Our Staff Picks | Best Backpacking Gear of 2021
If you’re looking for the best backpacking gear in existence, then you’ve come to the right place. In this list, you’ll find the lightest, smartest, and most innovative products on the market. This is what we take to Alaska, Patagonia, Utah, Appalachia, and everywhere in between. It’s what we recommend to our closest friends, and it’s what we recommend to you if you want to improve your experience in the backcountry. Depending on the item, we may provide one to four options, taking into account different environmental needs, personal preferences, and budgets. Happy trails!
Quick Reference List
Best All-Around Tents
Read our complete tent guide for more great tents
Best All-Around Tent | Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2
When assessing a tent, you must evaluate many factors like weight, volume, livability, materials, stormworthy-ness, and features. The Copper Spur gets high marks from us across the board; it excels in every single category, it’s intelligently designed, and it’s highly livable. A simply excellent overall tent, and without flaw. Great for backpackers of all experience levels. Plus, we love the innovative awning vestibules.
Best Value Tent | REI Co-op Flash Air 2
Similar in design ethos to the REI Co-op Flash Backpack, the Flash Air Tent delivers a top tier product at a mid tier price. This is one of, if not the only sub 2lb, sub $300 tent available (often on sale for less), and it’s sturdy and well designed on top of that. Bravo to REI on mass producing an actual ultralight tent.
Best Ultralight Tent | ZPacks Duplex
We believe the Duplex is the best ultralight tent available, offering stellar performance and incredible stats. Constructed with DCF, it weighs only 19 oz, yet it’s amazingly sturdy and wind resistant. Spacious and easy to pitch (for a trekking pole shelter), the Duplex is undoubtedly best-in-class.
Best Stormworthy Tent | Slingfin Portal 2
The Portal applies serious engineering and design innovations to achieve an elegant, highly stormworthy, sub 3lb freestanding tent design. This is our preferred dome chassis for extremely windy, snowy, or otherwise “4 season” conditions. We love how light, livable, and smartly-made it is.
Best Stakes | Anygear 7075
You can do better than the stakes that came with your tent, and we recommend these Y stakes by Anygear. They are extremely affordable, and the triple notch neck Y shaped chassis offers an excellent blend of strength, stability, and customizable pitching.
Best Footprint / Ground Cloth | Gossamer Gear
With use over time, most tent floors will sustain thousands of micro-punctures and begin to lose their waterproofness, which is why it’s great to use a ground sheet. Or maybe you camp in a floorless shelter. Either way, we recommend Gossamer Gear’s size L Polycryo ground sheet. For only 3.6 oz, it could massively extend the life of your tent. And of course, they add additional defense against wetness and vapor, and at $11, it’s a bargain compared to tent-specific sheets that can cost 10x that and weigh 2-3x as much.
More Great Tents & a Hammock!
Read our complete tent guide for more great tents
Best Pyramid Tent | MLD DuoMid XL DCF
It might not look like a regular tent, but it certainly outperforms one. The DuoMid XL is significantly lighter, more spacious, and more storm-worthy than any traditional tents. Weighing only 16 oz and offering 65 sq ft, this pyramid tent has the best area-to-weight-ratio we’ve ever seen.
Best Budget Tent | KeltyLate Start
Sure, this tent is a bit heavier than we’d prefer, but for only $160, it’s a heckuva lot better than its competition. Kelty is a beloved, reliable brand that is known for making great budget tents, and we feel the Late Start is a great pickup for anyone new to backpacking and/or wiling to carry 1-2 extra lbs if it means saving an extra $100-200. We’ve all been there!
Best 1 Person Tent | Zpacks Plexamid
Since soloist can’t share any gear, minimizing weight is extra important. That’s why, when going solo, we turn to zpacks for the 1p version of their popular duplex tent. This 1 person, fully enclosed ultralight trekking pole shelter actually weighs less than a pound. Designed with DCF, it’s also long lasting, and highly resistant to wind and tears.
