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Whether you’re just starting out or updating your old gear, backpacking can be expensive… really expensive. With all of the options out there and the technical specs to compare, it’s hard to know where to start.

It’s no secret that more expensive gear usually means lower weight, higher quality, and a better warranty, but we’ve found some pretty competitive alternatives to the pricier gear. We compiled this list of our favorite tips for backpacking on a budget, many of which don’t require any spending at all.

Have any budget backpacking tips of your own to share? Leave us a comment below! And if you enjoy this guide, you’ll probably like our other backpacking content as well. Here are some popular CleverHiker Gear Guide articles:

The REI Co-op Passage 2 is a great budget backpacking tent.

1. Don’t Sweat a Couple of Ounces

A lightweight pack is the key to comfort in the backcountry. When it comes to saving a couple of ounces here and there though, you can often save quite a bit of money with a slightly heavier piece of gear. For example, one of our top rated ultralight tents - the Nemo Hornet 2P - has a MSRP of $369.95. For $499.95, you can save 4 ounces with the Nemo Hornet Elite 2P. That’s about $32.50 per ounce, which is pretty steep. You definitely don’t want to go crazy with heavy gear, because a heavy backpack will add lots of unnecessary stress on your body, but a few ounces here and there could end up saving you hundreds of dollars in the end.

REI has frequent sales throughout the year and many retailers match prices during the sales.

2. Wait for Big Sales

Most places and websites that sell backpacking gear will have sales when seasons change to make room for new gear. For example, summer is usually the best time to buy an insulated jacket or snow-camping tent. Holidays usually mean big sales, as well. Labor Day, Cyber Week, and Memorial Day usually mean big savings. REI usually has their largest sale of the year around Memorial Day - the anniversary sale. You can save up to 30% on sale items and take advantage of a member’s only coupon for 20% off one full-price item. Check out our guide on using your 20% coupon and information about REI membership here. Fun fact, anytime REI has a sale or a 20% coupon, other retailers like Amazon and Backcountry will usually try to mark their prices down to match.

3. Take Advantage of First Order Deals and E-list Coupons

Many websites offer great deals for placing your first order with them or signing up for an email list. Backcountry gives you 20% off your first order in exchange for your email. If you sign up for Moosejaw’s e-list, they send you a coupon for 10% off your first order. More great offers like this are out there if you shop around a little.

Rei often has local used gear or garage sales where you can get some great gear on the cheap.

4. Buy Used Gear

Being an REI Co-op member not only gets you exclusive 20% coupons, it also gives you access to their garage sale events. The REI garage sale is a used gear sale where returned gear is sold for 40- 80% off. It happens nearly every month in larger stores and four times a year in smaller stores; check out REI’s events page to see when the next one is happening near you. If you can’t wait for the next garage sale to score some gear, you can check out their year-round online used gear sale. You can also find some great deals on used gear through Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. We searched locally on Facebook Marketplace and found a brand new Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 mtnGLO with a footprint for $225. That setup normally retails for around $422.

5. Borrow Gear from a Friend

You might not have the gear, but your friends do! Ask them if you can borrow a few items. You’ll probably get bonus points if you offer to mow their lawn or walk their dog for a week in exchange. Also, make sure to be a good friend. Treat borrowed gear with care, clean it after use, and return it promptly after your trip.

6. Rent Gear

So, your friends also don’t have the gear? Rent it! A lot of REI locations rent basic backpacking gear, and some locations have even started renting ultralight gear bundles for as little as $320 per week. That’s less than an ultralight tent generally costs! This may be a better option if you only plan to go out once or twice a year or if you’re new to backpacking and don’t quite know where to start. If you don’t have an REI near you, check with your local outfitter to see if they rent. If you’re a college student, check to see if your university rents gear - it’s decently common. There are also some online gear rental sites worth checking out, like Outdoors Geek, Xscape Pod, and LowerGear Outdoors.

How to use your Phone as a gps device for backpacking

7. Use Your Phone as a GPS

Garmin makes some of the best navigation devices on the market like the InReach 2-Way Satellite Communicator and Fenix GPS watches, but those can set you back hundreds of dollars. These GPS devices sure are nice, but your phone already has most of the functions you’ll use most often while backpacking. One of our favorite GPS navigation apps is Gaia GPS. If you want more information about using your phone for GPS, check out our full tutorial here.

8. Take Care of the Gear You Already Own

A great way to save money is by simply making sure you take great care of the gear you already have. Here are a few easy ways to prolong the life of your current setup:

  • Make sure to store your tent dry - when you get home, set your tent up in a sunny spot in your backyard or hang it up in your bathroom/basement/garage to dry it completely before storing.

  • Use a footprint with your tent - footprints are expensive, but they will protect the bottom of your tent from tree sap and abrasive objects like sticks and rocks. You can make your own affordable, lightweight footprint by buying Tyvek and cutting it to size.

  • Store your sleeping bag in a large mesh storage sack or hang it in your closet - never store a sleeping bag compressed in its stuff sack, as that will damage its insulation over time. Check out our full Sleeping Bag Care Guide for more helpful tips.  

  • Backflush your water filter - most filters come with a cleaning kit and are field cleanable. Regular backwashing will keep up the flow rate of your filter and make it last much longer.

  • Clean your cook gear when you get home - backpacking foods are often really salty, clean your pots before you store them to prevent rusting.

  • Tenacious Tape will save your life - so you burned a hole in your favorite puffy coat? Don’t rush out to buy a new one, just patch it with Tenacious Tape. We have a base layer shirt that fell victim to a stray campfire ember back in 2016 and the Tenacious Tape we used to repair it is still holding strong.

REI’s Backpacking bundle is a great way for beginners to save some money on gear.

9. Buy a Backpacking Bundle

REI offers a whole starter backpacking bundle for around $275 which includes the REI Co-op Passage 2 tent (on our list of the best budget backpacking tents), the REI Co-op Stratus Insulated Air sleeping pad, and the REI Co-op Trail Pod 30 sleeping bag. You’ll save around $64 off the individual prices of these items with the bundle. As a bonus, this bundle almost always goes on sale during REI sale events, at least that’s what we’ve seen in the past. At 9 pounds, 6 ounces this isn’t the lightest setup, but it’ll definitely get you started.

10. Go for Synthetic Materials

We usually prefer down sleeping bags and puffy coats for their packability and weight savings. Synthetic technology has come a long way, however, and the differences are getting less and less significant. Synthetics even have two major advantages over down - they dry quicker and will keep you warmer when wet. The REI Co-op Zephyr 30 synthetic sleeping bag has an MSRP of $139 and weighs 2 pounds versus the REI Co-op Magma 30 down sleeping bag with an MSRP of $319 and a weight of 1 pound, 3.8 ounces. That’s about a 12 ounce weight savings at about $15 per ounce. Which bag do we prefer? The Magma for sure. But the Zephyr will still get the job done well at a much lower cost. For more info check out our article on the 10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Quilts.

The Reactor Extreme liner can add significant warmth to your sleeping bag on cold nights.

11. Add a Sleeping Bag Liner for Chilly Trips

A sleeping bag will be one of the most expensive pieces of gear in your pack. Many people own multiple bags for different seasons so they can get outside year-round, but you can turn your summer bag in to an all-season sleep system yourself with a sleeping bag liner. In general, a 20-30°F (EN Lower Limit) bag will get you through the summer, fall, and spring if you live in a mild climate. If you like to winter camp or have more intense seasons, Sea to Summit makes the Reactor Extreme liner that can add up to 25 degrees to your sleeping bag. That’ll help you keep warm on chilly trips without needing to buy a new, expensive sleeping bag.

