Hiking Gear and Equipment I Use and Love
The gear you hike with is such a personal choice so while this gear is important to me (mostly because it works for me) it might not be suitable for how you hike.
I'm in the superfine niche between lightweight and ultralight in terms of hiking gear, mostly because I often can't afford to spend the money on the super ultralight gear so I'm happy to carry an extra 500 grams and keep my $500 for actual trips. Would I love to be fully ultralight – sure – but the trade off just isn't there for me yet.
The Big 3 For Hiking
My Multi-Day Hiking Backpack
My main hiking pack is the North Face Banchee . Mine is a 50 litre and I find that large enough because if I'm going on an extended hike where I have to carry a lot of food, I compliment that with the Aarn Balance bags that hang off the front of my body (from my pack but on the front of me). I have scoliosis and two bulging discs in my back so being able to walk for days or months with my pack is critical. The smallest offset or lack of balance could spasm my back and put me out of action for a week or two. Knowing this, I've drilled down to the perfect pack for me and that is the North Face Banchee. Why?
- The aluminium frame allows the weight to be carried more efficiently through my hips so that my shoulders aren't held in an unnatural position.
- The mesh back plate is curved so to hold the pack off my back which means I get no sore points and my pack doesn't end up all sweaty when I do.
- Even though it weighs in at 1400 grams I can carry a much heavier load that I could with the other ultralight packs I have tried.
- The load lifters are amazing and so easy to use that I find myself adjusting my pack at the bottom of climbs automatically now.
- I love that it has the two zippable external pockets so that I can put day to day items in there and not have to dig into my pack for lunch or snacks.
- The brain is removable and while I've never done this, it can be taken off.
- The chest strap is on a sliding type mechanism so you can move it 2mm if you need to. You're not limited to hook locations.
- The pack position can be adjusted to be higher or lower on your body and the hip belt has multiple adjustments too.
This might not be the pack for you, but I personally love it. My pack has now been replaced by a new model that does seem to be quite different. I actually purchased another spare pack not long after I did my first multi-day hike with mine. I loved it so much I was very concerned that they would discontinue it and I would be searching again. The new version doesn't have the super padded kidney section that you can see in the pics below. I almost didn't get this pack because of that, but I now know that is what has made it work for me. I've heard only good things about the new Banchee however stock does seem limited during these post COVID times. There is also a 65 L version in the womens, and if you are tall like me the mens version might suit you better.
Other Multiday Packs
If you are in the US, I've also heard very good things about the Gregory Octal . It also has good lumbar padding, all adjustable straps and and airflow style back. Aussies, these are hard to get in Australia but you could try and order from the US and see if they freight.
The other pack brand that I've heard amazing things from is Osprey. The Osprey Eja 48 is very popular in the hiking world along with the Exos 48 . You can purchase online from Osprey in the US but it will just tell you dealer locations for Australia. My only complaint about Osprey packs is that their hip belts have next to no padding. Actually they have no padding as a rule and this just doesn't work for me. Others who have them rave about them however so I'm clearly just a bit precious!
You can disappear down the rabbit hole of hiking tent research if you aren't careful so I'm going to summarise my experience and hope that helps you somewhat.
- I personally prefer two wall or double wall tents. This just means that there is an inner tent and a fly that goes over the top. Typically this helps to majorly reduce condensation challenges inside your tent as there is ventilation for the air to escape. Single wall tents are obviously cheaper and lighter (if you are on the ultralight tent search) however it also means that if you are hiking in a warm environment, you don't have just a screened in option. IE: you can leave the fly off a double wall tent and just have the mesh screen tent to sleep in.
- I like the idea of tents that use my trekking poles for support but I've not been able to find any that I like that are double wall and not wildly expensive. Remember I'm Australian so we have to add 30-40% to US prices to make our AUD equivalent. The other condition for trekking pole tents that doesn't suite me is that the pole is usually in the doorway. I don't have knees that bend more than about 30 degrees so it is very difficult for me to tuck my legs up and swing into a tent that has a pole in the way. Its just not comfortable for me.
- I prefer stand alone tents. If I'm hiking somewhere that is rocky while you can tie your tent out with rocks its not always super successful, and if it rains you can end up with everything soaked because your tent isn't set up properly. Also if you are in a situation where there are huts, it's very hard to set your tent up inside a hut if it's not a stand alone tent.
The choice is of course yours to make. These tents below are tents I've used or that have been used by someone I know well who love them.
My current tent is the North Face Triarch 2 person. They no longer sell these tents in Australia, however the Stormbreak 2 Person is the equivalent. This tent has heaps of room, has doors on both sides and is very comfortable. At 1350 grams its not the lightest tent, however I didn't have the money to purchase a single person tent and a two person tent for those occasions where Brad joins me so I'm happy with the extra weight.
Be Aware: The Stormbreak 2 person is 2.4 kg so if you are a solo hiker I would purchase the 1 person which is 1400grams and avoid the extra kilo.
