Home / Most Popular / Section Hiker’s Top Backpacking Gear Picks – 2016

Section Hiker’s Top Backpacking Gear Picks – 2016

Philip Werner on Mt Percival, Squam Lake Region, NH
Philip Werner on Mt Percival, Squam Lake Region, NH.

While I get to try out more backpacking gear than most people, I have a highly refined list of gear favorites that I bring on my personal hiking, backpacking, camping, fly fishing, and winter trips. It’s the kind of stuff I’ve been using for years and will likely replace when it wears out. I still buy most of my personal gear, so I’m always looking for the best balance of function, durability and cost.

That said, I have dropped a few old favorites because they simply wore out or I’ve replaced them with gear that’s more durable and attuned to the types of trips I’ve been taking over the past two years. (See bottom of this post.) It’s was all great stuff, just not quite as well suited for my needs anymore.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to explain the conditions that the gear listed below performs best in. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.


Best ultralight backpack for one night backpacking trips, day hikes, off-trail hiking, and backcountry fishing: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Backpack. (2 years- link to review)

  • Tough as nails. The most durable backpack I’ve ever used to death. External Dyneema pockets are far more durable than mesh ones. Still going strong, but not as bright white as it was when it was new.

Best ultralight backpack for multi-day and shoulder-season backpacking trips: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack. (1 year- link to review)

  • Same fit as the HMG 2400 but with a longer extension collar. The huge main compartment is good for storing bulkier cold weather sleep insulation.

Best high-volume backpack for off-trail and multi-day backpacking trips, including packrafting and winter backpacking. Seek Outside Unaweep Fortress 4800 external frame backpack. (2 years – link to review)

  • Great hip belt and external attachment system. No load is too heavy – the benefit of an external frame backpack.
Single Layer Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock
Single Layer Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock

Tents, Hammocks, and Shelters

Best backpacking hammock – Warbonnet Blackbird (2 years – link to review)

  • Swapped my double layer Blackbird for a single layer Blackbird this year and switched from cinch buckle strap system to whoopie slings to save gear weight. Still basically the same hammock, just a different suspension.

Best winter tent: Black Diamond Firstlight Tent (8 years – link to review)

  • Truly freestanding. Nuff said!

Sleeping Pads

Best inflatable three season sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest XLite Sleeping Pad (4 years – link to review)

Best inflatable winter sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest XTherm Sleeping Pad (4 years – link to review)

Best foam sleeping pad (for hammocking): Therm-a-Rest Z Lite (9 years – link to review)

  • Mainly used to insulate my feet when hammocking with a 3/4 underquilt or to augment a 3 season sleeping pad in winter weather.

Suunto M3 Compass

Sleeping Bags/Quilts

Best 3 season sleeping bag for side sleepers – NEMO Equipment Nocturne 30 Sleeping Bag (3 years – link to review)

Best summer sleeping bag (doubles as hammock top quilt) – Feathered Friends Flicker UL 40 (<1 years – link to review)

  • I’ve owned a bunch of top quilts but none have the versatility of the FF Flicker. I like its chameleon-like ability to be used in different ways and with different shelter systems.

Navigation Tools

Best compass: Suunto M3 (5 years – link to review)

Best altimeter watch: Casio Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Solar Watch  (3 years –link to review)

  • Best watch I’ve owned in years. The altimeter is invaluable. I use it on every hike in the mountains.
Petzl E+Lite Headlamp
Petzl E+Lite Headlamp


Best ultralight headlamp for in-camp use: Petzl e+Lite (3 years – link to review)

Best high-powered headlamp for winter hiking/backpacking: Black Diamond Icon (4 years –link to review)


Best ultralight knife and multi-tool: Victorinox Swiss Army Classic (9 years – link to review)

Best bushcraft/recreational knife: Morakniv Forest Stainless Steel (2 year – review forthcoming)

Trekking Poles

Best trekking poles: Pacerpole (6 years – link to review)

QiWiz Firefly Wood Stove -Ursack Allwhite Bear Bag (rear)

Stoves and Cookware

Best canister stove for boiling water: Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System (2 years – link to review)

Best wood stove: QiWiz Firefly (3 years – link to review)

Best solid fuel stove system: QiWiz Titanium Dual Fuel Cook System (3 years – link to review)

Best liquid fuel winter backpacking stove: MSR Whisperlite (4 years – link to review)