12. Don’t Buy/Bring Unnecessary Items

There’s an old saying in the backpacking community: people pack their fears. If you fear being cold, you’ll pack too many clothes. If you fear going hungry, you’ll pack too much food. If you fear getting injured, you’ll pack a huge first aid kit. And so on. One of the most common mistakes we see beginners make is buying and carrying way too much stuff they don't need out on the trail. The most common examples of this we see are people bringing extra food, clothing, and cooking gear, but it doesn’t stop there. We find that a good lightweight backpacking checklist will really help with this, and the more experience on the trail you get, the more you’ll realize how much you can get by without. You should always carry the ten essentials with you when you hit the trail, but many things outside of that list should be considered luxury items.

Planning ahead can save you money at the grocery store, as well. It’s all too common for us to see people packing too much food for their trip, which means overspending and a heavier pack. Even our eyes are bigger than our stomachs sometimes, but we have a pretty good strategy that keeps the over-packing to a minimum: meal planning. Before we go to the grocery store for trail meals and snacks, we always sit down with a pen and paper and write down every meal we plan to eat. Here’s an example:

DAY ONE

When you have a clear plan, you don’t end up making impulse buys at the grocery store and you can ensure that you have plenty to eat. For more ideas of what to include in your backpacking meal plan, take a look at our Best Lightweight Backpacking Food Guide.

A great budget pad option - the NEMO Switchback

13. Consider a Closed-cell Foam Pad

There are many types of closed cell foam pads on the market, and while we prefer the comfort and packability of inflatable pads, foam pads are cheap and they’ll never pop. If you’re okay sleeping on firm surfaces, a foam pad might be all you really need. R-values stack, so you can even layer a foam pad underneath an air pad to make it work during colder months. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Most comfy and most packable: NEMO Switchback - MSRP $49.95, 14.5 oz., NEMO doesn’t list R-values. They estimate this pad to be good down to 20-35°F , but we wouldn't recommend any foam pad for sub-freezing temps.

If you prefer a little more comfort in your sleep system, take a..

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The Hyperion is the newest sleeping bag in Therm-a-Rest’s Fast and Light line and it's one of the lightest and most compressible bags we’ve ever tested. The Hyperion comes in two temperature ratings (20°F and 32°F), which both use very high-quality 900-fill-power down to make them extremely warm while keeping weight to an absolute minimum. These high-performance sleeping bags are some of the best on the market for ultralight compressibility, which makes them an excellent choice for hardcore backpacking trips.

The downside with going so light is that some features and comforts get cut out along the way. For example, the Hyperion has a narrow cut, which may feel restrictive to some, and it only has a half-length zipper, which limits its versatility. That said, if you don’t mind a snug fit (usually sound back sleepers) and are okay with a short zipper, the Hyperion is a truly excellent ultralight sleeping bag.

View at Therm-a-Rest View at Amazon Hyperion Photo Gallery (Long Size)








QUICK SPECS
  • MSRP (Regular size): $409.95

  • EN LOWER LIMIT RATING: 20°F (Will keep you alive)

  • EN COMFORT RATING: 32°F (Will keep you warm)

  • WEIGHT (Reg): 1 lb. 4 oz.

  • FILL: 900-fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic goose down (responsibly sourced)

  • LENGTH: Regular size fits up to 6 ft. tall, Long size fits up to 6’6” (bump up in size if close)

  • GIRTH: 57 in. at the shoulder/ 49.5 in. at the hip/ 43 in. at the footbox

  • PACKED SIZE: 6 x 8 in.

WHAT WE LIKE

ULTRALIGHT - The Hyperion is crazy light for a mummy bag. It’s fully-hooded and encapsulating, yet weighs only 1 lb. 4 oz. (regular size), which is closer to the weight of a quilt (if not lighter!). Comparatively, other sleeping bags in the same class are typically 8-10 ounces heavier, which is more than half a pound. That’s a pretty huge weight savings in the ultralight backpacking world. The exceptional quality of the down used in the Hyperion and it’s narrow cut gives this bag an outstanding warmth-to-weight ratio. Your sleeping bag will be one of the heaviest items in your backpack, so it’s critical to choose one that’s as light as possible, while still being warm enough to handle whatever nighttime temps you’ll encounter.

COMPACT - The premium down in the Hyperion also makes it extremely packable. With the help of the included compression sack, we can easily condense the Hyperion down to roughly the size of a 1L water bottle. That’s outstanding for saving space in your backpack, which is always a nice benefit.

WARM - In our experience, the 20°F Hyperion model has been plenty warm for near-freezing early spring nights in the Pacific Northwest. Since 70% of its down is on the top where it won’t be compressed, it does a great job of retaining body heat. This is also an area where the slim design is an asset. Less dead air space inside the bag means your body can warm it up quickly and efficiently. Well-placed baffles around the neck and hood also allow you to cinch the bag snuggly around your face during the coldest conditions, maximizing your thermal retention even further.

EN RATING - European Norm (EN) is a standardized temperature rating system that keeps ratings consistent across the industry. The number listed with most sleeping bags, for example, Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20°, is the EN Lower Limit. The “lower limit” rating tells us at what temp the bag will keep us alive, but not to what degree it will keep us comfortable. EN Comfort Ratings are usually about 10-15° warmer than EN Lower Limit ratings, which we find to be a much more realistic and helpful rating. Not all sleeping bag manufacturers list comfort ratings, but Therm-a-Rest thankfully does. The Hyperion 20° has an EN Comfort Rating of 32°F, which should keep you cozy down to about freezing. In general, bags with EN Lower Limits between 10°F and 30°F are considered good 3-season bags depending on your sleeping style and weather conditions.

For more details about temperature ratings and how to choose the right sleeping bag, check out our 10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags guide.

CONNECTORS - The Hyperion comes equipped with simple hook-and-strap pad connectors that join the bag with a sleeping pad. The pad connectors help maximize warmth by keeping the sleeping bag (which has less down on the bottom) centered. The connectors are a nice extra feature, but keeping track of the straps might be more cumbersome than it’s worth at times. We still think including them is a nice touch though, and you might find them handy.

QUALITY MATERIALS - The materials used in the Hyperion are the best of the best. The 900-fill-down was chosen for its exceptional quality and makes it possible for this bag to be so amazingly light and packable. Prime down is a significant upgrade that puts this sleeping bag a cut above the rest performance-wise. Therm-a-Rest also used hydrophobic Nikwax treated down, which helps repel moisture and keep the bag performing at its highest potential longer.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

NARROW CUT - The Hyperion’s girth is 57 inches at the shoulder, 49.5 in. at the hip, and narrows to 43 in. at the footbox. These measurements are among the narrowest we’ve seen in the sleeping bag industry. Slim-cut bags are great for saving weight and efficient warmth, but they do tend to be more restrictive. The Hyperion is among the tightest-fitting sleeping bags we’ve tested and for our sleeping styles (side sleepers that squirm around a lot) we’ve found it to be a bit constricting. That said, the Hyperion still might be a great fit for hikers with a slender build who sleep mostly on their backs, and tend not to move around a ton at night. This is definitely an area of personal preference.

HALF-ZIP - Another way the Hyperion keeps its weight to a minimum, is by using a half-length zipper. Full-length zippers are ideal because they give you the ability to open the bag completely for ventilation on warm nights. If you almost always like your feet to be tucked in and your sleeping bag zipped up, a half-length zipper might work well for you, but we’ve found that most backpackers prefer the adjustability of full-length zippers, us included.

