7 Essential Pieces of Gear for First Time Backpackers
Going on your first backpacking trip can be very intimidating, especially if you have never slept outside! First timers need to think about gear for obvious reasons (safety, comfort, and peace of mind), but don't overthink it to the point where you never leave the house! Here are a couple tried and true pieces of gear that can help get your first trip off on the right foot.
Even in the long daylight hours of summer, a good headlamp is essential for any backpacking trip. From navigating nighttime calls of nature to reading a book, a good headlamp will make your life easier. Look for a headlamp with multiple brightness settings and a long battery life (Petzl TIKKINA has 220 burn time!). Use the headlamp on the dimmest setting necessary for the task. Most headlamps also have a flashing function which can be used as an emergency beacon. No need to get spendy with a headlamp; lots of great options can be found for under $30.
PETZL - TIKKINA Headlamp - Check current price on Amazon
First Aid Kit
We use a fairly small and comprehensive first aid kit, and replenish it often with more pills, band-aids, gauze, and ointment. Many first aid kits are very large in size, and would be better suited for camping out of a car. Adventure Medical Kits makes a full lineup of kits that come in waterproof, resealable packages. We recommend carrying a 1-2 person kit, simply because they are light and compact. If you are traveling with a family or larger group, simply carry additional band-aids, itch cream, and other supplies in a small zip lock bag. If you need more information about how to eliminate blisters before they start, check out this article.
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Kit - Check current price on Amazon
Walk into any sporting goods store that sells backpacking gear and you will find sleeping pads. The problem is, most of them will be very expensive! If you are on your first backpacking trip, you can still sleep in comfort with an inexpensive pad. Look for a pad like the Sleepingo that is around 2" thick. This will enable you to sleep without your rear end, shoulder, or hip bones touching the ground. Unless you are camping in colder weather, don't worry about the R value. If you happen to be backpacking in spring or fall, check out the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker. It will keep you more insulated from the cold ground than a summer-style pad.
Sleepingo Ultralight Sleeping Pad (summer pad) - Check current price on Amazon
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker (3 season pad) - Check current price on Amazon
Buying a sleeping bag can be a very confusing endeavor. Down vs. synthetic? Long vs. regular length? Right zip vs. left? Quilt vs. mummy style? For a sleeping bag (or quilt), buy the best you can afford. They are an investment that will last for a decade or more if you take care of them. We recommend going with down over synthetic. Why? Down is lighter will compress more than synthetic (read take up less room in your pack). It does however, lose its insulating properties if it gets wet. So don't let it get wet! If you are in between sizes (long vs. regular), opt for the long size. If you want a tried and true mummy bag style, check out the Kelty Cosmic 20 down bag. If you are curious about quilts, look into Enlightened Equipment. Quilts are generally lighter than sleeping bags, and give you more flexibility for regulating your temperature.
Kelty Cosmic 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag - Check current price on Amazon
In the backcountry your camping location is often decided by it's proximity to fresh water. However, even clear running mountain streams need purified before drinking. Nothing cuts a trip short like a case of giardia. There are lots of options to pick from. If you don't want to mess with chemicals, and want less weight than a full on pump style filter, then the Sawyer Squeeze is a great option. It removes greater than 99. 99999% of all bacteria and 99. 9999% of all protozoa (also filters 100% of micro plastics).
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter - Check current price on Amazon
One thing every backpacker should learn is how to start a fire under difficult circumstances (wet and windy weather). In the event you can't get a fire started, having a foolproof fire starter in your pack can save the day (and lots of matches). For those hard to start situations, we recommend Pyro Putty. It's super compact, waterproof, and one quarter sized piece will burn for up to 15 minutes!
Pyro Putty - Available at Alpen Fuel
There are a zillion stoves on the market, and many different types of fuels. Each type of fuel works under an ideal set of conditions. For example, don't use an alcohol stove in the winter. The ideal first time backpacker stove relatively inexpensive, easy to light, and would work year-round. The MSR Pocket Rocket II fits that criteria. It runs on isobutane, a four-season blend of butane and propane. Simply screw on the isobutane canister, fire up your Bic lighter, turn the fuel flow on, and get busy cooking! If you are looking for a budget option, check out the BRS-3000T.
MSR Pocket Rocket II Stove - Check current price on Amazon
BRS-3000T Stove - Check current price on Amazon
We hope these essential gear items help get you started. Make sure to also bring a map and compass (and learn how to use them)! If you need help with backcountry food, check out our backcountry food store. Drop us a line if you have questions!
Leave us a comment, what are your first-time essentials?
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Excellent review, thank you. I am exactly the guy you are talking about: Just getting into hiking, camping, kayaking, etc. building up my gear slowly, buying a couple of items a year.
As someone who is considering backpacking / bikepacking, this is very helpful. Thanks!
Ha, the first item got me! I would not have thought of a headlamp, makes a lot of sense.
I plan on doing my first ever solo backpack/camp this year and put some of these on my list of things to get. Very helpful articles!
Thanks for the info. Good stuff! Especially excited about the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filters.