2018 Camping & Backpacking Gear Review


Now that we've had several different chances to test everything out, today I thought I would share a camping and backpacking gear review post with you.

Before I get into our actual gear list, let me preface this by stating upfront that I am not an ultralight backpacker.  While I do pay attention to the overall base weight of my pack, and I think ultralight backpacking is awesome and would love to try out some more ultralight gear, I'm definitely by no means a gram weenie.  Nobody enjoys carrying a heavy pack for miles and miles, however budget, comfort, durability, and personal preference are also important factors to take into consideration when it comes to choosing gear...especially for weekend backpackers.

If you are interested in ultralight backpacking, I would highly recommend checking out sites like YouTube and Reddit for some good gear reviews and tips.

Now, onto the gear reviews!

Osprey Aura AG 65 & Osprey Atmos AG 65

Why We Chose It:  Comfort and durability were our main concerns when selecting a pack for our backpacking trips.  The first time I ever tried backpacking, I carried an extremely uncomfortable external frame pack full of heavy, bulky gear, so I knew full well that if the fit, design, and functionality of our packs wasn't right, backpacking would feel more like a chore than an adventure.  Our Osprey packs not only offered a great deal of adjustability and support to help ensure the right fit, but you definitely can't beat the product guarantee offered by Osprey.

Our Experience:  I had initially chosen a 50L Osprey Aura backpack in the hopes of saving a few ounces and a little bit of cash, but I decided to upgrade to the 65L.  I do think that a 50L pack would be suitable for most people, however I found the extra space and external straps on the 65L pack to be helpful for storing extra gear that Patronus might be unable to carry if we're adventuring together, and easier to pack some of my bulkier gear.

The design of the pack was easily adjustable, and distributed the weight onto my legs as opposed to my shoulders or back.  There were lots of places to organize gear, and straps attached to the outside of the pack for strapping on bulky items like a sleeping pad or tent.  The mesh panel helped the airflow circulate a little between the pack and my back, causing it to not trap my sweat.  I mean, nobody wants back zits on a camping trip!

The Verdict:  Love it!

Eureka Midori Tent

Why We Chose It:  We needed an affordable tent that would comfortably accommodate two tall people, one very large dog, our gear, plus ideally, a little extra space in case we were to ever bring another person or dog along.  The catch?  It also needed to be something light enough that we could use it for backpacking.

Our Experience:  We opted for the Eureka Midori 6 tent, which is unfortunately no longer available.  (I've linked to the next largest size available, which is the Midori 4, but it is also available in one, two, and three person models.)  Two doors made it easy for one person to get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night, while two large vestibules gave us plenty of space to store our boots, trekking poles, and other gear we did not want to bring inside the tent.  There was more than enough space inside for the two of us and Patronus, so bringing along another person or dog in the future wouldn't be a big deal, and the tent was tall enough to stand up in.  This was also the tent I used to camp at Sleeping Bear and backpack South Manitou Island, and there was enough space inside even with our gear that we could have easily and comfortably accommodated one more person.  Assembly was quick and easy to do, given the two pole design.  The ventilation for this tent was excellent–the best we have ever experienced actually–both on a muggy summer night and in forty degree fall weather.  Weighing in at 11 lbs total for the 6 person model, this is not an "ultralight" tent, however if you're camping with a group and able to split up the pieces between hikers, you'll end up carrying around 4-6 lbs per person.  Also, you seriously can not beat the price!

The Verdict:  Love it!  Seriously, it's our favorite tent that we have ever used.

Nemo Rhumba & Nemo Disco Sleeping Bags

Why We Chose It:  Comfort, warmth, and not being crazy heavy or bulky were our biggest concerns when choosing a sleeping bag.  Because cooler weather camping wasn't out of the question for us, and because I HATE being cold, we opted for the 15 degree versions.