ZIPPER SNAGS - It’s not a huge deal, but the zipper on the Hyperion felt a little cheap to us and had a tendency to snag. We know the ultimate goal is for the bag to be ultralight, but we prefer slightly larger, less finicky zippers that slide smoothly and have a flap to keep the fabric from snagging.

PRICE - The Hyperion is a fairly expensive sleeping bag, but when you take into account the quality of its materials, its price makes sense. Some manufacturers may offer down of this quality as..

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We’re really excited about Therm-a-Rest’s new NeoAir UberLite which is yet another excellent product innovation from the most trusted name in sleeping pads. Weighing less than 9 ounces (0.56 lbs. or 255 g.), the UberLite is ridiculously light, compact, and comfortable. It’s also the quietest pad in Therm-a-Rest’s backpacking line, which is nice because noisiness has been a common complaint among NeoAir pad users in the past. With an R-value of 2 and minimal insulation, this is the pad you’ll find in our packs on summer outings when we don’t expect temps to dip below freezing. If you find yourself backpacking often in sub-freezing temps, you’ll likely want to stick with a 3-season or 4-season pad, such as the NeoAir XLite or XTherm.

View at REI View at Amazon Photo Gallery (Long/Wide Size)







QUICK SPECS
  • MSRP (Regular size): $179.95

  • WEIGHT (Reg): 8.8 oz.

  • R-VALUE: 2

  • DIMENSIONS (L x W x H) (Reg.): 72 x 20 x 2.5 in

  • PACKED SIZE: 6 x 3.5 in

WHAT WE LIKE

Extremely lightweight and compact - The UberLite is the lightest and most compact full-size air pad on the market, and that’s a very big deal in our book. In fact, no other pad even comes close to the size and weight of the UberLite. Having a super minimal pad is awesome when we’re trekking over mountain passes, and we still get all the luxurious comforts of a cushy air pad when we get to camp. Also, no longer do we have to deal with small torso-length pads. We can easily justify the full-length UberLite, and even the wide/long model is ultralight.

THERM-A-REST UBERLITE WIDE/LONG VS. NEMO TENSOR WIDE/REGULAR PACKED SIZE

Supportive and comfortable - The layered, triangular baffles of the UberLite make it feel very stable and supportive without any bulges or cold spots. Also, you can easily control the firmness of the pad with a quick twist of its valve.

Quietest NeoAir model - A key benefit of eliminating the heat-reflective layer from this pad is that it’s significantly quieter than other NeoAir models. Light sleepers have been bothered in the past by the crinkly, crunchy sound of the XLite model in particular. We’ve tested dozens of sleeping pads, and they all make some noise. There’s really no getting around it. But the UberLite is much quieter than most pads, which makes it easy to get sound backcountry sleep in peace.

Trusted brand with great warranty - Therm-a-Rest is a trustworthy company that stands behind the products they make. We’ve had the pleasure of touring their facilities in person, and it’s honestly a pretty impressive setup. Whenever we’ve had issues with Therm-a-Rest products (very rarely), they’ve been gracious and accommodating, offering to repair or replace damaged or faulty products. Read more about their warranty program and you’ll feel just as confident buying from them as we do.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

Expensive - This pad is definitely expensive, but for the extra bucks, we think it’s well worth it if you plan to put the UberLite to good use. For a top-of-the-line ultralight backpacking pad that’s as comfy and quiet as the UberLite, the premium price seems worth it to us. The UberLite is our go-to summer backpacking pad and likely will be for years to come.

Not good for sub-freezing temps - The lower R-value of the UberLite makes it a better choice for summer backpacking trips, when you won’t expect to encounter sub-freezing temperatures. If you're looking for more insulation on shoulder-season trips, consider the NeoAir XLite, and if you want an even warmer pad for 4-season trips and chilly sleepers, consider the NeoAir XTherm.

Less durable than some pads - The UberLight saves weight by using 15-denier nylon on it’s top and bottom, which is half the density of the fabric used in the XLite. To ensure it holds up over time, users should take care to protect their pad and always carry the included patch kit just in case. To us, the lack of rugged durability is a downside for the UberLite, but not a deal breaker. Almost any air pad will get punctured by a sharp rock or stick, so we’re always careful when we set up to sleep. Always use a groundsheet or tent floor for any air pad to avoid punctures, and check the ground for sharp objects.

Valve design not as good as some pads (slower deflation) - One feature we wish the UberLite had was a better valve system. The valve on the UberLite isn’t terrible, but it is a bit outdated. The key downside with this valve design is that it takes longer to deflate because you have to squeeze all the air out of the pad before folding it up for storage. Many new pads have a dump valve, which allows all the air to escape quickly with zero squeezing. That makes folding and packing much easier. Also, an ultralight pump sack would be very nice addition to this pad for quick, effortless inflation. Still, while we wish the UberLite had an updated valve system, this isn’t enough of a downside for us to consider it a dealbreaker.

BOTTOM LINE

We absolutely love how light, compact, quiet, and comfortable the Therm-a-Rest UberLite is. This is the pad you’ll find in our packs for all our summer outings. The main question to ask yourself with this pad is: how often do you backpack in sub-freezing temps? If the answer is rarely, this might be the perfect pad for you.

For 3-season or winter coverage, check out the NeoAir XLite and XTherm models, which are also exceptional pads. Or consider using a Z Lite Sol in conjunction with your UberLite for a versatile sleep system that can be beefed-up or stripped down depending on how cold your trip is likely to be.

The UberLite is our top pick for summer backpacking trips. For more of our favorite sleeping pads, check out our list of the 10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads.

View at REI View at Amazon  

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.

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We’ve thoroughly enjoyed testing NEMO’s new Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad on recent camping and backpacking trips in the Pacific Northwest. Its main strengths are being thick, cushy, quiet, and very comfortable. We also appreciate that the Tensor is offered in various size and shape options, which makes it easy to find one that fits our bodies and backpacking styles the best. We probably wouldn’t use this pad for really cold trips when we expect temps to drop below 25°F, but for 3-season backpacking and camping, we think the Tensor is one of the most comfortable sleeping pads on the market.

View at REI View at Amazon QUICK SPECS
  • MSRP (Regular): $159.95

  • WEIGHT (Regular): 15 oz.

  • DIMENSIONS (L x W x H): 72 x 20 x 3 in.

  • PACKED SIZE: 3 x 8  in.

  • SIZES: Short Mummy, Regular Mummy, Regular, Regular-Wide, Long-Wide

Photo Gallery (Regular/Wide size)











WHAT WE LIKE

Quiet - All inflatable air pads make some noise, but we’ve been impressed with how quiet the Tensor is to sleep on. With no noisy thermal layer on its surface, the Tensor feels much more like your mattress at home than a crinkly plastic cushion. The Tensor is a great choice for light sleepers who tend to move around a lot at night.

Comfortable and Supportive - The Tensor is three inches thick, which is quite impressive for a backpacking pad. It has enough loft that we don’t bottom out when we sit up or sleep on our side, which commonly happens with other inflatable pads. On top of that, the stretchy fabric surface feels soft and breathable against the skin, which is excellent for times when we want to relax directly on the pad without feeling sticky and sweaty.

Well-Designed Valve - The low-profile valve on the Tensor makes inflating and adjusting the air pressure easy and convenient. It also features a dump-valve that makes deflating the pad extremely quick, with no need to tediously squeeze air out. That makes the packing process for the Tensor quick and easy. It takes us less than a minute to deflate, fold in thirds, roll up, and stash away this pad.

