity Filter and the Katadyn one. Both are good, but currently rolling with the Katadyn 3L.

Why do I like a gravity filter vs. a pump filter?

I like the gravity filter because it’s effortless. Most of the time, when I filter water, it’s done at camp. So I can scoop up water and let it start to filter while I do other camp chores. Others may like to pump it, but I think this is the best way to go about it!

Bear Canister

Not a flashy backpacking gear item, but a must when backpacking in any National Park with bears. The small one (450) can get you a day or two, but for trips longer than that, you’ll want the 500.

(PS: The food sacks are suitable for areas where you aren’t required to carry a bear canister but still want to ensure nothing gets into your food.)

Light Weight Backpacking Chair

A chair is one of my favorite things to have with me on a backpacking trip. There’s nothing like sitting down, leaning back, and relaxing. Without a backpacking chair, you’re sitting on the ground, on a rock, or leaning against a log.

For one extra pound, I’ll take the chair!

JetBoil Flash + Fuel

My JetBoil Flash has been with me for six years and still doing great! I love the internal spark, so I don’t need a lighter match. It’s excellent for quick boils but not much else. (You could make food in it, but it’s hard to clean that way.) Still, I bring it everywhere, as having a hot meal is always welcomed after a hard day of hiking.


Not an exciting backpacking gear item, but one that is crucial to ensuring you are not fumbling around your campsite in the middle of the night. A headlamp doesn’t have to be fancy – it just needs to get the job done. Aim to get one in the $35-$50 range.

In Colorado, the lakes are as blue as they come. Here our backpacking gear is seen below.

Trekking Poles

I swear by trekking poles.

They allow me to take the weight off my legs and back and use a sort of cross-country ski method of moving and grooving. Plus, they give you added stability going down steep hills or scree.

Satellite Communication Device

Having a comms device is smart, as you never know what will happen in the backcountry. Usually, everything goes off without a hitch. However, you always hear stories where people get hurt and don’t have a way to contact help.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. (And I learned that you don’t need to pay the monthly fee to use the SOS button.)

Backpacking Watch

Having a backpacking watch that can last your entire trip is crucial for tracking and knowing your distances. It’s why I love my Garmin 7s Fenix. It has 11 days of battery life, which is usually plenty for multi-day trips.

However, if you’re really going for a long time, getting the solar-powered options means it’ll likely never die!

Related: Backpacking Snack Ideas

Here I am, filter water out of my MSR Gravity Filter. Make sure to keep your backpacking gear cleaned when not using it.

Backpacking Gear FAQ

How to fly with backpacking gear

Flying with your backpacking gear is something that sounds terrifying but is pretty straightforward. (Unless your bag is lost, then it’s DefCon5.) When I fly with backpacking gear, I pack it like I will hit the trail immediately. This way, I know everything is secure and ready to go.

This, though, does not include food. So I don’t pack perishable foods until later. But dehydrated meals can go inside my pack/bear canister.

Lastly, you won’t lose anything because everything is already in your bag.

Here are a few tips for flying with your backpacking gear:

  • Don’t hang anything from your pack
  • Wear your hiking shoes/boots on the plane
  • If you have an ice axe, secure it to your bag
  • Don’t put perishable food in until your hike begins
Two hikers carrying all of their backpacking gear up a mountain ridgeline.

Items to not bring backpacking

There are always people who want to bring the craziest gear. So leave all major technology at home. No iPads or laptops. (It sounds crazy, but some people want to bring them!) Additionally, don’t bring a hardcover book. A smaller paperback is fine, though—especially if you’re going alone and will have downtime!

Furthermore, unless you’re going on a super chill trip with a low amount of elevation gain, really think about how much you’ll use your backpacking gear. Don’t bring it if you don’t think you’ll ever pull it out.

Over time, you’ll gain a better understanding of what is important and what isn’t.

Can I rent backpacking gear?

Yes! REI allows you to rent certain types of gear that you return when you’re done. For example, when I went to Alaska, I could rent camping equipment I didn’t want to fly with. As a member, it was super affordable and saved us the hassle of shipping lots of gear north.

However, this might be more plausible if you are camping and need bulkier/heavier gear (chairs, larger stove, big tent/mattress). However, if there’s backpacking gear that you don’t want to fly with, renting is easy.

Make sure to check beforehand, as not all locations allow you to. (But the major hubs should.)

A view lookout out from the top of Mt. Daniel in Washington.

Top Destinations to Go Backpacking

Now that you have your backpacking gear, it’s time to find some EPIC places to put it to use. Here are some of my favorites!

  • North Cascades
  • Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Mt Bachelor National Forest
  • The Canadian Rockies
A backpackers gear and tent sits on top of a mountain in Washington.

Wrapping up – What Backpacking Gear to Bring on Summer Treks

In summary, selecting the appropriate backpacking gear can significantly influence outdoor adventure. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a beginner, opting for superior-quality equipment that can endure any weather conditions and provide optimal performance is crucial.

By considering factors such as weight, durability, comfort, and versatility when choosing your gear, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip into the great outdoors.

Feel confident as you pack your bags and hit the trails with the best backpacking gear tailored to your needs!

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

The 22 best hikes in Washington

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside