It is a pain when you have to squeeze all your backpacking essentials and gear into one duffel bag and realize you don’t even use half of it. Worse still when you know the goods from North Face and Patagonia, the premium hiking brands are exorbitantly priced and not very versatile for longer backpacking and hiking trips.
When I first started looking for hiking and backpacking gear for my Mount Kinabalu expedition, Annapurna Base Camp and India backpacking adventure, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. I am a big fan of travelling light and cannot fathom trudging along the tea houses with a 10kg backpack (which is what happened on my Nepal and India trip!) and a key lesson not to repeat the same mistake again!
Here’s my tried and tested true ways for the 10 essentials of backpacking gear that you will ever need on your outdoor expedition. I can personally vouch for all the items listed below, but if you think there’s a better deal or item, feel free to comment below.
Essential Backpacking Gear: The 10 Must-Haves
Osprey Packs Tempest 40 Women's Backpack
I have had this backpack for 5 years now and it has lasted me through all my treks and backpacking trips. Since it is 40L, you do not need to worry about packing too-much or too-less, because it hits a sweet spot. You can even use it as a carry-on baggage. I had no problems using it as a carry-on for my flights in AirAsia and RyanAir and I didn’t have to worry about the height restrictions.
You’ll see me carrying my sleeping bag at the bottom holder, plus it has a great holding for trekking shoes, snow boots or hiking poles, and the bottom of the pack provides easy access to all your garments. The main compartment is big enough to fit clothes that will last you for two-weeks or longer. I am small-framed and ordered this in XS/S and so far it has been a great fit for all my travels and hikes!
2. Hiking Shoes
Merrell or Salomon
Hiking shoes boil down to your performance on the trail, but that does not mean that you would need to invest in clunky hiking boots. I have always been more comfortable wearing shoes that have an ultra-light fit. The last thing I want to purchase is stiff hiking shoes. I have changed my shoes twice and my first pair was the Salomon Ultra 3 GTX Trail running shoe. You can’t go wrong with a pair of Salomons. This shoe efficiently tackles technical hikes and really shines during tough descents and the tie strap instead of shoe laces never come loose while hiking.
On the other hand, if you want an all-rounder shoe that is waterproof, I swear by Merrell’s Moab 2 waterproof shoes. It is durable and has a supportive Vibram traction with no break-in period required at all. There’s a reason why it is called the Mother-Of-All-Boots (MOAB). The soles are rugged and they do not wear out whether you’re doing urban hiking, hiking the Annapurna trail or even walking around the city. The one that I got is a men’s edition mainly because I found more comfort in the soles and found them universally appealing. I got my pair in US Size 7.
Salomon Women's X Ultra 3 GTX Trail Running Shoe
Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoe
When you’re huffing and puffing away up a mountain, having your ears covered with a beanie is the fastest way to keep you warm and toasty. Just a tight enough fit like the Spikerking Beanie is all you need without looking like you’re wearing a tight skull cap, of course. With this beanie, you can double up your ear coverage on a cold day.
4. Fleece Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Microchill
As any active outdoorsy traveller will tell you, a fleece jacket is a key hiking essential when fighting the cold winds. Warm, comfortable and protective, fleece jackets keeps your body insulated and manages to wick moisture, making this one of the most versatile clothing in your wardrobe.
Gone are the days when fleece jackets were itchy. Today, they make a great alternative to down jackets, especially compared to the heavy synthetic insulated jackets that were made eons ago. The jackets you see in the markets are insulated and worn for their breathability.
I have gone on multiple hikes and worn this at the start of every trek, before I pack up more layers like a down jacket (see below).
5. Wicking T-shirts
Have you tried shopping for a highly technical hiking shirt and only to find better value in other brands? It’s ridiculously expensive to buy one single hiking t-shirt for $60. I have looked around and can vouch for Nike’s dri-fit running top. You do not specific hiking gear to hike in, and you can always opt for work-out gear for all your basics.
6. Down Jacket
Wantdo Ultra Light Weight Short Down Jacket
If there’s one single essential that you need other than your hiking shoes, it is your down jacket. Down jackets like Wantdo pack a punch, and keeps you warm in the coldest temperatures. The water-repellent coating makes it easier for you to withstand snow and other harsh elements. Outdoor Gear Lab notes, down jackets fill has a phenomenal “warmth to weight” ratio, and it resists damage incurred from compression (such as stuffing it into your backpack).
This is why down jackets are widely known to be the best insulator known to man. They can keep you comfortably warm without weighing you down.
7. Weather-Resistant Hiking Pants
prAna Women’s Halle Pant
If your pants don’t protect you or shield you from the cold, your experience won’t be enjoyable. The market for women’s hiking pants has expanded in recent years, producing many great alternatives with features to make hiking experiences better. I recall looking for one when I went for my first hike and it was hard to find a good quality hiking pants that fits me well, one without excess material hanging from the crotch or excessively tight waist bands.
Deciding which hiking pants to get can be an overwhelming process, but after doing my research, I knew I wanted something that didn’t look like cargo pants but had a slim fit, and really embraces the female form.
8. Travel Towel
Rainleaf Microfiber Towel
There’s nothing worse than having that wet towel smell while you’re hiking. Travel towels like Rainleaf Microfiber towel are quick-drying, absorbent and super useful, be it for your camping or hiking activities.
Getting them in different sizes, one for your hand-carry or pouch and another for showering will do you good in the long run. I also have a habit of leaving my towels behind when they’re super small, so perhaps it is best to get couple of the medium or small towels, not the towel in size XS.
Darn Tough Vermont Micro Crew Cushion Socks
Nothing like having the best pair of socks to keep you from hiking blisters. Hiking or backpacking essentials like Darn Tough Vermont Micro Crew Cushion socks are god-sent when you’re wet and done miles and miles of hiking. They’re tested in the wilderness and known to be extremely durable. It’s all in the name, rugged and they’re darn good in weathering all terrains.
10. Camping Hammock / Sleeping Bag
Honest Outfitters Single & Double Camping Hammock
With the rise of minimalist backpacking and hiking, tents and sleeping bags have conveniently been replaced with hammock camping. You don’t have to deal with a setup since it takes less than 3 minutes, and plus the view is better when you’re perched up higher on a mountain, afloat and looking up to the stars.
With a hammock you’ll never again care what the ground looks like underneath you. It has become a key hiking essential and incredible addition to your hiking gear even if you don’t sleep in it, because it is lightweight.
No matter where you are hiking, the right hiking or backpacking essentials are something that you shouldn’t skimp on. It can be quite an investment in the beginning but if you think about it, quality gear lasts you a lifetime. I haven’t found the need to replace my gear and most of them have lasted me for a long time, at least 5 years.
If you’ve made a purchase of these essentials in one of your hiking trips, I’d love to hear your story in the comments below. Got questions? Let me know and I’ll do my best to get you the help you need to improve your hiking experience.
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