By Michael Lanza
Sure, your backpack, boots, tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, and other backpacking gear matter a lot, and you should put serious thought into your choices when buying any of them. But little things matter, too. Various necessary accessories, convenience items, and small comforts accompany me on backcountry trips. Nearly three decades of field-testing gear—including the 10 years I spent as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog—has refined my sense of what I like on certain types of trips and what I will not do without anytime.
Here’s my freshly updated list of essential backpacking accessories, ranging from basics like the best stuff sacks, bladders and water bottles, camp kitchen gear, water filters, tent stakes, and bear canister, to my go-to trekking poles, great values in a headlamp, camp stove, sport sunglasses, and knife, and what I sit on and slip my feet into in camp and lay my head down on every night I sleep on the ground.
I’ve tested this gear extensively on numerous backpacking trips from the Teton Crest Trail and Wonderland Trail, Yosemite, and the Wind River Range to Idaho’s Sawtooths, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and countless other places.
I don’t carry everything on this list on every trip, of course. Some, like a bear canister, solar panel and power bank, I bring only when needed; others, like a utensil, mug, and inflatable pillow, I always have with me. But what follows represent the best I’ve found of each type of accessory. You’ll find links below to good prices on many of them right now and you can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by making purchases through the affiliate links in this review. Thanks for doing that.
I think you may find some things in this list that you can’t go without. See also my picks for the best backpacking gear of the year.
I’d appreciate any of your observations about the gear reviewed here, or suggestions on favorite accessories of yours that I’ve overlooked; write them in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.
Call me soft, but an inflatable pillow goes into my pack on all backcountry trips, because these lightweight and compact models help me sleep better at an inconsequential cost in weight and bulk. Why wouldn’t you take one? These are the best I’ve found.
After using it on multiple backpacking trips, including a nine-day hike of about 130 miles through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail, trips in the Wind River Range (including the Wind River High Route), in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, and on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, I have a new favorite. The Nemo Fillo Elite Ultralight Pillow ($60, 2.8 oz.) weighs under three ounces but doesn’t compromise comfort—inflated, it measures 15x11x3 inches. Made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled PrimaLoft synthetic insulation, it inflates with two strong puffs and the soft, jersey blend cover fabric is machine washable. An integrated stuff sack (read: you won’t lose it) packs the Fillo Elite to the size of a tennis ball (4×3 inches).
Another longtime go-to head rest has been the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow ($45, 2.5 oz., large 13x17x5.5 ins.) because of its ample size and cushion and soft fabric, and it stuffs down to the size of my fist. The even larger Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Deluxe Pillow ($65, 4.6 oz., 23.5x16x5.5 ins.) comes close to imitating your pillow at home and packs down to slightly larger than a wallet.
Another I like is the Therm-a-Rest Air Head Lite Pillow ($42-$52, 2-2.8 oz.), which comes in two sizes that inflate to 18×12.5×4 inches or 15.5x11x4 inches, while packing down smaller than a tennis ball, and the stretch-knit polyester fabric feels soft against your cheek.
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 Nemo Fillo Elite Ultralight Pillow at moosejaw.com or nemoequipment.com, a Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow at backcountry.com or seatosummit.com, a Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Deluxe Pillow at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seatosummit.com, or a Therm-a-Rest Air Head Lite Pillow at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com or thermarest.com.
Looking for the best outdoor adventures, gear reviews, and expert tips?
Start at my blog’s home page!
Stuff Sacks and Packing Pods
Stuff sacks protect clothing and gear from any water that penetrates a backpack, and make organizing and loading a pack easier and faster by compartmentalizing clothing and smaller gear items, giving you fewer things to transfer in and out of a pack. They also provide a more effective way of keeping stuff dry inside your pack than a rain cover, which doesn’t fully cover a pack, can blow off, and will wet through in a sustained downpour. I always use stuff sacks, and these are the best I’ve found.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema Composite Fabrics Roll-Top Stuff Sacks ($49-$79, 3.7L to 43L, 1-2 oz.) are incredibly light, waterproof, and tough enough to withstand virtually any kind of abuse. Using the 43-liter Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll-Top stuff sack ($79, 2 oz.) as a partial pack liner has kept my pack contents completely dry through steady, wind-driven rain on the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Laugavegur Trail, and elsewhere. While they’re not intended to be used as dry bags (they’re not submersible), they keep clothing and gear dry through wet conditions short of full immersion in water. HMG’s Drawstring stuff sacks ($29-$55, multiple sizes) are made with the same waterproof fabric but have drawstring closures that are not watertight; still, they’re adequate for the needs of most backpackers and offer a lighter, more compact alternative to the roll-top sacks.
But the coolest are the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods ($59-$69, 1.2-1.4 oz., 6.8L to 12.3L), which I’ve used many times, including on a five-day hike in the Wind River Range and a nine-day hike of over 120 miles through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail. Stackable, flexible, super light, zippered units also made of waterproof Dyneema Composite Fabric with a water-resistant zipper, pods are shaped and sized to slip inside a pack wall to wall, leaving no gaps. Convenient for organization with their clamshell design and spacious enough to fit a surprising amount of stuff, they come in small and large sizes for two capacities—2400/3400 for 40-55L packs and 4400 for 70L packs—and fit inside HMG’s packs perfectly but other pack models as well.
I’ve also become a fan of a few other HMG accessories. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa ($79, 0.2 lbs., 2.25x6x9 inches) will attach to your pack at the sternum, hipbelt, daisy chains, or on top of the pack secured by compression Y-straps, or you can wear around your waist in front using its low-profile belt. Incredibly light and compact, made from waterproof, very tough Dyneema Composite Fabrics DCH50, it’s hardly noticeable when I’m hiking but highly convenient when I want to quickly pull out my Nikon Z50, a map, or another small item from its water-resistant main compartment or second, zippered pocket.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow ($59, 1.7 oz., 12×17 ins.) consists of a DCF8 shell fabric with a soft, Polartec 100 fleece lining and is a perfect size for storing extra clothing and small camp items while on the trail and functioning as a pillow at night.
The regular Hyperlite Mountain Gear Camera Pod ($119, 2.7 oz., 7×5.5×3.75 inches), made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics and easy to attach to a pack’s shoulder straps, holds my Nikon Z50 body with a small zoom lens mounted on it (dimensions 5×3.7×3.7 ins.), but get the large ($139, 3.7 oz., 9.5×6.5×4.25 ins.) for extra capacity.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll-Top or Drawstring Stuff Sacks and Pods at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa at hyperlitemountaingear.com, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com, or the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Camera Pod at hyperlitemountaingear.com..
Like what you’re reading? Sign up now for my FREE email newsletter!
For their low weight, durability, water resistance, and price, it’s hard to beat the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bags ($23-$40, 3L/183 c.i. to 35L/2,136 c.i., 1.1-2.6 oz.). These bags kept my down jacket dry inside my pack throughout four February days of backcountry skiing in the Sierra mountains around Lake Tahoe, much of the time in heavily falling snow; and most impressively, kept my clothing dry while paddling an inflatable kayak on Idaho’s class III Payette River, even though the boat filled with water numerous times. Ideal for backpackers, the 30-denier, high-tenacity Ultra Sil Cordura nylon, siliconized for durability and packability, has a hypalon roll-top closure that doesn’t wick moisture, plus fully taped seams and reinforced stitching.
