Best Backpacking Gear

Best Backpacking Gear of 2020 (Reviews & Comparisons)

Where will your next adventure take you? Is it to the snow-capped mountains of the Rockies? Is it on a multi-month jaunt through Europe? Is it on a photo driven journey along the Appalachin or the Pacific Crest Trail?

Some people will never understand backpacking. To them, the thought of carrying a pack on a trail is like the Bataan Death March. But for those of us appreciate the thrill of human-powered slow travel, our next trip is always a cause for excitement. The freedom of being outdoors. The leisure of setting the schedule and pace according to your whim. And the knowledge that for at least a brief moment, our entire lives rest squarely on our shoulders. At Gear Lobo, this is exactly how we feel.

The Ideal Setup

The best backpacking gear is simple, lightweight, and impossibly durable. Most of us plan to be out on the trail for at least a few days at a time, so the weight of our packs is critically important. Any ounce we can save in our equipment means less pain at the end of the long days.

Likewise, being out for several days at a time away from civilization, necessitates that we can depend on our gear. There are no “quick trips to Walmart” if something breaks. We are literally on our own, and in some cases, in life-threatening conditions.

Like most things in life, the best quality gear ain’t cheap. And since we aren’t made of money, it’s important to find the sweet spot of the highest quality that we can afford.

So there it is–compressible, ultralight, and yet still affordable. It’s a tall order, but we’re up to it. It’s worth it, because having good equipment quite literally opens up a world of possibilities.

For starters, here are some foundational staples of your backpacking gear:

Backpacking Tents

Backpacking TentsThis is your portable house–don’t scrimp! Your backpacking tent will protect you from bugs, critters, and the elements. As mentioned above, the foremost virtue here is weight.

However, behind weight considerations, a close second with tents is the ease of setting up. There are some poor designs out there that take entirely too much time to set up. The last thing that you want is to have to fiddle with a complicated tent at the end of a long hard day (this holds true also for cots, hammocks, stoves, and lots of backpacking gear).

It also needs to be sized appropriately. Make sure that your tent will fit you (and your gear if you so desire), give you the ceiling clearance that you want, and doesn’t have an awkward shape, that results in wasted space and weight. You should also consider if you just need a solo tent, of if you need a 2 person, 3 person, or even 4 person backpacking tent.

See Our Recommended Backpacking Tents Here

Backpacking Stoves

Backpacking StovesThe world of backpacking stoves is slightly divided by a difference of opinion. One of most important things about a backpacking stove is the ability to set it up and get it going quickly and easily.

Think about it–you will be using your little stove when:

  1. It’s pitch black
  2. You’re dog tired
  3. You are freezing cold (and your hands are shaking)

So in general, most people maintain that the best backpacking stove is the easiest one to set up. There are some really good butane stoves available on the market that make for really easy stoves. Jetboil, MSR, and a handful of other brands have some really great stuff.

On the other hand though, there are other people that think that depending on a stove that only works on butane is a dicey proposition, and instead prefer to use multi fuel stoves. There are also size considerations, although our recommendation is that you don’t dismiss a stove that you love, strictly because it’s a little bigger than some of the ones you hate.

See Our Recommended Backpacking Stoves Here

Backpacking Sleeping Pads

Sleeping PadsA backpacking sleeping pad is probably the simplest, lightest, most portable solution to make your night’s rest more comfortable.

Unlike cots and hammocks, backpacking pads can compress to extremely small dimensions (the inflatable ones that is), allowing you to easily tuck away your “mattress” in the corner of your pack. They are also extremely easy to set up….. as in…. unroll it and open a valve.

There are obviously pros and cons to everything, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a quality sleeping pad at a decent price (pro tip: people with kids may find themselves using their backpacking pads on many a living room “campout” as well).

See Our Recommended Sleeping Pads Here

Backpacking Pillows

Backpacking Pillows

Backpacking pillows can go a long way to helping you have a better night’s sleep.

They are relatively inexpensive, and when compacted, can be uber portable (like smaller than a soda can). And to top it off, incredibly strong “no-leak” valves, and easy, push-button deflation now come standard in many of these pillows.

Will you die without a backpacking pillow? Of course not! For thousands of years people have been doing without them. Unlike tents and stoves, a backpacking pillow definitely isn’t a “core” part of your gear. And if you want to get clever, you can always bunch up clothing and sleep on that.

But hey, for a few extra dollars and a little bit of pack space, you can have a really comfortable night’s sleep. Not a bad trade in our book.

See Our Recommended Backpacking Pillows Here

Backpacking Knives

Backpacking Knives

When you’re on the trail, everything that you carry has to be worthy of the precious space and weight that it takes. A solid backpacking knife is one piece of gear that is completely “worth it.”

Knives have incredible utility–use them for cooking, eating, hunting, defense, cutting rope, getting out splinters and a hundred other things. The bottom line is, you need to have a sturdy knife as a cornerstone of your backpacking gear.

While you may find yourself regretting other things that you pack with you on the trail, you won’t ever be sorry that you brought a good knife.

See Our Recommended Backpacking Knives Here

Rain Ponchos

Rain PonchosIf you’re a backpacker, you’ve likely come to accept that the weather will not always be ideal. When you spend any amount of time on the trail, that’s just part of it. Particularly in beautiful places, which tend to be either mountainous (lots of weather), or really green (because there’s a lot of rain).

Just because there’s a storm however, doesn’t mean you have to be miserable in it. A solid rain poncho will keep you dry while you’re on the trail, or at least until you can take shelter somewhere else.

Rain ponchos aren’t fancy, and don’t need to be expensive. Check out our notes from the field, where we share what we’ve learned, as well as our top recommended picks.

See Our Recommended Rain Ponchos Here

Fire Starters

Fire StartersEver since man stumbled across fire, we’ve been obsessed with it. It helps us win. It protects us from the harsh elements. With fire, we cook, we drink purified water, we burn fuel which powers engines, we have light to keep working after the sun goes down, and a million other things.

When you’re camping, a fire keeps us warm, and it provides the evening’s entertainment (“Ranger T.V. right?”). The campfire is the backdrop to lots of reflection and long conversation.

Having a solid fire starter ensures that you aren’t caught in terrible weather without warmth. Yes, when you’re in the outdoors, fire starters are some of your strongest allies.

See Our Recommended Fire Starters Here