This list covers some of the most essential things that I take hiking and camping, but there’s a lot of other stuff to consider too. I always carry the 10 essentials, including a customized first aid kit, extra clothing for changing weather conditions, sun protection etc.

This core gear list should be enough to get anyone started thinking about what they might need for a range of outdoor adventures, from day hiking and car camping to backpacking and mountaineering. Some of this changes depending on the activity, but the idea is having one bomb-proof set of gear to make getting outside as frictionless as possible.

Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 MtnGlo

In 2017, I started experimenting with what might be a good, all-purpose tent for my needs. After years of using a heavyish single door tent (a 2P Marmot Limelight from maybe 2012) it was time for an upgrade. I tried a bivy sack for the hell of it — that was a nope from me — and a one person backpacking tent, which was better but still pretty cramped and not very versatile.

After some experimentation, I landed on the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 MtnGlo tent. Two doors, light enough for backpacking solo, fine for car camping in a pinch — and it has twinkle lights. Did I mention the twinkle lights?

I’ve camped in the Copper Spur 2 in the Utah desert in 20 degree weather, on a snow during a climb in the central Cascades and next to my car in frontcountry campsites. It’s easy to set up, light and fits a lot of differently shaped adventures. I wish it was more colorful but that’s really my only complaint — it’s a great, well-rounded tent I can take on any trip.

Pack: Deuter Air Contact SL 45 + 10 (Women’s)

I switched to this pack from the Boreas Buttermilks 55, a random fire red pack I picked up before a few week trip to Mexico approximately ten lifetimes ago. In retrospect, that “men’s” pack was designed for someone taller and wider than my 5’4″ frame, but I loved the hard mesh ventilation across the back and the simple design. I also liked 55L size-wise… not too big for a big day hike, not too small for backpacking with some climbing involved.

After a few years of using the Deuter, I’m not sure it’s quite right for me. In 2019 I developed sciatica, a.k.a. spicy spicy nerve pain, and this pack unfortunately puts pressure right on those spots. And while my sciatica may go away eventually, a year of mostly being stuck sitting at home has not improved things!!!! I may be looking for something else soon… hit me with your pack recommendations for people with lumbar pain if you have them.

Sleeping bag: Enlightened Equipment Revelation, 850 fill down, 10 degree quilt

This was a li’l leap of faith, but it paid off. Prior to a few years ago I had camped for hundreds of nights in my now decade-old Mountain Hardware Lamina 20 and only been uncomfortably cold maybe twice. I don’t mind keeping a piece of reliable gear for a decade if it works, but in the last few years more and more gear designers are realizing that mummy-style bags (tight body with a hood) are totally awful if you’re not a back sleeper. I probably couldn’t even sleep on my back if you knocked me unconscious, so the promise of a sleeping gooder was too much to resist.

Eventually I gave in and bought a custom Enlightened Equipment Revelation 10 degree quilt. After realizing that high quality down doesn’t seem to make me allergic and plenty of places source their feathers ethically, I’ve only just started buying down outdoor gear occasionally. Synthetic materials are great for wet environments but can’t compete with down’s lightweight floofiness… the floof is really something.

So far, this thing is awesome. I even got to pick custom clashy colors (some kind of tactical camo and “aegean blue”) which is a big plus if you want obnoxious outdoor gear like I do. You can also use this as extra insulation while car camping or sitting around a fire and that’s ideal.

Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

This thing is a) submarine yellow and b) does the job! I’ve spent nights in sub-freezing temperatures while snow camping without being cold with the NeoAir. I usually opt for something else when car camping but for backpacking trips or any cold weather camping it really does the trick.

In the beginning, this thing was noisy as heck, like wildly crinkly, but that went away after a couple nights of use. The NeoAir XLite is well loved by anyone who can’t back-sleep on a thin, foam mat and with good reason.

Misc. Other Gear:

  • Hydration: Platypus 3L Hydration System
  • Stove: Snow Peak GigaPower Auto Stove
  • Cookware: GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist Set (for backpacking)
  • Poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
  • Insulation: North Face Ventrix Hoodie
  • Hat: Topo Sport Five Panel Hat

I’ll be adding more info on my clothing system and my camera gear soon. I’m changing some things up with both (change is scary!) and they’re nowhere near dialed in. But that’s the fun part, right?

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