I’ve already written one gear guide, but it’s a bit outdated compared to what I currently use, so I decided it’s time for an update! These days I’m a lot more focused on ultralite gear, so my set-up is quite different. I’ll try and share a few options for each key part of my camping set-up, depending on your preference!
My opinion hasn’t changed that much from my last post – I still think Gregory has some of the best value backpacks on the market. They’re lightweight and cheaper than brands like Osprey, while still being super comfortable and well designed. I don’t think you can go wrong with a Gregory pack, especially if you’re a beginner. However, if you’re looking for something ultralite, I swear by Gossamer Gear, which I think are super light without compromising on comfort or utility. A lot of ultralite packs aren’t super comfortable because they either don’t have any internal frame, or only a very small one. Gossamer Gear has a small metal frame providing some structure, but more importantly, they have a removeable sit-light pad that provides more structure to the bag and can also be used as a sit-upon. I hiked 180km with the pack on the Sunshine Coast Trail and it was so comfortable.
Can you use an ultralite pack even if you’re a beginner? You sure can! But make sure you assess your other gear first. Ultralite packs can’t carry as heavy loads as traditional packs. So assess how much your other gear weighs before committing to one. Beginners tend to have heavier packs because it’s expensive to buy a lot of gear at once and you typically have to compromise on quality to afford everything you need or borrow it, plus beginners tend to take a lot of comfort items while they’re learning. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but consider how heavy your gear realistically is before getting an ultralite pack. In addition, most outdoor stores don’t stock many ultralite options, so they often have to be ordered from the US. There are a lot of benefits to trying your backpack on first to make sure it’s comfortable, especially for beginners, which is why I like to also recommend Gregory packs. If you’re a beginner and starting from scratch, I would probably start with a 60L pack. If you have smaller gear, I personally prefer a 50L pack or smaller (I use the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50).
If you’re shopping for a day pack, always look for a pack that has waist straps as this will make hiking so much more comfortable. Consider what you’ll be using the pack for, if it’s mostly for summer, a smaller pack may suit you better (though I don’t like anything smaller than 20L because I always take my essentials); but if you plan to use it in the winter, you may want a larger pack to house your cold weather gear, or consider a pack with snowshoe straps or space for avalanche gear.
Note: keep in mind that while the Gossamer Gear backpacks appear similarly priced to Gregory, these are listed in USD and you will have to pay both shipping (~CAD$50) and duties (~CAD$60).
Best Value / Best for Beginners: Gregory Jade 53/63 (women’s); Gregory Amber 55/65 (women’s); Gregory Stout 60 (men’s)
Best Ultralite: Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 (unisex); Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 (unisex)
Best Summer Daypack: Gregory Maya 20 (women’s); Gregory Juno 24 (women’s); Gregory Miko 20 (men’s); Gregory Citro 24 (men’s)
Best Winter Daypack: Deuter Freerider 28 (women’s); Deuter Freerider 30 (men’s); Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 (unisex)
In my opinion, if there’s one item you’re going to splurge on, make it your sleeping bag. There’s no compromise for a comfortable night’s sleep and a really warm and lightweight bag will cost you money. Personally I prefer down bags for warmth, but pay close attention to the comfort and survival ratings when choosing your bag. My experience is that cheap bags typically have a larger gap between the comfort and survival rating. The closer the ratings are to one another, the more I generally trust the rating. Women’s bags typically run a bit warmer and fit better (less empty space for cold air to settle), so consider a women’s bag if you’re female.
It’s hard to recommend sleeping bags because everyone is different and where you live will really govern how warm it needs to be. Living in Canada, I would never buy a bag rated less than -5 degrees celsius. When picking a bag, it’s really a balance of weight to warmth to cost. Consider how much money you’re willing to spend and how much weight you’re willing to carry. If you’re a beginner, I recommend a standard mummy zip bag, but if you’ve been backpacking awhile, do yourself a favour and consider buying a quilt.
A quilt compromises on weight by acting more like a blanket that’s strapped to your sleeping pad. They generally have an enclosed footbox, but no back. The bottom of your sleeping bag doesn’t give you very much warmth – the warmth underneath you comes from your sleeping pad, which insulates you from the ground – so by cutting out the back of the bag, you can save on weight and still be able to stay warm. However, this only works with a quality sleeping pad, so don’t compromise one for the other. I bought my first quilt last year that’s rated to -6 degrees celsius and I am obsessed with it! My quilt is from UGQ Outdoors – I love this option because every quilt is custom; and my sleeping bag is from MEC, which I think make quality bags with a decent price tag.
If you’re looking for a winter sleeping bag, there are limited options on the market and they will cost you a lot of money. I have a -30 degree bag for snow camping that I paid a lot of money for, but it’s not my favourite because it’s a unisex bag and it’s too big for me. It does keep me warm, but it’s a bit of work for me to get warm in such a large bag. I have lots of thoughts on winter bags if you ever want to DM me, but I don’t want to recommend a bag I haven’t tested.
