Essential Backpacking Gear: Save vs Splurge

Hey there, fellow adventurer! I’ve got some exciting insights to share about backpacking gear essentials that don’t have to break the bank.

My personal journey into backpacking began back in 2014 when a friend invited me on an impromptu backpacking trip to Havasu Falls. At that time, I wasn’t a frequent hiker, but the thrill of the opportunity beckoned me. However, as we discussed the trip, the gear list grew dauntingly long, and I hesitated. Looking back, I wish I had taken the plunge. 

Female Backpacker smiling on the trail with a lake in the background
Backpacking the Chelan Lakeshore Trail

So, here’s the backpacking gear guide I wish i’d had back then, complete with both budget-friendly and splurge options. This list is in addition to the ten essentials of hiking that can be read here. Welcome to the world of backpacking!

Just a heads up! This post contains affiliate links which means I could earn a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate your support!

Complete Backpacking Gear Essentials List

Backpacking gear essentials encompass crucial items required for a safe and comfortable outdoor adventure. 

These include must-haves like a well-fitted backpack, a reliable backpacking tent suited to your group size, and a quality sleeping bag to match the climate. 

Additional key gear, such as a water purification system, cooking equipment, and personal items, ensures you’re fully prepared for a memorable backpacking experience.


Female Backpacker with an Osprey Aura 65

A good backpack can make a significant difference in how a trip goes considering the weight of your pack with gear will weigh about 20% of your body weight. Backpacks vary dramatically in price, comfortability, and organizational systems. 

The options for a backpack are EXTENSIVE and every body type is so unique. I suggest your backpacking being a splurge item, because saving on this item could mean getting a backpack that is ill fitted for your body which could be detrimental for your trip. 

My backpack is the Osprey Aura 65 and it has served me well! It is a top seller at REI. I’ve had no problems with it, but that is me.

Best Budget Friendly Backpacking Pack

REI Co-op Trailmade 60 – $149

Best Overall Backpacking Backpack

Osprey Atmos AG 65 – $340

Backpacking Tents

When I started backpacking, luck was on my side with friends who had tents. But if you need one pronto, size and weight are critical factors. I recommend three options: a save, a splurge, and an alternative. 

These are two person tents, one person tents are cheaper and smaller.

Backpacking tent without the rainfly on and a dog laying in front of it with mountain and a lake in the background
Meatball, my dog, keeping watch over our tent!

This ultralight, three-season tent is roomy for two, snug for three. I can vouch for its awesomeness – it’s been my trusty companion for numerous years.

A bit snugger for two, but a tad roomier than other two-person tents. Remember, weight goes up with cost savings.

The true save option, save in cost and weight. A hyperlite tent option for two people that uses your trekking poles to set-up. If hyperlite is in your future, this is a fabulous option.

Sleeping Bag

Your sleeping bag’s temperature rating is key. WIll you face balmy nights or frigid ones? A warmer bag for multiple seasons might be pricier, but worth it.

Two tents with a lake and trees in the background.
First backpacking trip with a Marmot Trestles Elite Sleeping Bag, a borrowed tent and dry bag for a pillow.

My go-to for chilly trips, versatile even in extreme conditions. The price varies with temperature ratings.

A lighter, budget-friendly choice. Pair it with a fleece liner for winter warmth.

If you want to use this bag in winter months, I would suggest adding a fleece liner for added warmth.


A pillow is a game changer for a good nights sleep in the backcountry.

Compresses down remarkably well and offers fantastic comfort. However, it can produce crinkling noises when partially inflated.

Despite being the budget-friendly choice, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It is my favorite for backpacking trips.

Sleeping Pad

Your sleeping pad is going to add a lot of comfort and warmth to your overnight on the trail. Be considerate of what you will need for a good night’s sleep when choosing your sleeping pad so you can be prepared for the next day.

Female backpacker rolling up her sleeping pad


Exped 5R

My personal favorite- comfortable for three seasons and packs well with the Z lite.

A popular for ultralight backpackers, it’s versatile and lightweight. What you will save in money, you might not gain in sleep.

SIDENOTE: Consider how you might use your sleeping pad in other ways when making your decision. Will you use it for car camping? I used sleeping pads for car camping for a long time before buying my Luno Air Mattress.

Water Filter/Purifier and Container

When backpacking you will need to purify water throughout the day to replenish your supply, purify water for the food you will have to rehydrate, purify water for any coffee you want to make in the morning, ect. 

Below is my favorite water purification system.

Filtering Lots of Water

3L Katadyn Gravity Filter

If you want to filter lots of water all at once, you can use this filter system by Katadyn. You’ll fill the 3L bag with water from your water source and it will filter out of the hose!

The best part is that when your filter gets dirty, you just need to give it a rise and you’re good to use it on your next trip!

Filter on the Go

BeFree Katadyn

If you want to drink water right from the filter, you can use the same system from a water bottle. This way you can filter on the go!

Female backpacker with her dog on a trail with sparse trees

It is suggested that you drink 0.5L of water for every mile of hiking that you do, which varies based on heat and trail difficulty. Make sure you’re familiar with water sources along the trail and be prepared to carry more water if sources are limited.

