I recently set out on an overnight trip along the Appalachian Trail. Since I’m lucky enough to call Vermont home, I didn’t have to go far (in fact, just a couple miles from my house). My plan was to hike for a full day, night, and morning—solo. While this wasn’t my very first backpacking trip, I’m still a fairly novice backpacker, so I took the opportunity to get familiar with some awesome gear—namely my boots, tent, and sleeping bag—and some of the best hiking clothes on the market.
Below, find a list of everything I recommend for first-time backpackers—head to toe, food included. And a quick pro tip: check out REI’s 10 Essentials for a super handy short-list of the most important things you need.
Osprey Backpack Ariel AG 65
A removable top-lid daypack was one of my favorite things about this pack. Amazon
This pack from Osprey does it all. Between the removable top-lid daypack (perfect for short day-hikes if you’re on the trail for longer periods); the nifty loops to stow trekking poles, a zippered sleeping bag compartment, and an internal hydration reservoir, the bag really doesn’t leave much to be desired. An IsoForm5 harness and CM hipbelt provide custom-fit comfort.
Nemo Jam Women’s Down Sleeping Bag
This sleeping bag comes in two models: one suitable for 30-degree temps, and one suitable for 15-degree temps. Amazon
The fill in this sleeping bag is feather-light and keeps you warm even when it’s a little damp. The best part about this sleeping bag is the spoon-shape, which features extra room in the elbow and knee areas for those who aren’t back-sleepers.
Feathered Friends Egret YF Sleeping Bag
Two sizes, two temperature ratings, and 900+ fill power goose down make this bag one worth the splurge. Feathered Friends
I love that the goose down for this bag is sustainably sourced. In terms of comfort and functionality, you’ll get that female-tailored mummy shape and extra down in the footbox for those who get cold feet. I found this bag to be very warm and feather-light. There’s also an option for men.
Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest sleep pieces are super comfortable and ultra-light. Amazon
At only 12 ounces, this sleeping pad is the ideal choice for lightweight packs. The Reflective Thermacapture technology traps radiant heat and a tapered design ensures comfort and warmth.
Therm-A-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow
Don’t lay your head down on a pillow of rocks. Amazon
The compressible travel pillow (I opted for medium) stuffs right down into itself and weighs in at only nine ounces. Once un-stuffed to expand, it becomes a cushiony, four-inch pillow with compressible foam fill.
The Camelbak Fourteener is a fully-functioning daypack with a 3-liter reservoir. Amazon
I love this pack because you can slip the reservoir out and into your overnight pack, or use the whole kit for short hikes. An air support back panel and dual-wing belt make it really comfortable when you do wear the whole pack, and the water reservoir has fast-flow technology for speedy access on-the-go.
Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter Kit
This set from Platypus is a great overnight option and features a gravity-fed water filter system. Amazon
The Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter Kit filters from a Camelbak reservoir in that it uses gravity to filter dirty water while you’re on the trail. By suspending the dirty bag from a low branch, water from a lake or river can filter through a high-tech microfiber cartridge that eliminates 99.9999 percent of bacteria and 99.9 percent of protozoa. The kit comes with a two-liter Platy bottle, which is collapsible and slips easily into an overnight pack.
Available in four flavors, these bars are made from vitamin-packed organic fruit, seeds, and nuts. They’re the ideal protein and nutrition punch to snack on-the-go, and they don’t need to be refrigerated at all.
Leatherman Multi-Use Tool
You can’t go wrong with this iconic multi-use tool. Amazon
Magnetic closing and 21 tools make this classic from Leatherman perfect for any time you might need a knife, pliers, scissors, or wire-cutters while on the trail.
I slept in this new line of base layers from Smartwool and now I basically live in them. The new Intraknit technology yields a super-close, mega-soft weave that sits right on your skin but allows for ample room to breathe. I didn’t find the wool itchy at all, which makes these clothes ideal for sleeping (but they could also be worn during hikes, too).
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL (Tent for one)
This one-person tent is as spacious and lightweight as they come. Amazon
I was in awe of how light the Copper Spur HV UL is—it measures in at just 2 pounds, 8 ounces when packed, and has a large main door, spacious interior, and multiple pockets (both ceiling and wall) for storing items while you sleep. Without the rainfly, you can gaze at the stars through the mesh top, which is pretty idyllic.
MSR Hubba Hubba (Tent for two)
I didn’t take this tent on my trip, but I tested it out recently and it’s a great lightweight option if you’re on the trail as a pair. Amazon
My boyfriend and I love this tent for a couple of reasons: there’s plenty of room for two (29-square feet of floor area), it’s extremely light-weight as far as two-person tents go (just 3 pounds, 8 ounces), and it features a unified hub-and-pole system, so set up is extremely easy.
Snowpeak Gigapower Stove
Despite having a little hiccup with this stove initially, I love how easy-to-use and carry it is. The cup is perfect for coffee or a hot meal. Amazon
Compatible with multiple fuel canisters (I used MSR), the Snowpeak Gigapower has collapsible legs, boils water in four minutes, and can reduce heat down to a simmer. Being a new backpacker, I didn’t correctly screw my stove onto the fuel canister entirely, which could’ve caused a fire—so bring that manual along with you, if you’re a first-timer, and be sure the stove screws on correctly!
Black Diamond Headlamp
Variable lighting features and super bright light make this lightweight, waterproof headlamp the best I’ve ever used. Amazon
With a nifty lock system that ensures you don’t run down your battery, this Black Diamond headlamp has five optical lens settings (I mostly used red light), and the Brightness Memory technology retains the previously used setting, which I found very useful.
It didn’t take long (read: about five minutes) for me to realize that I did not want to take off my pack to get a snack, my chapstick, etc. Enter these pocket-paradise Crestwood hiking pants from Prana. The Coolmax all-season material wicks away moisture, but insulates once it gets cool at night.
Danner Hiking Boots
Despite the fact that I’d barely broken in these boots, I encountered zero problems and felt like I was walking on clouds. Amazon
I was very impressed with the Danner Mountain 600 boots. The new model features a Vibram SPE Midsole, which ensures comfort and flexibility. Combine this technology with the Fuga Outsole, and your feet are able to expand to a wider surface, which makes scrambling feel very stable. Lightweight suede makes these boots waterproof and long-lasting.
Darn Tough Hiking Socks
The best hiking sock on the market. Amazon
Darn tough, indeed. A combination of merino wool, nylon, and spandex makes these hiking socks just as breathable as they are cozy.
I love this performance knit t-shirt for its extreme softness and breathability. It layers well, and features durable odor control and 50+ UPF sun protection.
Good to Go dry meals
I was nervous about meals on the trail, but these dry dinners and breakfasts are full of flavor, nutrients, and left me entirely satisfied. Amazon
I’ve heard some horror stories about what food on the trail can be like. But these dry meals from Good to Go are handmade in Maine, and I could really taste the precision and effort that went into both the pad thai and risotto that I tested. Plus, they’re super lightweight and stack pretty flat on top of each other into your pack.