OUR BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR
WHAT WE USE AND WHY
We like to be prepared for backpacking or camping adventures wherever we travel. So for the last few years, our lightweight camping gear has been a permanent fixture of our full-time travel setup. This has allowed us to head off on remote multi-day hikes across Asia, Europe, and the Caucasus, and car camp on a budget while exploring Japan, Oman, and Scotland.
Having already covered our hiking gear in a separate guide, it’s time to dive into our complete backpacking camping gear. After using this gear for over three years now, we’ve had plenty of time to figure out everything we love and hate about it, and are ready to share our thoughts with you. We’ve broken things down into three sections – our kit for sleeping, cooking, and using around camp.
So whether you’re researching the best backpacking camping gear for your own adventures, or just curious to know what kit we use, we hope you’ll find this comprehensive rundown helpful and informative.
A note on our style of backpacking….
While we use a lot of lightweight camping gear, we don’t consider ourselves ‘ultralight’ or ‘minimal’ backpackers. In fact, part of the reason we invested in lightweight, highly packable gear is to compensate for our extensive travel photography kit, the key components of which come with us on most hikes and bump our backpack weight up considerably. We travel full time (in the sense that we don’t have a permanent homebase) and everything we need for months/years on end fits in our two backpacks, plus our camera bag.
When heading off hiking, we usually leave unnecessary stuff at a guesthouse or such like. But quite often we carry enough gear to cover a lengthy amount of time and variety of situations, rather than packing for each specific multi-day hike. This means carrying more weight than we’d like, but it gives us the flexibility to hike one-way trails and stay out in the mountains for longer, rather than returning to our start point after each individual hike.
OUR BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR
Jump to each section using the links below, or expand the boxes to find an item specific list.
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BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR // SLEEPING
OUR BACKACKING CAMPING GEAR
We love our Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent. It is sturdy, incredibly lightweight (around 1.2 kg), and packs down nice and small. It has performed great in all kinds of weather, including torrential rain and high winds. We have the 2017 model. The latest model is similar, but with a few changes that make it even better. In a nutshell, it’s been the perfect choice for us, and we highly recommend it for three season backpacking.
The tent is quick and easy to put up and take down, and is also super versatile. It can be pitched as a free-standing tent (although we rarely use it in this way), or securely pegged out. You can pitch just the inner, which we did a few times on dry nights wild camping in Oman (oh those stars!). Alternatively, you can pitch just the fly and footprint, which works great for shade on the beach or as a basic shelter. It’s also possible to pitch the fly first and then attach the inner, or detach the inner from fly when already pitched – very useful for keeping the inner dry when camping in the rain.
The HV stands for ‘high volume’, and the design really does make it feel spacious inside. There is plenty of head room even when sitting up, and enough space to move around when getting dressed or arranging our gear for the night. Storage pockets beside and above our heads are really handy for loose bits and bobs. Loops designed to store the open flaps double up as a handy place to hang clothes to air overnight. The latest design also has a large elevated storage pocket at the foot of the inner which we would find very useful.
Double access doors make it very easy for us both to get in and out without climbing over each other. The porch area on each side gives us room to store our boots, hiking poles, gaiters, and such like, plus a bit of extra space to stretch out in when the inner flaps are unzipped. The latest model has a redesigned porch area, allowing you to pitch out the flaps on each side using your hiking poles, creating an awning to shelter you from sun or drizzle.
There’s no denying it’s a snug fit with the two of us, plus our backpacks stored at our feet, but it works – although Del has no more room when fully stretched out (he’s 175 cm). We don’t feel cramped when inside with everything in place, but we do often wonder if the 3 person model (400 grams heavier) wouldn’t be a better fit. For two taller people with big backpacks, the larger model might be more suitable. The Copper Spur HV UL also comes in a 1 or 4 person model. There is a specific bikepacking version, too.
Another thing we love about our ‘Big Aggie’ is the company’s customer service. After three years of use in a whole host of weather conditions, we had a few things like zippers and our tent pole elastic cord needing attention. The team at Big Agnes were quick to repair everything, either under warranty or for a minimal cost, shipping our tent back to us like new.