Variety of Shapes and Sizes - One of the features we like most about the Tensor is that it comes in different sizes and shapes to fit various body-types and sleeping styles. NEMO offers short and regular mummy-style pads that help keep weight to a minimum, and regular, regular-wide, and long-wide rectangular pads for those who like to spread out at night. We tested the regular-wide rectangular version and loved the unrestricted space for our legs and extra width to support our arms. Most companies make long-wide pads, but it’s rare to find regular-wide pads that are a better fit for average-height people. If you do choose a wide pad, make sure your tent will accommodate it, as most one and two-person backpacking tents are fairly tight. As a general rule, two backpackers sleeping on wide pads will need a 3-person tent for the extra width.

Vortex Pump Sack Included - The Vortex Pump Sack is a very nice touch and comes complimentary with every Tensor. It makes inflating this voluminous pad very easy, but it isn’t strictly necessary if you’d rather not carry it on ultralight trips. The Vortex still requires you to blow air into it but makes each breath more efficient. We can inflate the regular-wide Tensor easily with only 3 breaths, which is awesome. The Vortex also minimizes the amount of moisture that goes into the pad with your breath, which is especially useful on cold-weather trips when condensation is likely to freeze.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

Expensive - The Tensor is a tad on the expensive side, which could be an obstacle for buyers on a budget. The price is on par with comparable pads made by other manufacturers, though you could get a warmer/lighter (but slightly noisier) pad, like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, for just a bit more. We think getting good sleep in the outdoors..

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Gear Nerds Rejoice! REI’s biggest sale of the year is upon us. Running from May 17th-27th, REI’s Anniversary Sale includes deeps discounts on some of our favorite backpacking, camping, and hiking gear. In addition to sale items, REI members also receive 20% off one full-priced item and an extra 20% off one REI Outlet item with coupon code ANNV19.

We scoured the sale and narrowed this list down to the gear we're most stoked about. Enjoy!

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Tent - $299.89 (regular $399.95)

Big Agnes' Tiger Wall UL2 delivers a a spacious 2 door/2 vestibule tent in an ultralight package. The Tiger Wall is a combination of two popular BA tents with a shape similar to the Copper Spur, but lighter and a pole structure similar to the Fly Creek, but with more space. One downside is its semi-freestanding design, which requires two stakes at the foot of the tent for a full pitch. That said, the Tiger Wall UL2 has a lot to love and makes our Best Tents List.

REI Half Dome Tents - 30% off

The REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus is a tent that maximizes interior space and durability while minimizing cost. The main downside with the Half Dome 2 Plus comes in the form of weight. Still, if durability, convenience, interior space, and affordability are your primary concerns, the Half Dome 2 Plus is tough to beat.

REI Magma Down Sleeping Bags - 30% off

REI updated and expanded their popular Magma sleeping bag line and they’re now offering 15°F (men’s and women’s) and 30°F (men’s and women’s) models. Weighing only 1 lb. 12 oz., the Magma sleeping bag continues to offers a combination of weight, warmth, and cost that few other sleeping bags can match. It’s also a CleverHiker top pick on our Best Sleeping Bag List for its all-around value.

NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad - 25% off

The NEMO Tensor Insulated pad is thick, comfortable, and quieter than almost any other air pad we’ve tested. NEMO makes the Tensor in several shape and size options including mummy, rectangular, and the elusive regular/wide model. The Tensor now comes with a pump sack, making inflation fast and easy. There’s no official R-value for the Tensor, but NEMO claims it will work down to 10-20 °F. The Tensor is a solid option and makes our list of Best Sleeping Pads.

Altra Footwear - 25% off

The Altra Lone Peak 4 (men’s and women’s) are incredibly popular trail runners in the lightweight backpacking community. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and feature a very roomy “foot shaped” toe box. The Lone Peaks have a cushy sole, dry quickly, and have great traction for rugged mountain terrain. As far as trail runners go, they’ve been among our favorites on our Best Hiking Shoes list for years now.

REI Co-op Kingdom Tents - 30% off

REI Kingdom tents are great for car camping when you want a ton of space, durability, and weather protection. They're available in 4P, 6P, and 8P models, all of which pack down surprisingly small and are fairly easy to set up. If you’re looking for a baller nature palace to make your camping neighbors jealous, the Kingdom tent series is your jam.

Jetboil Flash Cooking System - 25% off

If you mostly rehydrate backcountry meals like we do, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Jetboil Flash, which is a top choice on our Best Backpacking Stove List. When it comes to boiling water quickly, the Flash lives up to its name, and costs less than some of Jetboil’s other systems. Though the Flash lacks simmer control, this isn’t a deal breaker for most.

REI Co-op Flexlite Chair - 30% off

We don't often take chairs on backpacking trips, but we do love using them while car camping or on base camp trips with friends. The Flexlite Chair, which weighs less than 2 pounds, is comfortable, sturdy, and packs down very small, making it an excellent choice for those on the go.

Goal Zero Products - 25% off

While all Goal Zero products are on sale, we really love the Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini V2 rechargeable lantern. Weighing only 8 ounces, it still gives off a mighty 210 lumens of brightness. It can last for 500 hours on the lowest setting and has a USB port to charge your handheld devices. If you’re looking for a real campsite party, the Goal Zero Crush Light Chroma Lantern features 8 color modes in a highly compact package.

ENO Hammocks - 25% off

ENO has been a respected name in the hammock world for years and their products continue to improve. The ENO Sub6 is a hammock that falls into the rare category of "insanely light and highly packable." For those looking for a hanging system for two, the spacious and durable ENO DoubleNest is wide and tough enough to lounge with your favorite camp buddy.

Oboz Footwear - 25% off

If hiking in trail runners doesn’t sound like a good fit for you, lightweight hiking shoes or boots may be a better option and Oboz makes some great ones. The Sawtooth II Low Hiking Shoes (men’s and women’s) are durable, tough, trail-ready shoes that are comfortable straight out of the box. If you want additional ankle support, the Sawtooths are also offered in a hiking boot model (men’s and women’s).

All Salomon Hiking & Running Footwear - 25% off

Salomon has long been a trusted brand in outdoor footwear and with good reason. Though we often wear lightweight trail runners, when we opt for shoes or boots some of our favorites include the Salomon X Ultra 3 Low hiking shoes and the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots. Both make our Best Hiking Shoes & Boots list.

Kelty Cosmic Down Sleeping Bag - 25% off

The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is a great budget buy for beginners, campers, and those who aren’t as concerned with weight and bulk. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect the same quality out of the Cosmic as a high-end down sleeping bag, but the Cosmic is fully functional, very comfortable, and is sold at a price that’s tough to beat.

Osprey Atmos and Aura Backpack - 25% off

If comfort reigns supreme for you and you don’t mind carrying some extra weight into the backcountry, the Osprey Atmos (for men) & Aura (for women) are great options. These packs hold weight much more comfortably than any ultralight backpack. While the Atmos and Aura are heavier than packs we generally hike with on our ultralight trips, they're a fan favorite in many backpacking circles and earned a spot on our Best Backpacks List. They’re available in both a 50L and 65L model.

REI Flash Sleeping Pad - 40% off

REI’s Co-op Flash Insulated Pad competes with industry leading pad designs at a more affordable price. If you enjoy the feel of Sea to Summit’s Air Sprung Cells, then you’ll probably like the feel of Flash Pad too. And likewise, the Flash shares the same downside of bottoming out easy, but again it’s not a dealbreaker. All things considered, this pad is still an excellent budget buy for lightweight backpackers.

