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Backpack Camping Gear Recommendations

Ever wanted to backpack camp in a national park? Maybe get more serious and backpack camp a night or two? That’s exactly what co-owners Ryan Sundermann and Steve Shriver did this past June. Read more about their trip here. This post is to share the gear they used and some advice for those looking to tackle a similar trip. 

Below is a list of gear recommendations Ryan has provided from his 4 day, 3 night backpacking camping trip to Grand Teton National Park in June 2020. 

The trip took place in June, but it’s important to note that it's not uncommon to experience temperatures in the 20’s or 30’s overnight at altitude. 

What camping pack would you recommend?

For a 4 night trip you’ll likely want a 55-80L pack. If you’re going out with your buddies and can split the gear evenly, carrying 55L packs will likely do the trick. If you’re a dad packing for a family, you may want to go with a large volume pack like Osprey Atmos/Aura (65L) or Gregory Paragon (58L) or Maven (55L).

Product recommendation:

Both Gregory & Osprey make high quality packs that will carry everything you’ll need. Since they’re made explicitly for backpack camping, they have several features that make your life easier on the trail. 

What tent would you recommend?

When backpack camping, tent dimensions and weight are the primary factors. You might be thinking, what about tent sleeping capacity? Tent sleeping capacity is important as it gives you a general guideline of how many people the tent was designed to sleep comfortably. That said, the sleeping capacity doesn’t take into consideration the size of your sleeping pads or storage space for your packs. Just because a tent is rated as a 2 (or 3, 4, etc) person tent, does not mean you’ll be able to fit your sleeping pads in the tent or your packs out of the rain. 

If you’re going with multiple people, do a double check on the floor dimensions of your tent to make sure it's large enough to accommodate your sleeping pads and room for everyone’s packs. 

Weight is pretty straightforward. The lighter the tent, the further you can go into the backcountry. You will notice a big difference in carrying a 3lb tent and a 10lb tent. 

Product recommendation:

Big Agnes Salt Creek 2P or 3P. Big Agnes or Nemo tents are some of the best backpack camping tents out there. Invest in ultralight only if you really need it. Yes, you will notice a big difference in a 3lb tent vs a 10lb tent. You likely won’t notice as much of a difference between 3lb 4 oz ultralight tent and a 3lb 14oz superlight tent. 

What type of sleeping bag/pad would you recommend?

Sleeping pad

This really depends on the time of the year and expected temperatures. Generally having an insulated sleeping pad would be recommended regardless of the season. It’s better to have that insulation and not need it, than to need it and not have it. 

After that, choosing the right sleeping pad is a matter of comfort. It might be worth it to you to carry a slightly heavier sleeping pad if it means you’ll sleep better and wake up more rested. 

Other sleeping pad tips

  • Always bring a repair kit. Holes happen. 
  • Bring along tried and true closed cell foam pad. Most reliable and versatile. It doesn’t compact down but can be used for a camp chair or to sit/kneel on it while cooking. 

Sleeping bag

If you’re hiking a significant distance, having a down filled sleeping bag would be recommended. Down sleeping bags are lighter and can pack down smaller than synthetic sleeping bags. A smaller sleeping bag means more space in the pack. A lighter sleeping bag means you can camp in more remote locations. 

Depending on the anticipated temperatures, you may want to add a thermal blanket or sleeping bag liner to your pack list. If it’s going to be warm you may only need a light blanket. If it’s going to be cold, having an extra layer will add the needed warmth to help you get a good night’s rest. 

Nemo Disco 30 men’s or women’s for bags, 

Big Agnes or Thermarest for pads

What do you recommend for a backpack camp cooking setup?

Camp stove

We recommend a lightweight stove from MSR or SOTO. Each of these manufacturers provide compact and lightweight cooking systems. Having an integrated camp stove where the cooking element (the pan) is integrated with the heating element, is a more efficient setup. Though, you may want to explore a non-integrated system to give you more flexibility for cooking meals. 

Camp stove fuel

For the purposes of this post we’re primarily referring to propane fueled stoves. If you’re looking to travel internationally you may also want to consider a stove that will run on multiple fuel types such as white gas or gas. 

Camping food

Knowing how long you’ll be camping and how much food and fuel to pack is an inexact science. Having enough is important but having too much can be unnecessary weight. Carrying snacks like Clif Bars, peanut M&Ms and easy access sugar items like Skittles are calorie dense options that can help satisfy your appetite between full meals. We also recommend caffeinated options such as Jelly Belly or Cliff Bloks energy chews. 

For full meals we recommend dehydrated Good to Go and Backpackers Pantry. There has been an explosion of dehydrated food options for a variety of diets and meal types. Check out your local outdoor store for options and recommendations. 

What do you recommend for purifying drinking water?

