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SectionHiker’s Top Hiking and Backpacking Gear Picks

Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt - Hiking the Virginia Appalachian Trail
Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt – Hiking the Virginia Appalachian Trail

A number of you asked me to publish my top hiking and backpacking gear picks, so I’ve pulled together a list of my favorite gear. I’ve been using most of it for years and it’s the kind of stuff I’ll replace when it wears out.

While a lot of the gear listed below is ultralight or lightweight, the gear I bring on a day hike or backpacking trip is primarily determined by the conditions I expect to encounter and my trip objectives (see My Gear List Philosophy.) Those conditions vary because the type of hiking I do varies widely including backpacking trips and day hikes on established trails, winter backpacking in the mountains, and off-trail bushwhacking, which is especially tough on gear. Most of the hiking I do is in New Hampshire, Maine, or Vermont, with periodic trips to other states in the eastern US and Scotland.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to explain the conditions that the gear listed below performs best in, but please leave me a comment if you have any questions about my recommendations. If there are missing gear categories where I haven’t named any products, it’s because I’m still looking for the best ones for my needs.

Backpacks

Best ultralight backpack for longer multi-day hikes/shoulder season weather on established trails: Gossamer Gear Mariposa (7 years – link to review)

Best ultralight backpack for shorter trips/warmer conditions on established trails: Gossamer Gear Gorilla (4 years – link to review)

Best backpack for winter backpacking/1-3 day trips: Cold Cold World Choas Backpack (6 years – link to review)

Tents and Shelters

Best ultralight shelter for unprotected camp sites: Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid (4 years – link to review)

Best ultralight three-season bivy sack: Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy (5 years – link to review)

Best winter tent: Black Diamond Firstlight Tent (5 years – link to review)

Sleeping Pads

Best inflatable three season sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest XLite Sleeping Pad (2 years – link to review)

Best inflatable winter sleeping pad: Therm-a-Rest XTherm Sleeping Pad (2 years – link to review)

Best sit pad: Gossamer Gear Sitlight Pad (7 years – link to review)

Suunto M3 Compass
Suunto M3 Compass

Sleeping Bags

Best 3 Season Sleeping Bag for Side Sleepers – NEMO Equipment Nocturne 30 Sleeping Bag (1 year – link to review)

Best winter sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering Puma -25 Sleeping Bag (5 years – link to review)

Navigation Tools

Best compass: Suunto M3 (3 years – review forthcoming)

Best satellite communicator: Delorme inReach Explorer (3 months – link to review)

Best altimeter watch: Casio Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Solar Watch  (1 year – link to review)

Headlamps

Best ultralight headlamp for in-camp use: Petzl e+Lite (1 year – link to review)

Best high-powered headlamp for winter hiking/backpacking: Black Diamond Icon (2 years – link to review)

Knife

Best ultralight knife and multi-tool: Victorinox Swiss Army Classic (7 years – link to review)

Trekking Poles

Best trekking poles: Pacerpole (4 years – link to review)

QiWiz Firefly Wood Stove -Ursack Allwhite Bear Bag (rear)
QiWiz Firefly Wood Stove , Ursack Allwhite Bear Bag (rear), Gossamer Gear Sitlight Sit Pad

Stoves

Best canister stove for boiling water: Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System (<1 year – link to review)

Best wood stove: QiWiz Firefly (1 year – link to review)

Best liquid fuel winter backpacking stove: MSR Whisperlite (2 years – link to review)

Bear Protection

Best bear bag for east coast black bears: Ursack (7 years – link to review)

Hiking Shoes and Boots

Best hiking shoes: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor (1 year – link to review)

Best (non-technical) winter hiking boots: Garmont Momentum Snow GTX (4 years – link to review)

Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat
Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat w/RailRiders Madison River Short and EcoMesh Pants

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

Best three season hiking pant: RailRiders Eco-mesh Pants  w/ Insect Shield (7 years – link to review)

Best winter hiking pant: Helly Hansen Odin Guide Light Pants (softshell)  (2 years – link to review)

Best three season hiking shirt: Ex Officio Halo Check Shirt   w/ Insect Shield (1 years – link to review)

Best underwear: Under Armour Heat Gear Boxer Jocks (6 years – link to review)

Best  long underwear: Patagonia Capilene 1 long sleeve jersey and long underwear pants (8 years – link to review)

