Over many years, with a few mistakes along the way, I’ve developed a set of overnight hiking and camping gear that I’m fairly happy with. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt (which I still forget from time to time) is avoiding the temptation of buying cheap stuff that looks like it’s good value. You generally get what you pay for, especially with tents and rain gear: it’s better to buy one expensive rain jackets that will keep you dry and last for years, than having eight raincoats in the cupboard that all leak in heavy rain…
The list below is based mostly on what I own and use, plus some suggestions for a few items that I don’t own, but would recommend. Prices are generally RRP, with a link to one of the Australian outdoor stores which usually has the best prices.
Core Camping Gear
This is the gear that forms the “core part” of your outdoor hiking equipment, and where it generally makes sense to spend as much as you can afford to get reliable and lightweight gear. I’ve rarely regretted paying too much, and often wished I paid more at the outset when I look at the all the “bargain” caamping items I’ve purchased over the years. The only thing I’ve not included are trekking poles – I’m not a fan of these, although they may be an “essential item” for you!
Lots of options – my advice on choosing a backpack or rucksack is to get one that’s good quality and properly fitted from a reputable outdoor store. A good backpack will last decades. For overnight hiking, 60-70L is a good size, and it can be useful to have a detachable day-pack. Also consider whether you need/want lots of pockets and attachment points on the outside.
Granite Gear CROWN2 60. $199. I got this as a second pack: it’s very lightweight (1.14kg) and carried enough gear for a 4-day walk.
Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10. $240. 1.99kg. On the heavy side but well-built; this backpack has lots of positive reviews.
Berghaus Panamax 70. $290. One of the most trusted backcountry brands – my last Berghaus pack lasted 20 years.
North Face Banchee 65. $450. 1.8kg. Expensive, but well-built pack with lots of side pockets.
You should also get a pack cover as no backpack will be 100% waterproof in heavy rain and either a pack liner, or put sleeping bags and spare clothes into a smaller drybags.
Tent (or hammock)
This item could form an entire blog post on its own – the key points to consider in selecting a tent (other than size) are weight, whether it’s free-standing. how much vestibule space you get and quality. Some single-wall tents offer good value for money – but in a humid environment it’s almost impossible to avoid getting condensation inside the tent, Reputable brands include Big Agnes, Big Sky, Hilleberg, Marmot, Mont, MSR, North Face, Terra Nova and Vargo. Some recommended tents to consider include:
1P – Big Sky Soul. $399. 0.9kg. Free standing. Small with no useable vestibule.
This is one item where the price normally correlates to quality: you’ll generally pay more for a higher warmth rating. Snowys.com has a useful guide to understanding the EN13537 temperature rating. Unless you’re only hiking in summer, I’d always recommend getting down over a synthetic fill. Rather than trying to list some suggested sleeping bags, Cotswold Outdoor has a Sleeping Bag Finder which asks four questions to come up with appropriate options.
As well as weight, cost and size, the “R value” gives you an indication of the thermal resistance of a sleeping mat. Snowys Outdoor has a guide to understanding R-values.
Thermarest Z Lite. $80. 400g. R2.2. Good value & lightest, most compact closed-cell Thermarest mattress
Many lengthy debates (or arguments) have been had over the “best” stove. The most convenient and popular ones take disposable gas canisters; if travelling overseas or doing longer multi-day walks, consider a stove that burns a variety of liquid fuels (eg. white gas, kerosene, unleaded gasoline) for greater flexibility.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2. $99. 70g. Super lightweight; attaches to Isobutane | Propane gas canisters
JetBoil Zip. $130. 370g. While heavier than the MSR, the JetBoil includes an 800ml Cooking Cup. You can also add an optional 1.5L Cooking Pot.
MSR Whisperlite International. $215. 425g. Burns multiple fuels including shellite (white gas), kerosene, and unleaded petrol. Requires separate fuels canister. One of the most versatile stoves.
One of the advantages of the JetBoil system is it integrates a cooking cup (while the Trangia 250-1 includes ftying pans). So depending on your stove, you may not need any additional cookware. There are a few lightweight cooking sets I’d recommend:
Sea to Summit X Set 31. $110. 607g. Collapsible silicon pot with aluminium base + bowls & mugs. Lightweight but can be a bit tricky to clean.