Best UL cook pot: Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot, Medium size (6 years – link to review)

Bear Protection

Best bear-proof bear bag: Ursack (9 years – link to review)

La Sportiva Ultra-Raptor Trail Running Shoes
La Sportiva Ultra-Raptor Trail Running Shoes

Hiking Shoes and Boots

Best hiking shoes: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor (3 years – link to review)

Best winter hiking boots: Salomon Toundra Mid WP Winter Hiking Boots (1 year – link to review)

Best Hiking Clothes: Pants, Shirts, Baselayers, Socks, Hats, etc

Best three season hiking pant: RailRiders Eco-mesh Pants  w/ Insect Shield (9 years – link to review)

Best three season hiking shirt: Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt   w/ Insect Shield (2 years – link to review)

Best hiking socks: Darn Tough Hiker Socks (1 year – link to review)

  • Remarkably durable. I haven’t worn out a pair yet.

Best underwear: Under Armour Heat Gear Boxer Jocks (7 years – link to review)

Best  long underwear: Patagonia Capilene 1 long sleeve jersey and long underwear pants (10 years – link to review)

Best three-season hiking hat: Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat w/ Insect Shield (3 years –link to review)

Aqua Mira Water Purification Drops
Aqua Mira Water Purification Drops

Best Water Filters/Water Purification/Reservoirs

Best Water Filter/Purifier: Sawyer Squeeze(filter only) (4 years – link to review)

Best Water Purifier: Aqua Mira Water Purification Drops (4 years – link to review)

Best Rain Gear/Hard Shells

Best three-season rain jacket: Lightheart Gear Silnylon Rain Jacket (1 year – link to review)

  • Truly waterproof. No DWR maintenance required, ever.

Best technical winter shell: Outdoor Research Foray Jacket (4 years – link to review)

Best wind shirt: Berghaus VapourLight Hyper Jacket (1 year – link to review)

Best three-season rain pants: Montane Minimus Rain Pants (2 years – link to review)

Best winter hiking/backpacking hard shell pant: Precip fullzip rain pant (6 years – link to review)

Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan Goggles
Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan Goggles

Best Winter Gear

Best snowshoes: MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes (3 years – link to review)

Best ice axe: CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (5 years – link to review)

Best crampons: CAMP XLC Nanotech Crampons (5 years – link to review)

  • Bought a replacement pair last winter. Still love them.

Best universal winter traction aid: Kahtoola Microspikes (7 years – link to review)

Best winter water bottle insulation: Forty Below Bottle Boots (7 years – link for review)

  • May need to replace these this year…starting to fall apart.

Best ski goggles: Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan (5 years – link for review)

Best gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters (7 years – link for review)

Retired Gear

  • Gossamer Gear Mariposa – Not an ideal pocket system for hammock backpacking. Not durable enough for my needs.
  • Gossamer Gear Gorilla –  Not durable enough for my needs.
  • Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid – Sold. Too hard to use in heavily forested areas.
  • Garmont Momentum Snow GTX Boots – Wore out. Beat to death. No longer available.
  • Cold Cold World Choas (Winter) Backpack  – Wore out. Beat to hell.
  • Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket – Got sick of having to restore DWR coating.
  • Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt – Seams unravelled, wore out. No longer available.

Disclosure: Philip Werner has received free sample products for review at one time or another from the following manufacturers mentioned in this article: Gossamer Gear, Outdoor Research, Berghaus, RailRiders, Helly Hansen, MSR, CAMP, Forty Below, Kahtoola, Mora, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, JetBoil, Pacerpole. and Therm-a-Rest. This post contains affiliate links. 

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  1. I’m curious as to what you think is the best three season tent?

    • There’s really no such thing as the absolute BEST 3 season tent. A lot depends on the conditions you plan to use it in – wind, bugs, rain, weight, humidity, temperature, cost, comfort, number of people, ease of setup. etc. People who tell you otherwise are just fooling themselves. If you fill in some of those variables, I can make some cogent suggestions though.

  2. How about a tarp for those who like to be more minimalistic?

    • The same hold as before – where do you plan to use this tarp, how big does it have to be, do you need flat or shaped, cat cut or 90 degree corners, how heavy, how much you willing to pay, what does the rest of your sleep/shelter system look like? People who don’t take these things into consideration end up not getting the tarp they want or need.