For very wet trips, the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner ($35-$45, 50L, 70L and 90L, 3.4-5.5 oz.), made of waterproof and lightweight, 30-denier Ultra-Sil Cordura, with double stitched and taped seams, will fill all or most of a pack’s interior and has an oval shape to easily fit a pack’s dimensions. With a wide mouth for easy access, its roll-top closure has overlapping fabric that folds, secures with hook-and-loop strips, then rolls down, reducing its bulk when sealed.
The more affordable Six Moon Designs Pack Liner ($20, 50L, 3 oz.) has also kept my gear and clothes dry when rain pounded my pack. A roll-top, 50-liter sack that’s treated to repel water, it’s made of 40-denier ripstop nylon with taped seams.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bags at moosejaw.com, backcountry.com, or seatosummit.com, or the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner at seatosummit.com, or the Six Moon Designs Pack Liner at sixmoondesigns.com.
The fully waterproof, roll-top Cascades Designs SealLine Blocker dry sacks ($18-$28, 5L/305 c.i. to 30L/1,831 c.i., 1.6-3.7 oz.) are my pick when boating or on a very wet or remote backpacking trip where there’s a risk of the sacks holding my sleeping bag, extra clothing, or other important gear going underwater (example: challenging river fords). Made with 70-denier silicone/polyurethane-coated nylon, these are very durable yet still reasonably lightweight, and have welded seams, which are 50 percent stronger than sewn seams. The block shape packs 20 percent more efficiently than rounded sacks, according to the Cascade Designs.
The lighter, 20-denier, roll-top SealLine BlockerLite dry sacks from Cascade Designs ($19-$30, 2.5L/153 c.i. to 20L/1,220 c.i., 1-2.1 oz.) are a good choice for backcountry trips where you don’t want to take a chance of a bag or clothes getting wet in a soaking rain, although they are not recommended as waterproof protection from complete submersion. On a night sleeping out under the stars in Utah’s Dark Canyon, a heavy dew fell, soaking the BlockerLite dry sacks I’d left out—including one with my electronic tablet and extra clothes in it. But the contents of the sacks stayed completely dry. I also used the 10L sack as the outermost of two sacks holding my camera one day and our lunches the next day on consecutive afternoons of paddling an inflatable kayak down two different class III sections of Idaho’s Payette River, and the exterior of the inner stuff sack (and its contents) never got damp, even though the boat filled with water numerous times and we even flipped twice. They also have the block shape, silicone/polyurethane-coated nylon, and welded seams.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase SealLine BlockerLite dry sacks at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seallinegear.com, or SealLine Blocker dry sacks at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seallinegear.com.
Planning your next big adventure?
See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips” and my Trips page.
Countless times I’ve stuffed my sleeping bag into a Sea to Summit Evac Compression Dry Bag UL ($27-$50, 1.5 to 4 oz., 3L to 35L) to make it as compact as possible and ensure it will be dry on the wettest backpacking trips—including a nine-day, 130-mile hike through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail, when an hour-long rainstorm one afternoon soaked through my pack (I didn’t use a pack cover—see tip no. 1 in this story) but this sack kept my bag perfectly dry; and trekking hut-to-hut for six days on Iceland’s 33-mile Laugavegur Trail and 15.5-mile Fimmvörðuháls Trail, when we hiked through precipitation on many days. The Ultra-Sil 30-denier Cordura nylon and waterproof-breathable eVent fabric will pass air, so you can squeeze the sack down smaller even after closing the roll-top opening (which you can’t do with traditional dry bags). But like the above stuff sacks, these are not designed for full immersion because water will eventually penetrate the roll-top closure.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sacks at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seatosummitusa.com.
The folding, 100 percent carbon fiber Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ ($210, 12.7 oz./pair 95-140cm, three sizes) hit a sweet spot for versatility, falling on the cusp between the most ultralight and packable poles and models that are heavier and less packable.
Quickly deployed thanks to an internal Kevlar cord, and adjusted using BD’s reliable FlickLock levers, they have extended EVA foam grips and partly mesh nylon wrist straps. I’ve frequently grabbed them from a large quiver of poles I own for outings ranging from hikes and runs on local trails to backpacking trips of 77 miles on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier and 47 miles in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.
For lightweight and ultralight backpackers, hikers, and runners, and adventure athletes looking for the lightest and most packable adjustable poles, you need look no further.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles and my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles.”
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles at blackdiamondequipment.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.
You live for the outdoors. The Big Outside helps you get out there.
Join now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide and member gear discounts!
Hold the rechargeable Black Diamond Spot 400-R ($65, 2.6 oz.) up against any ultralight headlamp and try to convince yourself to buy something else. It has all the power most users need at 400 lumens with a range of 100 meters; that’s bright enough to hike off-trail, search for your route in the dark, or identify the large animal going for your cached food. And a full charge lasts four hours at max power.
Then consider the arguably unbeatable feature set, starting with three white and red modes with dimming capability, plus intuitive two-button operation, BD’s cool PowerTap technology, lockout mode, and it’s waterproof up to a little over a meter underwater for 30 minutes. But most of all, at just 15 bucks more than BD’s Spot 400, the rechargeable Spot 400-R soon pays for itself through the money saved not buying (and throwing away) batteries. Besides, why wouldn’t you buy a rechargeable headlamp today?
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot 400-R and see my picks for “The 8 Best Headlamps.”
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 rechargeable Black Diamond Spot 400-R at blackdiamondequipment.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, a battery-operated Black Diamond Spot 400 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com, or the Storm 500-R or any BD headlamp at blackdiamondequipment.com.
Gear up right for your trips with the best backpacking gear of the year.
Solar Charger and Power Bank
Let’s face it, portable power has become an essential backpacking accessory for countless wilderness foot travelers. I carried the BioLite SolarPanel 5+ ($100, 13 oz.) on a nine-day, 130-mile hike through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail, with some off-trail segments, to keep my smartphone charged so I could regularly check my mapping app. With direct exposure to peak sunlight, the five-watt SolarPanel 5+ fully charges its on-board 3200 mAh battery in three hours and can recharge a smartphone in as little as two hours, a BioLite Headlamp 200 in 2.5 hours, or the BioLite Charge 20 PD battery in 5.5 hours.
Hiking with it on my backpack and plugged into a device, with its sun exposure constantly changing and sometimes in forest, I found it would often recharge my depleted Android phone to around 50 percent and boost my iPad charge by about 20 percent during the day. The 360-degree kickstand enables positioning it at any angle, while the integrated sun dial allows you to aim the panel optimally for maximum sun exposure—useful when it’s stationary in camp or during breaks. It features a micro-USB input port and USB A output and comes with a USB A to USB C cable. At 13 ounces and measuring 10.2×8.2×0.9 inches/25.9×20.8×2.3cm, this slim unit is packable and light enough for extended backpacking trips. The IPX4 weatherproof rating means it’s resistant to water splashes from any direction—fine in a light rain but put it away in significant precipitation (when it’s useless, anyway).
