Admit it — you feel a serious spike in stoke level when you purchase a new piece of gear. It could be a small item, like a sleeping bag liner or a merino T-shirt, or a bigger one, like a tent or backpack, that could completely revolutionize your trekking experience. There’s just something so satisfying about building out your gear setup. Trekking equipment is also an ideal gift for the outdoorsy people in your life. It can make the difference between a good outdoor experience and a bad, or downright risky one. Here’s all the gear you need to ensure you’re properly prepared for the best summer backpacking trips this year.
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Getting prepared for summer
While trekking is the ultimate adventure during long summer days, optimizing the trip takes proper planning and the right gear. Being unprepared is the fastest way to ruin the journey for yourself and everyone in your group. You’re going to need additional gear than you would for a typical day hike, including multiple layers of clothing, camping supplies, and food. But if you’ve never gone backpacking before and agreed to join your buddies without knowing what you were getting into, never fear: we’ve compiled the ultimate gear guide for beginning trekkers.
When planning for your trip, take note of the fact that every trek is different in certain ways. On guided treks, the host company should offer a list of required materials, along with some additional comfort items or specialty gear they’d recommend. They may even offer rentals of certain items that are tough to take on a plane, such as trekking poles or crampons. On unguided hikes, it’s up to you to know what you need. This list will get you set up for success no matter where you’re heading this summer. Everything here can be purchased online or at a quality outdoor outfitter.
If you’re spending at least one night in the woods, you need to have a worthy pack to carry your sleeping gear, food, and everything else that’s coming with you. Get a rugged pack that’s built for the backcountry, and at least 45 liters in size. For multi-day trips, a 55-70 liter pack such as the Osprey Atmos AG 65 will do you right. Make sure the pack includes a reservoir for a water bladder, such as a CamelBak (see below). If you do buy a pack online, we recommend buying it from a retailer with a physical location you can visit to have it properly adjusted to your body, such as REI.
If you’re camping on your trek and not staying in guest houses, a good tent with a rainfly is mandatory. A one or two-person tent is the best option, as it’s small for packing into your backpack and easy to set up. The REI Half-Dome 2 makes for a great trekking tent for solo trekkers or couples — or friends who don’t mind sharing a tent, as it’s spacious enough. It’s durable for rain, sleet, or wind, and won’t weigh down your pack too much since total weight is under four pounds.
For a family, we recommend a larger option, such as the Mountainsmith Upland 6. It’s designed for six but ideal for three to five people and their gear, in case it rains and you need to move stuff into the tent. Before heading out, double check to make sure you have the stakes and poles needed to set the tent up, and put them directly back into the storage bag each morning when breaking down camp.
Few things are more frustrating than not getting a decent night’s sleep when a big day of hiking is in front of you. A good sleeping bag makes all the difference. Step one when choosing one is to check the temperature rating, which is typically found both on any packaging that the bag is in at the store, as well as on the tag in the bag itself. Be sure you’re bringing a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the summer season and weather expected on the trip (remember that just because it’s 90 degrees during the day, doesn’t mean it won’t plummet to below 50 at night). We love the Big Agnes Sidewinder SL, available in men’s and women’s, for its comfort and easy packability, and because it meets each of the following recommendations:
- A solid three-season bag will do the trick for most adventures, as long as the temperature rating is good to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A sleeping bag liner can bring that temperature rating down to 0.
- Down insulation is the lightest and most efficient insulation on the market. If you have the choice between this and polyester, go with down.
- Splurge for a sleeping bag that’s waterproof. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a soaking wet back if it rains and water gets into the tent.
- Mummy, semi-rectangular, or rectangular? This is personal preference as much as anything else. Mummy bags are tight and warm, but don’t allow much wiggle room. Rectangular bags are more versatile for those who have a tough time sleeping in a still position. If you’re somewhere in between, a semi-rectangular shape is a happy medium.