      This post is about my personal preferences, based on the where and how I hike. I’m happy to make gear suggestions – I do it all day long for people who contact me – but you need to give me more to go on.

      • Another point – when I write gear reviews, I try to explain the conditions that are most appropriate for using a piece of gear – cost, weather, temperature, ease of use, etc. etc.

        I do this because I think gear reviews (and everything else I write) should be educational and help teach readers how to think critically about gear selection and trip planning. It’s a major underlying theme of this entire web site.

        If you want BEST of SHOW tent recommendations, or BEST TENTS of 2016, go to Backpacker Magazine. I won’t stoop to that level of crass commercialism in the content I provide readers. It’s just not me.

  3. Philip – INTEGRITY! This is why SectionHiker.com is my first stop every morning. Stick to your guns, man. You’re doing the right thing.

  4. Tarp use: Predominantly lower NY State
    Size: 10′ x 8′ or 9′ x 9′
    Shape: Flat, either cat cut or 90° corners
    Weight: Under 1 pound
    Material: Silnylon
    Cost: Under $150
    Sleep system: Bivy

  5. I didn’t mean to sound as if I was looking for a best of show recommendation, I was only asking to see what you have found to be the most successful for you given all the experience that you have in comparison to myself. I don’t want the revenue generating type reviews that Backpacker doles out.

  6. Old school tarper. Your best bet is probably to have one made by Outdoor Equipment Supplier. http://www.outdoorequipmentsupplier.com/products.php

  7. Philip I know you’ve had great luck with the Ursac any opinion on bear canisters?

  8. Phillip, I’m curious why you changed from a Blackbird double layer to the single layer version… simply for the weight reduction of an unnecessary second layer? I went with the double layer thinking it would help contain a pad… it doesn’t do that for me. I have lots of trouble keeping an inflatable pad from sliding up the side of me opposite the entry zip over night. I’ve tried under inflating the pad which helped, but finally went to a non inflating pad which seems to work best. I’m thinking now that sandwich layer may just be extra weight unless a strategically placed sewn in seam might prevent pad migration during the night. I love the comfort of the Blackbird!!

    • It cuts both ways. I’ve found that a shortened Zlite pad works wonderfully (for me) in the DL blackbird in warmer weather, but the DL is significantly heavier than the SL. On the flip side, it’s much easier and more comfortable to use an underquilt if you go with the SL blackbird. While the SL is lighter, I’d say that I prefer packing an UQ instead of an accordion foam pad since the pad forces me to use a different pack than I’d otherwise prefer.

      I’ve also pretty much decided to go to ground in colder weather (sub 40) instead of using the hammock because it lets me carry a smaller volume backpack. I got myself a very nice but quite inexpensive 40 degree UQ from Loco Libre that I am very happy with. The overhead of cold weather hammocking is too high for me in terms of expense, hassle, and pack volume.

      That was a long answer, but the reason for switching to a SL was based on both weight and gear volume (pack size/selection) considerations. Make sense?

  9. I know this is the eternal debate among hammockers, but why Warbonnet vs Hennessy? Any particular reason, or just a personal preference? I’m looking at making the jump and am trying to weigh to weigh the pros/cons.

    • Good question. I’ve owned an HH in the past long ago and never could get used to the center bottom entrance which is all they had then. Made using an UQ annoying and suboptimal.

      Figured I’d try a Warbonnet this time around because I got a good deal on a used one from a friend.

      I like the Warbonnet better (than my misty memory of that old HH Ultralite Asym Classic) because of the side shelves. Great place to put a few items at night. I also like that Warbonnet is a bit more “open” in its approach to third-party accessories. HH wants to sell you an entire system of components (I’m not a fan of their tarps). Warbonnet is a little less pushy in this respect – it’s a subtle observation – but it makes it easier to use their hammocks with other best of breed products (UQ, Overcover, UnderCover, Tarp, Dutchware, etc) from other vendors.

  10. Your “worn out/ beat to death” label is probably the best compliment for any piece of gear! Too bad that some of these have been discontinued! Newer is not always better! I have a backpack from Six Moon Designs that was discontinued in 2006 but is still doing fine (with minor stitching repairs) and carries as though it were custom made just for me. Of course I don’t give it the wear that you do!