Merrell Moab Footwear - 20% off

Merrell Moab footwear has been a favorite in the hiking community for a long time. The Moab’s are durable, comfortable right out of the box, and they last a long time. We generally prefer hiking in lighter trail runners, but many in the hiking community want more durable support. Both the Merrell Moab 2 Vent Low and Moab 2 Mid Ventilator models make our list of the Best Hiking Shoes and Boots.

Arc’Teryx Full-Priced Items - 25% off

Arc'Teryx is known for its unmatched quality in outdoor gear, but also for its equally high prices. Well, this is your chance to score any full-priced Arc'Teryx item for 25% off. For backpacking and hiking trips where we’re trying to keep weight to a minimum, we’re fans of the newly released Zeta FL and Zeta SL rain jackets, which make our Best Backpacking Jackets List. For a great shoulder season jacket, we also love the Atom LT Insulated Hoodie.

Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoody - 30% off

The Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoody, offered in both men's and women's models, is a fantastic summer and shoulder season jacket for trips when temperatures are moderate. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and highly compressible. What sets this jacket apart is the synthetic PrimaLoft Insulation, which helps retain heat better than down in wet conditions.

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REI recently launched the new Quarter Dome SL 2 Tent, which is almost a pound lighter than their popular Quarter Dome 2 model. The SL is a good fit for ultralight backpackers on a budget, as it’s among the most affordable options in the double-wall, ultralight tent world. With a minimum trail weight of 2 lbs. 8 oz., the SL 2 is extremely lightweight, especially for the amount of interior space it provides. That weight-savings does come with a catch though, as the SL is only semi-freestanding. That means it needs to be fully staked down to be functional. We normally stake down our tents anyway for a taut pitch, but semi-freestanding tent designs do tend to fare worse in the wind and wet, nasty weather.

View at REI QUICK SPECS
  • MSRP: $319

  • MIN TRAIL WEIGHT: 2 lb. 8 oz.

  • DIMENSIONS (L x W x H): 88 x 52/42 x 38 in. (wider at head, narrower at foot)

  • PACKED SIZE: 7 x 20 in.




















WHAT WE LIKE

ULTRALIGHT - At 2 lb. 8 oz., the SL 2 is one of the lightest double-wall backpacking tents on the market. It has all the benefits of a double-wall tent but comes closer to the weight of a single-wall tent. One of the ways the SL saves weight is by using a 5-spoked pole to create a rigid frame for the front half of the tent with a single pole that runs end-to-end, while leaving the footbox area to be staked out for stability.

COMPACT - We love how easy it is to get the SL back into its large stuff sack. It packs down small enough to be slipped into an outer pocket on our backpacks on rainy days when we want to pack it up last. The tent, fly, poles, and stakes are easy to split between two people for packing as well.

2 DOORS - We almost always prefer tents that have more than one door when traveling as a pair. It’s much nicer (and time-saving) for each person to have easy access to a door where their gear and shoes can be stored in the vestibules, especially in inclement weather. Each side has its own wide door, with zippers that function well and open easily under tension. The double doors also make this small tent feel more spacious and allow hikers to catch cross-breezes and views from both sides.

COLOR CODING TO SIMPLIFY SETUP - The SL uses orange and black color-coding to make it easy to line each component up and get your tent pitched in minutes. Orange-tabbed grommets receive orange poles, which are then connected to orange clips. The color-coding makes the very first setup a no-brainer and helps you get the poles and fly turned the right direction quickly every time. The reflective orange stake loops and guylines also help minimize nighttime trip hazards and make the stakes easier to keep track of in your campsite too.

GREAT VENTILATION - The SL’s inner mesh acts as a protective barrier that prevents people inside from brushing up against a wet rainfly. Space all around the inner mesh tent allows for evaporation and air circulation even with the fly battened down. The large vent at the head of the SL improves airflow and helps control condensation inside the tent while keeping rain out. We also love having the option to pin the rainfly doors back halfway or all the way for expansive views and more breathability.

SMART POCKET ARRANGEMENT -  There are 4 strategically-placed mesh pockets that will help you keep your tent interior organized. Small items are easy to locate in the pockets on each side near the doors (especially key in the dark), and the 2 pockets on the ceiling make it easy to use headlamps for overhead tent lighting.

MINIMALIST OPTION -  During mosquito-free seasons, the SL can be stripped down and used without the interior mesh tent as a minimalist, single-wall shelter. In this setup, the tent fly, poles, and a footprint (sold separately) are used to create an ultralight shelter.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

DRIPPY ENTRY - During our testing we found the rainfly overhang above the doors to be inadequate to protect the inner tent from water dripping off the fly when the doors were unzipped. We wish the rainfly roof extended out a couple more inches on each side so we didn’t have to worry about our sleeping bags getting wet in the dripline during or after rainfall. Shaking the tent and draining any small pools on the roof before unzipping the doors is an easy solution to this issue, though it’s a minor inconvenience. The SL is still a great tent, but we do think this design flaw limits its function in wet weather.

MINIMAL HEADROOM - The SL provides a good amount of usable interior space for how lightweight and compact it is, but we found the headroom to be slightly less than average with a peak height of 38 inches. That being said, 1 and 2-person ultralight tents are expected to be..

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One of the newest jackets introduced by Arc’teryx for the 2019 hiking season, the Zeta SL (men’s & women’s), is an excellent balance between quality, durability, and weight. The highly packable and versatile design of the SL is a great option for hikers looking to push through wet weather in rugged conditions.

Quick Specs
  • MSRP:  $299

  • Weight:  10.9 oz (Men’s) / 9.5 oz (Women’s)

  • Material:  2-layer N40r Gore-Tex Paclite Plus

  • Features:  Sealed waterproof zippers, adjustable hood, adjustable hem and cuffs

View Men's Zeta SL View Women's Zeta SL







Like the even lighter Zeta FL (men’s & women’s), the SL features the new Paclite-Plus Gore-Tex technology. This incorporates a lightweight, two-layer shell with a heavy duty 40 denier nylon face fabric. The thicker nylon, while more likely to take a beating, does have a tougher and stiffer feel more often associated with heavier technical rain shells.

The design of the Zeta SL smoothly incorporates lightweight minimalism with more traditional adjustability of a heavier jacket. Velcro cuffs and an adjustable drawstring hem let you control the fit of the jacket, keeping water out while maintaining mobility and comfort. High, top-down zippers on the pockets will easily accommodate a backpack hip belt or climbing harness, and a fully sealed main zipper will keep water from seeping in the front.

The nylon face fabric will stand up surprisingly well to the occasional bump or scratch. But due to its 2-layer construction, the SL will require more frequent washings with Tech-Wash to flush out oil and sweat from the Gore-Tex compared to a 3-layer rain shell incorporating a liner fabric. That said, washing rain gear is far easier than most think. Here’s our quick guide on how to wash your rain gear.

What We Like
  • Weight and packability - The SL is very light and packable compared to most rain shells on the market. That makes it a great choice for backpackers or day-hikers looking to fend off intermittent storms throughout the day.

  • Design and Fit - The Zeta SL feels like a heavy duty jacket, bringing in features more commonly found in thicker mountaineering shells, but it maintains a lightweight and comfortable fit.

  • Durability - The 40 denier nylon face fabric feels thicker and more likely to take a beating than the fabric on the thinner Zeta FL.

  • Warranty - Arc’teryx covers all of their products for the lifetime of the product (excluding wear and tear).