EXTRA TENT PEGS (STAKES)
Our tent came with the exact number of tent pegs required, so Del wanted to get extras in case we lost or broke one. We opted for some MSR Groundhog pegs which are stronger and longer than the originals.
We have been hugely impressed with our Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pads. Del has the ‘Regular’ size, and I have the women specific model. They are ultralight at 360g and 340g respectively, and pack down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle. Whether we sleep on our back or side, they are extremely comfortable and keep us warm by lifting us high off the ground. We were a bit concerned about the ‘crisp packet rustling’ sound we’d read about before buying, but it’s really not that noticeable and definitely eases off over time.
In over three years of use we have never suffered a puncture (we always use our mats inside our tent, along with the tent footprint). I did have a problem with my mat deflating overnight though, and after a replacement valve failed to fix the problem, we sent it to Thermarest for repair. Much like with Big Agnes, we were very impressed by their customer service and delighted that they replaced my mat under warranty.
Our 2017 models have the old style valve, but the latest models all feature the re-designed ‘winglock’ valve, which prevents air escaping while blowing up the pad and is more efficient.
THERMAREST PUMP SACK
We use a NeoAir Pump Sack to blow up our Thermarest NeoAir XLite mats instead of blowing them up by mouth. This stops us from getting lightheaded when camping at altitude, and prevents a build up of moisture inside the mat from water droplets in our breath. It usually takes around four pumps to blow up the mat, plus a couple of breaths to finish off because a bit of air always escapes when removing the sack and closing the valve. I suspect this will no longer be the case with the re-designed winglock valves.
The pump sack also doubles up as a protective carry sack for our tent. We wrap the tent in the sack before strapping it to the outside of Del’s backpack. This protects the tent material from tearing when hiking through overgrown bushes or around sharp rocks.
The latest NeoAir XLite pads all come with a pump sack as standard, so there is no need to buy one separately anymore. Woohoo! Unless of course you want the extra special BlockerLite version, which doubles up handily as a roll-top dry sack.
Down offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio and packs down super small. For these reasons we both opted for Rab down sleeping bags over cheaper synthetic models. Initially, we both bought the Rab Neutrino Endurance 400 (equivalent to the current Neutrino Pro 400 model). It was perfect in cool weather, but I didn’t find this warm enough when camping in cold, snowy conditions in Kyrgyzstan in September. I decided to upgrade to the warmer Mythic 600 in autumn 2019 and haven’t had a cold night since.
Del is still largely happy with his but has definitely felt a bit too cold while camping around 3000 m in frosty conditions. If we plan to spend more time camping in colder conditions in the future, he will probably upgrade to a warmer bag too.
Both of our sleeping bags weigh less than 900g and compress down to a packable size. In order to get them as small as possible, we use Sea to Summit compression sacks instead of the stuff sacks that came with them.
These stuff sacks are also waterproof, ensuring our precious down bags stay bone dry. When at home, we store our sleeping bags in the cotton storage sack that comes with each bag to ensure the down maintains its loft.
We always sleep inside a silk liner when camping. If it’s warm, this is all we use and it helps keep us cool. If it’s cold, we use it inside our sleeping bag to add extra warmth. Silk is a great material for this purpose as it is lightweight and breathable, as well as being very comfortable. A second benefit of using a silk liner is that it protects our sleeping bag from dirt and sweat. Down sleeping bags are much trickier to clean than the liner itself. We both use a mummy shaped Rab 100% silk hooded liner, although Del would actually prefer one without a hood.
Rolling up clothes and stuffing them in a dry sack works for some, but we value a dedicated pillow for a good night’s sleep. We each use the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight camping pillow and it is incredibly comfortable. It also weighs next to nothing (60g) and packs down tiny. You can inflate and deflate it in seconds, and it’s very easy to machine wash. An all-round great bit of kit!
BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR // COOKWARE
OUR CAMPING GEAR
POCKET STOVE & GAS
We like to enjoy a hot meal at the end of a long hike, and start each morning with a cup of real coffee. Therefore, a stove and gas are essential on multi-day camping hikes. We still use the same cheap pocket stove we bought many moons ago while living in Korea. It is tiny, lightweight, and screws directly into a threaded gas canister.
You can’t fly with a gas canister, but so far we have always been able to hunt out the gas we need locally before setting off on a hike (usually in a major city like Dushanbe or Tbilisi). A multi-fuel stove like the MSR Whisperlite Universal is far more versatile though, and we’ll be making the switch if we ever plan a hike where sourcing regular gas canisters is a problem.
MUG & BOWL
There are measurements marked up the inner side of both mug and bowl, very handy for ensuring Del never gets more wine than me. The solid nylon rim on the mug makes it easy and enjoyable to drink from, like a real cup. The same material is used for the solid base of the bowl, making it easy to handle and also useful as a chopping board. Being silicone, they do tend to take on strong flavours. This is more of an issue with the mug, like the time we had chicken and leek cup-a-soup and got a whiff of it with every sip of coffee for two weeks after…
We originally bought the Sea to Summit AlphaLight Cutlery Set which includes a knife and spork, but we found that we never use the knife and the spork is all we need. It does a fine job, but any time we’re eating straight out of a dehydrated meal bag we wish we had a longer handled spork, like the TOAKS titanium long handled spork with polished bowl (for easy cleaning and a nice ‘mouth feel’). This would prevent us from getting food all up our hands when we dig deep for every last morsel.
We were very happy with the pot for the first couple of years, but eventually cracks appeared in the lid and then it completely broke apart. This obviously makes it much less useful, as it takes longer to cook food without a lid, and we can no longer snap shut the whole nested package. There are a couple of other things that bug us about this pot too, like the fact that there is no proper handle, and that more often than not the capacity is greater than we need for two people. Years of stuffing it in our backpacks has no doubt led to the plastic lid breaking, making us rethink how practical this design really is.
So, with that said we are giving up on this pot and replacing it with the Sea to Summit 1.9 litre Alpha pot. This is actually lighter than the X-Pot, and although not collapsible, we can store other items inside so it shouldn’t be any less easy to pack. It has a handle, and overall we are confident that it will be more durable and practical in the long run.
The Sea to Summit X-Pot Kettle is a great addition to our camp cookware. We have the 1.3 litre version which is perfect for boiling water for coffee or dehydrated meals, or for stirring up powdered milk for breakfast. It sits steadily on our pocket stove and pours great, with folding handles for ease of carry.
Like the rest of the X-Series, the kettle collapses down, with our X-Brew coffee dripper nesting neatly inside. There is also room for one X-Mug, or you could store two X-Mugs without the X-Brew. After more than three years of rugged use, the plastic lid has finally developed a crack, but it’s still usable for now and we continue to take it backpacking with us.
SEALABLE FOOD CONTAINER
Del wasn’t initially sold on the value of our Sea to Summit X Seal & Go food container, but after a summer of hiking in Georgia and eating leftovers for lunch most days, he’s a convert! We have one ‘large’ food container, which looks similar to our collapsible bowl, but has a leak-proof threaded lid for secure food or liquid storage on the go. We have mostly used it for storing leftovers from dinner to eat the next day, or storing ‘messy’ food from guesthouses to carry on the trail with us. It works great as a bowl too, and is more rigid than the standard X-Bowl given the solid rim around the top.
Completing our Sea to Summit X Series cookware is the X-Brew coffee dripper, a must for us lovers of REAL coffee. We’ve been using this on and off the trail while travelling for over three years, ensuring we can get our coffee fix wherever and whenever. It’s simple to use, just sit the dripper on top of a mug, spoon some ground coffee in and pour hot water over. The mesh filter is removable for rinsing in between cups. This isn’t so easy to clean when we have limited water at camp, but otherwise it works great and produces a solid cup of coffee.
