When you’re stuffing backpacking items into your bag for your overnight trip, you might hesitate to grab that piece of luxury backpacking gear. As a backpacker, your goal is to always keep your gear arsenal as lightweight as possible – understandably so, as you’re going to be carrying the gear for miles and miles. So that usually results in leaving some luxury items behind.
But every so often, that piece of luxury backpacking gear might actually provide some real comfort or joy when you need it most in the backcountry.
While you’ll surely curse every item in your pack at some point during your journey simply because your shoulders and back are throbbing, here are some of the pieces of luxury backpacking gear that I believe are worth the extra weight.
Luxury Backpacking Gear
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Bringing a camp chair on backpacking trips was a turning point for me. In all honesty, I don’t have any problems with finding a rock and popping a squat on one. I’ve had plenty of meals and snacks while sitting on logs, boulders, rocks, sand, dirt, etc., but there’s just something about sitting on a nice, comfy chair with back support in the backcountry that really allows me to fully enjoy my meal and my surroundings while giving my body the rest it so desperately needs.
Camp chairs add some significant weight to a backpacker’s haul which is why many opt for the rock sit, but since Helinox designed a chair that weighs just one pound (the Helinox Zero), I barely notice the weight change. And it’s all worth it for me when I find a pretty blue lake to have lunch at and can rest my sore muscles while I soak in the views, or when I arrive at camp and can relish in the sweet back support while I watch the sunset and sip my hot tea.
Since there are no picnic tables in the backcountry, it’s nice to have somewhere to cook, eat, play games, etc. I’ve played games on the ground and eaten out of my lap, but when I have a camp table paired with a camp chair, I feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Your back will endure a lot on the hike to the campsite, so when you can sit on a chair and eat off a table, it doesn’t get added strain from constantly bending and hunching.
While I won’t carry a camp table on super long backpacking trips, it’s a simple decision to throw it in my pack on one or two-night backpacking trips. I swear by the Cascade Mountain Tech UL Camp Table. It weighs just 2 lbs 1.6 oz, can easily be set up, has two mesh cup holders embedded in the fabric, and has a lower price tag than many of the other ultralight camp tables on the market.
Stoves aren’t required by any means, but sometimes it’s gratifying to have a hot meal after a long day of hiking. Let’s face it: protein bars and trail mix don’t always cut it, so boiling up a pot of soup, a vat of pasta, or a skillet of stew are things to look forward to and savor once you’re settled into your campsite or resting in front of a pretty view. The last thing you’re going to want is a cold-soaked bowl of oatmeal or semi-hydrated pasta, especially if the weather is chilly.
The Jetboil Flash is my go-to for a lightweight backpacking stove. It’s intended for boiling water for things like tea, coffee, and dehydrated meals. If pot meals are more your style, and you prefer letting ingredients simmer, either add a pot to the Flash or use a system with simmering abilities like the Jetboil MiniMo. The MSR Pocket Rocket is a great choice if you want a simple, ultralight stove setup.
Are you familiar with the feeling of relief that follows when you take off your shoes after a long day of work? Well, the feeling is even better after a long day of hiking. While you can certainly keep your hiking shoes on or walk around camp barefoot or socked, it’s much more satisfying to pull off your hiking shoes and slip on a pair of lightweight camp shoes or water sandals. The Chaco Lowdown Sandals weigh just 12.4 ounces and the Birkenstock Kalahari Sandals weigh just 9 ounces, so they’re super easy to clip onto the front of a backpack. Your boots will be able to dry out, and your feet can have a chance to breathe.
A microfiber towel can be used for a variety of reasons on a backpacking trip, making it a great addition to your pack. It can be used as a doormat to wipe shoes or feet at the entrance of your tent. It can be used to dry off after a swim in a lake or river. It can be used to wipe the sweat off the forehead after a strenuous or hot hike. It can be used to clean hands, wipe messes, dry dishes, etc. The PackTowel weighs just 3.4 ounces.
Brewing tea and coffee at the campsite and on the trail is something I’ve been doing long before my backpacking days. I’d carry my Jetboil stove, fuel, camp mug, and coffee/tea supplies and boil water on the trail or at my frontcountry campsite.