I use the BioLite Charge 40 PD power bank ($60, 9.4 oz.) to augment a solar panel in the backcountry—or instead of the panel when I don’t need more power in reserve than the Charge 40 PD holds. It was all I needed to keep a couple of my family’s phones powered up on a six-day, hut-to-hut trek on Iceland’s Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, where we rarely saw the sun. And it’s ideal for long travel days.
Rated to recharge 2.5 smartphones—though that performance will vary between phone models—it would, when fully charged, bring my Samsung smartphone (2550mAh battery) from around 20 percent to 100 percent three to four times. The 10,000 mAh battery can be recharged plugging into a wall outlet for 2.5 hours using the USB A-to-USB C cable that comes with the unit. It has a USB-C PD port (up to 18W) and two USB-A quick charge out ports. BioLite advises using and recharging it at least once every four months.
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 BioLite SolarPanel 5+ at moosejaw.com, rei.com, or bioliteenergy.com, or a BioLite Charge 40 PD power bank at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or bioliteenergy.com.
Everyone needs eye protection from bright sunshine and UV light. But high-performance, well-fitting, and stylish sunglasses for outdoor sports are not often well-priced. Tifosi has broken that rule. The Tifosi Crit wrap-around sport sunglasses ($80, 1 oz.), ideal for everything from hiking to running, cycling, and more, have photochromic Clarion red lenses that adjust to shifting ambient light from nearly clear to a red mirror with a smoke tint—wearable in conditions from cloudy to the brightest, shadeless, sunny days of mid-summer. The Crit features an aerodynamic, ventilating design, shatterproof lenses, a light and durable Grilamid TR-90 nylon frame, hydrophilic rubber to grip well even when sweaty, adjustable arm and nose pieces for customizing the fit, and UVA and UVB protection. I wore them every day on adventures as wide-ranging as trekking hut to hut on Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail in July, backpacking nine days through the High Sierra, mostly on a section of the John Muir Trail in August, and on a five-day hike in the Wind River Range the week before Labor Day.
Want to save even more? The Svago ($25), made with shatterproof and scratch-resistant, polycarbonate smoke-tinted lenses, also have hydrophilic rubber, a Grilamid TR-90 nylon frame, and UVA and UVB protection.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase the Tifosi Crit, Svago, or any other sunglasses at tifosioptics.com.
All-Purpose Knife and Multi-Tools
The Swiss Army One-Hand Trekker Knife ($74, 4.6 oz.) gives you a set of 12 tools in a light, compact unit, including one large blade, a wood saw, bottle and can openers, 7.5mm, 3mm, and Phillips screwdrivers, wire stripper, reamer and punch, toothpick and tweezers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in a small, folding knife.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase a Swiss Army One-Hand Trekker Knife at moosejaw.com.
If you need the ultimate multi-tool, I like the Leatherman Wave+ ($120, 8.5 oz.). Just four inches long when closed, this updated version of Leatherman’s long-popular Wave boasts a robust set of 18 tools that all lock quickly into position, many of which get frequent use in the backcountry: two knives (straight and serrated), a saw, spring-action scissors, can and bottle openers, a medium screwdriver, regular and needle-nose pliers, and wire cutters.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a Leatherman Wave+ at moosejaw.com.
You deserve a better backpack. See “The 10 Best Packs For Backpacking.”
It may sound silly to get excited about a bladder, but while Gregory’s original 3D Hydro was exceptional, they’ve improved on it with the Gregory 3D Hydro Trek 3L hydration bladder ($48, 3L/100 oz., 10 oz.). Wider and shorter, it fits more easily into a backpack or daypack and is easier to fill completely and screw the cap on without spilling, thanks to the molded handle-spine. A strap enables hanging from a branch as a base camp bladder to dispense water through the valve, which is capped by a dust cap when in a pack.
With a hose that disconnects, a soft, three-dimensional body, and removable mouthpiece, it dries out fully after use as readily as a hard-sided bottle—helping to prevent the buildup of mildew that degrades a bladder. The magnetic bite valve, which locks to prevent dripping, sticks to a magnet on the sternum strap of Gregory packs; and the bladder’s crescent-shaped plastic top handle clips securely onto the mating piece in the bladder sleeve in the brand’s packs. That’s a bladder worth getting excited about.
BUY IT NOW 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 Gregory 3D Hydro Trek 3L hydration bladder at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com or any 2L or 3L Gregory 3D Hydro bladder at moosejaw.com.
The new Camelbak Fusion 3L Reservoir with Tru Zip Waterproof Zipper ($57, 5.5 oz.) represents a technological step up. Using the Fusion 3L on spring backpacking trips in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon and along a section of the Arizona Trail, I noticed right away that, besides the typically durable Camelbak construction, I was most impressed with how the integrated handle and pinch grip allows for much easier, one-handed filling compared to some bladders. Hydroguard inhibits bacterial growth in the reservoir and tube, which are also easy to dry and air out to prevent that, anyway. The valve delivers water quickly and has an on-off switch to prevent leaks. The waterproof zipper is predictably a little sticky but absolutely reliable.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these links to purchase a 2L or 3L CamelBak Fusion 3L Reservoir with Tru Zip Waterproof Zipper at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com.
Want a more affordable bladder? From a four-day, 25-mile backpacking trip on the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, to a three-day, 40-mile hike in the Wind River Range and numerous other backpacking trips and dayhikes, I’ve found the CamelBak Crux 3L Reservoir ($39, 3L/100 oz., 8 oz.) as tough and utilitarian as they come.
The self-sealing mouthpiece valve delivers water quickly and never leaked or dripped when I left it unlocked, and the cap reliably screwed on tightly and leak-free every time. The valve locking mechanism shifts easily using one hand. It has a baffle to minimize sloshing, a push-button release of the hose for cleaning, and Hydroguard antimicrobial treatment in the reservoir and tube to inhibit bacterial growth. Plus, you’d have to make a concerted effort to puncture or damage this polyurethane bladder.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these links to purchase a 2L or 3L CamelBak Crux Reservoir at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com.
Click here now to plan your next great backpacking adventure using my expert e-guides.
Packable and Collapsible Water Bottles
I prefer water bottles in various common situations, like sitting around in camp or hiking in freezing temps, but hard-sided, heavy bottles are soooo 2015. The HydraPak Flux Flexible Bottle (1.5L/48 oz., $30, 3.4 oz., and 1L/32 oz., $27, 2.7 oz.) has taken the packability and low weight of a soft bottle and married it to the convenience of a hard bottle’s rigidity for standing up and refilling.
Developed with mutual goals of creating an alternative to single-use plastic and reducing the bulk and weight of hard bottles, the Flux is constructed with a dual-layer TPU film laminate that lends it the rigidity to stand on its flat base—full or empty. The spill-proof twist cap’s valve lets you squirt water into your mouth one-handed (like a bike bottle), doesn’t leak when closed, and the wide opening is compatible with all 42mm threaded filters (like the Katadyn BeFree). Embossed RF-welded soft walls are easy to grip.