Best 3 Person Tent | Zpacks Triplex
Given that we also love their 1p and 2p tents, it’s no surprise that the Zpacks Triplex is our also our top pick for best 3p tent. Constructed with DCF, it’s strong and tear resistant, but weighs only 24 oz, a miraculous 8 oz per when thought of as split three ways. Like all 3p tents, it’s a bit on the cozy side for three full-sized adults, but perfect for two and a child or dog, or anyone who wishes to spread out (it’s only 3 ounces heavier than the duplex, and sizing up a smart comfort hack).
Best Hammock Tent | Hammock Gear Wanderlust Complete Kit
Here’s excellent lightweight backpacking gear for your pack! This ultralight, bug mesh hammock packaged alongside everything you need to hang it up, and protect it under a tarp. And at only $229, it’s a killer buy. Hammock camping is our preferred strategy when going solo. Add in the Burrow top quilt and underquilt for high quality, great value insulation designed for hammock use.
Read our complete backpacking backpack guide for more great backpacks
Best All-Around Backpack | Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400
This is our favorite backpack, the one we grab most often. Constructed with ultralight, waterproof, and extremely durable Dyneema fabric, the HMG Southwest 3400 delivers the best overall performance among all backpacks currently available. We laud it also for a surprisingly comfortable carry, and massive external pockets. It is simply unequaled.
Best Super Ultralight Backpack | Zpacks Arc Blast 55L
Lightest of all framed backpacks at only 21 oz, the Arc Blast, with its carbon fiber full external frame, is a marvel of comfortable load transfer engineering. This Dyneema backpack offers 55L of waterproof storage in an incredibly sleek and super ultralight design, and with great external pockets. This pack is especially great for thru hikers!
Best Value Backpack | REI Co-op Flash 55L
This pack is a great buy and perfect to carry all your gear backpacking gear. Like it’s cousin the Flash Air tent, the Flash 55L backpack is a top tier lightweight product at a mid tier price. It is a familiar take on a minimalist chassis, with good quality materials and smart design choices, for instance, the modular brain/roll top closure and expansive outer pockets. It may not be the lightest pack available, but at under $200 (and oft on sale), it’s a killer bargain.
Most Comfortable Backpack | Osprey Exos & Eja
A big part of what makes backpacks comfortable is how they carry, how they ventilate, and how cushy they are. Most users find that the Exos and Eja’s frame does an excellent job of transferring weight to the hips, that the mesh materials are soft and don’t chafe, and that the air flow back panel actually reduces sweat. Meanwhile, it’s also large, lightweight, and durable. A winning combo.
Best Dry Bags | Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema Pods and Dry Bags
Featherweight and extremely durable, these are the best made, best material, and best shaped in-pack dry storage units around.
Best Sleeping Bags & Quilts!
Read our complete sleeping bag guide for more great options
Best Quilt | Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30
This is the best ultralight backpacking quilt or sleeping bag money can buy. The EE Revelation offers the highest warmth-to-weight ratio on the market, utilizing 850 fill power down, premium materials, smart baffling, and an overall flawless ultralight design execution. We strongly recommend this quilt.
Best Value Quilt | Hammock Gear Burrow Econ 30
This quilt delivers a premium warmth-to-weight ratio at an entry-level price. In terms of warmth-to-weight, its elegantly simple design outperforms all traditional sleeping bags and many costlier quilts. At under $200, it’s the best value on the market, bar none.
Best Traditional Sleeping Bag | Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20
If you value ultralight performance, but won’t sleep in a quilt, the Hyperion is your best bet. It delivers the highest warmth-to-weight ratio among all traditional sleeping bags. Its narrow chassis is constructed with premium fabrics and intelligent down distribution, allowing for maximum weight savings for a sleeping bag.