Now that I’ve graduated to more and more backpacking trips, I find that it’s even more paramount to carry these items. I love waking up before the sun, crawling out of my tent, and watching the sun rise over the landscape with my hand wrapped around a mug of something warm. Having both a stove and a camp mug are both luxuries, but these are two things that I’m happy to carry the extra weight for. If you’re a hot tea or coffee enthusiast, chances are you’ll feel the same.
The Sea to Summit mug is great if you want something lightweight and collapsible. If you want your drink to stay warm for a while and you don’t mind carrying the extra weight, the Stanley or Yeti mugs are great.
I rely on trekking poles for stability when hiking and backpacking, especially in rugged terrain. They’re super helpful to distribute your weight so that your knees don’t take the brunt of the terrain. Your knees take a huge hit every time you step, and the strain enhances the more weight you have on your back.
Trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork are built for rugged topography and are constructed to last. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, I’d try the Kelty Upslope or Stoic Powerlock Cork poles.
Book + Card Games
There are a variety of ways to stay entertained while frontcountry camping such as tossing a football, chucking horseshoes, riding a bike, or throwing bean bags into cornhole boards, but when backpacking, pack weight and space are limited, leaving entertainment resting on the back burner.
Sure, you could be satisfied watching the sunset or dipping in a nearby water source – many people are – but for those who need to be a bit more entertained, I’d suggest bringing along reading materials and/or card games.
E-readers like this Kindle are the lightest option, but for those of you who are like me and prefer a physical book, bring the smallest paperback book you can find. Decks of cards don’t take up much space or weight, so bring along a fun game like Uno, SkipBo, or Phase 10. Viewing the sunset while playing a game or reading a book is a great way to experience the outdoors while still unplugging from smartphones, social media, texting, etc.
A camp pillow is a luxury because you can easily just wad up a jacket or fleece and sleep on it. When I’m frontcountry “car” camping, I’ll bring along my king-sized bed pillow. Of course, since this isn’t possible in the backcountry, I settle for a camp pillow.
There are so many great lightweight options out there like the Nemo Fillow or Sea to Summit Aeros. If you just want a cover to slip your fluffy clothes like hoodies, sweatshirts, or jackets inside for a makeshift lightweight pillow, try the Therm-a-Rest Trekker Stuffable Backpacking Pillow.
Light is one of the ten essentials. Most backpackers opt for a headlamp so they can strap the light around their heads and move around hands-free in the dark.
Along with a headlamp, I like to bring a solar lantern for camp. Solar lanterns are useful for illumination inside tents, on a table for card playing or book reading, or to maneuver around camp without blinding your buddies.
The Luci solar lantern is my favorite. It is inflatable, only weighs 4.4 ounces, has different brightness settings, and charges simply with sunlight. Strap it to the outside of your pack, let it charge in the sun, and you’ll have an extra light source at camp! It’s also a great backup in case your battery-powered headlamps fail or die.
A Few Other Backpacking Luxuries
- Bug head net to keep your head and neck from getting bitten by bugs.
- Hammock to lounge around camp or to sleep in.
- Swimsuit to take a dip in a nearby water source.
- Solar shower if you won’t have access to water.
- Clothesline to hang wet clothes.
- Mini broom and dustpan to keep a clean tent.
- Portable charger for your phone.
What to Pack For a Backpacking Trip
So if all of those items are luxury, nonessential pieces of backpacking gear, what IS essential in the backcountry?
- First Aid
- Sun Protection
I’m going to share some essential pieces of gear to have on a backpacking trip, but make sure to read my Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking where I take a deep dive into everything you should pack, what to wear, tips for planning your trip, how to efficiently pack your backpack, and more!
Backpacks are very personal in terms of fit and function. Depending on how much gear you have, how much space you need, if you prefer ultralight or budget, how long you’re going to be backpacking, and what types of functions you like in your pack, you’ll need a different pack type and size. Some people prefer ultralight and frameless while I personally like a backpack with padded hip belts, a mesh frame, and multiple zippered compartments for organization.
In terms of size, I’d suggest at least a 45-50 liter for overnight backpacking trips. If you’re going to be gone longer, you’re going to backpack in the winter, or your gear is a bit bulkier, I’d consider at least a 70-liter.
The Osprey Sirrus series is great. I have the 50-liter pack, but that one is discontinued, so I linked the 46L. I did also find this 56L Osprey Kyte that seems to be comparable albeit a little bigger (men’s version here). This Osprey Lumina pack (men’s version here) is 60L and is a bit more lightweight than the Sirrus. Hyperlight makes ultralight gear; here is the 55L pack.
Choosing a tent is quite difficult. This, along with a sleeping bag and backpack, is called “The Big Three” because they are usually the hardest to pick out, the most expensive, and the heaviest pieces of gear.
If you can swing the price, I’d urge you to buy an ultralight tent off the bat. These are going to be significantly more expensive than the heavier options, but I promise you, your back will thank you. Shaving several pounds off your back will be a game-changer when you’re walking through the wilderness with an oversized pack. And you probably won’t ever need to buy a new tent ever again – at least not due to damage or wear.
The size of the tent you buy will depend on how many people you want to fit in it. If you like a bit more room, don’t want to be squished inside the tent, and want to keep some gear inside the tent with you, I’d suggest getting a “one-person size up” than you’re attempting to fit. For example, if it’s just you who’s going to be sleeping inside, I’d get the two-person. If you and your partner are going to be sleeping inside, I’d get the three-person. This will allow you to have a bit more room for yourselves and your gear. I like the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL series.
→ Read Next: How to Set Up a Tent in Every Terrain
There are sleeping pads that fold like an accordion and sleeping pads that are inflatable and fold down to the size of a can of Coke. There are pads that are an inch thick and some that are four inches thick. There are extra-long pads, mummy-shaped pads, and regular-length pads. Ask yourself how comfortable you want to be, how much weight you want to carry, and how much money you want to spend. I have the long, regular-shaped version of this Big Agnes AXL Air Pad, but the Big Agnes Rapide is great too.
Sleeping bags are rated on temperature scales. If you’re primarily going to be hiking and camping in the summer, you will probably just need a 30 to 45-degree bag. Winter camping trips call for a 0-15-degree bag. There are different sizes, shapes, and warmth ratings so make sure you pick the one that works for you and your trip.
Even if you don’t plan on hiking after dark, you’ll still need a way to see around camp after the sun goes down! I’d suggest bringing at least one headlamp and one extra set of batteries (or carrying a solar lantern, one of the luxuries I mentioned above). You’ll want to choose a headlamp that has a red-light option and a variety of brightness levels. Using a lower setting saves battery life, brighter light can be used if you’re hiking in complete darkness or need to see longer ranges vertically and peripherally, and red light saves your night vision and prevents you from blinding your group.
The Petzl Actik Core Headlamp is a great lightweight option that has all of the features you’ll need in an illumination source. It’s perfect for all kinds of outdoor activities. The Black Diamond Cosmo is a bit more budget-friendly with relatively the same features as the Petzl.
While it’s not necessary, it’s certainly nice to have an emergency beacon for two reasons: one, in case you find yourself in an emergency situation and don’t have cell phone reception, and two, so you can communicate with loved ones with the use of satellites.
Both the Garmin inReach Mini and the SPOT Gen4 are great emergency beacons. I favor Garmin because of the two-way messaging feature and the ability to activate the device when I need it and suspend it when I don’t need it.
First Aid Kit
No matter how long I plan to be gone in the backcountry, I always carry a first aid kit with me. Factors like how long I’ll be on the trail, what the terrain will look like, what the weather will be, and what current medical concerns I may have for myself or my group will depend on what items and what quantities of those items go in my kit, but as a general rule of thumb, this is what I pack in my first aid kit on a backpacking trip:
- Gauze and dressing
- Medical tape
- Blister pads
- Tweezers and tick key
- Antiseptic wipes
- Sting relief
- Bug spray
- Cold packs
- An assortment of pills (ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, allergy)
I wrote a whole guide on first aid basics for hikers and campers, which includes not only what to pack in your first aid kit, but how to recognize, prevent, and treat common trail injuries. Give it a read!
There’s no food prep easier than a dehydrated backpacking meal in the backcountry. All you do is boil some water and pour it into the bag and BAM! You have a hot, delicious meal. Some of my favorite dehydrated meals are Mountain House Chicken Fajita Bowl and Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna.