Our Experience:  Neither of us wanted to sleep feeling like we were in a straight jacket, and these bags delivered.  Unlike mummy bags, the spoon shape of these offered plenty of room to accommodate various sleeping positions.  I had originally planned on getting this bag, which is the women's version of the Disco bag Luke has, however I ended up finding the Rhumba on sale at a great price and it was pretty similar overall, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Both bags were warm, had a hood, and a pocket inside the hood that could be used to store a small pillow or soft clothes.  The Disco bags (and its female counterpart, the Rave) come with ventilation gills to help prevent you from sweating all night.

The Verdict:  We were both satisfied with the comfort and warmth of these bags.  If I were paying full price, I would have opted for the Rave for the extra ventilation, but the Rhumba was still a solid option.

Dog Sleeping Bags:  Patronus is a major sleeping bag hog, so in addition to the rest of our gear, we did end up getting this sleeping bag for him to use as a dog bed.  It's the perfect size for his height, water resistant (aka can handle drool), and compresses smaller than the Rhumba and Disco.  If you plan to camp in cooler temperatures and have a normal sized dog, there are actually sleeping bags made for dogs.

Thermarest Compressible Pillow

Why We Chose It:  Do you need a pillow to go backpacking?  No, you don't need a pillow, but neither of us felt that we would be able to get a good night's sleep without one.  Luke was hardcore against getting anything inflatable, so we decided to opt for these compressible foam pillows.

Our Experience:  The Thermarest pillow compresses (and can roll up), so it can be stashed into a pack pretty easily.  The medium pillow was the perfect size to fit into the pillow compartment inside the hoods of our sleeping bags.  It was just big enough to provide an adequate place to rest our heads, but anything larger would have been kind of annoying to shove into our packs.  The outer fabric of this pillow is relatively soft, while the inside is filled with many small pieces of foam.  The stuffing gives the pillow kind of an odd texture, but if you just need an adequate place to rest your head while you sleep and don't want to use your clothes bag, this bad boy will do the trick just fine.

The Verdict:  It gets the job done.

Thermarest Z Lite & Thermarest Ridge Rest Sleeping Pads

Why We Chose It:  For laziness and durability reasons, Luke liked the idea of choosing closed cell foam sleeping pads.  Luke chose the Ridge Rest over the Z Lite because he is quite tall, and unfortunately the Z Lite is only 72 inches in length.  Both pads are ultralight, clocking in at only 14 oz.

Our Experience:  Luke and I found both sleeping pads to be relatively low hassle to use, however the Z Lite wins the prize for requiring the the least amount of effort.  It's closed cell foam, so there's no need to inflate or deflate it, making it quick and easy to pack and unpack.  The Ridge Rest has to be rolled, which means it's bulky and somewhat more effort to pack up than the Z Lite.  In therms of durability, so far both mats have held up well.  Unfortunately, sleeping on this (or any closed cell form pad) means sacrificing comfort.  Both of us woke up with the pattern of our sleeping pads pressed into our skin, and when camping on harder ground, these offered no support for our spines.  This was much less of an issue for me while camping on the softer, sandy ground on South Manitou Island, however I will probably upgrade to either this or  this inflatable sleeping pad for a higher mileage backpacking trip that isn't on a nice, sandy island.

The Verdict:  The best feature of these sleeping pads is their convenience, particularly for the Z Lite, since it's foldable.  You don't have to take the time to blow up your sleeping pad, worry about the air leaking out, and it can be used to sit on if you decide to stop and take a break while hiking.  You do have to sacrifice a little bit of comfort for this convenience, unfortunately.

Thermarest Base Camp Sleeping Pad

Why We Chose It:  In all honesty, I found one of these used at a garage sale for around $10 and I wanted to go camping.  That was my entire reasoning.

