camping gear reviews

A backpacker hiking the Highline Trail past Elbow Lake in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories of 2023

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.

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The Biolite Firepit+

Review: BioLite Firepit+ Portable Backyard Fire Pit and Grill

Portable Backyard/Camping Firepit and Grill
BioLite Firepit+
$300, 20 lbs./9kg

Many of us learned a lot about what we liked during the pandemic and many of those newly discovered or rediscovered likes have stayed with us—like sitting out in the back yard to eat and socialize. We realized (or were reminded): Hey, it’s nice sitting out here! That included evenings when cool temperatures might have previously driven us indoors. So we sought ways to heat our domestic outdoor spaces. Enter the BioLite Firepit+, a more civilized and controllable evolution of the old stone-ringed (sometimes smoky and not very heat-efficient), backyard fire pit.

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Backpackers at night with headlamps in a campsite in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park.

The Best Headlamps of 2023

By Michael Lanza

A headlamp is unquestionably essential gear for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, ultra-running and ultra-hiking and other backcountry activities that sometimes push into darkness (whether intentionally or not). But with so many to pick from, how do you choose which one to buy? Price? Brightness? Weight? Design and range of lighting modes? Go with a brand you know and trust? This review cuts through the information overload to help you pick the right headlamp for your adventures.

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The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT air mattress.

Review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Air Mattress

Insulated Air Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
$200, 11.5 oz./330g (size regular short, not including stuff sack or pump sack)
Sizes: four sizes from 20×66 inches/51x168cm to 25×77 inches/64x176cm

Choosing the absolute lightest air mattress you find doesn’t always go well: The hours of sleep lost to discomfort may exceed the weight savings in ounces. Put another way, the personal energy lost through a poor night of sleep may eclipse what you gain from shaving a few ounces of pack weight. The latest iteration of Therm-a-Rest’s ultralight NeoAir XLite air mats, the NXT, will flip that equation to the positive side of the energy ledger for many backpackers, as it did for me on several spring and summer backpacking trips.

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The Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30 sleeping bag.

Review: Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30 Sleeping Bag

Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30
$450, 1 lb. 6 oz./624g (unisex regular, 72-inch)
Sizes: unisex short ($440), regular, long ($480)

Look at specs when shopping for a high-quality, ultralight, three-season sleeping bag and you might quickly trim your short list to about five models, all at basically similar weights and price points. But having slept in most of those top bags—and after sleeping in Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom 30 on cool nights on backpacking trips from a section of the Arizona Trail in the first days of April and camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks in June to the Canadian Rockies and Wind River Range in August—I place the Phantom 30 among the two or (maybe) three very best ultralight mummy bags for its strategic balance between low weight and excellent warmth. Here’s why.

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