    The Petzl e+light is fine for doing dishes/fetching water, and I got along fine with it until I had to make an emergency night hike a few years ago. It is just not adequate for night hiking! If my grandson hadn’t had my Princeton Tech Aurora lamp, we’d never have made it–he had to turn around at every rough spot and light my way. The Petzl went into the trash when I got home. The more adequate light is, IMHO, well worth the extra 2 ounces! Of course as I get older, my night vision is getting poorer.

    • I switch over to the BD icon for winter hiking when I have to hike in the dark. Completely agree with you regarding the Petzl’s limited throw. Otherwise, I prefer to sleep in the dark, not hike.

  11. Gee Phil, we’re just asking you what you like!

    • Sorry to go off the rails there. I get asked this a lot without the proper context.

      Without going crazy on spelling out all the “contextual” details, my favorite 3 season tents are made by Tarptent mostly. I have some a bunch of tents that I’ll be reviewing this autumn coming from a bunch of UL manufacturers that are pretty much all in the same genre, so maybe a favorite will pop out from that lot. If it’s not too cold out, I think the TT Rainbow, the TT Squall, or the TT Protrail are still all excellent deals and values. Cuben fiber tents are nice, but they let in too much moonlight and I don’t sleep well under them.

  12. I was intrigued by the Nemo bag so went back and read the detailed review. I was surprised that, in the comments section, you seem to take a not so veiled dump on Western Mountaineering bags wrt their validity to temperature claims. Several years ago you were an advicate of these bags and, when I upgraded from my Kelty I purchased a Megalite ( the wide cut version of their 30 degree bag) as a great option for a side sleeper. It is well made and seems to keep me warm ( and was $320 on sale at EMS). Do you have reason to believe they lie about their products?

    • I have been down on WM about temperature ratings and their non-participation in the industry standard EN13537 for a long time. Especially, since they have the test results (required to sell in the EU) but don’t publish them for US consumers. It’s ironic, because their test results actually match their bags temperature ratings. Can’t see why they don’t publish them.

      But I also don’t think WM has done much innovation in a long long time on their bags. The industry has pretty much overtaken them at this point. I’d buy a new Feathered Friends sleeping bag before I bought one from Western Mountaineering.

  13. Have you had good luck with this vendor? There seem to be a lot of negative reviews.

  14. A few years ago, I upgraded and went lighter on the big three: tent, pack and sleeping bag. I’ve been very happy with the tent, Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2, and the pack, Osprey Atmos 65. Though both are heavy by today’s standards, I like them so much I might just beat them to death, as Mr. Werner did to some of his favorite gear. The bag, a “30-degree” Stoic, was a disappointment. I put quotes around 30-degree because 45 might be more accurate, given how the down migrates in the bag’s vertical baffles, creating cold spots.

  15. such packsack would be a great addition and opportunity to replace my 40 liter

  16. I don’t see the Patagonia R1 Hoody on your winter list, has that fallen out of favorite with you since you originally wrote about it back in 2010?

  17. Philip, you say you like your hyper light mountain gear Southwest 3400 because it has better pockets for hammock camping than the Gossamer gear Mariposa does. What way are the pockets better? Since I have to replace all my camping gear, because of the house flood, I am giving serious consideration To different packs. I’ve had first and second generation Mariposa along with several other packs. The HMG 3400 Southwest looks quite good though probably not big enough for shoulder season high alpine bear canister-required weeklong trips.

    • The SW 3400 has three pockets. A rear shovel pocket and two side water bottle pockets. The rear pocket is big enough to store my Warbonnet Superfly tarp with room to spare. That’s all the wet storage I need. I also like the fact that there are two balanced bottle pockets, one on each side of the pack. The interior is enormous, actually, with the extension collar.

      The Mariposa’s long quiver pocket is a waste of space in my opinion since I will never fill it when I use a hammock. It’s way oversized for my hammock tarp and since it’s open, I can’t use its space for storing my hammock body on wet days. I guess what I’m saying is that the rear stretch pocket is perfectly adequate for storing a wet tarp and that the long quiver pocket is just a waste of space since its open. I’ve much rather have a pocket system like the Gorilla or the SW3400 with a rear pocket and two side pockets when hammock camping (in the wet northeast).

      I also hate the fact that you need to put both water bottles in the right side pocket on the mariposa. While you can put one bottle in the quiver pocket, I suppose, it’s impossible is impossible get out without taking off the pack.

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