Don’t waste your time getting hiking gear that’s not great. I spend a lot of my time on the trail testing and reviewing hiking gear in real-world scenarios, and only recommend gear that I actually use and that has passed muster*. I just skip posting or talking about anything that isn’t worth your time or money.
I take a high-tech and low-tech approach, giving you the convenience of hiking with technology while offering low-tech backups in case the fancy gear fails. Everything you see in this hiking gear list is what I use on every hike that I do. I update this page regularly when I test and use new hiking gear (subscribe to my quarterly email to get updates on gear).
This list features all the hiking gear that is worth your time, skipping the junk that you don’t need.
* Gear companies often offer me free gear and/or money for a review, and I don’t do it. I think that’s a slippery slope and I’d rather just use my own money to be able to look at hiking gear objectively. I also don’t work for REI, but I highly recommend them. For most gear on this site, I link to REI, and if you click on the link and purchase the item, I receive a very small affiliate commission. Think of it as an easy way to support the blog and free hiking guides. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Let’s cover some essential hiking gear before we get into the details of everything in my pack. These are the pieces of hiking gear that I think are worth every ounce and dollar.
The best hydration daypack out there. The CamelBak Fourteener has been perfect on day hikes of all distances (including Mt Whitney and Cactus to Clouds). It’s light, has plenty of room for snacks, extra layers, hiking gear, and comes with a 3-liter water bladder (and I can carry an extra 3L in it too for a total of 6L). I also like the raised sweat pads on the back that keep your back dry. It’s the perfect blend of high-tech, durability, and simplicity. I’ve got hundreds of hours on it and still love it.
My favorite hiking boot of all time. The La Sportiva Synthesis (for women and men) are waterproof, super-light, have incredible grip, and won a Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Award (my review here). I’ve gone through a lot of boots, and these are my favorite. They feel like comfortable sneakers with the protection of hiking boots.
If you ever hike out of cellphone range, you need this. The Garmin InReach allows you to send and receive text messages where cell phones don’t work using satellite technology. You can tell your family you’re okay, that you’re running late, or signal for a full blow emergency to search and rescue. It also has weather, maps, and some navigation tools. It’s worth every cent, and you can read my in-depth review here or go right to REI and read the reviews and specs.
I use this Fenix 5x GPS mapping watch every day. The Garmin Fenix 5x is a GPS with topo maps that you wear on your wrist. I use it to track my hikes and also load GPX tracks onto it that I want to follow. I don’t do a lot of on the fly planning using the maps on the watch, but I can if I need to. Outside of hiking, I use the Fenix t to track my heart rate, my sleep, all my other workouts, and it integrates with my smartphone. I have a review on the Fenix 3HR model and am working on a long term review of the Fenix 5x now (coming soon, subscribe for an update). If you read the Fenix 3HR review, it will give you a good idea of what the the Fenix 5x can do, but it doesn’t have maps (but you can follow routes).
I don’t like to have a lot of crap in my closet, so I just invest in a few key pieces of hiking clothing. In general I like clothing from REI, Columbia, and Kuhl. They fit well, are built for hikers, and wick/dry quickly.
Any good planner will tell you that backups and redundancy are important, and that holds true for your hiking navigation too. I recommend bringing multiple sources of navigation for your hike in case one fails or is incorrect.
Here’s what I bring:
Garmin Fenix 5x I use this to track my hikes and follow GPX files, along with a ton of other features in my everyday life.
Gaia GPS I use this app on my phone with offline maps as another option. It’s handy when I need to move around a map quickly to see my surroundings. Make sure you read the advice on their site for using the app, it’s easy to run the battery down if you don’t set things up correctly. I use it with an iPhone 7plus.
eTrex 20x Because my phone is relatively fragile, even in an Otterbox, I have a backup GPX device specifically made for the outdoors. The eTrex 20x is relatively inexpensive and has everything you need, including the ability to load free maps.
Garmin InReach Explorer This is a GPS device that lets you send a text message with your position using satellite phone technology, so you don’t need a cell phone signal. It also has navigation tools, but I only use them in a pinch.
Paper Map, Guide Book, and/or Printout I never rely on electronics alone; I always have a backup on paper.
MSR Guardian Purifier A small, bullet-proof water purifier lets me take water from streams and lakes to refill my supply.
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp The LED bulbs barely take any power and the model I have allows me to adjust the level of illumination. Don’t forget the extra batteries.
Petzl e+Lite Illumination is important, so I carry a featherweight backup headlamp too.