Our Experience:  Luke hasn't had a chance to use this one yet, but I took it on a car camping trip and couldn't have been happier with it.  First off, this is a self-inflating pad, so it requires very little (if any) effort to blow up.  Basically, I had to unroll it, open the nozzle, it inflated for me, and I could add more air afterward if I wanted to.  As if the air pocket keeping me higher off the ground wasn't enough, this was also padded.  I can't honestly see this leaking as the outer material is quite heavy duty, but in the event that it did, the padding would prevent me from having to sleep on the actual cold ground.  Unfortunately, at 2.2 lbs for the regular and 2.12 lbs for the long, it's over twice the weight of the Z Lite.  If you wanted to use it for something other than car camping, this would definitely be considered a luxury item.

The Verdict:  By far, this my favorite sleeping pad in terms of convenience, durability, and comfort.  The trade off is that it isn't as light as other options.

Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Why We Chose It:  Weight, space, and cost were definitely concerns of ours, however there were two features that sold me on this particular piece of gear.  First off, I have a confession to make,  I have spilled my food, while it was cooking, on more than one occasion.  Don't ask me how, but apparently I'm great it it.  This one comes with its own cook pot (meaning I wouldn't have to go buy one or dig up a crappy one from the depths of my storage closet), which attaches securely to the stove, meaning it's harder to tip the pot over, or balance it on there improperly in the first place, while I'm cooking.  Secondly, they don't call it the flash for nothing.  It heats up really fast!

Our Experience:  This stove has been on backpacking trips, on our trip to Banff, and even on random day hikes when I wanted something hot to eat or drink.  All of the components of the stove as well as a small fuel canister, fit perfectly inside.  This was a strong contender for my choice of camp stove as its only 2.6 oz, however the weight of the JetBoil seemed reasonable to me at only 13.1 oz including the cook pot.  Like I mentioned before, the pot actually attaches to the stove, which was good for me.  It heats up about 2 cups of water in less than 2 minutes, which is great if you're super hangry, or if you're sharing a cookpot with a couple friends and need to boil water for multiple food or drink items.

The Verdict:  Love it!

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

Why We Chose It:  Haha...because we didn't want to get a disease?  In all seriousness though, we chose this filter in particular because it's easy to use, and can function in multiple ways.

Our Experience:  The Sawyer Squeeze is designed to be used with a water bottle or a hydration pack.  A sport bottle cap makes it possible to drink directly from one end of the filter, while the other end is threaded, so it can be screwed directly onto a bottle of water.  It comes with collapsible bags to fill with dirty water, so the filter can be twisted onto the dirty water bag and squeezed into a clean bottle, cook pot, etc.  (It's also possible to fill a bottle up with dirty water, screw the filter onto the top, and drink directly from that bottle.)  Adapters make it possible to connect the filter inline with a water bladder as well.  Mine also came with a syringe, which can be used to back flush the filter should it become clogged.  All in all, I found this filter very easy and convenient to use.  When we used it to drink directly from a water bottle the flow rate was slower than drinking from a normal sport cap, but not annoyingly so.

The Verdict:  Love it!

Sea to Summit Collapsible Dishes

Why We Chose It:  They're collapsible, and lightweight.  The XL bowl was large enough to to fit ramen or pasta, and the lid twists securely on.

Our Experience:  Luke and I each have one bowl with a lid and this coffee mug.  When both items are collapsed, there's a notch in the lid of the bowl that fits the coffee mug, so it's pretty simple to pack up.  We were so glad that we opted for the bowls with a lid!  When it's time to set up camp for the night we can heat up water, pour it over our food, and leave the lid on.  The food cooks in the hot water, saving us time and fuel.  You could totally save weight by eating and drinking out of the same container (or your cook pot if you're patient enough to let it cool), however we liked having a separate mug so we could enjoy food and coffee at the same time.

The Verdict:  Love them!

Stanley Coffee System

Why We Chose It:  I have a confession to make.  I am a huge coffee snob, and I've converted Luke into being one as well.  Luke and I actually received this as a gift from someone who knows how much I really like my coffee.