While I’ve got the snazzy Sea to Summit X-Set of collapsible plates and bowls, I used this once, finding it much easier to clean a lightweight stainless steel plate. For really lightweight hiking, I take dehydrated meal pouches, which means I don’t need a plate. Work out what you need for each trip, based on what you’re going to cook and eat:
Knife – I’ve always stuck with a Swiss army Camper or Hiker (77g) Pocket Knife. Others swear by a Leatherman (240g). As well as a sharp knife, having tweezers can be useful for removing ticks or splinters.
Pot lifter – depending on what cookware you have, a pot handle (60g) can be useful
Tongs – I’ve never felt the need for these, but if you’re a gourmet camp cook, the GSI Outdoors Pack Tongs will only add 28g to your pack.
I’ve written a separate blog post on the many water treatment options; it’s another contentious area with many strong opinions. In short: boil, filter, sterilise or purify with chemicals… I’ve been very happy with my Grayl filter. A few popular options are:
Boil – see Stove section above. JetBoil perfect for quickly boiling water.
I still carry an old-fashioned paper topographical map (and compass if going off-track) as back-up, but generally depend on electronics for route-finding. I use my phone: Avenza (IOS and Android) provides access to thousands of topographical maps which are stored on the phone. I also like AllTrails, which allows you to download maps. A phone should last 5-10 days in airplane mode, but I also bring a battery pack on longer walks. If you want a more rugged and purpose-built GPS devices, Garmin is the market-leader with a wide range of model. In deciding which one’s best, consider: battery life, replaceable vs inbuilt battery, weight, screen size and availability of detailed topographical maps).
Garmin eTrex 32x. $459. 142g. This model has been consistently rated as one of the best for hiking. If you buy from overseas, you’ll need to purchase local topo maps. 25 hour battery life (AA batteries). 8GB memory.
Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone. $570. 232-420g. A phone, rather than a GPS… but military-grade and IPX8 waterproof. Load whatever apps and maps you prefer using.
Way too many options to list…
You’ll probably want at least one traditional water bottle which is easy to fill (one with a wide mouth if usng a Steripen)
Some hikers prefer a water bladder (or hydration bladder) to drink from as you walk.
I’ve used a Sea to Summit “Pack Tap” (approx 120g) for many years, a tough but lightweight water bladder with a valve, which comes in 2L, 4L and 6L. Don’t bother with the 2L one, but the larger ones are great if water is scarce and you need to carry extra, and you can hang it from a tree at camp. Takes almost no space when empty.
A head-torch is the most practical light, and there’s a lot of choice: consider how bright you need it, run-time and if you want an internal rechargeable battery, or replaceable batteries. Black Diamond, Ledlenser and Petzl are some of the most trusted brands.
Black Diamond Wiz Kid’s Headlamp. $37. 67g. 30 lumens. Fun and functional… and way better value than those $10 ones from discount stores that break after a few hours! 2x AAA.
Ledlenser H7.2 Focus Headlamp. $95. 340g. A little heavy, and less bright (250 lumens) than others. Adjustable beam. 60 hours run-time. 4x AAA batteries.
Ledlenser H8R Headlamp. $160. 158g. This is my pick: small and bright (600 lumens) with up to 120 hours run-time. USB-rechargeable. Three power modes. Adjustable beam.
Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. $180. 100g. You want/need lots of light? This gives you up to 900 lumens, and is very lightweight. Brightness & beam pattern automatically adjusted. Up to 100 hours run-time. Rechargeable.
First Aid Kit
You can create your own, or purchase a ready-made kit.
If you’re creating your own, Sea to Summit sells a First Aid Dry Sack ($16, 47g) that you can put your own supplies into.
Garmin InReach Mini. $479. 100g. Compose messages + tracking, maps & SOS. There are a few other models; all need a subscription starting at USD$20/month.
Having a few small, good quality drybags helps to keep electronics/phones dry – and larger ones ensure clothes and sleeping bags stay dry. If you’re using a phone for navigation, a waterproof phone case like the Sea to Summit Audio Waterproof Case is great as you can still the screen.
A few lightweight items can make washing up hassle-free:
Toilet paper – essential for your bum, but can also be used to dry dishes!
Small towel – a bamboo kitchen towel is great – as a drying cloth
A sponge only weighs a few grams, but makes cleaning up much easier
I don’t bother with dishwashing liquid, but you can get an all-purpose, biodegradable liquid like the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash Citronella which is suitable for clothes as well as pots and pans.