Other free standing tents
The Sierra Designs Meteor 2 lite was my last tent and I loved this one. Fully stand alone, great side entry on both sides, lightweight and the inner mesh component is almost fully mesh so it is very cool and breezy in hot weather. If you are from the US you can purchase direct from Sierra Designs however for Aussies it's a bit more challenging. Wildbounds in the UK do stock it and also ship to Australia but the shipping is around $80 AUD.
My cousin has the MSR Hubba Hubba tent and loves it. He lives outside Seattle so uses his tent in the snow often and raves about it. It also has two entry doors which is great for when you do squeeze two of you in there and when the fly is on, the vestibule is a decent size. It's free standing and double wall with the fly on so you shouldn't have too much trouble with condensation.
This Big Agnes Scout 2 tent has no vestibule to speak of so you would have to consider using it as a solo hiker to have room for your gear. It is also single wall BUT it weights in at 1lb 5 oz. That's about 600 grams!! It isn't stand alone obviously but I think this may be my very next tent! 600 grams – that has to be very hard to go past! Get it from Backcountry in the US or Wild Earth in Australia.
Weighing in at 539 grams (19 oz) this is the daddy of lightweight tents. All the tents I've mentioned here are 2 person tents primarily as one person tents are just too small for me. I hate leaving my pack in the vestibule, I like it inside the tent with me, so a 2 person is essential to get any real sleep. These ZPacks tents are from everything I've seen extremely hard wearing and simple to put up. They aren't too expensive at $600 USD for a tent that weighs under 600 grams!
Sleeping Pad (or Sleeping Mats)
I have 2 sleeping pads I use on a regular basis.
My summer sleeping pad is an insulated Big Agnes Q-Core SLZ ultralight inflatable mattress. I've never had any trouble with this pad however next time I would buy the wide version. I bought the long version (I'm 6″) but I should have purchased the wide one instead. It is great but if you aren't a good sleeper it being so narrow will bother you. I have a bad back so I actually wake up to turn over so its fine for me, but I think if you were a larger person the wider option would allow you to roll over in your sleep better.
It has an R-Value of 3.2 so it would be decent in winter if you weren't a super cold sleeper.
My winter sleep pad is my Exped SynMat HL Winter version. While you wouldn't usually need this level of mat in Australia I sleep very cold so I really notice the difference between my QCore and this one (which has a RValue of 5). It's very light at around 400grams but being a mummy shape it is only suitable for use in the cold. If you want to spread out you end up with your legs on the tent floor so its ideal for when you are curled up in the cold and sleeping but not for when its warmer. It is much thinner than my QCore but equally as comfortable. Try Exped for locations nears you.
I moved to a quilt last year and haven't regretted it at all. I do think however that you need to be sure you have a really good insulated sleeping pad before you move to a quilt. The difference in a non-insulated pad to an insulated one is massive and even when I'm hiking in Australia in summer, I still use my insulated pad.
My quilt is actually a hammock quilt, hand made by Steve Hazel from Hang Tight Designs on Etsy. I have the Heat seaker quilt which is rated to 15-20 F (about -6 to -10C) and I have found that rating to be absolutely true. It's hard to believe because it is super lightweight but I've slept in it at zero c and not been even cool. I love that damn thing! He does now also have a ” ground dweller ” addon which if you add when you purchase will add an extra bit of width to the quilt and sleeping pad cables. You will also be surprised what is available on Etsy with regard to hiking gifts. I've bought some great things off Etsy.
I also have a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner. They say these add up to 15 degrees celcius to your sleeping bag. I only really carry this when I'm in the cold but I do sleep incredibly cold so I'd rather have it for the 300 grams than not. Cotswold Outdoor can supply it to you Aussies.
I do still keep a winter sleeping bag which is a Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag. This is a US company so they make sleeping bags for very cold conditions and this is actually their lightest bag. I love it and would really recommend getting one of these if you can. At around 550 grams its a great bag for cold Australian conditions.
Other Hiking Gear
I wear Altra Lone Peak trail runners. I have horrible feet and it is very important that I wear Zero drop shoes (the heel and toe are at the same height) and I also can't wear boots because of the scar from my Achilies surgery. I used to wear Hoka One Ones and LOVED them not realising that there actually was a brand that meant I didn't have to suffer the horrible metatarsal pain that I had been. Zero drop shoes has completely solved that issue. . My husband still wears these and loves them and I know a lot of more mature age walkers and hikers are dedicated to Hokas. In Australia you can get them from Kogan or The Athletes Foot.
I've been wearing Altra's for years now and love them for not just hiking but around town. I've tried Timps as well as Lone Peaks and they also work for me. They have a little thicker sole so more padding if you are running in them.
Cloud Nine are another shoe that I'm starting to see everywhere. Try On-Running in Australia for this brand.
If you are after some more affordable gear to start your hiking adventures, check out Kathmandu in Australia for lots of options.