Best backpacking gear: a great base load in well under 7lb
Our guide to the best backpacking gear keeps your base load ultralight without sacrificing on quality or comfort
When you’re on the prowl for new backpacking gear, you have one primary objective: find gear that is as lightweight and packable as possible. After all, whether you’re heading out on an overnight trip or taking on an epic thru-hike, everything you need has to fit in your backpack, and you have to actually be able to walk while carrying it. Our guide to the best backpacking gear helps you find a lightweight but high performing tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and camping stove, plus a backpack to fit it all in, without adding too much weight on your back or sacrificing quality or comfort.
All of this isn’t to say that you always have to go ultralight and keep your backpack under 10kg – but the heavier it is, the harder it is to hike and the more likely you are to develop blisters as your feet spread out more in your hiking boots under the added weight. Go too lightweight, however, and you might end up with flimsy gear that doesn’t hold up to the test of being unpacked, set up, broken down and repacked day after day on the trail. For the best backpacking gear, you want to balance weight with quality and of course, not break the bank while you're doing it.
For this guide, we’ve focused on the best three-season gear, meaning that which you can use it for backpacking in the spring, summer and fall and while this gear will last you at high altitude, in the best National Parks for backpacking and all the way along the Appalachian Trail when the weather is cool, mild or warm, it’s not meant for whiteout blizzard conditions.
Backpacking tent: Nemo Hornet (opens in new tab)
If you haven’t upgraded your camping gear in a while, it’s easy to think that your tent is going to be the heaviest and most bulky item in your backpack, but that’s no longer the case with the trend towards ultralight gear and non-freestanding tents that you can erect using your trekking poles.
Take the Nemo Hornet, for example, which made our list of best one-person tents but comes in both one-person and 2-person semi-freestanding models. This tent is versatile, ultralight, easy to pitch and basically bombproof. The ball-and-socket design makes clipping in the single Y-shape pole super easy for lightning-quick pop up, with an intuitive and non-fiddly assembly, even when you have the cold-hand fumbles. At only 2lbs, you might well want to go with the 2-person version even if you’re hiking solo so there’s room inside for your backpack on wet nights.
Weight: 2lbs 6oz / 1.07kg
Pack size: 19.5 x 4.5in / 50 x 12cm
- Runner up: The MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 is another 2-person tent that’s as light and packable as many 1-person models and fast to set up in stormy weather.
Sleeping bag: Sea to Summit Ember II Down 35 Sleeping Quilt
When you’re looking for a sleeping bag, your first thought is always going to be comfort without bulk, and we actually prefer a camping quilt to a sleeping bag for this reason. Rather than a traditional sleeping bag with a cocoon shape and zip, a camping quilt is like half a sleeping bag, with no zip, so it's lighter and more versatile packable.
This camping quilt boasts 850+ fill power down to keep you warm on cool nights. It uses four adjustable snap straps to easily attach to your sleeping pad to seal out drafts when the weather cools off and uses a drawstring system to tighten around your feet when it’s chilly, which leaves you much more freedom to sleep in any position, and lets you easily kick a leg out when it’s too warm. A draw cord around the shoulders also helps you keep your neck warm without breathing into a hood all night. Made with a DWR coating and quick-drying down, and including a water-resistant stuff sack, this quilt holds up well against damp conditions and accidental spills. It also comes in a 25°F and 50°F option, and three sizes for extra versatility: regular, long and double.
Weight: 1lbs 5.2oz / 600g
Pack size: 5 x 6in / 12.7 x 15.2cm
- Runner up: If you’d prefer a traditional sleeping bag, we love the Rab Neutrino Pro 400 which strikes the ideal balance between warmth and weight, fending off temperatures as low as -7°C/14°F but still weighing under 2lbs.
Sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
When you’re backpacking, your sleeping pad needs to take up as little space as possible in your backpack, but still provide you with ample warmth and comfort against the cold, hard ground. From one of the leaders in sleeping pad technology comes the Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite sleeping pad, an ultralight mat that is perfect for gram-counting backpackers.
The mat is both remarkably light and impressively compact – it rolls away to about the size of a beer can, yet unlike most other minimalist pads, it offers decent levels of comfort, with an inflated thickness of 2½ inches (6.4cm) to keep you off the ground. The mat itself makes use of a transverse chamber design, similar to other mats in the NeoAir range. It’s available in small, regular and large sizes.
Weight: 8.8oz / 250g
Pack size: 6 x 3.5in / 15 x 9cm
- Runner up: For only a few more ounces and a similar price, the Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping Pad is the perfect backpacking camping pad, for when you want to travel fast and light but sleep comfortably.
Camping stove: Jetboil Flash (opens in new tab)
When you’ve been walking all day with a heavy pack, there’s no time for luxuriating over dinner. You want to plump up that dehydrated meal fast and with as little fuss as possible and the Jetboil Flash made our list of the best camping stoves because its FluxRing heat exchanger element transformed the boil speed of backpacking stoves.
Have boiling water for your tea, oatmeal or pasta in under two minutes, or, a flash. Fold-out legs attach to the base of the gas canister, improving stability and a push button ignition starts the fire without faffing with matches or discovering your lighter isn’t working. For portability, the stove and a small gas canister slide into the pot, while a small bowl protects the FluxRing, and it’s one of the lightest stoves we’ve tested.
Weight: 13oz / 371g
Pack size: 104mm x 180mm/4in x 7in
- Runner up: Alpkit’s Kraku camping stove (opens in new tab) is a simple, collapsible titanium camping stove weighing at an astonishing 45g that fits in the palm of your hand and boils quickly.
Backpack: Osprey Levity 45
Though you might have thought your tent was going to be the heaviest part of your stash, it turns out that your backpack can add more weight than just about anything else. While a lot of great backpacking backpacks tip the scales at over 3lbs, the Osprey Levity lives up to its name and shaves ounces without sacrificing carrying comfort.
In terms of overall design, it shares some similarities with the best-selling Osprey Exos (women’s Eja) pack, utilising essentially the same ExoForm harness and AirSpeed trampoline-style back system. However, the Levity is considerably lighter than the Exos, a feat that has been achieved by streamlining the feature set and utilising a new, superlight-yet-tough ripstop nylon called Nanofly. The result is a lightweight backpack that carries very well, with a back system that is particularly well suited to hot, sweaty hikes, since the suspended mesh delivers excellent airflow. Unlike some other ultralight packs, the Levity is internally framed, giving it much more rigidity and stability than many rivals. Obviously, this means it isn’t the absolute lightest of the lightweights, but it does translate into improved carrying comfort on the trail.
Weight: 1 lb 12oz / 800g
Size: 27 x 16 x 12in / 68 x 40 x 30cm
- Runner up: At under 3lbs, the Exped Lightning 45 is lightweight and with a deceptively simple design it retains the ethos of functional minimalism that made it so popular with lightweight backpackers in the first place, while beefing up the pack’s overall durability, load-hauling ability and carrying comfort.
Total weight: 6.6lbs / 3.028kg
With this total base weight, you can easily afford to bring all the warm layers you need, such as your best down jacket for chilly nights and extra hiking socks for boggy days, plus all of your food and camping fuel for several days and still keep up a good pace on the trail.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.