by Mason Strehl March 08, 2022 5 min read

Backpacking evokes images of overstuffed packs with gear strapped all over the outside - an uncomfortable monstrosity you're supposed to strap to your back and carry for miles. That doesn't sound too fun... but it doesn't have to be that way. Even as a beginner backpacker, you can pack a sleek, lightweight pack by focusing on the essentials.

When it comes to backpacking, the three most critical pieces of gear are your tent, sleep system, and of course, a backpack. These big 3 items have the most significant impact on your comfort on the trail and in camp, and you should shoot for around 8-12lbs for all three. When you add food, water, and other gear, you'll ideally have a trail backpack weight of 20-25 pounds - light, but not crazy light, and an ideal balance between weight and camp comfort. This is the sweet spot where most reasonably fit people can handle the weight in comfort all day long - and it gives you plenty of weight budget to maximize comfort in camp.

For example, a 10 pound budget for the big three items allows a 3 pound backpack that's a lot more comfortable than any ultralight 2 pound packs. A 3 pound budget for your shelter allows for a roomy 1 person, or a luxurious shared 2 person tent - no compromises there. That leaves 4 pounds for a sleep system like the Zenbivy Light Bed 25º Bed Bundle complete with Light Mattress, Light Pillow, inflation dry sack, and compression dry sack. You CAN be comfortable both on the trail AND in camp!

Once you have your big 3 figured out, you can pack the rest of your gear. Add anything that you think is essential to your experience, but remember that it all has to fit in the pack and be comfortable enough to carry. Our rule of thumb: try to keep your pack weight down to 1/6th your body weight, and it will pay big dividends in your trail comfort. But shaving weight further generally produces diminishing returns on the trail - and is likely to reduce your resting comfort and daily recovery.

Tent

A tent is your home away from home - a cozy, high-tech blanket fort for outdoor fun. It provides shelter, privacy, and a little bit of extra warmth in the outdoors. It is essential to backpacking when you're starting. When picking the right one, you'll want to look for one that is big enough. If it's just you and a friend, a 2 or 3-person tent will work great. Be careful of getting a tent that is more than you need; it may be "nice" at camp, but much heavier on the trail. Check the reviews to make sure it performs well in the rain because you never know when you'll have a surprise sprinkle. Ideally, try to find a tent that is under 3 lbs of trail weight per person so you can carry it with ease. If you're going with a friend, you can split up the pieces to distribute the weight in each of your packs. 

Extremely lightweight tents are almost always extremely small, and you need to use them with 1 less person than recommended in order to reasonably sleep comfortably.  That means a 3 person tent for 2 people, and a 2 person tent for 1 person.  Make sure you have the space you need.  A too-light shelter is a sure-fire way to generate an epic suffer-fest.

 

Sleep System

A sleep system is made up of everything you'll need for a comfortable night's sleep outdoors - a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow. We believe this is THE MOST important set of gear in the outdoors. A bad night's sleep can easily ruin the whole trip. It will rob you of the energy you need to hike and enjoy yourself out there. Because of this, it's usually worth investing in a good set -most sleeping bags you'll only have to buy once ever.  You'll want to look for an insulated sleeping pad to keep you warm from below. Choose a mummy bag or quilt that is rated about 10° colder than anything you expect to encounter


We've designed the Zenbivy Bed and Light Bed to give you the absolute best night's sleep possible, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the adventure. It's built like your bed at home with an ultra-comfortable R5+ insulated mattress, a fitted sheet with an integrated hood, and a convertible top quilt to keep you toasty all night long. This system keeps you every bit as warm as other sleeping bags, but allows you to move freely without the constriction of a traditional mummy bag. All that in a package that is smallerand lighter than most sleeping bags on the market.

 

Backpack

You've gotta carry it all, and if you want to do it comfortably, you'll need a good pack. The most important part of a good pack is how it fits, and many outdoor stores will fit you for a backpack for free and show you how to rig the straps so it carries the load properly on your body. A 55L pack is a good size for most weekend trips, as most can get smaller if you bring less gear. Make sure these are pockets for water bottles that are easily accessible and, if you like to snack on the trail, find one with hip pockets.

 

Clothing

Bring clothing that is suited for any weather you may encounter. If it's going to be warm with no chance of rain, you're probably OK with warm weather gear. For cold weather, make sure to bring long underwear, warm socks, gloves, and anything else you'll need to stay warm. You should take a jacket, long pants, sunglasses, and a hat on every trip.

 

The Rest...

Aside from your clothing and the Big Three above, these are a few other pieces of gear you should have. Make sure they work well, but they don't have to be fancy.

- A good, comfortable pair of boots or trail runners
- Camp stove and fuel
- A cooking pot
- Lighters
- Camp mug
- Spoon and knife
- Water bottles
- Water filter (Sawyer filters work great)
- Trash bags 
- Small first aid kit
- Medications
- Headlamp (fully charged or with extra batteries)
- Map
- Biodegradable soap
- Toilet paper
- Sunscreen
- Insect repellant

 

Where to Find Gear

Look for local outdoor stores that sell used gear. You can usually find good equipment with a little bit of wear for a great price. If you're not quite ready to buy, REI and many other stores offer gear rentals for cheap, so you can get out with good gear without needing storage for it at home or spending a lot. To save on a sleep system, sign up to Zenbivy's Friends Program for 10% off your first purchase and exclusive access to Friends-only sales.


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