Alec’s Top 10 Picks for Backpacking Essentials

Alec’s Top 10 Picks for Backpacking Essentials

Backpacking is one of those four-season sports that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Whether you're an experienced backpacker or you're just getting started, there's always the question of what you should be putting in your pack. For this article, we've got backpacking adventurer and freelance photographer Alec Sills-Trausch (@alecoutside) with us to recommend some of the backpacking essentials he uses in his treks. Alec says:

"Building my backpacking gear list, I've always lived by one mantra: Buy Quality Gear. Below are 10 items that I believe are paramount to having a successful and enjoyable trip into the backcountry. These items may be a bit pricey upfront, but if you view it as an investment in yourself and your hobbies, you'll realize that having good gear that you can depend on is worth it."

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Alec Sills-Trausch
  • Big Agnes
    Tiger Wall UL2

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    While my specific tent from Big Agnes isn't available anymore, the Tiger Wall UL2 is comparable and I'd highly recommend it. It's lightweight, sturdy, and will be the perfect tent for any backpacker looking to put miles between themself and civilization. 

    Big Agnes sets the bar when it comes to backpacking equipment. I've had my current tent for three years and it's still tough and reliable as ever. When looking for a backcountry tent, staying around or below the three-pound mark will make your back happy. 

    The Tiger Wall UL2 is definitely below that weight limit and is packed with features. However, be prepared to pay a pretty penny as these are a true investment.
  • Big Agnes
    Insulated Q Core SLX Sleeping Pad

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    Sleeping on Big Agnes' Insulated Q Core SLX Sleeping Pad is truly like sleeping on a cloud. I own the long and wide version of this sleeping pad, which helps keep my six-foot, 190-pound frame comfortable for the entire night. 

    It will take a couple of minutes to blow up the Q Core SLX, but once you have, you'll be thrilled to head to sleep. When looking for a sleeping pad, don't look at the price tag. The only important thing is whether you'll be able to sleep through the night. If that means you have to spend some money, it's worth it. 

    The most dangerous thing about being in the backcountry is being sleep deprived and having that impact on your future judgments. With this sleeping pad, you'll be well-rested and ready for tomorrow's adventure.
  • Big Agnes
    Mystic UL 15˚

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    Another amazing Big Agnes product, the Mystic is an ultralight, yet incredibly warm sleeping bag. Capable of keeping out temperatures of down to 15-degrees Fahrenheit, it should get you safely through nearly all seasons. 

    I've slept in this sleeping bag into the low 20s. My gear was freezing outside my tent, yet I was as warm as a burrito inside. The Mystic is also easy to carry due to its lightweight make and easy packability. It's the perfect companion if you plan on sleeping in a cold setting.

    When deciding on what sleeping bag to get, I always recommend getting a 20- or 25-degree bag as that will keep you comfortable down to freezing temperatures and let you expand the types of adventures you can go on.
  • Gregory
    Baltoro 65

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    You're not going anywhere if you don't have a reliable and comfortable backpack. Your choice of backpack shouldn't be taken lightly. You need this to work with you, not against you, as you put miles on your body. 

    The Gregory Baltoro 65L is the perfect size for a four-day, three-night excursion. Technically, you could make it an extra day and night with this backpack, so don't fret. The plentiful zippers, hip padding, and sturdiness are what make it my favorite backpack even three years later. 

    I recommend that you don't buy a backpack that you haven't tried on yet. They don't all fit the same and you want one that feels just right for your body type and build. This backpack is available online, but even if you plan on purchasing it there, you may want to try it on in one of Gregory's stores. 
  • Lowa
    Explorer GTX Mid

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    I really love LOWA's Explorer GTX Mids because they're waterproof and have high ankle support, which lowers the chance of rolling an ankle. These boots have great traction, and they can weather nearly anything I've thrown at them. 

    My current Explorer GTX Mids are going on two years of trekking and they're still incredible boots. They feature Lowa's patented cushioned midsole and have a very light make to them. This makes them both comfortable and easy to walk in!

