Couples Ultralight Backpacking Gear
Best 2-Person Gear & Tips for a Great Trip
Most people hike in pairs. Even if you start out on a long-distance hike on your own, chances are you’ll wind up hiking with someone else. Whether it’s a backpacking partner or a romantic partner, most people head out backpacking with someone else. Despite this, most backpacking gear lists are set up for one person, not as a couple’s backpacking gear list, which ignores the many advantages of shared gear and the joys of hiking as a couple, or even as a pair of friends!
Robust 3-season Kit | Tested & Refined for Almost Two Decades
The gear in this list reflects our shared backpacking kit which has been refined and tested for almost two decades backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering together in some very challenging places — Patagonia, Alaska north of the Arctic Circle, the Southwest Deserts and Canyons, High Sierras, Rockies, etc. It is a robust and safe kit up to 3 season conditions most anywhere!
The Advantages of Sharing Gear!
Less weight for each of you. More camaraderie.
Almost all gear talk and gear lists are based on solo kits, which seems backward considering there are many advantages to sharing gear. When we talk about hiking as a pair, we’ll focus on both couples hiking as well as general backpacking partners, family members, and friends. There’s no right way to split gear or hike as a pair, so chances are you’ll come up with your own trial-and-error system based on a combination of our suggestions and figuring out on your own what works ideally for your couples ultralight backpacking gear strategy.
Video Breakdown of our Couples Gear in the High Sierra
If a picture is worth a 1,000 words what is a comprehensive field video of our gear in action worth? There’s stuff in here that we can’t begin to cover in words.
Beyond Weight Savings
Traveling together is a partnership
Beyond the weight savings and convenience of sharing backpacking gear, the benefits of hiking with a partner bring a sense of teamwork to the adventure. The bonding and camaraderie between hiking partners is a benefit to hiking with someone else that you can’t assign a weight value to. Having a partner means you can rely on someone in the backcountry for a second opinion with navigation, to swap snacks with if your food is unappealing, and to filter water while you set up the shelter. Splitting camp chores, sharing every experience from crystalline alpine lakes to hail storms at 10,000 feet brings another level of bonding to the relationship that you just can’t get from sitting at home together.
Basic Overview for Couples Ultralight Backpacking Gear
When you hike with a backpacking partner or significant other, you’ll be sharing some items—likely at least a cookset and 2-person tent — and carrying two of others. Each person carries their own pack, food, water, and often their own water treatment. There’s also the option for a shared sleep system for extra weight savings, depending on the couple. There are plenty of ways to make a two-person system more efficient, from sharing the cookset to splitting the tent weight, and more.
Tips & Tricks for Hiking with a Partner
Far more important than gear we give you some tips (suggestions really) that will make the hike with your partner the best it can be. And these were learned by literally decades of success and joys, and some very tough moments on the trail.
- Set a mileage plan for the day/trip
- Agreed-upon pacing is key for happiness!
- Check-in with each other and be flexible
- Split up the camp chores
- Having two set of smaller items is like an insurance policy
- Finally and most important RULE #1 | To keep the joy in our backcountry travel we have one simple rule, “If either of us is not having fun, we stop and make a new plan.” Each of us has the unilateral right to invoke it; each of us has trust in the other to know that the request will be gracefully honored. This rule has stood the test of time. Nobody is in charge and nobody abdicates responsibility. Backpacking is a joint effort that requires flexible and synchronized input from both of us. If one of us is having a slow day, doesn’t want to do that class 3, 13,000 ft col, or maybe one of us wants to bag an unplanned summit; or possibly we just need a day to swim, fish and relax — we stop what we are doing and come up with a new plan. Without exception, the new plan is much better than what we were doing before. Not every trip is what we expected from the start, but each trip ends up being the best trip we could have.
Backpacking Tent Options | 2-Person Tent or Solo?
This is the biggest weight saver for a pair of hikers. Break the tent down by splitting it into components, and having each person carry different pieces and you could save a couple of pounds per person.
2-Person Tent Considerations
There are a few major considerations when looking for a 2-person tent. Consider dual entrances, your own vestibules for storage, and the amount of livable space (shoulder space, headspace, foot space) you’ll be sharing with someone for extended periods of time. Lighter options include the Zpacks Duplex and the MLD Duomid. See all of our picks for two-person lightweight backpacking tents.
