Top-10 Backpacking essentials

I attended the 2014 Outdoor Retailer show this year and was introduced to a number of really cool products. As an avid outdoors person, I really enjoy camping and backpacking—since the show, I’ve been testing out a variety of products. Here are some of the best, and, essential backpacking gear I’ve come across so far this year.

hydrapak-softflaskHydrapak Softflask – Lightweight, collapsible and durable…what’s not to like. The SoftFlasks™ by Hydrapak features a large filling port, shut off valve, dust covers, and carrying loops. The SoftFlasks™ come in several sizes and colors and is sold exclusively at REI. Price: Ranges in price from $13-$21 depending on size and model.


  • No-drip bite value.
  • Twist shut-off valve.
  • Soft, durable TPU construction. Dishwasher/freezer safe.


Eagle Creek Packing CubesEagle Creek Packing Cubes – I’ve been using these Packing Cubes for months now on a variety of trips and absolutely love them! Packing Cubes save space and simplify packing (and unpacking). With different colors and sizes, I always know where my stuff is…this is particularly helpful for backpackers who have lots of small things that need to stay together and organized. Click here for a great video overview. Price: $13 to $38 for a set of three.


  • Durable and water/stain resistant. The fabric seems to be waterproof, however water will leak in from the seams.
  • Ultra lightweight nylon fabric…similar to tent material.
  • Many different sizes and configurations, such as their compression bags, to choose from.

Suntactics – Today it’s impossible not to have electronics with us on a backpacking trip, from your camera, cell phone to dedicated GPS devices. It’s imperative to keep these items charged. Suntantics has a number of portable solar chargers that will keep you charged even when the batteries run out. Price: starts at $139


  • Charges phone in less than 2 hours (I’ve tested this several times, lives up to its claim).
  • Several sizes with different outputs to choose from.
  • Durable, lightweight, very compact, water resistant and made in the USA.

Eagle Nest Outfitters (ENO) – I have been a fan of ENO for a long time now. I simply love the light-weight packability, durability and ease-of-use of their hammocks. An ENO Hammock is an essential backpacking item if you’re going to be hiking in an environment in which you can hang it. Even if you’re not in an ideal forested area with plenty of trees, the ENO Hammocks can be quite malleable…I’ve hung my hammock using two boulders and even a large piece of driftwood before. Those looking to save weight in their pack will love the The ProNest Hammock, which comes in at only 13oz (separate straps an additional 8oz), that’s much less than a tent! ENO has a wide selection of hammocks and accessories, some with insect shield, some with built-in mosquito netting, rain flies and much more. Price: $60-$85 depending on model. Note: you must order hanging straps separately.


  • Very versatile, lightweight, durable and compact.
  • Extremely easy and quick to hang.
  • Comes in a large variety of colors with many models to choose from.


Icebreaker – Having the right clothing when you’re backpacking is crucial…not only for comfort, but your survival can depend on it. Icebreaker makes a line of some of the best Merino wool performance clothing on the market. Having a good base-layer is step one in the layering system. I have a Drifter tee-shirt that is perfect on a warm day, and as it cools in the evening and early morning, I have a Quantum Hoodie that keeps the chill off. The breathablity of Icebreaker’s Merino wool prevents overheating, which is perfect when lugging a heavy backpack. Price: Drifter t-shirt $80 retail. Quantum Hoodie retails for $189.


  • You’ll appreciate the fact that the material is non-itchy, odor resistant, machine washable and dries very quickly.
  • Thin, natural fibers make Merino wool warm in cold weather, cool in warm weather. It’s also lightweight, breathable and easy to care for.
  • Quantum has a drop tail hem for extra protection and chest pocket with media port.

Beyond-Coastal-full-line-of-productsBeyond Coastal – An inherent risk while backpacking is sun exposure…the folks at Beyond Coastal are dedicated to producing a natural line of skin care products to help shield us from the harmful rays of the sun. They have a full line of sunscreens for skin and lips. Prices: Start at $5.99 (1 oz) for sunscreen and $2.99 for lip balm.


  • Broad spectrum UVA/UVB water resistant protection.
  • Sunscreens absorb well into the skin and rub in easy and clear.
  • Full line of sunscreen that protects, nourishes, repairs and hydrates.

MK5-by-CRKTCRKT (Columbia River Knife and Tool) – For minimalist backpackers, you’ll love the RSK Mk5 by CRKT (with survival tin). This small, but versatile knife can make fuzz sticks, construct shelter, gut a fish, dress game or for self-defense. Whether it is wilderness or urban survival, the Mk5 will do its part to keep you alive and kicking. Price: $29.99


  • Weighs less than an ounce and is a skeletonized fixed 1.75″ blade.
  • High-carbon steel blade has a stonewashed finish for improved corrosion resistance.
  • Custom-fitted glass filled nylon sheath and a mint-size carrying tin for building your own personal survival kit.

Dorcy Flashlights – Of course it’s essential to be able to see what you’re doing once night falls, so for backpackers, a compact, minimal weight flashlight is a must. The folks at Dorcy combine high-quality materials and innovative bulb technology to create some very bright and efficient flashlights. Their LED headlamp is great for camping and backpacking, while harnessing cutting-edge technology in their ultra-efficient light sources to properly illuminate any situation. Price: $24:99 for the headlamp


  • Bright at 120 Lumens and a beam that reaches 157 feet. Also has three light modes; dim, bright and flashing.
  • 12 hours of run time on 3 AAA batteries.
  • 50 degree adjustment for pin-point focusing.

GU Energy – I’ll never forget the time that I was backpacking out of the Grand Canyon…it had been raining and snowing and the ground was so muddy that my boots felt like they were carrying an extra 5lbs each. It’s a long hike out of the Canyon and my buddy and I were burning so many calories that we could not replenish them fast enough. If only we’d had some GU at the time.

GU Energy has an extensive line of nutrition energy products in a variety of flavors.


  • Engineered to do one simple thing: provide the body with the essential nutrition it needs to keep going for hours.
  • Products range from gels, drinks, chomps, tablets to brews.
  • Many flavors to choose from. And, they taste great!

NeoAir Trekker sleeping pad by Therm-a-Rest– I have been a fan of Therm-a-Rest for a couple decades now and have owned several of their self-inflating mattress over the years. I’ve always been impressed how they continue to shave weight and bulk, while increasing comfort. The latest in the Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad line is the NeoAir, which is feather light, durable and extremely compact. This is by far the smallest and lightest backpacking pad I’ve seen on the market. And, the comfort is quite remarkable…with 2.5 inches of loft, not only is the Trekker comfy, but the insulation value is impressive. A good night’s sleep is essential, with the Trekker, you won’t dis the sandman while backpacking. Price: $109-$149 depending on size (3 sizes to choose from).


  • 50% warmer with new reflective ThermaCapture™ technology.
  • Weighs only 1.1 lbs. If you can bear an extra 6oz, get the large which is 5″ wider and 5″ longer.
  • Compact and durable…in stuff sack, only 4″x4″x8″. Rugged too, with 75D polyester bottom and supple, 50D top assure maximum versatility.
  • Suggestion: I counted 30 breaths of air to fully inflate…you may want to consider one of the NeoAir pumps available. I chose the Mini, it’s only 2.3oz and really compact.

If you enjoy camping and backpacking as much as I do, please leave a comment below and share some of your favorite /essential backpacking items. I tried to feature items that were geared specifically toward backpacking for their level of essentialness, and, their size and weight.


Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.


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