A few things that MAY be essential, depending on where you are walking…
Plastic bags for waste (also usable as an emergency dry bag or raincoat)
Everyone will have their own food preferences – the items below are just some suggestions. Wiser people than me suggest that you should plan on 18,300kJ/4350 kcal (women) and 25,000kJ/6000kcal (men), based on an average weight and six hours hiking a day; I would probably consume a it less than this while hiking.
Muesli bars [500kJ each]
Boiled eggs [310kJ]
Powdered oats [540k per sachet]
My son likes an “up and go” as his breakfast [688kJ]
Wraps – pitta bread or mountain bread [1,800kJ for two wraps]
Hard cheese – will last 2-4 days depending on temperature [1,700kJ per 100g]
Salami – will last up to two weeks – slice as needed [1,100kJ per 100g]
Canned seafood – like tuna, [650kJ per packet/tin] – even better if you can get it in a foil packet
You can purchase dehydrated meals, which are quick and convenient, or cook your own meals using a few basic ingredients.
There are many dehydrated meal options from companies including Back Country, Outdoor Gourmet Company and Go Native, from tandoori chicken (one of my favourites) to cheesecake or brownie pudding. Most of them require that you add boiling water and wait 10-15 minutes, and the pouches are designed so you can eat straight out of them. [Main meals have around 1,600kJ per single serve.]
For kids, try one of the many “instant noodle” cups, which are light but can be a bit bulky. [1400kJ per serving]
Using rice, noodles or pasta as a base, add sauce or flavouring + some vegetables. You can also add dried meat or canned mussels, smoked oysters or sardines. The Backpacker.com magazine has a Recipes pages that may give you some ideas.
Biscuits – anything that won’t melt (in summer) or crumble too easily. [4,750kJ for a box of Scotch Finger Biscuits]
Pizza Shapes or similar makes a good snack or lunch supplement [5,175kL per box]
Nuts or scroggin (trail mix) – make your own or supermarkets will carry a few varieties. My fabourite is the Eta Snack Mix Chocolate, which I’ve only found in NZ!
A big bar of chocolate, if it’s not too hot where I’m going. Sugar-coated (like Smarties) won’t melt.
Good quality rain jacket – Arcteryx is arguably the best you can get, but expensive. Other quality brands include Rab and Mont. I’ve regretted buying a number of cheaper brands – get something that will keep you dry!
Hat (especially if it’s raining, to keep water off my glasses!)
Micro-spikes can be a lifesaver if the track is icy – Kahtoola MICROspikes, while hard to find in some countries, are brilliant and fit over just about any shoe.
The “Nice to Have” Gear
While some people won’t leave home without a camping pillow, these items are ones that you may selectively take to make a short camping trip more enjoyable – but they might not make the cut on a longer trip where every gram matters!
This (for me) is more of an essential than a “nice to have” – even though my phone lasts for quite a few days in flight mode, I still feel safer carrying a spare battery pack. I’ve got a few; like children, it’s hard to have a favourite…
Hyperjuice USB-C Battery Pack – the largest capacity Li-ion battery pack that you can bring on an airplane with 100Wh / 26800mAh, but heavy at 870g)
A completely unecessary item… until you reach camp with wet shoes, and need to decide whether to walk around in socks, or put those wet shoes back on… Take some Crocs, thongs / flip-flops, or try the North Face Base Camp Slide II Men’s Sandal / Women’s Sandal ($60. $175g) which is has a moulded EVA footbed.
Disposable Hand Warmer ($150, 40g) if you’re camping in winter and want a bit of a luxury (or emergency source of heat)
Tips and Tricks
I’d love to claim credit for all these – but many have come from observing other hikers and engaging in online bushwalking discussion groups!
A4 sized packing cells
A few lightweight pegs on longer trips can be useful for hanging up washing or wet clothes. You can also use safety pins to attach wet clothing to a pack.
Instead of a light cord, a spare shoelace can be used for hanging stuff up at camp or off your pack.
A carabiner can be used to attach a cup to a backpack so you can quickly get a drink from a stream (I also use one to attach a powerbank with solar panel to the outside of my pack).
Those tiny fish plastic soy sauce bottles that comes with sushi make great containers for lighter fluid (fire starter), soap shower gel and dish washing liquid.
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