Our Experience:  Have you ever wanted portable coffee that stays hot and actually tastes good?  Well, look no further.  This bad boy is basically a French Press, a cook pot, two cups, and a well-insulated thermos all in one!  Luke and I loved having this coffee maker when we went to Banff, since it allowed us to be able to make coffee pretty much whenever and wherever we wanted (within reason).  Both of us think instant coffee kind of sucks, so we were pretty happy to be able to try out some of the locally made brands.  We will definitely be taking this coffee maker along on our next adventure, and probably on some day hikes this winter too!  It is pretty bulky and weighs more than a pound, so I wouldn't recommend it for backpacking unless you don't mind the extra space and weight.

The Verdict:  Love it for car camping, travel, and day hikes in cold weather.

Titanium Spork

Why We Chose It:  It's lightweight, more durable than plastic utensils, and it has a tool at the opposite end.

Our Experience:  This spork was everything we hoped it would be.  It hardly weighs anything.  I can be used as a fork.  It can be used as a spoon.  The tool on the opposite end can be used to open bottles, pick up a hot pot lid, or my personal favorite, used to open my bear canister.  Also it's metal, so it won't break or melt as easily as plastic silverware.

The Verdict:  Love it!

Barebones Living Forest Lantern

Why We Chose It:  Luke and I actually received this as a gift, however we had been in search of the perfect lantern for car camping for quite some time.  This one has different brightness settings, is rechargeable, and can charge our phones.

Our Experience:  This lantern provided great visibility outside, and could easily be hung from the ceiling of our tent when we went inside for the evening.  It's rechargeable, doesn't require fuel, and its brightness can be adjusted.  We also loved that it could be used to charge our devices.  Although I especially am not particularly glued to my phone while I'm camping or hiking, knowing my phone is or can be charged gives me peace of mind, just in case.

The Verdict:  Love it!

Petzl Tikka Headlamp

Why We Chose It:  This headlamp was also a gift from a friend.  It has multiple brightness settings and good reviews.

Our Experience:  This headlamp comes with high and low lighting modes, as well as a red light setting that won't blind your friends if you accidentally look up at them while you're wearing it.  (Do I know this from experience?  Maybe.)  The light itself can be positioned at different angles, so it can be pointed at the ground, down and away, or straight ahead.  The strap is also adjustable.  This was not only great for hiking and camping, but also running, walking, and exploring creepy buildings in the dark.

The Verdict:  Love it!

Contractor Bags

Why We Chose It:  If you know me, you know that if I plan to do a fun outdoor activity, there's a pretty high chance of inclement weather.  If my friend Erin comes along, you can safely assume the odds of bad weather on at least one day of the trip will be about 98%.  Consequently, I like to make sure the stuff in my pack is protected from getting wet should a situation like this occur.  Nobody wants to spend a night in the woods in a wet sleeping bag, am I right?

Our Experience:  Luke and I use these contractor bags to line our packs with.  I like to place the bag inside my pack like you would a trash can, then stuff my sleeping bag, pillow, and anything else I really don't want to get wet, then roll the top down and place other stuff–like my food–on top of it.  That way, if rain does get through my pack, or my water bladder leaks, or my pack cover flies off somewhere, at least I have some extra protection for my sleep stuff and extra layers of clothing.  These bags are pretty durable, and the same bag definitely will last for multiple backpacking trips.  As an added bonus, they are really good trash bags too, so the rest of the box won't actually go to waste.

The Verdict:  Love it!

There you have it, our camping and backpacking gear list for 2018, complete with reviews for each item.  If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.

If you'd like to see which hiking gear Patronus uses, also be sure to check out this post

Happy Camping!

Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Should you choose to shop by clicking my links, I may receive a small commission that will go towards helping support maintaining this blog at no additional cost to you.  All thoughts and opinions in this post are my own, and I only recommend products that I actually use.

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