Probars When choosing foods for a hike, I usually try to cram the most slow-burning calories in the smallest package. ProBars are a great mix of nuts, seeds, and sugar, and are tasty. A bag of almonds does the trick too.
Permethrin When I hike in location where bugs are an issue, I’ll treat my clothes with this.
Sawyer Stay-Put It’s sunscreen that I can just apply once and then forget about.
Joby Flexible Tripod The Joby bends and flexes so you can use it on uneven surfaces or attach it to a tree or branch. It works with your smartphone too. Include a cheap Bluetooth shutter button for your phone camera, and you have a good photo setup.
I don’t do really long trips, with my longest being a week. Here’s what works well for me.
Osprey Exos 48 Backpack This backpack is big enough to carry all your camping gear, really light, durable, and has pockets on the outside to stash things you want to reach without unpacking, like snacks. I’m very happy with the Osprey Exos 48.
REI Quarter Dome Tent I take the tent components out of the bag and put them in my backpack individually, and it packs down to nothing. No big tent back in my pack. It’s almost half the weight of similar tents, easy to setup, relatively inexpensive, and durable.
Jetboil Flash Stove I’ve had mine since 2006, and it’s still going strong. It’s easy and gets water fast quick.
REI Co-op Igneo 17 Sleeping Bag This is a great 3 season sleeping bag at an affordable price. It weights about 2lbs, is water-resistant, and packs down small. I wouldn’t use it below freezing, but for anything else, it’s great.
REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad I used to tough it out without a sleeping pad. I used to be dumb. They’re great. I love this model which is inflatable and packs down small. I always hated carrying around a bulky sleeping pad strapped to my pack. With this one, you don’t have to.
Here’s what I carry as my emergency hiking essentials. Most of this gear sits at the bottom of my pack, there in case of an emergency.
Garmin InReach Explorer The Garmin InReach (formerly the DeLorme InReach) is not only my primary rescue beacon, but it also lets me send and receive text messages where cell phones don’t work. It’s great for my family and friends. I’m able to check in and tell them that I’m safe, or let them know I’m running late but everything is okay. It’s about the size of a smartphone and worth the investment.
ACR ResQLink The ACR ResQLink is worth its weight in gold. It’s a small GPS beacon that works where cell phones don’t. When you activate it, it sends an SOS with your position to international search and rescue satellites. Read my review of the ACR ResQLink to understand how crucial thing is.
Whistles for LIFE Tri-Power Whistle If people are searching for you and you’re off the trail, you’re going to want to be making noise, and a small and cheap whistle is an easy way to do it. Some backpack chest straps have whistles built in now too.
Zippo Windproof Lighter I carry this and a few cheap Bic lighters in my pack as backup. Fire is crucial for staying warm and signaling rescuers. Just make sure you keep the fire under control. People trying to signal a rescue have started forest fires before.
UCO Stormproof Match Kit These are a backup to start a fire and includes some tinder to help you get the fire going. It’s light and easy to keep in your pack.
MSR Strike Igniter Yes, I think fire is important, so I have another way to create it. This igniter is small and light, and worth having.
Leatherman Skeletool Multi-Tool I carry a blade with me because it’s a great tool. I like Swiss Army knives, but realistically I don’t need all the functions, and I like a longer blade just in case. The Skeletool is a good mix between a Swiss Army knife and a longer blade, and it’s light.
Tenacious Tape I like this better than duct tape; it seems to be stronger and cleaner. Use it to repair ripped gear and clothing when out in the backcountry.
MSR Reflective Utility Cord Kit I keep some light gauge (3mm) cordage (rope) to help me build a shelter, hoist food off the ground, whatever. Get a bright color utility cord like this type, which is easy to see.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX Footprint I use this tent footprint as a general lightweight tarp with many uses. It can be used as a lean-to shelter, a blanket, a way to carry materials such as leaves, and a way to carry water. A tent footprint is light, does the job well and works with my tent when I need it. Its grommets make it easy to rig up and work with.
SOL Emergency Bivy Similar to the tarp, this is a lightweight sleeping sack that can help protect me from the elements and keep me warm. If you want extra warmth, simply stuff it with leaves or pine needles. This inexpensive model works well, is orange and easy to spot, and has reflective material on the inside to keep heat in.
Clear Contractor Bag I carry two of these. The bags are helpful to keep gear dry (like fire tinder), you can store water in them, make a rain shelter, or even make a solar still to get water from condensation.