What We Don’t Like
  • Breathability - To us, the word “breathable” tends to be misleading when it comes to rain shells. That said, hikers will still want to monitor their activity level and keep perspiration to a minimum while wearing the SL. Also, the SL may require a bit more washing than a typical 3-layer shell.

  • Cost - At an MSRP of $299, the price of the SL will be a bit high for many backpackers. That said, the Zeta SL is one of Arc’teryx most affordable rain shells.

Bottom Line

The Zeta SL (men’s & women’s) is a very well balanced jacket for backpackers looking to shave weight but still stay dry in nasty conditions. More durable than the ultralight Zeta FL, the SL will allow you to venture into more rugged terrain with fewer worries about tearing your sleeve on a stray branch.

view men's Zeta SL View Women's Zeta SL  

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.

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Clever Hiker Blog by Dave Collins - 1M ago
 

The ultralight weight, compact design, and superb comfort of the Helinox Chair Zero make it a great choice for short backpacking trips, car camping, beach or park days, and so much more.

Weighing just over a pound, the Helinox Chair Zero packs down surprisingly small and is made from durable materials, offering specs unmatched by its competition. After some rigorous field testing of sitting around, we found the Chair Zero’s performance lived up to its reputation. While we wouldn’t typically pack a one pound chair for intense backpacking trips, this ultralight chair is our go-to for a range of casual trips. For those looking for an ultralight, portable, and versatile chair, the Helinox Chair Zero is an excellent option.

view at rei view at amazon Quick Specs
  • MSRP - $119.95

  • WEIGHT - 1 lb.

  • WEIGHT CAPACITY - 265 lbs.

  • MATERIAL - Proprietary anodized DAC aluminum poles and ripstop polyester seat

What We Like
  • Lightweight and packable - Weight and packability are the key features we like most about Chair Zero. This chair weighs an impressive 1.1 pounds making it one of the lightest chairs on the market. It’s also super compact and portable. These are all great features for when packing space is limited or you don’t want to haul around bulky gear.

  • Easy Setup - Setting up the Chair Zero is a breeze. It involves a two-part process of securing the virtually self-assembling pole frame, then slipping on the seat. For those who want quick access to the chair, clip the stash pocket carabiner on your daypack or backpack or stash the chair inside your water bottle pocket.

  • Durable - The strength-to-weight ratio of the Chair Zero is unmatched. The rugged poles and tough ripstop polyester seat are designed to take a beating. Although small in dimensions, this seat can hold up to a surprising 265 lbs. It’s also worth mentioning the seat material offers flexibility without stretching out with repeated use.

  • Versatile- Weight and packability make the Chair Zero suitable for shorter backpacking trips, car camping, beach days, park visits, events, and more. We find it ideal for our casual trips as it frees up space for additional gear and isn’t too bulky to tote around.

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive - The biggest drawback to the Chair Zero is the price. The $144 MSRP is high for someone who simply wants a no-frills portable chair. However, if weight, size, and versatility are a concern, you may still want to consider this chair.

  • Smaller seat dimensions may not be suitable for taller individuals - Taller folks may find the shallow seat of Chair Zero to be uncomfortable and less supportive for their size. However, smaller individuals may find the chair to be quite comfy and just the right fit.

  • Not ideal for all day lounging - While the Chair Zero is comfortable for resting, the chair’s smaller seat and height will be less comfortable for all day lounging. For this we recommend a more standard camp chair, such as the REI Camp Xtra Chair.

  • Seat height can be an issue for some trips - For many trips, we find the 11-inch seat height of the Chair Zero is not an issue. However, when we’re sitting around a campfire with a large group of friends we prefer a more typical camp chair. The chair will also sink into soft ground diminishing the seat height at places like the beach.

  • Not Ideal for difficult backpacking trips - We found the Chair Zero works great for backpacking trips with shorter miles and ample camp time. However, if we’re going to be on a more intense trip hiking over 10-miles per day, we prefer to take something lighter like a 2-ounce Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat.

Bottom Line

When it comes to chair weight, durability, and packability, the Helinox Chair Zero can’t be beat. It is one of the more expensive chairs on the market, but we find the tradeoff to be worth it. For those who desire a lightweight, compactless bulky, and versatile portable chair, we recommend the Chair Zero. While we typically wouldn’t bring it on a rigorous backpacking trip, backpackers who don’t mind sparing some extra weight and space will find this luxury item well worth packing.

view at rei view at amazon More Information

We hope this review was helpful in determining if the Helinox Chair Zero is the right fit for you. For more popular CleverHiker content, check out the following links:

 

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.

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It’s Member Rewards time at REI! That means, if you’re an REI member, you’ve just received 10% of your annual purchases back in one lump sum dividend, which is always rad. And if you have a backpacking gear addiction like we do, your dividend can actually add up to a good chunk of change.

To sweeten the deal, from 3/22 to 4/8 REI Members save 20% on one full-price item and an extra 20% off one REI Outlet item with coupon code MEMPERK2019. Now is one of the best times of the year to save on a big-ticket purchase such as a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, sleeping pad, or anything else with some sticker-shock pricing.

If you’re not an REI member, don’t fret! You can pick up a lifetime membership for $20 and still get to use the 20% off coupon. So, your lifetime membership will pretty much pay for itself with one big purchase.

We want to make sure our readers know we’ve partnered with REI for this article and they’re sponsoring it. That said, all reviews and opinions expressed in this post are based on our personal experience. We treat our recommendations as if they were advice to our family and friends.

Why We Love REI
  • Great in-store and online experience - While we do still love to support our independent local retailers, we also find the shopping experience at REI to be exceptional.

  • REI is a leader in environmental stewardship - Each year, REI donates millions of dollars to support conservation efforts. They send teams of volunteers across the country to build trails, clean up beaches, restore local habitat, and more.

  • REI has an excellent return policy - Customer service reigns supreme here. We love to ability to buy online and return in store, if need be.

  • REI Co-op products are a great value - We generally find that REI brand products strike a great balance between quality and cost.

  • REI is getting into the ultralight game - We’re pretty stoked to see REI jumping into the ultralight arena. They’re now stocking their shelves with UL retailers such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear, as well as upgrading many of their REI Co-Op product lines to focus on fast and light gear.

Flash Deals Worth Considering

In addition to your 20% off coupon, REI is also offering a few flash deals, some better than others. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorites below.

16 Great Ways to Use Your 20% Off Coupon

You only get to use your 20% off coupon on one item, so it makes sense to use it on a big purchase to make it count. Remember to use coupon code: MEMPERK2019 at checkout.

REI Magma 15

REI updated and expanded their popular Magma sleeping bag line and they’re now offering 15°F and 30°F models in both men’s and women’s bags. Weighing only 1 lb. 12 oz., the Magma sleeping bag continues to offers a combination of weight, warmth, and cost that few other sleeping bags can match. If you’re looking for a bag that can do it all without breaking the bank, the Magma is a solid choice. It’s also a CleverHiker top pick on our Best Sleeping Bag List for its all-around value.

