Last summer, I went on my first big backpacking trip. As a total backpacking newbie, I started from scratch on gear. I learned a lot online and from my boyfriend, who basically grew up in the woods. Today I’m sharing what gear I took along for a five day, four night backpacking trip on Isle Royale on Lake Superior. Stay tuned for my clothing recommendations, recipes and more!
**I’ve linked the photos below if you are interested in purchasing them or researching further. These are not affiliate links, just products that I personally use. Prices reflect those at time of posting.**
1. Kelty Catalyst 46 Backpack, $159.95
This was probably the most difficult thing to purchase since there are SO many options, sizes and price points, and I was generally happy with the Kelty Catalyst. The 46 was the perfect size for five days since it fit everything I needed and nothing more. It was also a good fit for my body – 5’5ish, athletic build.
Its top-loading design made daily packing and unpacking simple and it features a PerfectFIT suspension system which made it easy to adjust to my body. It was very comfortable and only rubbed a bit on my shoulder on the day I wore a tank top, which probably would’ve happened with any backpack.The side pockets were handy to store my water bottle and the top pocket was great for food storage so we could grab snacks on the trails.
My only complaint with this pack was a lack of straps on the outside for external storage of flip flops, sleeping pad, tent, swimsuit, etc. Overall, it met my needs for this trip, and I can see it holding up for a long time. When I’m not backpacking, I keep it in my trunk with emergency gear (thanks, survivalist boyfriend).
If Kelty isn’t for you, Osprey makes excellent backpacks as well. I have an Osprey daypack for biking and hiking, and I love it.
2. Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed, Price Varies
My sleeping bag was a birthday gift, and I love it! The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed comes in several warmth levels – I have the 2.5 season version, which is a must for Upper Peninsula weather. I love it because it doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic with the blanket design and ventilation foot holes. The first couple nights, I found myself getting twisted around in it (I’m an “active sleeper,” ha!), but I solved that problem by shoving my pillow into the top of it so I stayed in place better.
3. Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow, $11.79
A compact pillow is a must for backpacking, but it has to be comfortable, too! The Therm-A-Rest is filled with pieces of expandable foam, so it can be rolled up for storage when it’s time to hit the trail. I can’t say I woke up every morning feeling amazing, but I think it’s a great and affordable option.
4. Pstyle, $12.99
Ladies, this one’s for you. Admittedly, I was nervous to head out into the woods for days without a real bathroom. The thought of trying not to pee on my feet each time I had to go was less than appealing. On Isle Royale, there were outhouses at each of the campsites, but there were many miles in between. Thanks to the world wide web, I found many options for girls in my situation, and after some research I settled on Pstyle.
It’s super easy to use – I only goofed up once, and thankfully that was before the trip! – and all you have to do for middle-of-the-woods cleaning is give it a good shake. I keep it in my car emergency kit as well, because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
5. Katadyn Hiker Microfilter, $54.24 (on sale)
Different places have different requirements about water filtering needs, so we needed a water filter like this for Isle Royale instead of using water purifying tablets or another method. At first, having to pump our own cooking and drinking water seemed like a nuisance to me. Water is always on your mind on the trail. Either you’re forcing yourself to drink it when you’re really not that thirsty or you’re conserving what you have until you get to the next water source.
But, as the trip went on, I came to love it. Heading out to the dock of whichever campground we stayed at first thing in the morning to pump water for coffee and oatmeal became sort of a ritual, and I realized how cool it was that we were drinking water straight from Lake Superior. It was perfectly cold and refreshing. In fact, when we got off the island I missed drinking right from the lake.
Anyway, this little pump worked great for us. It fits right onto both small and large mouth Nalgene bottles and only takes 5 minutes or so to fill two bottles. Huge fan of this product – I will definitely buy it again.
6. MSR Whisperlite Stove, $89.95
This little guy worked like a charm, and one bottle of fuel lasted us the week without a problem. It’s super lightweight with a little wind shield and packs up conveniently into a carrying case.
7. Bushnell TRKR Multi-Color Headlamp, $22.97
A headlamp is a must for backpacking, whether that’s setting up the tent in the dark or late night trips to the outhouse. You know how life goes. This Bushnell has an adjustable head – a huge plus for me since I have a bad habit of pointing lights right in my people’s eyes – and different color options, including a red light so you don’t kill your night vision.
8. Nalgene Water Bottle, $9.84
This is totally obvious, but I’m including it anyway. Nalgene water bottles have a great reputation for a reason. You can drop them a billion times, and they will hold up. They were also great for adding powered drink mix and not having that taste remain in the bottle after. (Water gets boring when you have to drink several bottles a day!)
I will say I recommend bringing more than one bottle per person. Only bringing one bottle each was probably the biggest mistake we made on Isle Royale. There were some long stretches of hiking without access to water, so we ended up filling up Ziploc bags with water as a backup. You can guess how well that worked out. Ha!
9. GSI Outdoors Commuter Javapress, $23. 22
Yes, seriously. French press coffee on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. I actually bought a second to take with me to work after our trip so I could stop choking down cheap office coffee. The Commuter Javapress is lightweight, easy to clean and doubles as your mug. Perfect for camping and for life.
10. Mountain Hardwear Optic Vue 2.5 Tent, $236.24
11. Coleman Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad, $30.99
There are many different types of sleeping pads, but you’ll definitely want one. Keep in mind whether you’re going to want it to fit inside your pack or if you’re able to attach it to the outside of your pack. I used an inflatable one, which was nice in the sense that it packed well, but not so nice having to inflate and deflate it every. single. day.
12. Sea to Summit Pocket Towel, Price Varies by Size
A towel is one of the easy-to-forget items. Exhibit A: I nearly forgot to include it in this post! This was also a gift to me, and it came in handy for the quick rinses in Lake Superior. It dries quickly, is easy to hang from your pack during the day and comes in a convenient, flexible and well-ventilated carrying case.
That was a LOT of information, and there’s certainly more I could have added to this post, but I hope it helps beginner backpackers get started. Happy camping!
What’s in your backpack? Do you use any of these products?