The Best Backpacking Gear of 2019
By Michael Lanza
Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. The Tetons. Glacier National Park. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park. The Wind River Range. The North Cascades. The Tour du Mont Blanc. New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The Canadian Rockies. Paria Canyon. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear you see reviewed at The Big Outside. I treat gear roughly in mountains and canyons that are notoriously hard on outdoor gear and apparel so that I can give you brutally honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you make the best gear choices for your adventures.
And that’s exactly how I came up with these select picks for today’s best backpacking gear.
Nearly three decades of testing outdoor gear and apparel—including many years as the lead gear reviewer and Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine (see my About page for more about me and this blog)—have honed my ability to identify gear that’s truly outstanding, at the cutting edge technologically, and a good value.
In this article, I share my top picks for a basic backpacking gear kit, from the three to five best packs, tents, boots, and sleeping bags—because everyone has different needs—to air mattresses, camp kitchen, water treatment, and clothing layers.
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Each item on this list links to my complete review of it, where you can get more details and find links to online retailers for purchasing it; in a few cases, those links are to a multi-product review, like my favorite backpacking accessories. Purchasing through those links helps support my work on The Big Outside—and you’ll usually find the best prices at those links.
I’d love to read what you think of my gear picks, or your experiences with any of this gear or other stuff; share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this story. And please consider sharing this story with other backpackers you think might find it useful.
By the way, you can find my stories about the many places I’ve backpacked in the menus at my All Trips page or by using the search box or tag cloud in the sidebar, and definitely check out my e-guides to America’s best hikes and backpacking trips.
Click on the name of any product below to read its complete review.
Best Overall: Osprey Atmos AG 65 (buy it now) and Aura AG 65 (buy it now), both $270, 4 lbs. 11 oz.
Best Durability and Waterproof: Arc’teryx Bora AR 50, $499, 4 lbs. 13 oz. Buy it now.
Best Weight-to-Performance Ratio: The North Face Banchee 65, $239, 3 lbs. 12 oz. Buy it now.
Best For Heavy Loads: Gregory Baltoro 65 (buy it now) and Deva 60 (buy it now), both $300, 4 lbs. 15 oz.
Best Ultralight Pack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
$345, 1 lb. 15 oz.
Many ultralight packs lack the support for carrying more than about 25 pounds comfortably. HMG’s 3400 Windrider handles 30 to 35 pounds, has the capacity for a week between resupplies, and weighs much less than some best-selling competitors. Its tough Dyneema Composite Fabrics is fully waterproof. The fixed suspension comes in four sizes and the simple harness system works. Its minimalist design, durability, capacity, comfort, and low weight will appeal to many backpackers who prefer hiking over simply hauling. Read my full review.
Best Overall: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2, $450, 2 lbs. 12 oz. Buy it now.
Best 2-Person Ultralight: Slingfin 2Lite Trek, $329, 2 lbs. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Solo Ultralight: Gossamer Gear The One, $300, 1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Space: Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL, $400, 3 lbs. 10 oz. Buy it now.
Killer Value Tent
Marmot Tungsten UL 2P
$299, 3 lbs. 4 oz.
Sure, weight is important when evaluating a tent. But space—and especially the space-to-weight ratio—merits equal consideration, particularly for taller people. The Tungsten UL 2P offers more square footage than virtually any comparable freestanding, three-season, two-person tent, while still weighing in just ounces over three pounds—and costs less than virtually all competitors in its category. I have some nitpicks with it, but it’s a sturdy tent and a super value. Read my full review.
Your trips will go better with the right gear. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and “The 5 Best Backpacking Tents.”
Shoes and Boots
Best Backpacking Boots: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, $250, 2 lbs. 7 oz. Buy it now.
Best Lightweight Comfort Boots: Asolo Thyrus Gv, $235, 2 lbs. 5 oz. Buy it now.
Best Hiking Shoes: La Sportiva TX3, $135, 1 lb. 9 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Hiking-Running Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 12, $130, 1 lb. 10 oz. Buy it now.
Killer Value: Oboz Scapegoat Mid, $145, 2 lbs. 2 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Boots
The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX
$160, 1 lb. 15 oz.
Supportive, durable, waterproof-breathable, mid-cut boots that weigh under two pounds are a rare breed. And I’ve worn enough lightweight boots to know that many do not measure up when it comes to delivering support and stability. The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX achieve a rare blend of the support, protection, waterproofness, and durability of many midweight mid-cuts with the low weight and nimble feel of ultralight low-cuts. They’re versatile enough for standard or ultralight backpacking or dayhiking—at a good price. Read my full review.