Therm-a-Rest Uberlite

One of the most anticipated ultralight gear releases of the year, the new UberLite sleeping pad from Therm-a-Rest is the lightest inflatable pad on the market. Weighing only 8.8 oz, the Uberlite packs down ridiculously small while still retaining the same level of comfort as our much-loved NeoAir XLite. With an r-value of 2, the Uberlite is best suited for summer backpacking trips. For those looking to go ultralight while retaining comfort, this pad should be in your pack.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 has an exceptional blend of weight, interior space, and functionality. It has great features for maximizing comfort - freestanding, double-wall, near-vertical sidewalls, two large doors/vestibules, interior pockets - and it's still somehow under 3lb. For freestanding tents in this weight class, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option. Also, don’t sleep on the slightly larger HV UL3 model, which will provide a lot more interior space for two hikers and has become a CleverHiker favorite. Both are top picks on our Best Lightweight Tents List.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest

HMG makes some of our favorite “tough as nails” ultralight gear, so we were very pleased to see REI begin to carry their products in 2019. The unique DCF fabric and taped seams on the Southwest make it one of the most weather-resistant and durable ultralight packs we've ever tested, hands down. Our top pick for lightweight backpacks, the Southwest is available in three capacity sizes, though we recommend either the 2400 (40L) or 3400 (55L). If your gear is fairly dialed in, we would steer you towards the 2400.

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Tent

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX has been one of the most popular tents in the backpacking world, and with good reason. It's a well-designed, roomy, and durable tent that provides excellent protection in windy, wet weather. The Hubba Hubba was updated in 2019 to provide a more durable pole structure and increased weather protection. Though the Hubba Hubba isn’t the lightest tent on the market, it ranks squarely among the best backpacking tents for dependable protection and comfort.

Osprey Exos & Eja 48

The Osprey Exos 48 (men’s) and Eja 48 (women’s) are extremely comfortable, lightweight backpacks with great all-around value. They have sturdier frames than most lightweight packs, carry heavier loads comfortably, and won’t break the bank either. One of our favorite features of these packs is their tensioned-mesh frame, which contours to the back nicely and offers great back ventilation on the trail. Our main gripe is the lack of hip pockets, but if comfort is a priority, this pack is tough to beat and earns a spot on our Best Lightweight Backpacks List.

REI Co-Op Quarter Dome SL 2 Tent

REI recently launched the new Quarter Dome SL Tent and we’re excited to get one on the trail. The SL could be a good fit for ultralight backpackers on a budget, as it’s among the most affordable options in the ultralight tent world. With a minimum trail weight of 2 lbs. 8 oz., the SL 2 is extremely lightweight, especially for the amount of interior space it provides. That weight savings does come with a catch though, as the SL is only semi-freestanding, which means it needs to be fully staked down to be functional. That said, the design looks promising, the price looks great, and initial feedback has been positive, so we’re excited to test it out.

REI Co-Op Magma Trail Quilt 30°

REI has officially entered the quilt market and their first offering is quite competitive. The Magma Trail Quilt 30 has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, packs down small, and is priced fairly for the quality. It has as fully-sewn footbox, which slightly limits versatility, though this design is one of the best for warmth-to-weight ratios. Although this quilt has a 30°F rating, we view it more as a summer option when nighttime temps are 40°F or warmer.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2

Big Agnes' Tiger Wall UL2 delivers a lot of interior space in an ultralight package. The Tiger Wall is a combination of two popular BA tents, with a shape that’s similar to the Copper Spur, but much lighter, and a pole structure that’s similar to the Fly Creek, but with more interior space. One downside with the Tiger Wall is its semi-freestanding design, which requires two stakes at the foot of the tent for a full pitch. That said, for a few small drawbacks, the Tiger Wall UL2 has a lot to love.

NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad

NEMO recently updated one of our long-time favorite sleeping pads: the NEMO Tensor Insulated Pad. In our opinion, this pad’s greatest strength is how quiet and comfortable it is compared to the competition. Upgrades to the pad are very welcomed: it’s lighter, warmer, has zero-profile valves and an included pump sack. There’s no official r-value for the Tensor, so it’s tough to truly know how warm it is compared to the competition, but we expect it’ll work down into the 20’s. This pad has earned a spot on our Best Sleeping Pads List.

REI Co-Op Kingdom Tent

Do you want to be an absolute baller the next time you and your friends head out on a car camping adventure? REI Kingdom tents are great for camping trips when you want a ton of space, comfort, durability, and weather protection. They're available in 4P, 6P, and 8P models, all of which pack down surprisingly small, are super spacious, and are sure to make your camping neighbors jealous.

REI Co-op Backpacking Bundle

If you’re new to backpacking and not looking to drop your whole paycheck on a setup, the REI Backpacking Bundle is a great beginner option. Included is the REI Co-op Passage 2 tent, REI Co-op Stratus sleeping pad, and the REI Co-op Trail Pod 30 sleeping bag. Weighing in at 9 lbs. 6 oz, this will not win you any ultralight medals, but it will get you on the trail—and that’s what really matters. The Backpacking Bundle is on a flash sale right now (was $275, now $199.99), so it’s a great time to swoop it up!

Gregory Optic 48 Backpack

With features similar to Osprey’s Exos, the Optic from Gregory is a lightweight, comfortable, and well-designed pack. The frame on the Optic 48 is very sturdy and transfers weight to the hips extremely well. We like the features and pockets on this pack, but the mesh side and front pockets do lack a little durability. Overall, the Gregory Optic 48 is a solid lightweight pack with great features and a very affordable price tag.

REI Co-Op Half Dome 2 Plus

Weighing just under 5 lbs, the Half Dome 2 Plus isn’t going to be part of any hiker’s ultralight setup, but if you’re looking for a solid and affordable tent for car camping excursions or short backpacking trips, the Half Dome 2 Plus is a great choice. Its generous dimensions and overhead crossbar create a ton of interior space and its materials are more durable than most lightweight tents. It’s a great value option for those on a budget.

JetBoil Mini Mo

The Jetboil MiniMo is a complete cooking system that’s just about as convenient and efficient as backcountry stoves get. The MiniMo is loaded with useful features including a push-button igniter, excellent simmer control, and a stout shape that makes eating out of it easier. Metal coils along the bottom of the Jetboil increase cooking efficiency and produce incredibly fast boil times. Another great option is the simple, straightforward, and less expensive Jetboil Flash.

NEMO Dagger 2P Tent

The

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One piece of gear has recently revolutionized navigation in the backcountry and it’s right there in your very pocket. That’s right, it’s your phone.

Your smartphone can easily double as an excellent wilderness GPS device. It’s constantly acquiring satellite signals even when cell range is miles away. With the right app, you can use this feature to your advantage by turning your phone into an affordable and reliable navigation tool.

While we still highly stress the importance of knowing basic navigation skills and learning how to use a map and compass, we live in a world where technology reigns supreme. And this piece of technology is all too convenient to pass on.

Here at CleverHiker, we get a lot of questions about how to use a phone as a backpacking navigation device. So we decided to share how we use our phones for GPS and offer some helpful tips to guide you along your way.

Do I Really Need a GPS Device?

In short, yes. When you’re in the backcountry, navigation is absolutely critical. Without it, you can easily wind up lost and find yourself in a very dangerous situation. By bringing a GPS device, you will always know where you are, which will help keep you safe and will make your trips far more stress-free.

It’s very common to be uncertain about how far the next trail junction, campsite, or key landmark is along your route. Or maybe you already passed it without noticing? So are you still on the right trail or not? Because this isn’t feeling quite right... and… commence panicking. But with a phone GPS app, all those questions are answered in an instant. Once you learn how to use the app, you’ll find it very useful for pinpointing your location, even on short day hikes.

For us, learning how to turn our phones into GPS devices has been a huge game changer on our backcountry trips. A few simple phone apps have probably been the most important innovations we’ve made to our backpacking setup over the past few years. And for people who hike as much as we do and test as much gear as we do, that’s really saying a lot.