Best Value Sleeping Bag | REI Magma 15
This is the most affordable top-tier ultralight sleeping bag, and it can often be purchased at mid-tier pricing, that is, under $300. REI’s proprietary Magma line presents an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio using a tried and true design. We also like its lighter-weight cousin, the Magma 30 Quilt.
Best Sleeping Pads & Sit Pads
Read our complete sleeping pad guide for more great options
Best Sleeping Pad | Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite, Women’s
We believe this is the best blend of high comfort, low weight, long-term durability, and heat reflectivity. Because women sleep colder than men, they’ve upped the R-value (warmth rating) on this model to compensate, which we find preferable to the baseline model.
Best ValueSleeping Pad | Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol
Popular among thru-hikers for their indestructibility and lie-anywhere comfort, Z Lite Sol is the best and most classic closed cell foam pad on the market. It offers a good R-value, a low weight, and a great value at only $45.
Best Camp Seat | Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
At only one ounce, the foam Z seat offers the highest comfort-to-weight ratio of any object you might bring.
Best Shoes for Hiking & Backpacking
Read our complete hiking shoe guide for more great options
Best Overall | Altra Lone Peak
An excellent hiking shoe, renown for its aggressive tread, wide toe box, zero drop, and high comfort. This has been a go-to for many years, and we’ve worn it in Alaska, Patagonia, the Sierra Nevada, the deserts of Utah, and everywhere in between.
Best Off-Trail Shoe | HOKA Speedgoat
Technical and very sturdy, even on challenging terrain, this nicely cushioned shoe is tough, grippy, and has a successful track record.
Best High Tech Shoe | North Face Flight Vectiv
With the best energy return among all hiking and trail shoes, the TNF flight vectivs take efficiency to an all new level. Combining a high energy rubber with a springy carbon plate, these are FKT breaking shoes.
Best Traditional Hiking Shoe | Merrell Moab Ventilator
The lightest, comfiest, most breathable traditional hiking shoe we know of. It’s comfy, it’s timeless, and it very long lasting. While we tend to prefer trail runners most of the time, this is our pick for best hiking shoe.
Smartwool Phd elite low cut sock
These socks fit very securely, are virtually seamless, and the merino blend fabric is light, breathable, wicking, and comfortable against the skin. We have yet to find a better sock.
Best Gaiters | Dirty Girl
Thru-hikers have voted with their money, and collectively, they’ve chosen Dirty Girl brand gaiters. These are very lightweight, and protect against sand, snow, or other debris entering your footwear.
Best Trekking Poles
Read our complete trekking pole guide for more great options
Best Ultralight Trekking Poles | Gossamer Gear LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles
At under 10 oz per pair, these poles are shockingly light and surprisingly strong. And they are adjustable so work with most trekking pole supported shelters.
Best Value Trekking Poles | Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles
Sturdy, lightweight, carbon fiber trekking poles for $45. This deal can’t be beat.
Best 3 Collapsing Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
These poles collapse down in a Z formation, and they’re shorter than any telescoping poles. This comes in handy for travel (they can fit in a day pack), or for more hands-on trips where poles are carried in a pack as frequently as they are used. What’s more, they only weigh about 11 ounces for the pair and they’re also available in an adjustable version.
Read our complete rain jacket guide for more great options
Best Overall | REI Drypoint Rain Jacket
With a Gore-Tex Active shell and weighing only 10 oz, the Co-op Drypoint is both lightweight highly breathable, perfect for virtually every rain scenario. The hood is great. The cut is great. And it’s also quite durable! There is simply nothing whatsoever to dislike about this jacket.
Best Value | Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket
Amazing value for a rugged, 3-layer jacket! From a trusted company, and it’s fully featured, including pit zips! Durable with lifetime Patagonia warranty.
Best Ultralight | OR Helium Rain Jacket
For a six ounce, ultralight rain jacket, the OR Helium Rain simply costs less than the competition. Plus, the new fabric is extremely durable, unlike other ultralight shells, which are prone to micro rips and tears. Plus, it’s only $160
Best Super Ultralight | Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket
At only 5 ounces, and constructed with a highly breathable 7d waterproof fabric, the Visp outperforms most of the competition, and is a bargain at only $200.