We have some multi-purpose biodegradable Wilderness Wash from Sea to Summit. This is great for washing our camping cookware, and for doing our laundry.
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BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR // AROUND CAMP
OUR BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR
Besides our sleeping gear and cookware, there are a number of extra things we pack for using around camp. Some of these items are essential for every backpacking trip, while others could be considered luxuries or only necessary in certain situations. You can find some of these extras on our general Hiking Gear packing list too.
WATER TREATMENT SYSTEM
We nearly always treat our water when camping, and our preferred sterilisation tool is the Steripen Ultra. It’s quick and easy to use, and leaves no aftertaste like some purification tablets. It takes 90 seconds to sterilise 1 litre of water, killing all bacteria with UV light. We use it with the Nalgene wide mouth Steripen filter to ensure there are no weird floating things in our water.
The Steripen has a USB rechargeable battery and the display shows you how much life is left, so it’s never a guessing game. We can charge it via our solar panel or power bank, although we only have to charge on longer multi-day camping treks as the battery lasts a few days. Each bulb sterilises 8000 litres before needing to be replaced, which the company will do for free.
We’ve found the Steripen to be very reliable over the past 3+ years, but always carry a few purification tablets as an emergency backup. The only time we’ve had issues with the Steripen is in very cold conditions, such as at high altitude in Nepal. We’ve found that warming it inside our jackets while giving the water time to warm up solves the problem.
Our Steripen has become a valuable piece of our backpacking kit, both on and off the trail. We use it everywhere we travel and never have to buy bottled water anywhere in the world.
We always use a water bladder for drinking while hiking, but around camp it’s much handier to have a water bottle. We each have a 1 litre Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth bottle. The wide mouth makes them easy to clean, and easy to fill up. As we can’t sterilise more than 1 litre at a time, they are the perfect size for accurately sterilising the correct amount of water, before filling up our water bladder(s). They have measurements marked up the side which is ideal for cooking, although we’ve had these bottles for so many years that the markings have now largely rubbed off.
The bottles are tough, meaning we can chuck them around without damaging them. They are also easy to carry or hook onto our backpacks via the grab loop. The twist cap is always simple to open and close, without any annoying rubber seal bands that fall out or get lost. Literally the only thing I don’t like about these bottles is that you end up with water all down your face if you try to drink in a moving vehicle. That in itself has led to some memorably comic moments though…
I always hike with a 3 litre Hydrapak water bladder, and at camp this comes in useful as an extra water reservoir. This is especially true if our water source is far away and we want to carry as much water as possible to camp in one go.
A headtorch (headlamp) is essential and we each have a Black Diamond ReVolt. We chose this model because it uses rechargeable batteries, so we never have to worry about carrying spares or running out on the trail. We can use our solar panel or power bank to charge via micro USB, which plugs straight into the headtorch. They also work with regular alkaline AAA batteries, making them extra versatile. Overall, we’ve been very happy with the BD ReVolt headlamp, the only thing we don’t like about it is that the back case is very stiff and tricky to open when you need to access the batteries. This isn’t very often though.
We carry an Anker 15W solar panel for charging our phones, headlamps, Steripen, Del’s Garmin watch, camera batteries, and so on. It has two USB ports and works great in direct sun, okay in patchy sun, and not so much when it’s cloudy. It’s awkward to use on the move, so we try to charge things around camp in the morning or during lunch stops when hiking.
When not in use, it folds flat and takes up minimal space. We usually pack it at the bottom of our backpack lid to stop it from getting bent or broken. We always carry an Anker 20100mAh power bank too for guaranteed charging capabilities.
We keep all of our toilet related stuff together in one handy grab kit (ie. a ziploc bag or similar). This includes toilet paper, antibacterial gel, biodegradable (where possible) bin bags to pack out our used toilet paper, and a camp trowel for digging a toilet hole.
