These are my dirty, well-used, time-tested picks
I’m Emily, the most recent addition to Outside’s gear team. Backpacking is a huge part of how I enjoy the outdoors, and over the years, I’ve had the chance to put plenty of gear through the wringer, most recently on a Boundary Waters trip in northern Minnesota. Below, you’ll find my time-tested kit—the stuff I use all the time and that I’m always recommending to friends and family.
Osprey Kyte 46 Pack ($180)
I’m a big proponent of carrying a smaller backpack, because it helps limit the weight on your back. The more space you have, the more unnecessary items you’re going to bring. That’s why I love the 46-liter Kyte, which has just enough space to carry everything you need for a few days on the trail. It comes with a rain cover, separate sleeping bag compartment, and removable sleeping pad straps. Really my only gripe is that the external hydration sleeve took some getting used to. It rests in between the back panel and internal compartment—I’ve learned to pack my hydration sleeve first before filling the rest of the bag.
Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad ($130)
I love the Exped SynMat for its built-in pump, which helps with super-fast inflation. You can use your hand to pump up the pad (it takes about 20 pumps to fill completely). Exped also has a great warranty policy: The company covers all manufacturing defects for five years and offers repairs for a minimal charge. I’ve popped a couple holes in this pad over the four years I’ve owned it, and Exped has repaired each one for under $10.
REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent ($200)
While it’s not the lightest backpacking tent out there, the Half Dome 2 Plus is probably the best-value shelter I’ve tested. I lived out of it for six months when traveling, and it barely showed any signs of wear. And unlike most two-person backpacking tents, the cavernous interior means it actually fits two people comfortably. There’s even enough room for my 40-pound husky mix.
MSR Guardian Water Filter ($350)
As I wrote in this review, the Guardian is my number one choice for quick water filtration. It comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s worth the investment, with its high-tech automatic back-flush function, high filtering speed, and high-quality, long-lasting build. If you have the funds, don’t pass on this filter.
Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5-Liter Reservoir ($35)
I find the 2.5-liter bladder to be the perfect size for backpacking: It allows me to carry a large amount of water without adding too much weight. I love Osprey’s hydration bladders for the magnetic sternum-strap hose holder, which keeps the hose attached firmly to my chest so I never have to search for it.
REI Co-Op Joule 21 Sleeping Bag ($300)
The Joule was my first backpacking sleeping bag, and it’s still a staple in my pack. I’ve been impressed with its compressibility, weight (just over two pounds), and overall fit over the past four years. I particularly like that the sides are treated with an extra layer of DWR to help repel water when my sleeping bag is pressed up against the walls of my tent.
Loksak Opsak Odor-Proof Barrier Bags ($10)
I use these bags to store extra-smelly foods like cheese or garlic. They lock in smells, which helps to deter bears and small critters. Although I wouldn’t recommend bringing food inside your tent overnight, sometimes I keep my nighttime tent snacks in these. Snack at your own risk.
Sea to Summit eVent Compression 10-Liter Dry Sack ($35)
I always store my sleeping bag inside a waterproof compression sack. That way, if I get soaked on the trail, I have a dry place to warm up. I love this option from Sea to Summit because the air-permeable eVent fabric lets air escape as I compress the bag, helping me get my sleeping bag as small as possible in my pack.
MSR WhisperLite Universal Stove ($140)
I love this stove so much that I wrote a full review on it. The best part is its versatility: The WhisperLite can burn canister fuel, kerosene, unleaded gasoline, and alcohol. I abused it during a six-month trip with no mishaps, but if something does break, most parts can be replaced through this kit or from MSR directly.
GSI Outdoors Collapsible Coffee Drip ($15)
I can’t function in the morning until I have a cup of coffee in hand. This collapsible coffee drip fits perfectly inside my MSR pot set and fits a standard #2 coffee filter. It cleans easily on the trail, and I throw it in the dishwasher when I get home for an extra-deep clean.
Light My Fire Meal Kit 2.0 ($30)
At 13-ounces, this is the best weight-to-function meal kit I’ve used. It includes two large plates, two small bowls with lids that seal, two mugs, and a cutting board that doubles as a strainer. Everything packs into the large plates and secures with a rubber holder.
Snow Peak Titanium Double Wall 450 Mug ($50)
This titanium mug from Snow Peak keeps my joe piping hot (sometimes a little too hot) without adding much weight to my setup. I like to pair it with Snow Peak HotLips to eliminate the possibility of scorched lips.
Animosa Go with Your Flow Pack ($25)
Any wilderness woman knows the struggle of backpacking while on your period. The waste management and the cleanliness issues can be enough to make you want to skip your trip altogether. I recently came across the Go with Your Flow Pack, and it has changed the way I manage my periods in the woods. Included in the pouch is a water-resistant pocket to store waste and contain odors. The pack also comes with pH-balanced wipes to keep you feeling fresh on the trail. I have the biggest size, and it fits all my other toiletries.
Every woman should convert to the DivaCup, especially if you love being outside. It eliminates waste and the need to pack out tampons in the woods. You can keep the silicone cup in for 12 hours, compared to eight hours with a tampon, and reduce your risk for toxic shock syndrome. Simply boil the cup in a pot of water to clean it on the trail.
REI Co-Op 8-Liter Mesh Sack ($10)
I pack all my clothing in these mesh sacks from REI. They help me load my backpack more efficiently and separate dirty clothes from clean. In a pinch, I’ve used a full mesh sack as a pillow.