Best Budget | REI Rainier Jacket
A fully featured rain jacket from a trustworthy source for under $100 — many times on sale for far less. It’s nothing fancy, but has the right features and gets the job done.
Best Rain Pants | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
Waterproof, durable, and ultralight for the low price of $120. We love the Helium Rain Pants, nothing else on the market comes close in term of bang for your buck.
Best Puffy Wear
Read our complete down jacket & pants guide for more great options
Best Overall Down Jacket | Montbell Ex Light Anorak
At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as warm as it gets! The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a a kangaroo pouch pocket, which means warmer hands and better storage. A huge upgrade!
Best Value | REI Coop 650 Down Jacket
It’s pretty amazing to be able to buy a legit, lightweight, responsibly sourced down jacket for just $100. The basic Co-op down jacket is one of the best value propositions on this entire page.
Best Synthetic | Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pullover/Jacket
No synthetic jacket comes closer to down in performance than the Enlightened Equipment Torrid. By combining high tech ultralight fabrics with a high warmth to weight, water resistant synthetic loft, Enlightened Equipment has delivered the best synthetic warmth-to-weight ratio on the market. Plus, it comes in a pullover model with kangaroo pocket, our favorite chassis.
Best Parka | Montbell Mirage
Montbell makes great puffy jackets, and it’s no surprise their parka is also best in class.At less than 14 ounces for a full on, fully baffled parka, this one heckuva warm jacket. Best warmth to weight on this list, by far. In fact, 40% of the garment’s weight is down. Down more typically represents 20% of a garment’s weight.
Best IInsulated Pants | Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pants
Insulated pants are susceptible than jackets to rips, tears, and getting wet, which is why we think the Torrid Apex Pants are the best overall option for keeping your legs warm. And at only 5.4 ounces, they’re hardly heavier than down.
Best Overall Fleece | Patagonia R1 Hoody
Beloved across all outdoor sports, there is a cut of Patagonia’s R1 for everyone. This warm, stretchy, highly breathable fabric has been time tested. From camping to backpacking to mountaineering, the R1 is simply a perfect lightweight and sporty fleece.
Best Value | North Face TKA
Old fashioned fuzzy fleece actual deliver a high warmth-to-weight ratio performance. While it’s marked as a budget pick, and it certainly isn’t anything fancy, TNF’s TKA fleece line deliver surprisingly good performance and stats in a basic fleece at a low price.
Best Technical | R1/R2 Tech Face
If you need a fleece with a bit more weather resistance, we recommend the R1 tech face fleece. It pulls inspiration from R1, but adds in a more tightly knit flat face exterior that blocks wind and resists light precip while still maintaining excellent breathability. We recommend it for high exertion activities in very cold climates. Cross country skiing, for example.
Best Overall | Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie
For most three season hiking, we recommend OR’s amazing echo sun hoody. Incredibly light, breathable, airy, quick drying, moisture wicking, and rated to UPF 15, this shirt does it all. Pack a sun hoody and you’ll find that you use less sunscreen and get less sun burns. We’ve worn this shirt around the world and are always impressed.
Best Bug Shirt | Rail Riders Journeyman Shirt with Insect Shield
In late spring and early summer, where mosquitos and ticks thrive, we prefer to wear a bug shirt over a sun shirt. The Rail Riders Journeman Shirt offers InsectShield bug repellent treatment, and a soft-but-bite-proof nylon poly blend fabric. We’ve taken this shirt, and similar options to Alaska and the Sierra.
Best Merino Smartwool | Merino 150 Base Layer
For cold weather or shoulder season hiking, we recommend a lightweight Merino wool baselayer like Smartwool’s 150 weight quarter zip. This fabric keep you just warm enough in chilly conditions, and just cool enough in hot conditions. It smells better than synthetics, and the zipper venting further widens its comfort range.