Some hikers on our staff carry the 2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent or (Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 | 2-Person Tent). One partner carries the tent body, poles, and stakes, and the other carries the fly. [The other option is for one person to carry the whole tent, and the partner carries some “group gear” that has an equivalent weight — either way works!]
The Tiger Wall 2 might be on the lightweight end of things for a freestanding tent, but it’s not as light as the Trekking Pole Supported Tents other folks carry which can be a smidge over 1 pound for two people! The Tiger Wall has two doors and two vestibules to easily each stash gear and not run out of room, as well as having separate entrances to avoid crawling all over each other trying to get in and out. Having the 29 square feet of the Tiger Wall and the two 8 square foot vestibules feel like a luxury. This tent has plenty of head and shoulder room as well, something to consider when your partner is much taller than you. And it is double-walled which helps with condensation in wet and humid conditions.
Trekking Pole Supported Tents
Many of the Trekking Pole Supported Tents lack many of these features. Most are not double-walled, some only have a single door, and lacking a full pole-set for freestanding setup, they require more user skill to pitch and use. That being said, tents like the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent and Zpacks Duplex are worth a serious look. With a bit of skill on your part, you can save a ton of weight!
2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent
2020 Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent | Our favorite improvement is that the fly doors now can unzip into awning style vestibules that give you a large and airy protected area to hang out in light rain, or great protection from sun. Pre bent poles increase interior space and strength. New 3 function TipLok Tent Buckles simplify and speed pitching and a new fabric is more tear & puncture resistant. We’re also big fans of pockets to keep space organized and livable. For 2020 there’s a big 3D Bin Mezzanine pocket a the foot, an oversized ceiling pocket, & media pockets.
See our Full Review of the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 for more detail.
REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent
New for 2020 is the 1.9 lb REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent | Yup, it’s a user friendly, full-sized, highly livable, 2-Person Tent under 2 Pounds! As such, the REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent is an exciting new entry into trekking pole supported tents that will save you weight and money! We especially like the hub poles that increase livable space and peak height. And its multi-position doors easily go from stargazing to full storm mode. And it’s a great value, costing hundreds less than most tents in the sub-two-pound range.
Note: This tent is best in drier western climates, or for use by folks that are willing creatively keep doors and vents open in more humid environments.
See our REI Co-op Flash Air 2 Tent Review for more details on this new tent.
Other Shelter Options
Some pairs of hikers in the “friend” realm prefer to have their own sleeping haven. If that’s so, they might each prefer to have their own lightweight solo tent. And you’ll still have the option to share other gear like cooksets with your hiking partner. We like the REI Flash Air, Gossamer Gear’s the One, and the Six Moons Designs Deschutes Plus.
Need More Room for 2? Consider a 3-Person Tent
When I hiked the AT with a partner, we opted for a three-person tent. While the weight penalty was five ounces more per person, we really appreciated the amount of space the NEMO Dagger 3 offered during a five-month hike. A few years later—and many gear pounds lighter—I would certainly opt for the weight savings of a good 2-person tent over the additional space (and weight) of a 3-person tent, but at the time, the luxury of that much livable space felt nice. Lighter three-person options include the ZPacks Triplex, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HVUL3, or Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent.
Sharing a Cookset
This is another no-brainer for sharing. Having two people carrying the cookset means someone can carry the fuel, and someone else can carry the stove and pot. If you want to save time, grab a cookset with a larger capacity so you can boil two or more cups of water at a time for coffee and dehydrated meals. That’s why we love pots in the range of 1.0 to 1.3 liters for 2-person cooking. See below for our choices.
Finally, there is less work in camp because one person can easily make dinner or coffee for two, while the other person can do other camp chores like collecting water or setting up the shelter.
High End Shared Cooksets
Our two favorite cooksets are not cheap but they are best-in-class for what they do.
Budget Shared & Solo Cooksets
- Budget UL Stoves | $55 MSR PocketRocket 2 (tried and true standard) or the $17 BRS 3000T Titanium Stove Both are light & functional, although not as wind resistant as the above options.
- Budget UL Pots | TOAKS 900 m Wide Titanium Potl (or TOAKS 1350 ml Pot) We get by with the 900 ml pot just fine for two people but many couples may prefer the larger 1.3 liter pot which has more room to cook a larger 2-person meal. Also note that we prefer the wider pots which have better heat transfer, and are easier to stir your meal and clean out.