Best of all, it’s half the weight of a hard-sided plastic bottle—and when empty, the Flux flattens, rolls and stows into its bail handle, compressing to one-quarter of its full size (smaller than a fist) to slip easily into any pack’s side, lid, or other external pocket.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase a HydraPak Flux Bottle at backcountry.com.
Taking a slightly different approach to making the water bottle all but disappear in your pack when empty, the wide-mouth HydraPak Stash Bottle 1L ($26, 3 oz.) and Stash 750ml ($21, 2.9 oz.) have a distinctive, solid plastic top and base, giving it rigidity when filled with water—meaning that, like the Flux, you can stand it up. When empty, the flexible walls collapse and the base clicks into the top, shrinking it down to slightly larger than a hockey puck for stowing away in your pack. Plus, the Stash Bottle is BPA and PVC free.
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 HydraPak Stash Bottle 1L or a Stash bottle 750ml at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.
Find out more here.
Water Filter and Water Filter Bottle
It’s hard to beat the speed, convenience, and packability of the collapsible Katadyn BeFree Microfilter soft bottles, available in a 0.6L bottle ($45, 2.5 oz.), 1L bottle ($50, 2.5 oz.), and 3L bottle ($65, 3.5 oz.).
The 0.6L bottle measures just 9x3x3 inches and weighs under three ounces and filters up to two liters per minute just by squeezing the collapsible, BPA-free flask, delivering a strong stream of water. It will even pour through the mouthpiece—albeit more slowly than squeezing, of course—by just tilting it upside-down, even when the bottle is nearly empty.
The Katadyn BeFree Gravity Filter (10L $135, 10 oz., 6L, $115, 9.3 oz., and 3L, $75, 6.8 oz.) spares you the work of squeezing the bottle, filtering two liters per minute into another bottle or a bladder.
The .01-micron BeFree microfilter protects against harmful organisms like bacteria and cysts and has a projected life of 1,000 liters. Replacing the filter is easy—it pops out and a new one pops in. No backflushing or tools needed. Clean it occasionally by swishing the EZ-Clean Membrane around in water. For long-term storage, clean the filter by squeezing a flask full of clean (tap) water containing either one Micropur tablet or four drops of bleach through the filter.
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 any of the Katadyn BeFree bottles or gravity filter at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
The convenience factor of the LifeStraw Go bottle (22-oz., $40, 7.8 oz., or 1L, $45, 8.6 oz.) has lightened my pack weight by letting me carry less water—and it’s not because I drink any less. The ease and quickness of dipping, filling, and immediately drinking from the 22-ounce Go bottle—and not having to take time to treat water with a traditional filter—means that, wherever there are fairly frequent water sources along a hike, I can chug some water at the creek, top off the bottle or even leave it half-full if the next water isn’t far, and resume hiking. Consequently, I don’t treat more water than I’ll need and my pack’s lighter.
On my most-recent trip on the Teton Crest Trail, I rarely carried water in my pack’s bladder. The LifeStraw Go’s two-stage, hollow-fiber, 0.2-micron filter membrane with activated carbon removes virtually all bacteria, protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium, and organic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.
See my complete review of the LifeStraw Go bottle With 2-Stage Filtration.
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 22-oz. or 1L LifeStraw Go water bottle at moosejaw.com or rei.com.
Got an all-time favorite campsite?
See “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
Of course, there are times when you need a pump water filter in the backcountry, such as when dealing with silted water, or when you have to treat a large amount of water (for a group of three or more people or when water sources are far apart). The MSR Hyperflow Microfilter ($150, 9 oz.) stands out for its speed and compact size. Measuring just 7×3.5 ins., and lighter than many competitors, this hollow-fiber filter pumps three liters per minute, removing protozoa, bacteria, and particulate matter (though not viruses or chemicals), and leaves no taste. It comes with a Quick-Connect Bottle Adapter for pumping directly into a variety of containers, including all MSR hydration bladders and Nalgene bottles.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to buy an MSR Hyperflow Microfilter at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com or msrgear.com.
On a 40-mile, mid-September backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, I pulled out the pocket-size MSR TrailShot Microfilter ($63, 5 oz.) frequently to sate my thirst within seconds, enabling me to carry less water on my back. Small enough to stuff inside a side pocket on a daypack, it cranks out a liter in a minute. It’s ideal for one or two people on a fast-paced outing where time efficiency and minimizing weight are top priorities, like an ultra-dayhike, an ultralight backpacking trip where water sources are frequent, or a long trail run or adventure race. You have to get down low to the ground to place the input end of the hose in a stream or other water source and drink directly from the filter’s spout, or use the TrailShot to pump water into a bottle or bladder. It removes bacteria like E. coli and protozoa like Cryptosporidium. MSR projects its life at up to 2,000 liters.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to buy an MSR TrailShot Microfilter at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
Simplicity often reigns supreme in the backcountry, and that’s typically how I feel about a cooking stove: keep it simple, efficient, and above all, light.
The MSR Pocketrocket 2 ($60, 4 oz. with plastic case, included) boils water fast, has precise flame control for simmering, holds pots of two liters or larger stably, always fires up, and packs small. That’s why it ends up in my pack on many trips. It’s only shortcoming is that the unprotected burner isn’t nearly as fuel-efficient as stoves with a protected burner.
See my complete review of the MSR Pocketrocket 2.
BUY IT NOW You can support this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to buy an MSR Pocketrocket 2 stove at backcountry.com, msrgear.com, or moosejaw.com.
Stay dry, happy, and safe. See “The 7 Best Rain Jackets For Hiking and Backpacking.”
But when it’s time to cook for up to four people—especially in a windy campsite—nothing beats the MSR WindBurner Group Stove System ($250, 1 lb. 5 oz.). Pressure-regulated to produce consistent heat output, with an enclosed burner, the WindBurner Group System loses virtually no fuel efficiency—it basically performs in wind as if there was no wind. Cooking at elevations up to 11,000 feet, with wind at times and mornings down to around 40° F, I used less than two full, 16-oz. MSR IsoPro fuel canisters in six days cooking five breakfasts and dinners for four people—and barely more than one 16-oz. canister for basically the same number of meals for three people (all just boiling water). Plus, good flame control goes from boiling fast to a low simmer for backpackers who want to do more than just boil water. And the pot has a folding handle and strainer lid with a locking latch.
See my complete review of the MSR WindBurner Group Stove System.
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 MSR WindBurner Group Stove System at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, or other WindBurner stoves and products at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
Plan your next great backpacking adventure in Yosemite, Grand Teton, and other flagship parks using my expert e-guides.
On backpacking trips of 80 miles through the North Cascades National Park Complex and 40 miles through Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness, with one companion both times (plus other trips with up to two companions), I wanted a camp kitchen setup where we could boil plenty of water and cook simple dinners, while minimizing weight and bulk.