3- Season Sleeping Bag: MEC Delphinus -9 (women’s); MEC Draco -9 (men’s)
Quilt: UGQ Bandit -6/-12
It’s so easy to overlook your sleeping pad, but it’s such an important part of your sleep system. You could have the warmest bag in the world, but if you go to sleep on a crappy sleeping pad, you will still be cold. Personally I think Thermarest has the best sleeping pads on the market. They are expensive, but they are so warm and comfortable (some people think they are crinkly and noisy, but it’s never been a problem for me). For backcountry, I swear by the Neoair line because they are both the lightest and smallest on the market. I use the Xlite for 3-season camping (rated R4.5) and I use the Xtherm for snow camping (rated R7). I’ve recommended a few cheaper sleeping pads if you’re on a budget; I don’t find them as comfortable, but there’s nothing wrong with them, just make sure the R-value is 3.5 or higher, especially if you’re in Canada.
If you’re snow camping on a budget, just put a foamy under your 3-season pad for extra insulation. Otherwise, commit to the Xtherm, trust me, it’s the best.
Best 3-season: Thermarest Neoair Xlite (R4.5)
Best 4-season: Thermarest Neoair Xtherm (R7)
Budget 3-season: MEC Reactor (R3.8)
If you’re trying to lighten your pack, you’ll get the most bang for your buck with your tent. A standard 2p tent can weigh 5-6lbs, which you can easily lighten by going with an ultralight or non-freestanding version. If you’re a beginner, I recommend sticking with a freestanding tent, they’re much easier to set up and generally more comfortable. But if you’re a little more experienced and don’t mind dealing with condensation and a more nuanced set-up, you can lighten your pack a lot with a non-freestanding tent (usually doesn’t come with poles and is erected using your trekking poles and tension from the pegs).
For freestanding tents, a lot of people swear by the MSR Hubba Hubba, but I’ve never tried it. Personally, I like Marmot for an easy-to-use lightweight tent. For non-freestanding tents, which are popular among thru-hikers, an important thing to understand is that most of them are single walled, meaning they don’t have a separate fly. They work great in California, but if you live in Canada and hike in the alpine, it means the inside of your tent will generally be filled with a lot of condensation every morning. I use a single walled non-freestanding tent from Gossamer Gear, but I’ve had some growing pains with it because I don’t like dealing with the condensation. The people who prefer them generally learn to deal with it, or else they don’t hike in the Canadian alpine and therefore don’t have to. Fortunately, there is a double walled non-freestanding tent on the market and unsurprisingly, it’s made in Canada! It’s a bit heavier than a single walled, but Carolyn has one and she loves it. So I will begrudgingly link my Gossamer Gear tent, which I love for it’s size and how easy it is to set up, but be prepared to deal with condensation.
Standard 2p Tent: Marmot Tungsten
Lightweight 2p Tent: Marmot Tungsten Ultralight
Non-freestanding (single wall) 2p Tent: Gossamer Gear The Two
Non-freestanding (double wall) 2p Tent: Durston X-Mid
I don’t have as many opinions on stoves and pot sets as I do for the “big 4” described above. But I have learned a few things over the years.
For stoves, I like to use an isobutane stove. The stoves are very straight forward to use and fuel is relatively lightweight and easy to find. You can get away with an isobutane stove for most of the year, but if you’re going to be snow camping, consider getting a white gas stove instead (any of the white gas stoves from MSR). Isobutane can freeze in cold temperatures and a white gas stove is the most reliable option. Another alternative is an alcohol stove, but I don’t personally recommend these. I have 2 isobutane stove recommendations because I think one is better for solo trips (when you have a small pot) and the other is better for when you’re cooking on a full size pot.
Isobutane stove (solo trips): BRS mini
Isobutane stove (2+ people): Primus stove
White gas stove: MSR Whisperlite, Dragonfly, or XGK
For pot sets, I don’t have strong opinions. I have a small pot that I use for solo trips that I absolutely adore and is well priced. I don’t personally see the point in spending a lot of money on a pot set, they’re generally going to get beat up over time, so don’t break the bank on it. The most important thing for me is a well-fitting pot lid. Some people really like the sets that come with dishes, but I just like something that easily fits my stove inside it. For multi pot sets, I prefer to have a lid for each pot rather than a shared lid (but I’ve yet to find a set that comes with 2 lids and no dishes).
Solo pot: GSI Halulite Minimalist
Sit-upon: I’ve been using the MEC Seat Cushion for years and I love it!
Pillow: I used to use my sit-upon as a pillow too, but I recently switched to the MEC Pillow and it’s a lot comfier
Mug: GSI Infinity Mug
Microspikes: I think every hiker needs a good paid of microspikes, I use Kahtoola Microspikes
Communication Device: A satellite device could save your life, I used one in 2021 when my friend had a serious medical emergency and highly recommend the Garmin InReach Mini
You don’t need a bunch of expensive clothing for hiking. I try to avoid cotton, but you can find pretty much everything you need at Costco, you just need to time your purchases for some of their featured items. They sell nice merino shirts from cloudveil once a year in the Fall and they sell lightweight puffy jackets every winter. They also stock merino wool socks in the winter and have base layer merino year round from paradox (though be aware, this brand is only about 15% merino, but still made with poly and appropriate for the backcountry). Other items I’ve found throughout the years include a lightweight pair of puffy slippers for winter camping and hiking shorts from Eddie Bauer.
The only thing I don’t really trust from Costco is a quality rain jacket, so I decided to spend a bit more money on this item. If you’re looking for a more environmentally sustainable company than Costco, I personally like Patagonia.