When it comes to water purification, we’re partial to using a water filtration system. Of the four water purification methods (boiling, iodine tablets, UV light and filtration system), we’ve found the filtration system to be the best tasting, most convenient method for getting pure drinking water. 

We carried the MSR Trail Base™ Water Filter Kit on the Tetons trip. We liked that it could be used as a hand pump system or a gravity filtration system. We were able to fill up all 3 hikers’ hydration packs in less than 20 minutes. 

What clothing items did you bring? Did you bring too much? Or something you forgot?

When you’re carrying your gear you want to carry as few clothing items as you can. You don’t want to be unprepared for the weather conditions, but you also don’t want to be carrying clothing items you won’t need.

What you’ll need for your backpack camping trip will vary by the area of the country and the time of the year. Below are a few recommendations based on the Tetons trip this past June. 

  • 2-3 shirts, 2-3 underwear, 3 socks. Plan to rinse out and reuse. “Everyone is same amount of stinky and you don’t notice it”. 
  • Bring along items that layer well 
  • Merino wool socks. Smartwool or Darn Tough brands are great and made to be worn multiple days on the trail. Choose a thickness and length depending on season. You can always rinse and dry by strapping on to pack while you wear your other pair. 
  • Great hiking boots that are broken in - Salomon, Oboz or Danner all make great hiking boots/shoes, require a minimal break-in period and are built to last. 
  • Baselayer leggings - Patagonia or Smartwool leggings are a wonderful clothing item to bring along on a backpack camping trip when you know you’ll be experiencing cool temperatures. They’re a Merino wool blend so they wick sweat, are naturally odor resistant and are incredibly light for the warmth they generate. 
  • Windproof/Waterproof pants. Cheap is fine because you likely won’t use them often. Waterproof pants will come in handy if you need to hike in the rain or you need to move around your campsite in the rain.
  • Pants - Depending on the expected temperatures, you may only need one pair of regular pants. (in addition to your waterproof shell pants) Fjallraven or Kuhl makes multiple thicknesses of pants - light covering almost perforated all the way to heavy thickness that can withstand abrasions and are slightly wind/water resistant
  • 2 Shirts - Mix and match short and long sleeves to match weather conditions. You may also consider long underwear or a technical shirt.
    Patagonia & Smartwool make base layer shirts and long sleeve shirts. Just make sure there’s no cotton in your baselayer.  Pick a Merino wool blend and thickness to match your anticipated weather conditions. A good base layer should be breathable, protect your skin from the sun, wick away sweat and keep you warm when the temperature goes down. 
  • A fleece or down second layer. A thin and warm middle layer is a great item to pack if you know the temperature is going to be cool to cold. A fleece or down second layer is a more breathable option that helps you regulate temperature if you’re hiking or hanging around camp and the sun is starting to go down. Items made of natural down will compact smaller and provide more heat than synthetic materials. Though, there are great synthetic options out there as well. Check out Patagonia, KUHL, Outdoor research
  • A Waterproof jacket/shell - This will be your base jacket used throughout your trip. Waterproof and windblocking help you stay warm and dry. Picking an option with armpit vents is a nice option but may not be required. Patagonia, Outdoor Research and Arc’teryx make some of the best shells on the market. 
  • Light pair of gloves - pack a pair of gloves to match the anticipated weather temperatures. The air temperature doesn’t need to be that cold for your fingers to get chilled. If you know you’ll experience below freezing temperatures, you may consider packing 2 pairs of gloves. A lighter glove that offers some dexterity and a heavier waterproof mitten that helps keep your hands warm and dry.

What gear made your trip easier?

  • LED Lantern for the tent and Headlamp is mandatory - great ones not expensive at SOKO
  • Trekking poles - Trekking poles help relieve your lower body of some of the work while you’re hiking. It takes more effort to balance your upper body when you’re carrying a heavy pack. They’ll help you maintain balance while you’re carrying a heavier pack and ha MSR and Leki 
  • If you’re traveling to the Western or Smoky Mountains, you’ll need a bear canister and dehydrated food. We’d strongly encourage you explore your bear canister options before you get to your destination. There’s no reason to pick up a more expensive and heavier bear canister at your trailhead, when you could pick up a more compact, lighter and just as effective canister at your local outdoor store. 
  • Micro-Spikes or baby crampons. Pull over shoes for increased traction over snow and ice. You can go a lot more places than with regular hiking boots. Also sell small crampons, step up from spikes. Most people out there that’s all they carry this time of year. Pack up size of ziploc baggie. - nothing worse than getting to the last 100 yards of a trail and have it be snow covered and not be able to pass. In this scenario the micro-spikes/crampons could be life saving
  • Knife - not big. Leatherman tool in case zippers break or you cant get screw open on headlamp, etc. 
  • Always bring a second stocking cap. Don’t want to go without 30% of heat is lost from your head even though only 9% of your body surface 

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