If you’re not interested in these meals, it’s also super easy to pack non-refrigerated fruits and vegetables, trail mix, protein bars, mac and cheese, summer sausage, blocks of cheese, or pre-made, homemade DIY dehydrated meals. I go into more detail about what foods to eat (and how much to eat) on the trail in this blog post!
If you’re hiking in bear country or you don’t want little critters like raccoons and squirrels to ravage your food supply, put your food in a bear canister or bear bag. Bear canisters are bulkier but are less expensive and approved everywhere while bear bags are lighter but generally cost more and aren’t approved everywhere. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to store your trash, toiletries, and other scented items in the bear storage as well.
I have an entire blog post on how to hike and camp safely in bear country including exactly how to store your food, how to react to bear encounters and attacks, and how to set up your campsite properly in bear country.
Water Bottles and Filter
Water is an obvious necessity! The CamelBak Eddy 1-liter bottles are my go-to in the backcountry, but the HydroFlask Trail bottle would be great if you want to keep water icy cold on those extra-hot days.
Whether or not you think you’ll need more water than you can pack, I’d bring a water filter. The reason for doing this is just in case you find yourself out in the backcountry for longer than you planned, you’ll have a way to filter natural water sources. Or you may not bring enough water. Or you may not want to carry all of the water you’ll need for your entire trip because let’s face it, water is heavy.
To filter water in the backcountry, you can bring a water filter or carry iodine tablets. Water filters are generally more effective and are definitely quicker, so I’d suggest buying either the Katadyn BeFree filter or the Sawyer Squeeze.
No matter the weather, layers are essential. Whether you’re wearing them right away from the trailhead or tossing them in your pack, these are the layers you’ll need with you while backpacking:
- Baselayer top and bottom
- Mid layer top and bottom
- Outer layer top and bottom
Here are some examples of layers:
- For your baselayer top, Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino. (Men’s version)
- For your baselayer bottom, Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino. (men’s version)
- For your mid layer top, Patagonia Better Sweater (men’s version)
- For your mid layer bottom, Stoic Tech Fleece Leggings for women, Smartwool Merino Fleece Pant for men
- For your top outer layer, Columbia Arcadia Rain Jacket for women, Columbia Watertight Jacket for men
- For your bottom outer layer, North Face Antora Rain Pants or Stoic Insulated Snow Pants for women, Columbia rain pants or Stoic snow pants for men.
Depending on the duration of your trip and the weather, it’s nice to have an extra pair of socks and underwear, a beanie, a pair of gloves, and a comfy sleeping outfit, too.
Most backpackers don’t bring much in terms of toiletries and hygiene products, but it’s completely up to you. If you want a full cosmetic workup and an array of creams and sprays, no one’s judging.
Me, I bring a small pouch with a few basic toiletries such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, body wipes, lip balm, and bug spray. I also have a toilet kit in a separate pouch at the top of my backpack, so anytime nature calls, I’m ready. Fill your toilet kit with sheets of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a trowel, and a plastic resealable bag for used toilet paper.
While a stove might be a luxury, you’ll need some basic supplies to cook and eat with. A spork is multi-purpose and can be used for both cooking and eating and for both stove and cold soak methods. You can use it as a spoon or a fork to eat with, and you can use it to stir a pot or food contents to cook with or hydrate.
The simplest way to eat in the backcountry would be using a spork and eating straight out of a dehydrated meal bag, but if you aren’t eating a dehydrated meal or you want something a bit easier to eat out of, you could use a collapsible bowl.
→ Read Next: Exactly How to Pack a Backpacking Pack
Every backpacker’s pack will inevitably look different, and that’s perfectly fine. Not just what brands of gear you bring but what specific items you decide to carry.
When it comes to luxury or importance, everyone has something that they want to carry into the backcountry, no matter the extra weight. That item – or items – will look different for every person. You might not mind carrying a couple of cans of pop or beer or a plate of fresh pizza. Cosmetics or body lotion might hold a lot of importance to you. You might want a chair or a table or games or a magazine or a book or a favorite mug or a comfortable blanket.
If you’re comfortable carrying it, and you still have room for all of the essentials, all the power to you! Take what will make you enjoy your backpacking trip so that you’ll want to continue going back into the backcountry over and over again.