Part of the solution was the MSR Big Titan Kettle ($100, 6 oz.). A simple but durable, two-liter pot with handles that fold against its sides and a secure lid with an insulated handle, it’s big enough to cook for two, light enough for solo trips—and doubles as your bowl and (giant) mug, negating the need for carrying them. It measures 6.25×4.5 inches, and I fit a small canister stove (the MSR Pocketrocket 2), a mug, and a little food inside it in my pack.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase a MSR Big Titan Kettle at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
When convenience and packability take priority over weight, my pick is the Sea to Summit X-Set 31 ($110, 1 lb. 6 oz., for two to four people). The set’s 2.8L/3-quart pot is made with collapsible, heat-resistant, food-grade silicone walls that lock in place, and a 6063-T6, hardened alloy aluminum base. I’ve boiled water, cooked pasta, soups, mac ‘n’ cheese and other messy dinners and found the pot easy to clean; and pouring hot water from the pot was a breeze, with no spills. Both of the 0.7L/22-oz. X-Bowls and 0.5L/16-oz. X-Mugs have collapsible sides, allowing them to nest inside the X-Pot; the entire set packs down to 8.4 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall.
See my complete review of the Sea to Summit X-Pot Set 31.
On backpacking trips in Yosemite, Glacier, Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and many other places, the similarly collapsible Sea to Summit X-Seal & Go Cup ($17, 3 oz. medium, 4 sizes) or Sea to Summit X-mug ($14, 2.1 oz., capacity 16 oz./two cups) and the X-Bowl ($17, 2.8 oz., capacity 22 oz.) have been my go-to vessels for hot drinks and food. Made of durable nylon and food-grade silicone and holding a good volume of hot liquid when opened, the cups are calibrated to use as a measuring cup and collapse to slightly more than a half-inch (17mm) thick. The Seal & Go Cup has a threaded lid that forms an airtight seal to keep a drink or food hot. The medium X-Seal & Go Cup is a good size for many hot drinks but the large ($20, 5.1 oz.) holds 20 ounces—a good size for soups requiring just adding boiling water; leave the sealed lid on for about five minutes and you’ll have cooked Ramen or other soups without needing more fuel than required to boil.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy the Sea to Summit X-Set 31 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seatosummit.com; or any individual X-Seal & Go Cup, X-Cup, or X-Bowl at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seatosummit.com.
On numerous backpacking trips, I’ve become a fan of the packability, low weight, and high functionality of the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist cook set ($80, 1 lb. 4 oz.). A complete cooking and eating kit for two people, it includes a 1.8-liter, non-stick, hard-anodized aluminum pot that disperses heat more evenly than titanium, with a folding handle that locks in place for cooking and securing the entire kit in transit, and a strainer lid. It also has two bowls with graduations and two insulated mugs with sip-through lids, a stove bag, and a welded stuff sack that doubles as a sink for washing. The components all stack together, measuring 5.9 in x 6.4 in x 5.9 inches when packed. I don’t bother using the two telescoping Foon utensils—I’m not a fan of spoon-fork combos, and there are better backcountry utensils (see below). But that doesn’t diminish the value, low weight, packability, and functionality of this kit.
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 GSI Pinnacle Dualist cook set at moosejaw.com, or the GSI Pinnacle Soloist II cook set and other GSI cook gear or the GSI Pinnacle Pro 2 Burner Stove for camping at moosejaw.com.
Is this review helpful? If so, would you like to support my work by clicking here to leave a tip for The Big Outside? Thank you.
You gotta eat, and I extend my preference for carrying the bare necessities in gear right down to my eating utensils. My top picks are:
The super light, durable, and convenient Sea to Summit Alpha Light Long Spoon ($11, 0.4 oz.), Alpha Light Long Spork ($11, 0.4 oz.), Alpha Light Spoon ($9, 0.3 oz.), and Alpha Light Fork ($9, 0.2 oz.), which come individually and in sets.
The collapsible, indestructible, and lightweight Optimus Sliding Long Spoon ($9, 0.5 oz.), which, at under seven inches long, is ideal for eating from a bowl or mug, but extends to over nine inches for digging into a food pouch.
And the very packable Jetboil Jetset Utensil Kit ($11, 1.3 oz. for all three pieces), which includes a collapsible spoon, fork, and spatula (I don’t often carry the spatula, but sometimes it’s handy).
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase any Sea to Summit Alpha utensils at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or seatosummit.com, an Optimus Sliding Long Spoon at moosejaw.com, or a Jetboil Jetset Utensil Kit at backcountry.com.
If you own an MSR liquid-fuel stove, the nine-inch (23cm) stainless steel MSR Alpine Long Tool Spoon ($12, 1.5 oz.) is good not only for digging out food at the bottom of deep mugs or pouches without getting your fingers in your meal (or food on your gloves), its handle doubles as a jet and cable tool for repairing your stove.
In a pinch, you could also use this sturdy utensil as a deadman to help stake out a tent in snow or with rocks.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase an MSR Alpine Long Tool Spoon at msrgear.com.
The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures.
Join now for full access to ALL stories and get a free e-guide and member gear discounts!
No one likes carrying a large amount of water very far in the backcountry, but when I have to do it, I turn to a reliable standby—as I’ve done many times backpacking in the Grand Canyon, including on my most recent trip on the Utah Flats Route and Clear Creek Trail. The MSR Dromlite Bag ($37-$47, three sizes 2L-6L, 4.6-5.7 oz.), the brand’s lighter (and cheaper) but still tough version of its Dromedary, collapses to its cap size. Made with abrasion-resistant Cordura, these tough bags have a temperature threshold from freezing to boiling, a secure cap that ensures effortless filling and pouring, and a sturdy, low-profile handle that enables easy refilling and hanging it in camp.
The classic MSR Dromedary ($50-$60, three sizes 4L-10L, 7-10 oz.), although heavier, offers one larger size (10 liters). These stout sacks have never sprung a leak inside my backpack, thanks to BPA-free, 1,000-denier fabric and a tight seal on the screw cap. Strong perimeter webbing makes it easy to carry or hang in camp, and when empty, they roll up fairly compactly for storage in your pack.
Every backpacker should own one or two of these bags—and two bags give you both a large capacity and the option of carrying less weight when large capacity isn’t needed. There will come a day that you’ll need it—whether you like it or not.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to buy an MSR DromLite at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com, or an MSR Dromedary at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or msrgear.com.
Even in summer in the mountains, you often need a pair of light gloves to fend off cool temps and wind, and the Black Diamond HeavyWeight Wooltech Gloves ($50, 2.5 oz.) are a great pick. On hikes in temps ranging from the low 40s into the low 30s Fahrenheit, my hands stayed surprisingly warm, considering the minimal weight and bulk (and excellent dexterity) of these gloves.