- Super Budget Combo | $50 & 4.5 oz! $17 BRS 3000T Titanium Stove & TOAKS Titanium 750 Pot while a bit more suited to solo use will still boil enough water for a 2 person dinner or two 12 oz cups o’ joe in the morning — albeit with not much room to spare in the pot.
Solo Cook Pot/Mug | Light & Inexpensive
If each person wants to carry their cooking pot (and large mug), the TOAKS Titanium 750 is super durable, weighs just 3.6 ounces, holds .75 liters, and works great with a canister stove like the MSR PocketRocket 2. This is a light and economical 1-person cookset. Or each person can use their own pot and share the stove.
Trail Designs Sidewinder Toaks 1.3 L Pot Cooking System
Staff pick best backpacking stove! In our opinion the Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cooking System is the most practical cooking system on the market. It’s exceptionally light — about 1/3 the weight of a JetBoil. It’s very stable, wind resistant, and fuel efficient. The Toaks 1300 ml titanium pot is the best option for 2-person use. Cheap alcohol fuel is available almost everywhere in the world. Take only the fuel you need, no canister disposal as waste. The wide pot is easy to cook in and easy to clean. Ti cone has option to burn wood. TD Kojin Alcohol Stove stores unburned fuel so no need to minutely measure fuel. Downside is a longer boil time vs. the JetBoil, especially cooking for 2.
Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System
The best Jetboil Stove! The award-winning Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System gives you all of Jetboil’s new technologies: A proprietary regulator and an enhanced regulator diaphragm for consistent performance down to 20°F. Their redesigned valve provides better simmer control. Finally, we’re huge fans of the wider pot. It’s easier to eat out of and clean and has a more fuel-efficient shape to boot. Compared to the Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri, the Jetboil is easier to use for most folks, and boils water faster — which may be important if both of you are impatient for morning coffee!
Sleep Systems | Double Sleeping Bags
We’ll focus on couples here, since pairs and this is where things get a little more complicated and the options are very much up to personal preference. We can’t say for sure what sleep system works best for each couple. Our team varies—some of us share a double quilt and attach our sleeping pads together. Others like more space—they’ll share a shelter, but keep their own sleeping bag and sleeping pad instead of a double sleeping bag.
Double Sleeping Bag or Quilt
Moving to a double Sleeping Bag might take some getting used to, but choosing the right setup means it won’t feel too much different than sharing a regular bed. Our team loves the Enlightened Equipment Accomplice 2-person Quilt, which has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any sleep system they’ve tested.
Options for a Double Sleeping Bag
If you can share a bed (and blankets) with your partner each night, you two can probably make a two-person sleep system (Double Sleeping Bag or Quilt) work, and reap the benefits of warmth and weight savings. Like we said above, we’re huge fans of the Accomplice. The stock model is a true 30-degree quilt, plenty spacious for two people, and comes down to just one pound per person… pretty incredible for a quilt with a 30-degree rating. You get radiant heat, expend less energy staying warm, and save weight with this quilt vs. a double sleeping bag or individual sleeping bags. Here’s our Enlightened Equipment Accomplice Review for more info. We also recommend checking out the Therm-a-Rest Vela 32 2-Person Quilt.
Our Accomplice users also tout the benefits of saving space on your tent floor. With a two-person sleep system, the pads are either a double size or pressed together.
Enlightened Equipment Accomplice 2-Person Quilt | $420
30.1 oz (15.5 oz per person) 30F
FEATURES: Extremely high warmth to weight ratio. Super warm and comfortable, with wide foot box for sprawling sleepers, head and neck openings to seal out drafts, includes elastic pad attachment system, DWR finish on the face fabric, options for customization on temperature rating and fill.
On a per-person basis, the Enlightened Equipment Accomplice has highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any +30 sleeping bag or quilt in this guide. Weighing in at just under pound per person, this quilt doesn’t skimp in coverage either. Two people can sleep comfortably either close together or spaced apart, and not worry about blanket stealing…. there’s plenty to go around. Thanks to sharing radiant heat (and with less space to heat up on your own), couples can stay warmer while not sacrificing space and quilt wrap. We’ve listed the stock model here, but users can customize their fill, temperature rating, and face fabric. This quilt has straps to attach to your sleeping pad, but you don’t have to use them all the time. Our test model (+20 version) had a 20-degree rating kept us truly warm on the coldest nights on our test trip (well below freezing). We slept in just long underwear.