Backpacking Kitchen Essentials

After a long day of backpacking, your backpacking kitchen is going to become your best friend as you stare longingly at it waiting for it to boil your water to rehydrate your meal.

Female backpacker eating ramen out of a jetboil.
Ramen is a favorite mid-day meal!

Consider a lightweight kitchen set-up, including a pot, stove, and utensils to prepare a delicious meal on the trail. 

In your kitchen set include the following: 

  1. Cup or Mug
  2. Long Spork 
  3. Jetboil or Stove with Pot
Long Spork
Alpha Light Spork
Camp Mug with orange carrying case
Toaks Titanium Cup

Kitchen Stove

After a long day of backpacking, your backpacking stove is going to become your best friend as you stare longingly at it waiting for it to boil your water to rehydrate your meal.

This system will boil your water quickly and can compactly fit the fuel canister and stand within the cooking vessel. The price tag comes from its promise to heat your water in 100 seconds, which saves you time and fuel.

This compact stove will save you money if you already have a lightweight pot to heat your water and food in, but otherwise some of those things can add up. If used with an efficient pot or pan, it can still heat up water and food quickly.

Right now the only things in my camp kitchen are the Jetboil Flash, a collapsible mug, and a long spork

Bear Canister/Food Sack

If you need to pack your food in a bear canister, you will also likely need to bring bear spray.

Bear Vault has the most size options for bear canisters. Bear canisters are heavy and take up a lot of space in your pack. 

However, I have found them to be the most reliable option. They also make a great makeshift seat. 

You can also use a food sack, like UrSack, which are lighter and take up less space, however they do need to be hung up from a tree which is not always an option on the trail.

Bear Spray

If you are on a trip that requires a bear canister, you will likely have to carry bear spray as well.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to use it before beginning your trip. It should also be carried on an accessible spot on your bag. When you need to use bear spray, it needs to be used right away.

It is of no use to you at the bottom of your pack.

Trekking Poles

You might already have trekking poles and if you use them regularly when you’re hiking, they might be on your must bring list. 

You don’t want to be in a position in which you are carrying things you will never use, but trekking poles are an exception.

Female Backpacker holding out her trekking poles in front of the mountains
Trekking Poles are a must for me on backpacking trips

If you’re looking to splurge on trekking poles, look for a carbon shaft. There are plenty of carbon fiber trekking pole options from Leki and Black Diamond. 

These Carbon Cork Trekking Poles by Black Diamond have always had amazing reviews, but I am still using the same cheap poles I purchased four years ago.

I am still using the same cheap hiking poles that I purchased when I started hiking. The deciding factor in getting them was that they were the cheapest. They are just not the lightest option.

SIDENOTE: Trekking Poles are not necessarily a necessity. However, I have found that they add balance and improve posture while backpacking. 


You can find long lists of technical gear that you could buy for your trip, but it is not necessary. Just like you would hike in what you’re comfortable in, the same stands for what you backpack in. 

You will likely only need one outfit for the entire trip and one outfit to wear sleeping. 

Layers to wear if the weather changes to rain, snow, or extreme sun. Always pack extra wool socks. A bonus is a pair of lightweight camp sandals.

I always pack my clothes in a dry sack to help keep them compact.

Female backpacking in Olympic National park

Additional Backpacking Gear

There is SO much gear to consider bringing with you. Here is a short list of items, you will also want to bring with you on your trip:

  1. GPS Device – Get in touch with loved ones or receive help in case of an emergency.
  2. Biolite Charger – If you’re planning on using electronics.
  3. Headlamp – Comes in handing for late night arrivals, early morning adventures, and evening chats (and potty breaks).
  4. Backpacking MedKit – You will likely need to purchase a multiday med kit
  5. Trowel – You will need to bury your poop! It is not always guaranteed that there is a pit toilet on the trail. Don’t forget to dig the hole 6inches deep and pack out the toilet paper.
  6. Sunscreen/Bug Spray 

Where to get the Essential Backpacking Gear?

When it’s time to gear up for your backpacking expedition, you’ve got some fantastic options at your fingertips. 

For starters, swing by trusted outdoor retail shops like REI or local shops, where experts can help you find the perfect backpack and offer a broad selection of backpacking essentials. Plus, the convenience of online shopping means you can snag many of your essential items with just a few clicks, making your prep for the trail a breeze.

Borrow gear from a friend or go to a resale store for outdoor gear!

I have also added all of the items in this blog post in a RockPorch Locker. You can find all of the items there. 

Let's Pack it Up!

There you have it, a compact list of everything you need to start backpacking. This list will grow as you determine what you need on the trail. Remember to recreate responsibly and to follow the seven principles of leave no trace!

Save for Later:

Essential Backpacking Gear List Pinterest Pin
Your Guide to Backpacking Gear Pinterest Pin

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Exploren Borgen

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading

Scroll to Top

Quick Nav

Blog Categories

%d bloggers like this: