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Backpacking and hiking are two of the most popular ways to explore outdoors. They’re hugely accessible and enormously liberating – just grab a backpack and go. To many, there’s no greater freedom.

But what goes into that ‘pack to make for a fun-filled and stress free adventure? A sweet haul of backpacking essentials, of course!

A pair of hiking boots will get you started here, but you’ll be even happier, warmer and dryer with some proper outdoors gear, as featured in hand-picked list below. 

From accessing safe drinking water wherever you are to finding your way on a trail at night, there are tools to help you. Before we unveil the goods, how do you know what gear to stuff in your backpack, and, more importantly, what to leave out?

The right backpacking essentials for you 

When it comes to backpacking, there’s a fine line between what’s essential and what’s just added weight. And it all depends on how and where you’ll be backpacking. The absolute basics include waterproof boots or shoes, a quality rucksack, a first aid kit and a water filter.

If you’re venturing out for longer or further, you’ll need to prepare for different weather conditions. You’ll also need to ensure you’ve got enough juice to keep your gadgets, especially your phone or GPS unit, powered to help you navigate or to communicate with others.

Staying hydrated and well-fed keeps you energised, which in turn will make your adventure easier and more enjoyable. To keep things simple, we’ve rounded up the following backpacking essentials for you to consider… 

Backpacking essentials: Mammut Creon Tour rucksack in red

1. Mammut Creon Tour

A durable, comfortable, versatile and well-ventilated backpack

Reasons to buy
+Quality build  +Cutting-edge back ventilation 
Reasons to avoid
Too small for winter backpacking

Backpacking with a poorly-fitted rucksack is a miserable experience. It’ll rub in all the wrong places and make every step a chore. Luckily the Mammut Creon Tour takes a technical attitude to solving this issue, with a custom mesh rear panel that not only controls the load, but ventilates your back too. 

Easy-to-operate straps, dual pockets and hydration system-compatibility means this slimline package delivers on many levels.

If you’re heading out during winter, when you’ll need to pack more gear, or if you’re going for longer trips and taking extra stuff, you may need a bigger ‘pack, but this is great for shorter or lighter packing trips.

Backpacking essentials: man wearing a Buff neck scarf

2. Buff Neckwear

Protect your face and neck from extreme weather

Reasons to buy
+Highly breathable+Budget friendly
Reasons to avoid
You might get hat hair!

The Buff is an often ignored backpacking essential. It’s something you could live without, but it’s probably the most versatile item on this list, and the one you’ll thank yourself the most for buying.

Worn around the neck or hung down like a foreign legion hat, it’ll protect from the sun. You can also wrap it into a beanie hat in the cold of the evening. In stormy weather, the Buff protects your neck and face from harsh cold and bitter winds. 

Useful in a huge range of situations, the Buff weighs nothing, packs down teeny, and delivers protection from extreme weather. Don’t leave home without one.  

Backpacking essentials: LifeStraw Universal filter

3. Lifestraw Universal

Always get safe drinking water with this dinky water filter

Reasons to buy
+ Neat solution when clean water isn’t available+Tried and tested
Reasons to avoid
Unnecessary on shorter treks 

Heading out to remote places where water may be contaminated and unfit to drink makes a water purification system essential. On trips where you’ll want more water than is sensible to carry, clean water soon becomes a luxury. 

Yes there are a host of tablets and UV wands around, but for old-school confidence a proper water filter is a must. Our top recommendation comes from LifeStraw…

The LifeStraw Universal not only removes 99.9% of bacteria and parasites, but also fits into your favourite existing water bottle, so you can carry less and waste less. Good for 1,000 gallons, this is a true backpacking essential.  

Leki poles are a backpacking essential

4. Leki Black Series Walking Poles

Protect your knees on long descents

Reasons to buy
+Super light+Portable+Great support for knees
Reasons to avoid

Walking poles can save your knees from a serious amount of battering, especially on long descents or epic walks. We love the Leki Black Series, crafted from 100 per cent Carbon Fibre and weighing a featherweight 452g per pair. 