Combining a lightweight, fast-drying 302g Nuyarn Merino wool on the back of hand with goat leather palms and fingers and a soft fleece lining, these gloves trap warmth even when wet. The index fingers and thumbs have touchscreen functionality. BD rates the gloves for 25° to 40° F, but that’s entirely relative to your hands: As someone with chronically cold hands, I find these gloves ideal for moderate- to high-exertion levels in temps from the mid-30s to the 40s. People who don’t suffer cold hands might prefer BD’s lighter MidWeight Wooltech Gloves ($40, 1.9 oz.) with 210g NuYarm Merino wool or LightWeight Wooltech Gloves ($35, 0.9 oz.) with 160g NuYarm Merino wool.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these links to purchase any version of the Black Diamond Wooltech Gloves at moosejaw.com, backcountry.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
A bear canister is required in an increasing number of public lands, among them California’s High Sierra (including the John Muir Trail, Yosemite, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks) and in some campsites in Olympic and Grand Teton national parks. A canister also provides convenient, infallible food storage anywhere.
Made from an impregnable transparent polycarbonate, the Bear Vault BV500 ($93, 2 lbs. 8 oz.) stores up to a week’s worth of food for one person (with judicious packing).
It has clear walls for finding items, and has two tabs in the screw-top lid to provide redundant protection against a bear getting into it.
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 Bear Vault BV500 bear canister at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
By the way, if you’re hiking in grizzly country, you better be packin’. And the best—the only—way to carry your pepper spray so that you can deploy it quickly when needed is in a holster that’s easily within reach, like the Mystery Ranch Bear Spray Holster ($32, 2 oz.). Designed to attach to a belt’s PALS web and fit most Counter Assault and UDAP canisters from 7.9 oz. to 13.4 oz., it has stretch side panels and an adjustable shock cord to secure the canister when holstered. It’ll even allow you to fire the spray from the holster when placed on your hip.
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 Mystery Ranch Bear Spray Holster at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Bent stakes suck. Stakes should be extremely light and strong and never fail. Adhering to those simple truths, the Nemo Airpin Ultralight Stakes ($19, 1.4 oz., set of four, or $10, 0.7 oz., set of two) demonstrated their mettle (or metal, if you will) on various trips, including a six-day traverse of over 90 miles in Glacier National Park. Made of aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum, they have three notches in the head, two facing downward and one facing upward. Run the tent’s stake cord under the first downward notch (labeled “O”), then over the second, upward notch (“OO”), and finally under the other downward notch (“OOO”), creating friction on the cord as you drive the stake into the ground—which is easier thanks to the stake’s tapered shape. No more bent tent pegs or stake cord popping off stakes.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase a set of four or two Nemo Airpin Ultralight Stakes at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or nemoequipment.com.
Lightweight First-Aid Kit
A first-aid kit can seem like something that just adds bulk and weight to a pack without getting used—but when you really need one, you don’t want to be without it. The compact but well-designed Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight .9 Medical Kit ($46, 12 oz.) resolves questions of utility versus weight. Contained in two layers of waterproof packaging in this kit are various wraps and bandages, a trauma pad and wide elastic wraps, blister treatment, an irrigation syringe and wound closure strips, medications for diarrhea, stomach issues, pain, and inflammation, and, of course, a mini roll of duct tape. I suggest adding a small tube of antibiotic ointment, but otherwise, this is a complete first-aid kit that doesn’t occupy excessive pack space.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase an Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight .9 Medical Kit at moosejaw.com.
For three-season backpacking—as well as dayhiking and trail running—low gaiters (not high ones, like you’d use in winter) are indispensable for keeping stones, debris, rain, and splashed water from puddles and wet trailside vegetation out of your footwear.
The DWR-coated, very breathable, stretch-woven nylon and polyurethane Kahtoola Renagaiter Low ($50, 2.5 oz.) and Renagaiter Mid ($60, 3.3 oz., both in two sizes), both available in two sizes, easily zip over hiking shoes and boots, fitting snugly to protect against dirt, stones, debris, and water getting inside your shoes. Excellent breathability means they don’t make your feet sweat on hot days—as I’ve found on local trail runs and on a nine-day hike of over 120 miles through the High Sierra in August, mostly on the John Muir Trail. The adjustable and tough DuraLink instep strap tucks into any shoe or boot lugs and its rounded shape prevents it snagging on rocks or roots; it also won’t get chewed up by rocks like some lighter nylon straps. While the Renagaiter Low is best for low-cut, lightweight shoes and the Mid for mid-cut boots, both adjust to fit a range of footwear, making them ideal for all backpacking, dayhiking, and trail-running uses.
I wore the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hybrid Gaiters ($39, 2.5 oz., two sizes) while trekking hut-to-hut for six days on Iceland’s Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, when it rained for parts of almost every day and we hiked at times over muddy trail; while backpacking and dayhiking from a base camp for three days in the first week of April in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon, frequently walking in the shallow river and using the gaiters to keep stones and sand out of my boots; as well as on local trail runs and hikes when wet snow covered the trails. Stretchy, breathable, wind- and water-resistant Ferrosi fabric kept my feet dry and is rated UPF 50+ for maximum UV protection. A tough, hypalon instep strap, hook-and-loop attachment for the shoe’s heel, and a drawcord cinch at the top hold the gaiters in place.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase the Kahtoola Renagaiter Mid or Renagaiter Low at rei.com, or the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hybrid Gaiters at moosejaw.com, backcountry.com, or outdoorresearch.com.
Light and small enough to carry into the backcountry, the Helinox Chair Zero ($150, 1 lb. 1 oz., not including 1-oz. stuff sack) will force you to ask yourself why you’d ever tolerate squatting on a rock or log in camp again. The chair consists of a fabric seat that slips over a shock-corded pole structure that forms the chair’s back and legs; and it assembles quickly, like a hubbed tent pole system.
The result is a comfortable seat that’s 20 inches wide, 19 inches deep, 25 inches tall, and whose bottom rises 11 inches above terra firma—unlike chair kits that, while less bulky, are often no lighter, and place your butt at ground level. It also, impressively, has a carrying capacity of 265 pounds, although 200-pounders might find the chair a little tippy, and packs down to 14x4x4 inches, roughly the dimensions of a lightweight backpacking air mattress. Unless you’re ultralight backpacking or thru-hiking, having a comfortable chair in camp may seem well worth the effort of carrying 17 ounces.
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 Helinox Chair Zero at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or various Helinox chairs and other products at backcountry.com.
Want my help planning any trip you read about at my blog?
Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.
Another comparably packable and light camp chair, the REI Flexlite Chair ($70, 1 lb., not including one-ounce stuff sack), assembles and packs away just as easily as the Helinox Chair Zero—for about half the price. The ripstop nylon mesh seat fabric breathes well, there’s a little pocket for a book, and the aluminum frame is sturdy. REI claims it has a weight capacity of 250 pounds, but I found it a bit more wobbly than the Chair Zero under the weight of my 160 pounds—although a friend weighing around 180 sat in and liked it.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase an REI Flexlite Chair at rei.com.
Want an even more comfortable camping chair? While too bulky and heavy for backpacking, the Helinox Sunset Chair ($170, 3 lbs. 8 oz.) will be the envy of your friends when car camping.
Is this review helpful to you? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside. Join now!
I generally consider camp shoes superfluous weight: I often hike in low-cut shoe and just wear them like slippers in camp, with the laces quite loose and the tongue flipped up. But when I need or want footwear for backpacking campsites, water fords, and paddling trips, two different types of footwear have become my go-to picks, depending on the trip.