    As you're looking for hiking boots, make sure you try them on and break them in beforehand, and keep in mind any potential hotspots that could create blisters as you move in them. These Lowa boots come in both medium and wide sizes, so there's sure to be a fit for everyone in their store. 
  • Jetboil
    Flash Cooking System

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    The JetBoil Flash is a lightweight, easy-to-use cooking system. Simply fill up the pot with water from the stream or lake, click the built-in lighter and then wait about 90 seconds to have boiling water. 

    This portable cooking system is absolutely perfect if you're using a freeze-dried meal to get hot food. After all, a hot meal is just about the best thing you could ever ask for after a day of hiking. Better yet, due to the JetBoil's make, you'll hardly notice it in your pack as it's pretty light and about the size of a water bottle.

    This must-have for on-the-trail cooking comes with its own insulated measuring cup that doubles as a serving cup, a fuel canister stabilizer, and a heat indicator that will let you know when your water is boiled. It's important to eat well when you're backpacking, and the Jetboil Flash will help keep you fed. 
  • Black Diamond
    Distance Z Trekking Poles

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    Half the people I know like hiking poles. The other half don't care, but that may just be because they haven't found the right gear. I for one love hiking poles, and Black Diamond's Distance Z Trekking Poles are just right in my book. They're a huge help, especially when the length of my trek starts creeping up over 20 or 30 miles. 

    These poles help take the weight of your other gear off your legs and puts it onto your arms. This balance shift may feel awkward at first, but it will keep your legs fresh for the next day of adventuring. The Distance Z Trekking Poles are collapsible, so they're easy to stow away when you don't feel like using them. 

    I would say the only downside is that these poles are non-adjustable, so they can't be transferred well between parties. Still, they're lightweight, easy to collapse, and are incredibly sturdy. They've taken me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, up to the highest point in the continental United States, and plenty of places in-between.
  • AllTrails
    PRO Plan

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    AllTrails is my go-to app for planning and navigating my hikes. Nearly every hike in the world seems to be on AllTrails and with the ability to comment when you hike, you can sometimes get up to the daily updates on the conditions of a hike. 

    I do recommend that you buy the PRO version, as you can download your hiking route and use it offline when you don't have service. This is really important as some trails can be complicated and knowing your route makes life so much easier.

    In addition to offline features, AllTrails PRO helps you stay connected with your family and friends and keeps you up-to-date on real-time changes along your trail. These are both vital features if you plan on long hikes along rougher terrain.
  • MSR
    Gravity Filter

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    Most water filters require you to pump and pump to get your water. With the MSR Gravity Filter, you can just scoop up water from the source, connect some hoses, and let gravity do the rest. It's the perfect system after a long day on the trail. 

    MSR's gravity-powered system is low maintenance. While the water filters, you can set up camp and then be ready to enjoy the fresh, clean water once you're done. The water filter unit is also compact and can fit into an outer zippered pocket or down on the side of your pack. 

    One thing you should be aware of is that the filter can get dirty and may need to be cleaned or swapped out every once in a while. Make sure to check it before you go on your trip so you don't get stuck drinking untreated water. Otherwise, this is an easy-to-use and essential tool for your trek!
  • Canon
    EOS 5D Mark III

    Alec Sills-Trausch

    I love my EOS 5D III. Full stop. Three years ago, I made the decision to invest in my photography skills and get a high-level DSLR, and I've never been happier with a decision. Carrying a camera allows you to see the world differently and have the photos to look back on years and years down the road. 

    I won't tell you what camera to get, but I will say that this one is a solid choice. It creates full-frame, high-resolution photos and can take a 1080p video as well. These high specs, combined with a sturdy body, helped the Canon EOS 5D Mark III win its National Geographic Award.

    Whether you prefer Canon or a different brand, I highly recommend you get a camera and bring it backpacking. You'll never regret being able to return to a place through your pictures and relive the amazing experiences once again.