Best Overall | RailRiders Bushwacker Weather Pants
Lightweight, breathable, sun blocking, quick drying and virtually indestructible, we love everything about these pants. You won’t win any sartorial awards in them, but we know wearers appreciate the incredibly deep and secure pockets.
Best Value Overall | Eddie Bauer Guide Pro
Style meets high performance and comfort in this great looking, reasonably priced pair of hiking pants. We appreciate them for the their two way stretch comfort and elegant look.
Best Insect Pants | RailRiders Eco-Mesh Pant with Insect Shield
In high mosquito or tick season, we trust Railriders Eco Mesh pants. The lightweight, breathable, quick drying nylon is bite-proof, wards off insects,and keep the legs comfortable with massive mesh side vents. The mesh keeps bugs out while letting fresh air in.
Read our complete hiking electronics guide for more great options
Best Headlamp | Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen HeadLamp
For 2021 we are going with a rechargeable headlamp that’s a favorite with ultra runners. This 1.9 oz light is super simple to operate and puts out a ton of light. Best of all, no worrying about batteries — it can always be fully charged when you hit the trail!
Best Charger | Anker Powercore II 10000
Weighing just 6.9 oz, this powerhouse, rechargeable USB battery can charge most phones multiple times — great for use on trips longer than three days. And unlike many “smart” batteries it will detect & charge low drain devices like a fitbit or smart watches.
Best Satellite Communication Device | Garmin inReach Mini
Staying safe in the backcountry has never been so small and light. The Garmin inReach mini allows text messaging (by bluetoothing to your phone) and SOS pings from anywhere, no service necessary. An indispensable comms unit.
Best GPS | Gaia GPS App
Available on iPhone or Android, Gaia GPS offers a Google Maps-like experience but pinpoints you on topo maps. No cell service or LTE required, so long as you download the maps in advance. Much more affordable and user-friendly than dedicated GPS units. Gaia is our primary navigation tool.
Best Watch | Garmin Instinct Solar
This smartwatch offers an altimeter, barometer, compass, GPS, and a slew of health tracking options with 14-day battery life that can be extended in-field by ambient solar as well as manual charging with a USB battery. All in a lightweight, comfortable, medium-sized silhouette.
Best Backpacking Stoves
Best Stove | Jetboil Stash
New for 2021 and weighing and only 7 oz, the Stash is the lightest Jetboil-style stove on the market. Amazingly, it retains the famed Jetboil heat efficiency and fuel economy. We love how well it holds a pot, how quickly it boils water, and how astoundingly light it is.
Best Alcohol Stove | Trail Designs Caldera
Weighs only 5.5 oz, yet very safe and superbly wind resistant, the high efficiency Caldera is an obvious choice for the best alcohol stove. The cone protects from breezes while creating a very stable and heat-efficient system with the best fuel economy among all alcohol stoves. Yet it still weighs less than all conventional isobutane stoves.
Best Value Stove | AOTU Portable Camping Stove
This is a legit backpacking stove for $20. It in the time-tested Pocket Rocket style, and even comes with a handy built-in sparker.
Best Camp Cookware
Best Pot | TOAKS Titanium Pot 900ml
This wide, easy-to-clean, no-nonsense titanium pot weighs only 5.5 oz and costs just $45, a great deal from a classic brand.
Best Mug | TOAKS Titanium Cup 450ml/15oz
Strong, elegant, and weighing only 2.7 oz, this titanium mug is a killer deal for only $20.
Best Spoon | TOAKS Titanium Long Handled Spoon
Strong, lightweight, and long enough to dip into the deepest of freeze-dried meal bags.
Best Coffee | Hario V60 01 Plastic Dripper + V60 Paper Coffee Filters 01
This 2.2 oz marvel is the coffee dripper that Tetsu Kaysuya used to win the 2016 World Brewers Cup Championship. Pour over is a huge upgrade over Starbucks Via.
