Backpacking Gear for Beginners

This Backpacking Gear for Beginners Guide will tell you not only what items you should have with you but also how to choose the best equipment for your own needs. 

Enjoy the video and don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comments section below.

Backpacking is such an amazing experience. There is nothing that gets us closer to nature than walking through it with everything we need to survive strapped to our backs. But if you have never been backpacking before, you might not be sure what exactly you need to take for a backpacking trip.

Below are my gear suggestions. It might seem daunting to have to buy it all, but if you have a friend who has gear, it’s a great idea to borrow stuff first!

Choosing a Backpack

Ok, so your backpack is the last thing you should buy, which is why I am going to talk about it first. In the end, you want a bag that fits you properly and is able to carry all of your stuff.

Counterintuitively, your backpack is actually the last piece of gear you should buy. This is because you want to make sure you get something that is big enough to fit all of your stuff, and you won’t have the rest of your stuff yet.

It’s important to get a well-fitting bag. The two most important things are the length of the bag and how the hip belt fits.

Most bags will come in different lengths. You want a bag where you can comfortably rest all of the weight at your hips without it rising up your shoulders. You definitely want to be able to use the hip belt comfortably.

So, what size bag should you get? Well, again, you want a bag that will fit all your stuff. The one piece of advice I will give is go smaller than you think. I used a 35 L bag for years and it was never too small.

Currently I am using a Gossamer Gear bag. I am extremely happy with it, but it is a UL bag which means it has a maximum weight of 35 lbs. If you want to see a full list of options, check out this post!

choose backpack

Choosing a Tent

Your tent is your shelter while you are sleeping, so you want something that you will be comfortable sleeping in. You also have to carry your tent in your bag, so you want something that is not too heavy.

There are a lot of great modern tents that are lightweight, comfortable and won’t break the bank. Especially some of the REI brand tents are great first time tents.

My advice for buying the best backpacking tent is, f you are taller than 5’11, go up a size. For example, if you are getting a tent for a single person, get a 2 persons tent instead. If you need a tent for two people, get a 3 person instead. It will provide a lot more comfort.

I am currently using a Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2. Both my partner and I are 5’10” and if either of us were a bit taller we would go up to a 3 person tent.

camp set up at Crown Lake

Types of Sleeping Bag

Just like the tent, the sleeping bag has to be something comfortable to sleep in and also something comfortable to carry.

When you are buying a sleeping bag, they  are rated to a temperature. That temperature is the lowest temperature that you can survive the night in the sleeping bag. It will not be a comfortable night at that temperature, but you won’t freeze to death. 

What this means is that you should choose a sleeping bag that is rated to just below the conditions that you will be sleeping in. Typically, the lower the bag is rated to, the heavier and more expensive it will be. This is not always true. You can get a super cheap bag that is very heavy but not rated to a very low temperature. But, if you buy a bag from the same company rated to a lower temp, it will probably be heavier and more expensive.

This is the one piece of equipment where there is an actual difference between men’s gear and women’s gear. Women on average sleep cooler than men, so a bag rated to 20 degrees for women will be a warmer bag than one rated to 20 degrees for men.

sleeping bags

Sleeping Pad

Just like your sleeping bag, your sleeping pad needs to be chosen based on the conditions you will be sleeping in. Instead of being rated to a temperature, sleeping pads are measured with R value. When it comes to R value, the higher the number, the lower temperature you will be comfortable in.

With sleeping pads, there are two varieties. Foam or inflatable. The inflatable pads are generally more comfortable, but they are also a little more work.

The best advice I can give you: If you are a side sleeper, you don’t want a sleeping pad where the lines are vertical up the pad.

I am currently using a Nemo tensor sleeping pad. I have had it now for about 5 years. I popped it once in the field and the mini repair kit that it came with worked surprisingly well! (I am still using it!)

Backpacking Cook Set

If you are planning on cooking, you will need at a minimum, a stove, a pot, and a fork or spork and a gas canister. Also, have two backup ways to start a fire. If that means matches and a lighter, do that. If you have a self lighting stove, just bring a redundant option as well.

Water System

For water, you need some way to store it, like a Camelbak or a water bottle and some way to purify it. We use a Sawyer Squeeze and it’s super convenient. There are also iodine tablets if you are particularly nervous about the cleanliness of your water source.

Everything Else

You should always have a headlamp, extra batteries, some first aid supplies and a knife.

If you are going backpacking for the first time, it’s normal to be nervous about forgetting something important. As you get more experienced, you will realize that even the stuff I have mentioned is mostly optional. I have had multiple experiences of things breaking while in the back country. I have gotten to camp and realized I am missing something. In the end, we survived and the experiences were still amazing.

Now you have an idea of what backpacking gear for beginners basics you need, then you can think about food, clothes or where you should go on your first backpacking trip!


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