BEST FOR: Pairs of hikers who want to save weight and share body heat, and know they can sleep comfortably together.
NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers that can’t share blankets nicely! Hikers who want a fully enclosed mummy bag, or don’t know if they’ll sleep as well in a two-person bag/quilt.
Couples Who Each Use a Solo Sleep System
That said, some of us do better with separate sleep systems, even if we’re backpacking with our significant other. A few members of our team go that route, which allows each person to have their own space while still sharing the weight of the shelter. If you choose your items carefully, you can maintain a low base weight with your sleep system. Enlightened Equipment makes the Revelation and Enigma quilts, which can be customized for lower weight and higher loft. The. Hammock Gear Premium Burrow Quilt is another great option that is in neck-to-neck competition with Enlightened Equipment Quilts!
Just want a Regular Sleeping Bag?
Looking for a mummy bag? The Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 weighs 20 ounces with a half zipper and a hood. And check out our full roundup of Ultralight Sleeping Bags and Quilts for Backpacking for more.
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt (+30F $290)
19 oz +30F
FEATURES: 850 fill Duck down, 10 D nylon shell, sewn footbox, new for 2020 optional draft colar ($20 upcharge and additional 1 ounce)
STAFF PICK: The Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilts achieved one of the highest warmth to weight rating for Camping Quilts. As such, we consider this version of their quilt line to be the “gold standard” for camping quilts. In addition, the Enlightened Equipment quilts offer an optional draft color. Also, unlike much cottage gear, the The Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilts are usually in stock! Finally, EE Quilts cost a lot less than a similar temp rated down sleeping bag.
BEST FOR: Those looking the highest performance 30F degree camping quilt and still want reasonable cost
NOT AS GOOD FOR: Restless sleepers, or those not willing to learn how to sleep in a camping quilt
Thermarest Hyperion 20 F Sleeping Bag $410
FEATURES: 900 fill dri-down, 10 D nylon shell, baffled construction, pad strap system
STAFF PICK: The Thermarest Hyperion 20F Sleeping Bag is one of the very lightest 32 degree comfort rated bags on the market. Not surprisingly, it has the best weight to warmth ratio of all the sleeping bags we looked at! This is achieved through the use of 900 fill power down, a relatively lightweight shell fabric (10D compared to 15-20D for some other bags reviewed here) and a snug fit. In addition, Thermarest states that they intelligently distribute the down in their bag so that 70% of the down is on the top section of the bag, this should in theory put more down where it is needed. We believe that is at least part of what allows Thermarest Hyperion 20F to be lighter almost all similarly comfort temp rated bags. The pad strap system is helpful and not something you find on any other of the bags here with the exception of the Sierra Designs Cloud bags, and they are removable if you don’t want the minimal extra weight they add.
BEST FOR: Hikers who are willing to pay a modest premium to get one of the very lightest +32 F comfort bags available. (And it’s $100 to $200 less expensive than many better known and heavier sleeping bags)
NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers who don’t like narrow bags and are allergic to high prices. 10D shell fabric requires reasonable care in the field.
Hammock Gear Economy Burrow 30F Quilt
Value Sleep Option: The Hammock Gear Economy Burrow Quilt is hands down the best value to sleep in the backcountry — and by a large margin! Or put in other terms, it costs way less and is around 1/2 a pound lighter than most comparable high-quality down sleeping bags with the same comfort temp rating. In addition, it still has a very high warmth to weight value, weighing just a few oz more than premium quilts. And that 30F is an honest comfort temperature, not a limit temp used by most sleeping bag manufacturers.
Sleeping pads are up to individual preference. Some of these options roll down to the size of a water bottle, like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite (altho it sacrifices both warmth and durability). Our favorite sleeping Pad for Men & Women is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad “Women’s.” Seriously it’s the best all-around pad for both men & women. Same weight as the standard NeoAir XLite but much warmer, R5.4 vs R4.2.
Tip: When using a 2-person quilt there are straps that connect two NeoAir pads into a single pad. Sweet!