Inside the pack
A well-prepared trekker has researched the trip, read forums and comments, and taken note of what previous hikers have brought with them on the journey. In your research, you’ll likely find comments along the lines of, “I wish we’d brought this” or “I was so glad I had enough of that.” Look for patterns – when multiple people discuss the same item, it’s a pretty good sign that you should load it up. Here are some of our go-to specialty gear.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System
Jetboil’s burner connects easily to the small 3.5 oz fuel tank and allows you to heat food over an open flame in the middle of nowhere. It is guaranteed to work in temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing you to heat up a much-needed warm meal or a hot drink when camping even if it gets unexpectedly chilly.
Grab a Sawyer Mini Water Filter for your trek and enjoy drinking from freshwater streams. An actual filter system is beneficial as it purifies the water more thoroughly than simpler tools like filtration straws, which don’t do as good of a job at removing toxins and bacteria. That said, always take caution in drinking water from the source, and never drink still water.
For use in getting a fire going, among…other things. UCO’s Titan stormproof matches will come in handy more often than you’d expect.
Black Diamond Headlamp
Illuminate the night with a headlamp from Black Diamond. If you’ve got a good book with you or just want to have a look at the trail map to route tomorrow’s hike, a headlamp is just as useful inside the tent as it is outside.
An ax is a good thing to have any time you plan to spend the night in the woods. You’ll use it to cut firewood and bushwack your way through thick patches of overgrowth, and it also comes in handy as a self-defense mechanism. The Almike from Hults Bruk is the best option because it’s small enough to fit in your pack or strap onto the side, and it’s wooden-handled. The Swedish brand has been making axes since 1697. They’re the most durable axes you’ll find.
Compass and clinometer
A reliable compass is a great hiking companion. This one from Advantage comes with a clinometer, used to measure the degree of slope, in case your crew gets into a heated discussion about how steep the forthcoming trail or summit push is.
Topographical map and trail map
A topographical map shows altitude gain and loss along with detailed terrain features over a specific area. They can be tough to read at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll never want to head into the mountains without a topo map again. A trail map of the area where you’re heading is also mandatory — don’t count on Google to save you.
Morakniv Companion heavy duty knife
It’s incredible how often a good knife comes in handy in the wilderness — everything from cooking to making a fire to quick repairs is made easier. If you’ve got a Swiss Army Knife, bring it. If not, this Morakniv Companion knife will do the trick.
First aid supplies
A small first aid kit is always worth making room in your pack for. Adventure Medical Kits comes with everything you’ll need to treat a minor inconvenience as well as a quick guide to tips and tricks for field use.
Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
The air is thinner and the sun is closer at high altitudes. Always have sun protection on hand.
NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad
No one wants to sleep with a rock jabbing into their back. That’s where a NEMO Switchback sleeping pad comes in. When not in use, it rolls up and straps to the side of your pack. This portable “mattress” makes sleeping in the wilderness much more bearable.
A bivy is a lifesaver when a storm rolls in or something unexpected happens that leaves you stuck somewhere far from the campsite. It’s essentially a makeshift sleeping bag that retains heat and can keep you protected from the elements overnight. You can go fancy and opt for the tent-sleeping bag hybrid Helium Bivy from Outdoor Research, but if you already have a tent setup with you, a basic emergency bivy like the Escape Lite from Sol will do just fine.
Cost: $20 or less
Even if you aren’t a climber, always keep climbing rope in your pack in the backcountry. It could come in handy should you need to secure something from a tree at the campsite, tie something — think creating an emergency stint or evacuation sled — or even rappel yourself down a small rock face. Beyond emergency situations, having some rope around is never a bad idea anyway. No need to buy the super-expensive kind. Just head to the climbing section at REI and have a staff member cut you 10 feet of their bulk rope.
CamelBak water bladder
The easiest way to cart and drink water is with a CamelBak bladder. They fill easily from a faucet or from your water purifier and allow you to drink water as needed without having to stop and unzip your pack or reach around for a water bottle each time.
Without cellphone service, a handheld GPS unit like this one from Garmin is the best way to find yourself if you lose the trail or need any directional assistance. If on a guided trek, or with someone who has one, you don’t necessarily need your own. But if you plan to make trekking a regular activity, this is a good item to have on your list.
They look an awful lot like ski poles, but are compatible and can be strapped to the side of your pack when not in use. Trekking poles are the grown-ups version of a hiking stick and are useful in particular when heading down the mountain as they absorb some of the shock and pressure put on your knees with each step. Trekking poles are also great for balance at any point during the hike. Black Diamond offers a collection of great options ranging in price from $99 and up.
