A backpacker and a rainbow in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

The Best Backpacking Gear of 2018

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By Michael Lanza

Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. The Tetons. 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 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 four 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 (without increasing your cost at all—in fact, 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, and definitely check out my e-guides to America’s best backpacking trips.


A woman backpacker on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

The Osprey Aura AG 65 on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.


Best Overall: Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65 
Best Ultralight: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
Best Weight-to-Performance Ratio: The North Face Banchee 65
Best For Heavy Loads: Gregory Baltoro 75 and Deva 70


Buy smart with my pro tips on buying a backpack, backpacking tent, hiking shoes or boots, and a sleeping bag.


Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent in North Cascades National Park.


Best Overall: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
Best Ultralight: Slingfin 2Lite Trek
Best For Space: Sierra Designs Flash 2 FL
Killer Value: Marmot Tungsten UL 2P


Your trips will go better with the right gear. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and “The 5 Best Backpacking Tents.”


Asolo Thyrus Gv boots.

The Asolo Thyrus Gv boots.

Shoes and Boots

Best Overall: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
Best Ultralight: La Sportiva TX3
Best Lightweight Comfort: Asolo Thyrus Gv
Killer Value: Oboz Scapegoat Mid


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


REI Magma 10 sleeping bag.

The REI Magma 10 sleeping bag in the Wind River Range.

Sleeping Bag

Best Overall: REI Magma 10 and Magma 17
Roomiest Mummy: Big Agnes Picket SL 30
Best Ultralight: Western Mountaineering Summerlite


What do you really need for backpacking? See my “Essentials-Only Backpacking Gear Checklist.”


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm air mattress.

Air Mattress

Best Insulation: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Best Ultralight: Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air
Best Value and Comfort: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra
Best Inflatable Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Ultra Light


Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.


The Sea to Summit X-Set 31 packed.

The Sea to Summit X-Set 31 packed.

Camp Kitchen

Best Ultralight Stove: MSR PocketRocket 2
Best Ultralight Pot: MSR Big Titan Kettle
Best Cook Set: Sea to Summit X-Pot Set 31
Best Solo Stove: Jetboil MiniMo
Best Family/Group Stove: Jetboil Joule
Best Bear Canister: Bear Vault BV500


I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.


The LifeStraw Go Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The LifeStraw Go Bottle With 2-Stage Filtration in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Water Treatment

Best Pump Filter: MSR Hyperflow
Best Gravity Filter: Katadyn Base Camp Pro 10L
Best Filter Bottle: Lifestraw Go
Best Ultralight Personal Filter: MSR TrailShot


Don’t just curse the darkness. Light it with one of “The 5 Best Headlamps.”


The Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

Testing the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Clothing Layering System

Best Rain Jacket: Outdoor Research Realm Jacket
Best Down Jacket: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody
Best Synthetic Jacket: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody or The North Face ThermoBall Jacket
Base Layer Top: The North Face Warm Long-Sleeve Zip Neck
Pants: Kuhl Renegade Cargo Convertible Pants (review coming soon)


Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.


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