Ultralight hikers in warm weather and in minimalist mode can use the half-pad from their pack support, a full-size closed-cell foam pad like the NEMO Switchback or Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite. But not these have 1/2 or less the warmth (~R2) of a good inflatable pad. And they lack the comfort of an inflatable pad — and thus might not give you as good a night’s sleep or garner much favor with your hiking partner.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad “Women’s”
The best all-around sleeping pad! This is the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but it’s the right size for most backpackers. All the men we know use it — for tall men, as long as the end of the pad hits mid-calf you should be fine (Alan’s 6’5″ hiking partner uses one!). Best of all, at 12 oz and with an R-value of 3.9, it’s warmer and lighter than the “Men’s” version. Super warm and super comfortable we find its closer to a 3+ season pad and have happily used it to well below freezing! As such, we find that it works well even into the colder shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring, so you can skip the weight and cost of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad.
Tips & Tricks for Hiking with a Partner
Or, at least outline your goals for the day or the overall itinerary. This doesn’t mean you have to be boxed in, but more so that each person has basic expectations for the day, with options to adjust as you go. This can also help mitigate discomfort. If one partner is feeling tired, knowing that there is an agreed-upon stopping point can be a huge mood booster. A basic itinerary for the whole trip can help outlining, planning, and communication as well.
You’re not always going to want to hike at the same pace and total distance, or even have the capabilities of doing so. Go at a pace that is comfortable for the slower person, but doesn’t undermine the faster person. If the slower person likes to take breaks every 20 minutes but the faster person rarely likes to stop? Meet in the middle and stop every hour. Backpacking is like a microcosm of your normal life. You’re going to have to compromise.
Ask questions as you go. Is your partner feeling ok? Are they comfortable with the trail? If the trail feels nerve-wracking or the terrain is sketchy, communicate. Be a good partner and make sure the other person feels confident speaking up if they’re experiencing any sort of discomfort.
To keep the joy in our backcountry travel, one of our team members has a rule with their partner: have one simple rule, If either of them is not having fun, they stop and make a new plan. They make this that nobody is in charge and nobody abdicates responsibility. Backpacking is a joint effort, and if one person is having an off day and doesn’t want to go for the summit, or maybe decides to bag an unplanned summit, or even spend a day relaxing and fishing, that is the new plan. This doesn’t work for all pairs, but our point is that each pair should come up with a game plan before hitting the trail and experiencing stress and miscommunication in the field.
No one likes blowing up sleeping pads, filtering water or cleaning dishes in freezing cold water. Trade tasks, and always offer to help the other person out. If one person is filtering water, don’t just sit there! Set the tent up, offer to unload their bag, or ask what you can do to help. Oftentimes, couples backpacking will fall into a routine. One person can automatically take over cooking while the other person does the bear hang after dinner. It can feel just like a routine at home, albeit with better views.
This is all about having someone to back you up in case you forget something. We take one GPS unit like a Garmin inReach Mini, Somewear Global Hotspot (or possibly a SPOT) for the pair, and can often provide a spare battery for a headlamp, or a filter if the other person is inaccessible. Most of us have found it’s best to each carry your own water treatment. If you feel like it, avoid redundancy. One person carries treatment drops like AquaMira, and the other person carries a filter like a Sawyer Squeeze or Katadyn BeFree. Options, options, options.
Small items like a headlamp, pocket knife, duct tape, Ibuprofen, and lip balm are great for each person to have, with the bonus of being able to borrow from the other person if yours is inaccessible. Obviously, this is the same for food…. Carry your own food, but always know your partner has good food too—and maybe they’re willing to share ;)
Clothing is up to the individual, but at the very least each person should be carrying a rain jacket, a synthetic or down-filled coat, and perhaps a mid-layer. You will run at a different temperature than your partner, and clothing should reflect that. Just because one partner doesn’t need a long-sleeve shirt for early mornings, it doesn’t mean the other person should leave theirs home.
There’s a lot that goes into backpacking as a couple, or even as a pair of friends. Communication, planning, and agreeing on your pace are all key. Despite this, the benefits of hiking with a partner far outweigh the necessary extra communication. Sharing gear, from your shelter to your cookset all the way to a sleep system means more weight savings than a solo hiker could hope to attain on their own, and more support and efficiency on the trail and at camp. With this guide, you’ve hopefully added some techniques and gear tips to your repertoire and will further appreciate the camaraderie and convenience of backpacking with your partner on your next trip.