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The Best Backpacking Equipment

Updated on September 21, 2016

That Is, The Best Backpacking Equipment I Don't Own Yet

So, how do I know this gear is so great if I haven't used it yet? Well, because I've watched lots of other people use this equipment and listened to their praise. And then I've compared it to what I had in my backpack at the time and thought, wow, their gear is so much better than mine.

But isn't that the way of the backpacker? Always wanting what other hikers pull out of their packs, be it a cool new tent, a lighter and cushier sleeping pad, a faster stove that's easier to use, or backpacking food that looks and certainly must taste better than our own.

So here's what I've seen lately that's now on my own wish list.

Photo: That's my friend, Sueanne, on the South Bass Trail in Grand Canyon. Every time I see her gear, I add something new to my list of gotta-haves.

The Best Backpacker's Sleeping Pad (that I don't own yet)

I was on a Search & Rescue mission in the Grand Canyon, where I camped with several other searchers. When it was time to stop for the night, I pulled out my thin, closed cell foam pad and placed it between me and the slab of rock we were camping on. Not a cactus-free piece of soft dirt in sight. Oh well, I figured, my pad may be thin and I'll probably have to do a quarter-turn every quarter-hour to give each side of me a break from the hard rock, but at least my pad is lightweight. Hmpf!

And then my search partner pulled out a Big Agnes pad. The thing literally started out the size of a Nalgene water bottle and blew up into a raft, I tell you.

"That's gotta be heavy," I remarked with a smirk.

"Nah," he said as he lay down and sighed in comfort. "It's only 1.3 pounds."

Hm, I thought, only 4 ounces more than my 3/4-length pad, and his is as long as his six-foot-three body. Dang! Gotta git me one o' those!

Big Agnes Q-Core SL Insulated Mummy Sleeping Pad Sleeping Pads REG Orange/Black
Big Agnes Q-Core SL Insulated Mummy Sleeping Pad Sleeping Pads REG Orange/Black
The Big Agnes Core Mummy sleeping pad is said to be "the lightest and most comfortable inflatable pad on the planet." Made of a durable nylon fabric, the Big Agnes has an "I-beam construction" whicgives shape to the pad and allows air to flow freely in and out. Inflation time is about two minutes, which I can attest to after watching my friend blow. As I mentioned, the Air Core Mummy pads stuff to the size of a Nalgene water bottle and weighs from 19-24 ounces, depending on the size you get. But then it inflates to 2.5 inches thick, so sleeping on a slab of rock is not a problem. And if you have a Big Agnes sleeping bag, the Air Core pad can be left in the pad sleeve, deflated and stuffed with the bag right into its stuff sack. How cool is that? All Big Agnes pads come with a stuff sack and 100% guarantee.

The Best Single Person Backpacking Tent (that I don't own yet

I do like a two-man tent even when I'm backpacking alone, because I like the extra room. Makes it easier to bring my gear inside and still have enough space to change clothes in there.

On the other hand, at just under five pounds, my two-man North Face tent is a bit heavy, especially when I have to add several days worth of food, cold-weather clothing and/or a lot of water for desert hiking, like in the Grand Canyon. That's when a lighter, single-person tent would really be nice. And that's an item lacking in our gear closet. Two- and three-person tents we have.

So when I was backpacking with a friend recently, each of us lugging two gallons of water, I sure would have liked to shave off a couple of pounds of tent. My friend's Big Agnes single-man tent weighed 3 pounds and set up quickly. I added that to my growing list of "Gear I Want."

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Person Tent
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Person Tent
With an all-mesh body, this free-standing tent with a single-pole system has great ventilation, while a full-coverage rain fly offers protection from the elements. Plastic clips attach the tent body to the frame for fast, easy set-up. The fly is made of 20D nylon rip-stop with a silicone treatment and waterproof polyurethane coating. The tent floor is a bathtub design, nylon rip-stop with a silicone treatment, also with a waterproof coating. The D-shaped door has a mesh pocket above, and there's a storm flap over the vestibule zipper. All seams are taped. There are 13 stakes included.

The Best Backpacking Stove (that I don't own yet)

So I'm sitting there futzing with my Esbit Fuel Tablet, because I never did make friends with my Whisperlite stove, closing my nostrils to the odd smell and burning my fingers as I try to light the thing while holding it ... and my backpacking buddy already has boiled water.

"You want to use my Jetboil?" she asks with a smile.

Proudly, I turn her down. But that doesn't mean I'm not a tad green with envy. All she had to do to light the thing was turn a knob and *poof!" She has flame. And talk about compact, convenient and fast. As I said, my friend's dinner was cooked in no time, and then the stove and little fuel canister fit all nice and snug in the pot that attaches to the stove.

I want. I definitely want. That night, I scribbled, "Jetboil," in my little notepad.

Several Months Later....

Okay, I DO have one of these now, and I love it! Really easy to use, easy to adjust, fast and compact. If you're in the market for a backpacking stove, I highly recommend a Jet Boil. It's nice and compact.

The Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System is compact and lightweight, and the whole system can be stored inside the FluxRing cooking cup, reducing the entire 15 oz Flash to only 4.1" x 7.1" of packed size.

You can also customize and expand the functionality of the Flash by adding companion cups, a 1.5-liter FluxRing cooking pot or any other Jetboil accessories you'd like. The Flash requires the use of a Jetpower Fuel canister, which is sold separately. Each Jetpower fuel canister provides enough energy to boil 12 liters or 100 cups of water and, at only 3.5 oz., stows conveniently inside the Jetboil cooking cup.

Need a double serving?

If you need something larger than the Companion Cup, you can purchase the 1.5-liter pot made especially for the Jetboil stove, with handles and lid. It also comes with a cozy and cover.

The burner and fuel container packs right inside the pot, and the plastic base cover turns into a serving plate or bowl. This pot is compatible with all Jetboil burners.

Or Fry It Up in a Pan

Here's another add-on or "instead of" for the JetBoil stove.

This lightweight (10-ounce) fry pan has a plastic bottom cover that does double duty as a preparation/eating plate, and the handles fold flat for storage. The curved sides make flipping and stirring easy.

FYI: You'll need a pot support kit to use this with the PCS/GCS burner.

The Best Sil Nylon Stuff Sack (that I don't own yet)

I do have stuff sacks, including one really nice compression sack that squishes my minus 15-degree sleeping bag into the size of a basketball, but the rest are old and on the heavy-ish side. So I definitely want some new ones of various sizes.

On that Grand Canyon search mission I mentioned, my field partner said, "I have all my hiking gear in stuff sacks, lined up on shelves in my gear closet. Whenever I have to go out on a mission or if I'm going backpacking for fun or just dayhiking, I pull the stuff sacks I need, stick 'em in whatever pack suits the trip, and I'm ready to go."

Dang, I love being organized like that. And stuff sacks are definitely the answer. Right now, I keep most of my backpacking gear in old milk crates and have to go through it all each time I pack for a trip. Stuff sacks for things like cooking gear, sleeping pad (ie. that Big Agnes), toiletries, navigational gear, clothing for different seasons, etc. would really help me keep things neat and tidy and make packing quicker and easier.

Granite Gear Air Pair Stuffsack, X-Large
Granite Gear Air Pair Stuffsack, X-Large
These sil-nylon sacks are three times lighter than typical stuff sack fabrics, and the fabric is impregnated with silicone to make it waterproof. The Granite Gear Air Pair packing system features 2 stuff sacks in one. Store your rain jacket on one side and rain pants on the other. This particular stuff sack comes in four sizes and features a hypalon grommet and micro-ultralight draw cord.

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