Backpacking Essentials

Jess Jess
May 20, 2020

It’s hard to beat spending the night in our cozy van, but we also love disconnecting even more and going farther into nature than the van can sometimes take us. There is just something special about having all the supplies you need on your back. This is everything we bring when we go backpacking!



Parker uses Osprey's Aether AG 70 Backpacking Pack. He likes it because it is a very comfortable pack with a removable top lid that becomes a daypack. There is a separate sleeping bag compartment, a hydration sleeve, and more.

My Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack is perfect for backpacking Europe and less than ideal for a long backpacking trip so I would only recommend my pack for traveling. It is side opening versus top loading so you are able to easily see everything you packed and fits perfectly into overhead airplane compartments as a carry on. It also has a detachable daypack which I love. It isn’t the most comfortable on the hips for hiking and doesn’t have a hydration sleeve which is why I don’t recommend it for backpacking.

Our ALPS Lynx 2 Person Tent packs down small and is a little under 6 lbs.

This Klymit Static Sleeping Pad is a great price and works well if you are just getting into backpacking. We will probably upgrade and spend a little bit more for a more comfortable mattress pad soon. Our recommendation is to go to REI and lay on a few to see what you like.

Definitely spend the money on a good sleeping bag. The weight and size is worth it when it comes to backpacking. We like Kelty Cosmic 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag.

Sleeping Bag Liners can add warmth to your sleeping bag and keep your sleeping bag clean. Plus you can pull it out and throw it in the laundry after use.

We used to stuff a shirt with whatever else we had in our packs as a makeshift pillow, but having an Cocoon Camp Pillow is definitely more comfortable and we sleep better.

The perfect place to chill after a long day of adventuring is in a hammock in the shade! We have Eno’s from 5+ years ago but there are similar more affordable brands on amazon that I linked to. These portable hammocks are quick and easy to set up. There are also fun accessories you can get like a mosquito net or rain fly especially if you are interested in backpacking with just your hammock verses a tent.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hiking Poles for the longest time because I like having my hands free. But I will say hiking poles help with stability, especially on scrambles or when crossing streams and rivers. It also helps with hand swelling and is easier on your knees while hiking.

I love these prAna hiking pants ! They are so comfortable. Another one of my favorites is Patagonia’s Quandary Pants. Parker likes 686 pants as well as Lululemon.

I love Smartwool's Hiking Socks. These socks are breathable which helps prevent blisters.

Parker and I both love Merrell hiking shoes. He prefers Merrell Moab 2 Mid Hiking Shoes for the extra ankle support.

I prefer the lower cut Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe.

It's always nice to take your hiking shoes off once you arrive at your campsite. Chacos are a little heavy but I find them comfortable for exploring and especially good if you're around any water.

We always bring a small camping shovel for when you have to go #2!

A Headlamp is always important to have regardless of if you plan on doing any hiking in the dark. I also recommend changing the batteries prior to your trip or bringing backup batteries. No more flashlights for us! We prefer hands free light.

These Luci Lights are awesome! They are inflatable and have various settings! They are also solar powered so you can just attach them to your backpack while you’re hiking to charge them.

Cards are some of the best camping entertainment and this deck is waterproof!



The MSR PocketRocket Camping Stove is cheap and compact and we have used it for a long time!

The Jetboil Camping Stove is fast, sturdy and probably the most common but comes with the name brand price.

Backpacking stoves use a different propane from the green 1lb propane tanks. Look for this Jetboil Propane Tank or a red MSR propane tank.

I’m obsessed with this GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacking Cook Set. This one is perfect for 2 people but there is a 4 person set as well. It has a 2L pot with lid, Teflon frypan, 2 bowls, 2 insulated mugs with lids that all nest neatly inside a stuff sack.

We prefer having individual utensils verses an all-in-one utensil but that’s totally personal preference.

The Sawyer Water Filter is our go-to choice! It works very well but can take a little while as you have to squeeze the water through the straw to filter. Parker and I bought a gravity water filter last summer. We had a Lifestraw gravity filter at first but it dripped so slow so we took it back. Now have a Katadyn per REI’s recommendation. We haven’t used it enough to report back on yet so the Sawyer is still our best recommendation.

Parker and I both have CamelBak Hydration Packs. I think 3L is generally a good size. Parker's is smaller and he often runs out.

Coffee is life and this Collapsible Pourover is our favorite way to get our java fix.

Trader Joe's Coffee Packets are an awesome plan B especially if you like coffee on the sweet side. It has cream and sugar already in the packet so it’s less that you have to think about and pack.

Boxed Wine

The lightest weight way to bring alcohol. I try to find the 1.5L Bota Bricks to help distribute the weight of the wine.

A GSI Outdoors Flask is also a good option if you like liquor. Be mindful of all the factors of backpacking and consuming alcohol especially if you have a long hike back out. Make sure you have enough water or access to water to maintain adequate hydration.



In the wilderness you always have to prepare for the worst. I really like this Adventure Medical First Aid Kit. I also include basic medications in my first aid kit including benadryl for allergic reactions and ibuprofen for fever or aches and pains.

If you are camping in bear country it’s so important to follow bear safety recommendations not only to protect yourself, but to protect the campers that will camp there after you. Bears can become habituated and continue returning to a popular camp spot if campers don’t properly store anything scented. This Bear Canister is perfect for weekend trips. Ideally you will camp in one area, cook in another, and store your bear canister with your food and scented items in yet another location forming a triangle.

Keep Bear Spray easily accessible at all times if you are in bear country!

When I first started getting into camping my brother recommended I get an Emergency Whistle which I found funny at the time but thought why not. Since then I’ve realized all of the safety benefits there are from having one. One day on a hike I realized I was being trailed by 5 coyotes and it was blowing my whistle that ran them off. You can also call for help without expending as much energy should you fall off the trail while hiking.

Sun protection is so, so important especially with how much time vanlifers spend outdoors! Supergoop is our favorite brand for sun protection! We use Supergoop SPF 50 Sunscreen.

We also love their chapstick and keep it with us daily.

This is my favorite bug spray. It actually smells good, works well, and doesn’t leave your skin super sticky like you need a shower before you get into bed like most bug sprays!

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