Best Water Purification | Sawyer Squeeze System
Faster and more efficient than pumping or chemical treatments, the squeeze system offers on-the-go hydration at a good flow. This product is long-lasting, affordable, reliable, and very user-friendly. We also like the sawyer water bags for compressibility.
Best Water Bottle | Smartwater 1L
Ditch that heavy Nalgene for a significantly lighter Smartwater 1L bottle. This iconic bottle is incredibly durable and long lasting, and it fits a sawyer squeeze filter. A thru-hiker favorite.
Best Water Purifier | Aquamira Water Treatment
Time-tested, as the best overall way to chemically treat water in instances where viruses are a concern. We prefer filters, given the choice, but this is your best option when that’s not enough. We appreciate that it does not taint the taste of the water.
Best Bear-Proof Storage
Best Bear Bag | Ursack Major
Unless a canister is required, we always prefer the bear-proof Ursack Major bear bag, made of kevlar. It’s lightweight, comfy to carry, and actually protects your food. We recommend pairing it with the Loksak Opsac bag as a smell-proof, waterproof, liner system.
Best Bear Canister | Bearvault BV500
When regulations require bear canisters, we prefer the Bearvault BV500, or its smaller cousin the BV450. These canisters offer the best blend of volume to weight, durability, and price. We also like its smaller sibling, the BV450, for 2-3 day-long trips.
Best Bear Bag Liner | Loksak Opsak Odor-Proof Barrier Bags 12×20”
Nesting perfectly in an Ursack Major Bear Bag, this giant, ultra-heavy-duty Ziploc bag will keep your food dry when it rains, and prevent smells from escaping when properly closed. A necessary pairing to fully protect your food from the elements.
Best Knife | Gerber LST Ultralight Knife
With an impeccably sharp 2” blade and weighing a scant 1.2 oz, this Gerber Knife is great for backcountry food prep and all general-purpose cutting.
Best Compass | Suunto M-3D
This is a simple and durable lightweight compass with all of the essential features including declination adjustment. Great to carry along with paper maps as a backup to GPS.
Best Trowel | TheTentLab The Deuce #2
This is the sturdiest sub one ounce trowel we know of. And at $20, it’s also a great buy.
Best Bug Head Net | Sea To Summit Mosquito Head Net
Weighing only 1 oz and totally mosquito-proof, you barely notice this comfy, high visibility bug net.
Best Rain Gloves | Japanese Fishermens
As bizarre and out of place in the backcountry as rubber-like fisherman’s gloves might look, the Showa Temres are simply warmer, and more reliable waterproof than the competition. We prefer these gloves to other options for cold rain, sleet, and wet snow. They’re shockingly waterproof, warm, and just breathable enough.
Best Warm Gloves | Defeet Duragloves
Simple yet effective, we love the secure fit and grippy fingers and palm of these basic, midweight gloves. An excellent, and highly affordable option for most hiking.
Best Sun Gloves | Glacier Glove Ascension
In the very harsh sun, gloves can be preferable to constantly reapplying sunscreen. These are our pick for the best overall option thanks to the comfy, breathable, durable fabric, and accommodating price.
Best Sun Hat | Sun Runner
A classic option for any hiker who agrees that capes and caps are better than 360 brims. This is because it performs better in wind and does a better job of protecting the neck, especially in the angled sunlight of late afternoon when your skin needs a break.
Best Beanie | REI Co-op Lightweight Beanie
A beanie’s a beanie. Get one with a cuff to double ear warmth, or unfurl for max coverage. REI’s co-op beanie look elegant and performs great. Highly recommended!
Best Balaclava | Outdoor Research Option Balaclava
If you really want to keep your head warm, don’t skimp on neck coverage For spring, fall, and winter hiking, we prefer balaclavas, like the OR Option Balaclava, because the neck coverage combines with the head coverage to offer a better overall warmth to weight ratio, and more protective garment.
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