For cooler backcountry trips, especially when hiking in midweight boots in wet climates, where I want warm, dry footwear in camp, I like the Allbirds Men’s Wool Runners ($95, 17 oz./pair US men’s 10). For backpacking in the Wind River Range and elsewhere, on hut and yurt trips, and for river fords, these lightweight, packable, comfortable, warm shoes were perfect. The uppers and insoles are made from super fine Merino wool—keeping feet warm even if wet—and instead of the EVA foam traditionally used in footwear, Allbirds uses SweetFoam, made from sugarcane, and calls it “the world’s first carbon-negative green EVA.” Sizing runs small; buy up one full size in men’s and women’s models. Allbirds.com.
Rhamani sandals ($80, 14 oz./pair US men’s 9) come in one style with multiple configurations, thanks to the removable heel and forefoot straps and retractable toe loop—and the strap system is secure enough that I took hikes from campsites, walking faint use trails and splashing through creeks, on a six-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. The contoured footbed feels plush and the outsole grips well on a variety of ground surfaces—packed-dirt trails, pebbly riverbanks, scrambling on rocks. Best of all: They weigh about half of many sports sandals. Sizing is standard whole sizes. rhamani.com.
Windproof, Waterproof Emergency Matches
The UCO Titan Matches ($12, 3 oz.). will fire up in any downpour, no matter how wet. Each thick, four-inch-long match provides 25 seconds of wind and waterproof burning; they even relight after being submerged in water. The kit includes 12 matches, three replaceable strikers, a waterproof case that floats, and a cord that attaches to a lanyard.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this link to purchase UCO Titan Matches at rei.com.
Sun and Bug Hats
On hot days from the Grand Canyon in spring and fall to the intense alpine sun in mountains like the High Sierra, I always wear a wide-brim hat to keep my squash from baking—which makes a big difference in how I feel over the course of hours hiking in such heat. And my pick is the Outdoor Research Papyrus Brim Sun Hat ($36, 3 oz.). The well-ventilated paper straw fabric allows air to pass through and my head to release heat, keeping me cooler, and the Supplex lining keeps sweat out of my eyes. It’s rated UPF 50+ for sun protection, the removable chin cord keeps strong gusts from stealing it, and it doesn’t bump against the top of my backpack when I’m hiking.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase an Outdoor Research Papyrus Brim Sun Hat at moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com.
Sometimes we wander into beautiful places in nature that are @#&*! full of biting insects. When the bugs are robbing you of your happy face, bust out an Outdoor Research Bug Helios Hat ($65, 4 oz.). It’s first and foremost a sun hat, with breathable, wicking fabric and a UPF rating of 50+ (although it’s not as cool as OR’s Papyrus Brim Sun Hat, above). But when the skeeters and other tiny nasties crash the party, just release the no-see-um bug mesh. It hangs over your face, head, and neck while the hat’s brim keeps it off your face, and tucks away unnoticed when unneeded. While the mesh has a gauzy effect that makes it a little difficult to see fine details in the landscape, it sure beats eating bugs.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase an Outdoor Research Bug Helios Hat at moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com, or any of OR’s Helios hats at outdoorresearch.com.
See also my recommended backpacking gear checklist and menus of all of my reviews of backpacks, backpacking boots, hiking shoes, tents, and sleeping bags. And don’t miss my picks for “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.
The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures.
Join now for full access to ALL stories and get a free e-guide and member gear discounts!
Not sure you’re ready to join, but want to support my blog?
Click here to leave a tip for The Big Outside! Thank you.
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” “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 “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.
36 thoughts on “25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories of 2023”
Thanks for sharing your experience! Two questions: Rhamani’s for water crossing/river sandals for Colorado River/Grand Canyon trip (vs Chaco, Bedrock, Teva); thoughts on Hydrapak Recon?
I like the Rhamani sandals for comfort and fit; their drawback, as with Chacos and some Tevas, are the open toes, leaving toes unprotected. For creek/water crossings in the Grand Canyon, closed-toe sandals probably aren’t urgent, you just need sandals with a secure strap system, like the ones I mentioned have. I haven’t seen the Bedrock or Recon.
Good luck with your trip!
Always enjoy your articles. Solid, unbiased info. It’s cool to see different perspectives, viewpoints and types of outdoor gear. Been doing outdoors for a long time and I still love seeing new gear and searching for the next upgrade or unique item to join my kit. Call me soft… but I gotta have my inflatable light. I am solo most of the time and isolated most of the time… but, but… man I gotta have my light. You know… to keep Samsquanches away.! Stay safe.
Ha! Thanks, John, and you keep those Samsquanches away.
This a personal opinion.
I like to climb, hike, and backpack and have done so in many places over several decades. I love the independence, freedom, and opportunities for creativity being in the wilderness has given me. What I noticed on your site is that you are often recommending top-of-the-line items that are beautiful, and excellent, but also very expensive. Something about that struck me as inefficacious for my purposes. I like to think of my choices of gear in view of efficiency in the sense that they do the job, are lightweight, and are a bargain. I think I could pick any of the products you listed, but take a knife for example. I think the knife you recommended was around $75 and weighs 4.6 ounces. When was the last time you used something besides the blade on your knife when backpacking? Many perfectly adequate knives that cost a fourth as much and weigh half as much are easily found. I’m sure many would disagree, but I would feel like a sucker spending $75 on an item that weighs and costs a lot more than necessary. I do purchase high-end equipment when I feel it is necessary to get the quality and weight reduction I feel I need.
I hope you are not touting the most expensive gear simply because you are getting a higher commission.
I fully respect and understand your approach to buying gear. I do use other tools on a multi-tool or knife at times and like having them. Affiliate commissions are not based on the price of anything; I review gear and apparel that I think represents the best in its category and yes, it often costs more than gear that doesn’t perform as well.
Thanks for writing and enjoy your adventures.
To go with the Katadyn Base Camp Pro add a ‘Millbank Bag’ (or its modern equivalent) to pre-filter silted or muddy water.
I found this list impressive though I have some equivalents at lower prices. I will consider some of these items for my next trip – if I can get them in the UK.
(I looked at Sierra Designs Cloud 800 yesterday and found they are not shipping to the UK at the moment)
Thanks for that suggestion, Simon.
We have a BV500. Of course it adds some bulk and weight but it is a handy way to store/carry food. It doubles as a stool as well. It can help keep smaller critters out of food without needing to hang food in a tree (if there is a tree around). Would you agree or disagree that the weight and bulk of the BV500 can still be worth carrying on most trips, especially if they are 3-4 days in duration and for two people? Thanks
….this is assuming that it is not required by the park in which you are hiking.
Yes, the BV500, with careful packing, may fit food for two people for a trip of three to four days.
Sorry, but to be more clear, is it worth carrying and storing food in he BV5000 even if the area doesn’t require it?
Oh, sorry I misunderstood, Brian. Yes, even if the management agency doesn’t require bear canisters, they have the same pros and cons: Easier and more secure storage of food from all animals, while adding weight and bulk to your pack. I still decide based on the location and relative threat of bears getting food and ease of hanging food as an option.
