We pooled favorite pics from our top Review Editor's how have collectively spent a couple hundred years backpacking.
The Essential Backpacking Gear
- Tent - Usually under $110, the ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 2 is the least expensive free-standing tent we've seen. At 4.75 pounds, it's not that light. However, if you buy the ground cloth, you can use a "fast fly" (fly, poles and ground cover) which brings the weight down to around 4 lbs. See our budget tent roundup for more options.
- Sleeping bag — Hard to beat the Kelty Cosmic Series. We go with the Cosmic 20 if it's colder and the Cosmic 40 if it's warmer. When we wear all our clothes, we are comfortable in the Cosmic 40 down to freezing temps. So in most applications, we take that.
- Sleeping Pad — Big fans of Ridgerest: cheap, no inflation required, can't pop, decent 2.8 R-value. You can go the blue pad route. But the R-Value is only 1.4, it's not much lighter and only saves you $10-20.
- Backpack — The Osprey Volt 60 is best high-quality pack. While $180 is expensive, we have a hard time recommending sub-$100 packs like the TETON Sports Explorer4000 Backpack because they are generally heavy and likely to fail (and don't have great warranties). If you are willing to go ultralight, the Granite Gear Virga 2 is only $140, weighs just over a pound and is the lightest pack we have tested.
- Stove — The Etekcity Ultralight is only $14 or 2 for $16. It performs well and is very light.
- Backpacking Cover — Use a trash compactor bag (a regular trash bag works but is more likely to tear). Line the inside of your bag, put on the outside, or do both.
- First Aid Kit — Duct tape and Advil.
- Headlamp — Most $7-10 headlamps on Amazon are good for around camp. For a higher performance trail-finding headlamp, consider the Black Diamond Spot ($40).
- Sun Protection — We go with NoAd sunscreen. Buy a big container then put into a smaller one for your trip. Instead of a sun hat, we either use a sun shirt with a hood or use a Buff/Multifunctional Headband under a cap.
- Tent Stakes and Guylines — Kungix Tent Stakes are 10 for a $10 and good quality. For extra line for your tent, we like the Kelty TripTease LightLine.
- Trekking poles — The cheapest option is to bring no poles. Second cheapest to find old ski poles from your garage or a thrift store. Remove the baskets to make them lighter and remove the handles and replace with tennis racket wrap to make them even lighter.
- Water Bottle — Just bring your favorite plastic water bottle.
- Water Filter — At $20, the Sawyer Mini is $80-200 cheaper than other filters. The only cheaper options are chlorine tabs like the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops
If that sounds like too much money, here are some other options:
1) Scour Craigslist and find high-end gear, used, for cheap. See our backpacking reviews, find the model you want, and search for it on ebay or craigslist.
2) go the "army surplus route" and use older (usually heaver stuff for cheap). A good example of this philosophy is captured in this backpacking set up for under $300