We were using the Sea to Summit nylon pocket trowel for the last few years but somehow misplaced it on our last hiking trip, so we need to replace it before we set off again. We’ll be getting the TheTentLab Deuce model instead, as our previous trowel just couldn’t cope with tough ground. We were initially put off the TentLab one because of reviews saying it is hard to hold as the aluminium digs into your hand. But, we have faith that it will cope with hard ground much better, and we’ll just need to wear gloves when digging if it hurts.
GROUND SHEET / PICNIC BLANKET
This certainly isn’t an ‘essential’ backpacking item, but we love our Nordkamm ground sheet and use it all the time. This large picnic blanket folds down small, is fairly light (about 350g), and keeps all of our gear clean and dry when packing and unpacking our backpacks. We usually hike with expensive camera gear and other bits and bobs that we want to keep out of the dirt, dust, or moist grass. Being able to keep everything in one place on the mat helps us stay organised and our gear in working order.
It’s also quite nice to have a clean and dry spot to sit on, and it can double up as a sun shade or rain tarp by using the corner loops to attach it to branches or such like. Our particular ground sheet isn’t easily available outside of Europe, but the Matador picnic blankets are similar and more widely available.
For longer backpacking trips, we pack our trusty Scrubba for doing laundry on the go. Again, this isn’t an ‘essential’ item, but it is one we value. It looks like a dry bag, but with a valve for squeezing out air and a knobbly washboard inside. It makes washing clothes without polluting any water source easy, and also gives them a much better clean than hand washing alone. You just add water and soap (we use the same Wilderness Wash that we have for washing dishes), roll down and clip the bag, release the excess air, and rub the clothes against the washboard for a minute or two. You can empty the dirty water away from your fresh water source, fill it up again with clean water to rinse, then wring out and hang up your clothes to dry.
The Scrubba also doubles up as a waterproof bag for keeping stuff dry, or separating wet/dirty clothes from the rest of your gear. The fact that you can compress all of the air out like a vacuum sealed bag is a great space saver.
We have the classic green Scrubba Wash Bag, and the larger Scrubba Stealth Pack, which comes with detachable straps for turning it into a waterproof backpack. For most camping situations, the smaller and lighter green wash bag is ideal. The Stealth Pack is more versatile overall, even doubling up as a camp shower (although we’ve never tested out this function!). Realistically, the straps are too heavy to carry with us on backpacking trips, but we’ve often used the Stealth Pack as a daypack off the trail, and the larger capacity for laundry suits two people well. There is also a Mini Scrubba which is a good option for solo ultralight campers.
FIRST AID KIT
We have a general first aid kit that we top up as and when we need with extra sterile wipes, plasters, painkillers, Compeed blister pads, rehydration sachets, and so on. Thankfully we haven’t incurred any serious injuries while hiking or camping, but we’ve had plenty of minor scrapes requiring antibacterial wipes, antiseptic cream, or a plaster.
We have a Victorinox Swiss Army Hunstman Pocket Knife which comes in handy for all sorts. We use the sharp knife and scissors more than anything, but the can opener and flathead screwdriver have seen plenty of use too.
The amount of toiletries we have with us usually depends on how long we are backpacking for, and whether we’ll have the opportunity to shower along the way or not. If it’s just a few days we usually only pack our toothbrushes, a small tube of toothpaste, sunscreen, and I like to have a small bottle of face cleanser. We won’t bother with soap, shampoo, or deodorant. If it’s up to a few weeks with a mixture of camping and guesthouses along the trail, we’ll also pack soap, a shampoo bar, and deodorant. A packet of wet wipes is handy for ‘showering’ no matter the length of trip.
We each have a microfibre travel towel which we’ll pack for longer hiking trips where we anticipate being able to properly wash or shower (at a hostel for example). Otherwise we’ll just pack a much smaller towel suitable for drying off wet feet after a river crossing or such like.
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OUR BACKPACKING CAMPING GEAR
That’s the lot! Each of these items have been with us in one form or another for the past few years, and overall, we’re pretty settled on our backpacking camping gear. Saying that, there’s always room for improvement, so if you have any great ideas or suggestions get in touch and let us know in the comments below.