Best three-season hiking hat: Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat w/ Insect Shield (2 years – link to review)

Best Water Filters/Water Purification/Reservoirs

Best Water Filter/Purifier: Sawyer Squeeze(filter only) (3 years – link to review)

Best Water Purifier: Aqua Mira Water Purification Drops (3 years – link to review)

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, RailRiders EcoMesh Pants, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Shoes
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, RailRiders EcoMesh Pants, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Shoes

Best Rain Gear/Hard Shells

Best three-season rain jacket: Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket (1 year – link to review)

Best technical winter shell: Outdoor Research Foray Jacket (2 years – link to review)

Best wind shirt: Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt (4 years – link to review)

Best winter hiking/backpacking hard shell pant: Precip fullzip rain pant (5 years – link to review)

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, RailRiders, Helly Hansen, MSR, JetBoil, Pacerpole. and Therm-a-Rest. 

Written 2014. Updated 2015.

29 comments

  1. Great review, as always, Philip. Fine choices with the experience to back them up.
    I’d like to see a review of how your body has changed over the last few years, as your hiking has increased, your style has changed, and your lessons to be learned from your experiences in fitness.

    • Yeah, that could be an interesting topic. I’m a lot less interested in speed these days and more interested in the mental side of hiking…the planning, the outdoor experience, teamwork with others.

  2. Looking forward to your review in the Inreach. I keep going back and forth on buying one.

  3. Terrific summary. Thanks very much.

    I might try those Marmot rain pants when my Patagonia slip-ons (which get pretty humid) fall apart.

    • They’re a great value piece of gear. Not flash but super reliable. The full zips are good for venting in winter and can be taken off without taking off monstrous mountaineering boots.

  4. No longer using an alcohol stove enough to rate?

  5. Not a bad list at all. .I actually agreed with you on six of the items! That surprised even me…Keep up the good work, we appreciate it, even if we do not agree all the time….

  6. I think I’m going to forward this post to my wife with the subject line of “Christmas?”

    There are so many things I have been dying to try on this list.

    The next few purcheses I need to make are the Ursak bear bag, a new headlamp (the clasp broke on mine) and I’ve wanted a Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack for a long time.

  7. I bought Pacerpoles for both my wife and I last year after reading your review. The higher cost pays for itself by how much more comfortable I am when hiking. I used to get backaches on hikes longer then 8 miles. I attribute this to having a better posture when using my Pacerpoles. Comfort when descending a summit, for me is so much better. I highly recommend getting these. thanks

  8. According to RailRiders Facebook page, they are coming out with a new winter shell. Looks great from the info provided but it would be nice to see a review by you before I put it on my Christmas list.

  9. You’ve listed the Best Winter bag… would you have any suggestion based on your experience of lighter bags?

  10. I was curious on the TrekkerTent Stealth. It list it’s interior length at 87″ would it be to short for a 6’3″ hiker? Nice reviews by the way…..

    • The numbers would indicate so. Make sure you’re using the length of the inner nest, if you plan to use it. Why don’t you contact trekkertent and ask them. They’ve probably had some experience with tall customers.

  11. I love the addition of the number of years you’ve been using that gear, to give readers an important bit of info and a frame of reference.

  12. Great post, i found your site recently and have been soaking up as much information as possible. Any ideas when the Whisperlight stove review will be posted? Im looking to purchase a white gas stove and would love your insight…

  13. Thanks for the advice Philip, ill be picking one up soon. Keep doing what your doing. Paul

  14. Thanks for the summaries. I need to replace an REI eVent shell that’s around 3 years old (and my backup 12-year-old Patagonia shell is perforating all along the back of the hood) so I went back to your individual reviews to narrow down my choices for a replacement.

    I discovered that Amazon had the OR Foray jacket in XL on sale for $129 so I made the plunge and should be getting it in a day or so.

  15. Hi Philip! Thanks so much for sharing your experience! As I read above your classifications of the TrekkerTent Stealth I wonder how do you come to that conclusion that this tent was best for protected camp sites rather than the pyramid tent (Duomid) which you classify as suited best for unprotected camp sites. Can you write something about that please? I am thinking about which tent is a good option when it comes to stormy weather. My first guess of your review of the TrekkerTent Stealth and that low profile was that it would be quite good in high winds. I would appreciate your view on that :)

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