If no there are no bears but small critters may be around what do you tend to do/recommend the most for food storage?
Mice and other rodents can be the primary concern, especially in designated or heavily used campsites. For example, I just finished backpacking five days in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park (great hike). In the desert and other environments where bears aren’t really a concern, hang your food just high enough off the ground (a couple of feet is enough) that rodents can’t reach it or climb down to it and ravens (a common problem in the desert) can’t perch on a nearby branch and reach it. There may be juniper, cottonwood, or other trees for that. If not, I’ve brought it into my tent, but be careful about that because some rodents will chew through tent fabric to get it.
Brian, If you’re trying to minimize weight, you might consider acquiring an Ursack. I’ve never had a problem with bears or rodents with one. Please note that certain national parks (e.g., Yosemite) require bear canisters though.
First day seeing your posts, they are very helpful. I have had a long-lasting question, do UV filters work? Are they worth carrying over purifying tablets that change the taste of your water? You don’t taste any difference after time, but would it be a more worthy investment if on a long backpacking trip and for the long term price difference? Also, there are these tablets called P & G tablet packets that filter and purify water. Do you trust them? Would you use them? Thank you so much for your post.
Hi William, glad you found my blog and thanks for the compliment. I hope you continue reading regularly and signed up for my free email newsletter.
I’ve used UV filters like the SteriPen, and while I can’t say I’ve tested the manufacturer claims scientifically, I can report I’ve never gotten sick using one, and I’m very confident their claims are accurate, based on their widespread use by backcountry travelers and the legal ramifications of making entirely false claims. I’m sure you’ve probably read that UV filters are 99.9 percent effective at killing viruses and bacteria (although they do not remove them from water), and they do so without affecting taste or adding chlorine to the water.
I’m not familiar with P&G tablets, but from what little I’ve read about them, they seem legit. However, they are probably overkill and unnecessarily time-consuming for use with clear backcountry water sources, and potentially more useful with backcountry water sources that are heavily silted, like desert (think: Southwest) and glaciated (think: Alaska) rivers.
I generally choose a water treatment method based on the expected water quality where I’m going and the number of people in my party. A UV filter, of course, treats one liter at a time, so it becomes quite time-consuming with more than two or three people. A gravity filter is the most efficient method for a group, but I use it only with clear water, because silted water can clog them quickly. For individual use in places where clear water sources are frequent, I like the convenience of a water filter bottle such as the Lifestraw Go. See this menu of all of my reviews of water filters.
Thanks for the good question. Keep in touch.
Great list. What do you recommend for knife/multi-tool?
My favorite piece of extra gear is the Leatherman Micra. I used to carry a small-ish fixed blade knife, but it was heavy and I rarely used it for anything but opening freeze dried food or cutting paracord. This little guy – with scissors – is perfect!
Good suggestion, Roque, but for a fully loaded but lightweight multi-tool, I lean toward the Leatherman Wave+. But since the Micra is simpler and much less expensive, I decided to add both to my review (above) because I really like your suggestion, so thanks!
I agree. I carry the Micra in my first aid kit actually. The little knife is adequate for survival purposes and the person I am usually hiking with carries something much larger if I want cut tent stakes or skin a grizzle bear. 🙂
Ah, then you do approve of having a larger knife at times! That’s good.
Thanks, Michael – fantastic list and reviews. Love your work and guides!
Thanks very much, Paul.
Do you find camp shoes helpful?
Great site! I’m heading out on the JMT Aug. 9!!!
Nice to hear from you and congrats again on your upcoming JMT trip. I was happy to give you a custom trip planning consult for that.
Sure, I sometimes bring camp shoes on a backpacking trip, but more so when I’m backpacking in midweight/warm boots. When I’m hiking in breathable, cool, low-cut shoes—which is often when I’m also trying to keep my pack as light as possible—I forego the camp shoes and simply wear my low-cuts with the laces loosened and the tops wide open, to keep my feet cool. I find that very comfortable.
In other words, I decide on camp shoes within the context of how I approach each trip. When I thru-hiked the JMT, I wore very breathable low-cut shoes and did not need camp shoes.
Good luck with your JMT hike!
My favorite accessory is my LumenAid collapsible solar powered lantern. Lightweight, takes up very little space, no batteries needed, soft glowing light in several brightness settings including flashing. Also has a neat little attachment strap for hanging in my tent. The whole thing is really durable too.
Thanks for that suggestion, Beau, it does look nice. Here’s a link for anyone interested in it: rei.com.
Enjoying your site from Oxon, UK, and was interested in this rei lantern.
Thought ought to let you know that, from here, the link doesn’t seem to work.
Hope all is going well; you are bookmarked pretty comprehensively here!
Thanks and every good wish.
Thanks for the compliments, Ed, and I update the links in this story as frequently as I can, but I appreciate the heads-up.
I have been looking at the Hydrapak collapsible bottle now that Nalgene isn’t making the soft sided 1l water bottles (which I love). Do you think this will hold up through more than a year of use? (I hike/backpack a lot.)
Hi Shannon, yes, I think it’s quite durable. When empty and collapsed, it’s virtually indestructible. When there’s water inside, that gives the bottle more structure. If you drop it, the soft walls will absorb some shock. If you drop it from a height with water (thus, weight) inside, you could crack the plastic parts, of course. But it should last a long time with normal use.
Good list of items Michael. I bring a pillow case and then stuff my puffy into it for a nice down pillow. This adds minimal weight since I pretty much always bring my puffy on trips.
Definitely a good idea, Chris. Thanks for sharing that.
Great list of items with good suggestions!
I am planning a backpacking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in early September. They require bear canisters. I was going to purchase a Bear Vault BV500. However, in reading other reviews, this bear canister is no longer allowed in the Adirondacks. Do you still recommend it? Is there another type you would recommend?
Thanks for the comment and good question. I have read about the specific black bear known as Yellow Yellow in the Adirondacks getting into multiple BV500 bear canisters. Some experts have speculated that the bear has simply had numerous opportunities to experiment with that type of canister and decipher it. I’ve also read about documented cases of black bears getting into various models of bear canisters in Yosemite.
Here’s my take on it: I don’t think these incidents are the result of a design failure of any particular type of canister—a conclusion that seems validated by the fact that other types have been accessed by bears. The reason has often been human error when sealing the canister, too. But apparently a few bears have figured out how to actually open the lid.
I think it’s simply a matter of a small number of bears in isolated backcountry areas with unusually high volumes of human/backpacker traffic getting enough opportunities to learn a skill. I’ve seen no evidence that this has been widespread.
I’ll continue to use my BV500 canisters confidently, and make sure they are sealed properly. These isolated incidents strike me as the equivalent of lightning strikes: Rare and also occasionally the result of someone increasing the risk due to their behavior (or failure to properly secure a canister).
Unless rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park specifically advise against using that type of canister there, I think you’d be fine using it—or as safe as probably with any other canister.
Hope that’s helpful. Good luck and have a fun and safe trip.