Buy smart with my pro tips on buying a backpack, backpacking tent, hiking shoes or boots, and a sleeping bag.
Best Overall: REI Magma 10 and Magma 17, $349, 1 lb. 13 oz. Buy it now.
Roomiest Mummy: Big Agnes Picket SL 30, $260, 2 lbs. 4 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight: Western Mountaineering Summerlite, $390, 1 lb. 3 oz. Buy it now.
Killer Value Bag
Sierra Designs Nitro 800 20-Degree
$330, 1 lb. 13 oz.
When shopping for sleeping bags, it’s helpful to compare certain key specs: temperature rating, type and amount of insulation (or fill), total weight, and, of course, the price. Using those metrics, the new Sierra Designs Nitro 20-Degree looks really good, with water-resistant, 800-fill-power DriDown feathers, enough warmth for sub-freezing temps, a cut that delivers more generous space than many bags—all at a weight south of two pounds. The Nitro series includes several men’s and women’s models at competitive prices. Read my full review.
What do you really need for backpacking? See my “Essentials-Only Backpacking Gear Checklist.”
Clothing Layering System
Best Down Jacket: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody, $379, 11 oz. (buy it now), or Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket, $309, 11 oz. (buy it now).
Best Synthetic Jacket: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, $249, 12 oz. (buy it now) or The North Face ThermoBall Jacket, $199, 12 oz. (buy it now).
Base Layer Top: The North Face Warm Long-Sleeve Zip Neck., $60, 8 oz. Buy it now.
Pants: Kuhl Renegade Cargo Convertible Pants (review coming soon). Buy it now.
Best Rain Jacket
Wear enough waterproof-breathable shells for the backcountry and you understand what really separates the excellent from the mediocre: It’s the second half of that hyphenated adjective—the “breathable” part. Too many jackets, while keeping rain out, will cause you to overheat so much when exerting (like carrying a backpack uphill) that you’re as wet as you would be walking in the rain without the jacket. That’s where these two Outdoor Research shells really shine. The Realm Jacket and OR’s newer Interstellar Jacket (review coming soon), which is simply an improved version of the Realm (although both are still available, and you can often find the Realm on sale), both use OR’s highly breathable, proprietary AscentShell membrane, which moves moisture out faster than any three-season jacket I’ve used. Both are lightweight and have fully technical, adjustable hoods and other features found in high-end shells—at prices radically lower than the top competitors. Read my full review.
Which puffy should you buy? See my “Review: The 10 Best Down Jackets” and
“Ask Me: How Can You Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is?”
Best Insulation: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, $200, 15 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight: Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air, $180, 13 oz. Buy it now.
Best Value and Comfort: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra, $100, 1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Inflatable Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultra Light, $43, 2.5 oz. Buy it now.
Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
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Best Ultralight Pot: MSR Big Titan Kettle, $100, 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Cook Set: Sea to Summit X-Set 31, $110, 1 lb. 6 oz. Buy it now.
Best Solo Stove: Jetboil MiniMo, $135, 1 lb. 1 oz. Buy it now.
Best Family/Group Stove: Jetboil Joule, $200, 1 lb. 12 oz. Buy it now.
Best Bear Canister: Bear Vault BV500, $80, 2 lbs. 8 oz. Buy it now.
Don’t just curse the darkness. Light it with one of “The 5 Best Headlamps.”
Best Ultralight Stove
MSR PocketRocket 2
$45, 3 oz. (4 oz. with plastic case, included)
Backcountry stoves come in a variety of designs these days. But in many respects, the simplest design remains the most versatile and reliable, and the PocketRocket 2 embodies everything a backpacking stove should be. It fires up easily every time, boils water fast, has good flame control for wilderness gourmands, weighs next to nothing, and costs less than many of its best competitors. Whereas some types of stoves have limitations on what you can cook with them, you can use the PocketRocket 2 for cooking almost anything, almost anywhere, for any size party (or more than one stove for a large group). That may explain why it’s so popular. Read my full review.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Best Pump Filter: MSR Hyperflow, $100, 9 oz. Buy it now.
Best Gravity Filter: Katadyn Base Camp Pro 10L, $100, 12 oz. Buy it now.
Best Filter Bottle: Lifestraw Go, $45, 8 oz. Buy it now.
Best Ultralight Personal Filter: Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System 0.6L, 1L, or 3L bottle, $40-$55, 2.5-3.5 oz. Buy it now.
Tell me what you think.
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