Being a beginner backpacker myself, I know how intimidating it is when you are first getting started. Not only is the gear market super saturated, but everything holds a hefty price tag! The rad thing is, once you have your gear, backpacking can be a great inexpensive hobby to have. I suggest trying it out by borrowing gear a couple times before fully investing in the equipment. If you cannot purchase everything, check your local outdoor retailer or college for rental information. I am going to cover the basics to get you started!
Leave No Trace
Before hitting the trail I suggest educating yourself on the Leave No Trace principles. It is important to leave the environment as you left it, or better. These rules for the backcountry are the principles that all hikers should abide by in order to protect the land. Educating yourself on the rules for the land you will be on is essential as it varies from place to place. Contact the local ranger station for specifics and questions. Remember to bring a happy spirit and leave with everything you came with while respecting the land above everything else.
Let's start with the most important piece, your backpack. Every brand is going to fit you differently, the best way to find out is go try them on at your local outdoor retail shop and see what fits your body best. If you plan on doing multiple night treks, I suggest purchasing a 55 or 65 liter pack. Currently, I have an Osprey Ariel 65 which was my first pack. It is big enough to carry everything you need, and then some. Another pack I have gotten to try is by Gregory, the Maven 55. I prefer Gregory over Osprey as the lumbar system fits my torso and back best.
Depending on where you will be camping, you want to make sure your system will keep you warm enough. I have found I enjoy Klymit sleeping pads the best, because of the way they are designed fits me best being a side sleeper. When I am solo I pack my Kylmit Static V Luxe, and it sure is luxurious! This pad is extra wide, which is amazing if you have enough space in a tent to sprawl out. I would not suggest using this pad in a tiny tent with another person, as it takes up a decent amount of space. When I am backpacking with my partner, we have the Kylmit Double V tent, which is big enough for two people. We just purchased this for the summer so I will report back to see how we like it.
You will want your sleeping bag to be the right temperature rating depending on if you are a warm or cold sleeper, and the elements you will be camping in. I have the REI brand Joule 21, which has a comfort temperature rating of 21 degrees. I find this perfect for high alpine temperatures in the PNW or on hot summer days, I unzip it all and lay on top of it.
An item that isn't necessary but I gave grown to love is a sleeping bag liner. I have the Cocoon Silk liner which not only keeps your sleeping bag clean, it adds 5 degrees to your sleeping bag temperature. When it is really hot, I use this on my sleeping pad and nothing else. Plus, it's silk, making you feel super fancy in the backcountry.
I also enjoy having a blow up pillow for backpacking as it ads comfort. You can find a variety of brands at REI. I have the Kylmit Pillow X, super lightweight and makes the world a difference.
Phew, picking out a tent can be exhausting before you even hit the trail. You will want to make this choice depending on if you are wanting to share the tent or it will be used for solo camping. Another aspect that is important is how much money you are willing to spend. Tents can get expensive quickly, especially the lighter in weight you go. Your best bet is going to your local retailer and talking to them about how much you want to spend and the types of adventures you will be going on. I personally do not do snow camping, so I have a three-season tent, making the cost much less.
REI has great prices on their "half dome" line which is affordable for first timers not wanting to fork out the extra cash. Brands such as Big Ages, MSR, and Nemo are going to be the top of the line backpacking tents, but most expensive.
I have found that I am typically sharing my tent so I want a tent with two doors and two vestibules making it easy for one another to get out and enough room for gear when it rains. You will want your tent to have excellent ventilation as well, which is something you can read online forums about and watch youtube videos about the specifics of a tent.
I like to have two types of cooking systems with me when I am backpacking so I can either boil water quickly, or warm something up on a lightweight pan without burning it.
The first stove I got was the JetBoil Mini Mo system. I prefer using this only for boiling water, as I have found when you are warming up meals it tends to burn. It is meant to boil water very quickly, which is excellent for dehydrated meals.
I also carry a lightweight stove attachment to use with my pot for re-heating or cooking fresh food. My preference is the Optimus Elektra FE. That way with the attachment you can easily control the amount of gas being used, therefore, controlling the temperature.
I like to carry two water filter systems with me while I backpack, one that is quick and easy access, and the other for sharing with camp.
Katadyn Base Camp 10L is easy to use, which just one bag, no water transferring necessary, just fill and hang from a tree and let gravity do the work. I also have the shower nozzle attachment for this which turns the system into your own backcountry shower.
Katadyn BeFree is my on the go filter, and the one I keep easy assessable at the top of my pack. Not only does it instantly filter water as you drink it, its insanely easy to use.
My first aid kit is always equipped with a SteriPEN for emergency situations.
I also have a hydration pack inside of my backpack to make it easier for me to drink water as I hike. Trust me, you will want this! Plus, sometimes water sources aren't abundant so carrying 3 -6 liters of water might be necessary.
Your 10 essentials is gear that you want to take on every hike you go on! Not just backpacking. This way you are more prepared in case of an emergency.
1. A headlamp that has full batteries (and extra packed) is essential for when the sun goes down. I prefer Black Diamond as they work the best and have multiple settings.
2. Nativigation-a proper map, compass, GPS, is something you never want to leave home without.
3. Sun Protection, sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen.
4. First aid kit to be large enough for the amount of people who will be using it. I have found that adding things to the kit to personalize it makes you feel more comfortable on the trial. I always add extra bandaids, ibuprofen, and nuun hydration tablets.
5. Insulation; extra clothing, emergency blanket.
6. Fire; waterproof matches, lighter, candles.
7. Nutrition; extra food to last 2 days.
8. Hydration; water filter and iodine tablets.
9. Emergency Shelter; if you are not carrying your tent, have a system ready to protect yourself from the elements.
I was anti-trekking poles when I first started hiking, but once I through a backpack on I realized the importance of having them for stability and balance. My trekking poles have helped pull me up over large boulders, prevent myself from falling, and river crossings. After getting used to them I started to realize how important trekking poles are and how safe they make me feel.
I purchased the Black Diamond Trail Trekkers that are made from aluminum as I got multiple recommendations from avid backpackers regarding these. I love them, they are lightweight and collapsable and have never failed me.