They feature Leki’s Speed Lock 2 mechanism, which enables rapid adjustment of the poles, even if you’re wearing gloves. A push button release mechanism means you can ‘set and forget’ the length between 110cm and 130cm. 

Simply unfold the poles from a tiny 38cm packed length and lock them out in a jiffy.

Backpacking essentials: Suunto 9 Baro Fitness watch

5. Suunto 9 Baro

Let this wrist-mounted navigator act as your route checker

Reasons to buy
+Tiny GPS unit +Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
Not cheap

A GPS watch is one gadget that could prove indispensable on your adventure, and the rugged Suunto 9 Baro comes with a built-in digital compass and fully functioning GPS to save your navigational bacon if you get lost. 

If you’re curious to keep an eye on your wellbeing when backpacking, the waterproof watch (to 100m) also sports impressive heart rate tracking.

You’ll get up to 120 hours of use per full charge (depending on usage), with live weather warnings available to help you keep tabs on how the day’s weather is shaping up.

Backpacking essentials: Purple LifeVenture towel

6. LifeVenture Travel Towel

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was right: know where your towel is

Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Rolls up small 
Reasons to avoid
Added weight in your pack

This clever microfibre towel absorbs six times its own weight and dries nine times faster than a conventional towel. It’s also been treated with Polygiene anti-odour tech to prevent your stuff from smelling damp when you unpack.  

The LifeVenture towel is available in a variety of colours, and comes with its own durable ripstop carry case. A versatile essential that can be used in a range of situations.

7. Black Diamond ReVolt Head Torch

A great outdoor gadget to help you see the light at night

Reasons to buy
+Super bright+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
Heavier than some headtorches 

Whether backpacking, walking along a darkened trail or simply hunting for elusive belongings in your bag, a head torch is essential in many nighttime situations. 

The market is crowded, but we recommend the Black Diamond ReVolt because it’s really bright, knocking out 300 lumens, and features a three-level power metre to ward off flat batteries.

The battery department sets the ReVolt apart from other head torches, as it runs on its own rechargeable batteries as well as standard AAAs. It’s also waterproof, rated to IPX8, which is 30 minutes at 1.1 meters underwater.

Backpacking essentials: Freeloader Sixer black solar charger

8. Freeloader Sixer

Power your tech with this water-resistant solar charger

Reasons to buy
+Charging on the go +Built in cables 
Reasons to avoid
Charging time slows on cloudier days  

Unless you’re going fully off the grid, you’ll likely pack at least a few key items of tech for your trip. After a full day of capturing scenic shots of and videoing in 4K, the batteries on your phone or camera will be depleted. 

Luckily, Freeloader has a solution in the shape of the Sixer, a lightweight but robust and water-resistant solar charger. 

With built-in Lightning/micro USB charging arms and an included USB C adapter, it’ll fully charge a smartphone battery three times over, and an action camera up to four times.

Backpacking essentials: JetBoil MightyMo portable camping stove

9. Jetboil MightyMo

Tea time can be any time with this portable gas stove

Reasons to buy
+Efficient and fast+Lightweight+Powerful
Reasons to avoid
Bulky to pack

A small camping stove enables you to boil water for tea or coffee, as well as cook simple hot meals on longer backpacking trips. Ok so it’s a luxury item rather than an essential, but if you fancy brewing your own hot drinks, this is a must for you.

The Jetboil range has a lot going for it in terms of being easy to use, and the MightyMo is particularly worthy of mention due to its combination of traditional idiot-proof gas stove and high-tech heat absorbing cookware. 

This reduces gas use without introducing fragile stove components, which can be a risk to carry on less smooth trails. A regulator valve also increases efficiency, as well as enabling one of the best simmer settings around.

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