No, we don’t mean the fun kind. Basics like granola bars and apples are cheap and easy to eat on the go. Bring them, of course, but protein and calorie boosts are essential on multi-day treks. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Peanut butter is an easy-to-pack protein that is cheap and fills you up. Plus, it’s high in calories — a must for trekking.
- Trail mix earned its name for a reason — it’s a great energy boost and easy to carry.
- Nuts. And more nuts. Protein. Calories. Protein. Calories.
- Patagonia Provisions campfire meals. Patagonia offers a range of easy-to-prep hot meals designed for cooking and consumption in the wilderness. They’re delicious, full of protein, and come in small packages which fit easily into your pack.
- Red beans and rice is a classic campfire meal. Quick, easy, and filling, this meal provides both protein and carbs to get you powered up for the next day.
- Tortillas are great for trekking because they travel much better than a loaf of bread. They can be packed compactly in your backpack — just don’t fold them.
When selecting your outer layers, think waterproof and wind resistance. Comfort is also a factor, particularly with boots.
Water-repellant shell layer jacket
In the high country, weather can turn on a dime, turning a beautiful morning into a drizzly afternoon in what seems like an instant. You’ll be miserable (and soaking wet) if you’re hiking in a sweatshirt. Get yourself a water-repellant shell layer to throw on over your base layer. Patagonia’s Torrentshell is appropriate for most summer backcountry situations.
This is probably the most important purchase to make in-store versus online. When buying hiking boots, look for two things: comfort and support (ankle coverage is a must). Read some reviews before making a purchase, because often the best hiking boots are super stiff when you try them on. Boots tend to get more comfortable as you break them in, and over time will conform to your feet. Merrell makes great trail boots. Invest in a quality pair and they’ll reward you with years of heavy use. If you’ve procrastinated and you don’t have time to break a sturdy pair in, opt for a lighter shoe with more flexibility.
Depending on altitude, season, and location, pants do you more good than shorts. This is in part due to protection from wind and water, and in part because long pants prevent scratches from branches and plants. You want something that won’t tear, is wind resistant, flexible, lightweight, and comfortable. The Cirque II Pants from Outdoor Research are a great option for men. PrAna makes a great pair for women, with options in multiple colors.
When selecting base layers, think comfort, flexibility, and thickness. Base layer items are generally divided into three categories: lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. Midweight is a general best practice for beginners and three-season trekking, particularly if you plan to head above treeline where wind can be quite ferocious. In general, the thicker the layer, the better it protects against cold.
Thermal underwear serves to wick moisture and sweat, and also provides added warmth for cold nights and inclement weather. The two most common materials are polyester and merino wool. Avoid silk underwear as it’s not odor resistant and doesn’t wick moisture as well as the other two. Lightweight options are good here as you’ll have other layers on top. REI offers options for both men and women.
Base layer top
A thin, flexible merino wool top such as this one from SmartWool is perfect for wearing underneath your jacket and/or t-shirt. It will wick moisture, protect against wind, and is super flexible and comfortable. You’ll need at least two under layers to wear underneath your jacket shell if it gets cold, and a base layer top should be one of them. If your shell has an underlayer, this can be worn directly underneath it. A comfortable fleece, like this one from Patagonia, can work in between the two.
SmartWool hiking socks
SmartWool offers both men’s and women’s socks built with merino wool and designed specifically for trail use. There are plenty of other options, but keep in mind that you’ll be wearing hiking boots and need socks that rise up to near or slightly above the top of the boot to prevent rubbing.
Comfortable campsite clothes and shoes
A pair of gym shorts or yoga pants will do the trick for relaxing post-hike and wearing to sleep. Taking off your hiking boots at the end of a long day is among the most satisfying experiences involved in backpacking, and the idea here is to have something comfortable to change into at the campsite or guest house. Also, make sure you have lightweight shoes to wear around the campsite so you don’t have to live in those heavy boots.
A version of this article was previously published on November 26, 2019, and was updated on Mat 5, 2021, with more information.
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