Why Use Your Phone

While Garmin may be the leader in handheld GPS devices, those tools are not exactly budget-friendly or simple to use. In addition, they’re an extra piece of gear to bring, which adds weight, bulk, and complexity.

This is where your phone comes in handy. You already own your phone and you’re probably bringing it on the trail anyway. In addition, your phone is a multi-purpose tool: it can snap photos, play music/podcasts/video, double as a backup flashlight, and a whole lot more.

So if you can figure out how to use your phone as a wilderness GPS device, you’ll add a ton of value to a piece of gear that’s already very useful.

How Your Phone’s GPS Works

GPS systems are obviously pretty complicated, but here are the basics. GPS stands for Global Positioning System. In short, this is a network of 24 active satellites used for navigation. Your GPS-enabled phone acts a receiver, communicating with these satellites to pinpoint your exact location on earth. This location tracking is obviously very useful, especially for applications like wilderness travel.

No Service, No Problem

You may be wondering if you need cell service for your phone’s GPS to work, and the answer is no, you don’t. GPS relies on satellites, not cell towers. So even when you have no signal, your phone’s GPS will be up and running. And that’s a very good thing because you’ll be hard pressed to find cell service in most remote wilderness areas.

However, even though your GPS system will work without cell service, it’s very important that you download the correct maps to your phone before you get out of service. If you don’t, your phone will still be able to locate you, but you’ll show up as a blue dot on a blurry map, and that won’t be useful at all. More on this in a bit.

Also, in order for your GPS  to work best, your phone needs a clear signal path to the sky. This means heavy tree cover, deep slot canyons, or other impeding objects may make it hard for your phone to get a clear GPS signal. That said, in our experience, we’ve mostly gotten excellent GPS coverage with our phones, even in dense forests and deep canyons.

Which Apps Work Best for Backpacking?

When it comes to GPS navigation apps, there are two we recommend above the rest for backpacking trips: Gaia GPS and Topo Maps+. You’ll also need signal-free driving directions to get to/from your wilderness trailhead, and for that, we use an app called Maps.me. All three are on our top gear picks list, and here’s a rundown of how they work:

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS gives you access to an impressive catalog of over 50 downloadable and printable base maps. You’ll find maps such as National Geographic Trails Illustrated, NeoTracks US Topo, and ESRI World Imagery.

You can create customized maps by adding your own overlays, trails, GPX tracks, and waypoints for increased guidance. This includes helpful information for active fires as well as public and private land. We find Gaia’s user interface to be relatively user-friendly, although, as with most GPS tools, there’s definitely a learning curve.

While this app allows the option of recording your trip, we omit using this feature in exchange for prolonged battery life.

Gaia GPS comes in three different levels: free, Membership, and Premium Membership. Find out more here. Also, for a full tutorial on using Gaia GPS, click here.

Topo Maps+

Topo Maps+ was designed specifically for backpackers, by backpackers. This app features an array of excellent maps including USGS Topo, National Geographic Illustrated, and many more.

With this app, printing and downloading maps is easy and come in crystal clear thanks to the high resolution. With data from 500,000 plus trails, you have an extensive list right at your fingertips.

Topo Maps+ also allows you to create custom routes, add waypoints/gpx tracks, and find the distances and elevation profiles along the trail you’re following. And that’s a very nice benefit. As with Gaia, Topo Maps+ will take some time to learn how to use, but that will be time well spent. Find out more here. Also, for a full tutorial on using Topo Maps, click here.

Example of Topo Maps+ planning capabilities

Maps.me

Getting to your destination is just as important as navigating your way around your destination. This is why we use Maps.me. This free app can help you get directions to your trailhead (and back home), whether you have cell service or not. You’ll just need to have your region downloaded prior to losing service in order to use it.

This app isn’t quite as good as a tool like google maps, but for offline navigation, we use it all the time. It even has routes for a ton of wilderness trails, though we rarely rely on maps.me for backcountry navigation.

How to Use GPS Navigation Apps for Backpacking

The most important thing you’ll need to do to use your phone as a GPS device is to download maps for offline use. Once you’ve downloaded the maps onto your phone for offline use, they will automatically show your location on a topo map when you’re in that area.

As far as which maps to download, we always download two different maps for offline use. One map will be the most detailed topo map we can find with trails, trailheads, and important waypoints listed. The other will be a satellite map of the area, so we can keep an eye on the terrain and scope out good sites for lunch breaks and camping. ,

When available, we also like to download GPX tracks for the routes we plan to travel. This can be especially beneficial if our trip includes any off-trail sections.

Phone BatteryConserving Battery Life

A dead phone will obviously be useless to you, and if you’re dependent on your phone for navigation (you shouldn’t be), you could be in a really bad spot. So conserving battery life is a prime concern when traveling in the backcountry. Here are a few tips to maximize your phone’s battery life on the trail.

  • Leave your phone in airplane mode and low power mode - our batteries will last around 4-5 days with light use on these settings

  • Don’t record your tracks - this will drain your battery life big time

  • Close all other apps

  • Turn your phone off when not in use

  • Sleep with your phone in your sleeping bag - cold temperatures can drain your battery overnight even when your phone is off

  • Minimize location services in all other apps

Charging Options

From solar panels to power banks, there are a plethora of compact, ultralight options for recharging your batteries while backpacking. For our trips, we like to keep things simple and light, so we always bring our Jackery Power Mini.

The Jackery Mini is one of the smallest and lightest power banks on the market. It features a 3350mAh rechargeable battery, which for us, is about two full charges for our phones when we’re in the woods. It’s compatible with Androids and iPhones and will take approximately 3-hours to charge. It’s also insanely affordable which is a breath of fresh air when it comes to purchasing ultralight gear.

We also recommend picking up one short 3-inch cords to charge your phone, camera, and anything else. Really, it’s all about packing down to the basics and one short universal cord might be all you need.

Test Beforehand

As with any new piece of gear, it’s critical to test your GPS app prior to your trip. It may take a few hours to learn how to use your GPS app properly, so make sure to spend some quality time with it.

Download some maps to your device, then take it out for a test spin on a short hike. Reference the map often until you’re comfortable enough to understand how to use it properly.

You’ll also want to pay attention to how well your phone’s battery life performs. Do a realistic test by putting your phone on airplane mode and low power mode during your trial.

Remember, once you’re deep in the backcountry, Google won’t be there to save you. So really get to know how your phone GPS app works well before hitting the trail.

Don’t Rely Solely On Technology

Technology does and will fail. If your phone is your only form of navigation and you encounter an issue, you could easily wind up in a terrible situation. We created a tutorial video to teach the basics of wilderness navigation and explain what to do if you do get lost.

Along with these tips, we recommend always carrying a physical topographical map and compass. A map can’t run out of battery, won’t stop working when wet, and doesn’t have a screen to smash. A compass will guide you when reading a map and can help you get back on trail if you do get lost. While there’s a variety of compasses on the market, the Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass is our top pick. For guidance on how to properly use compass and map navigation, check out our tutorial on navigation.

No matter how short or long the trip, keep these two items with you. Even if they stay stashed in the bottom of your backpack the entire length of the journey—it’s better to have them than to not.

Other Helpful Tips & Tricks
  • Choose a pack with hipbelts and shoulder straps: Constantly removing your pack to dig out your phone for directions is a pain. Hipbelts and shoulder straps will give you easy access to your phone for directions, without the annoyance of constant backpack removal. They’re also the ideal compartment for camera storage. There are plenty of great daypacks and backpacks with these features.

  • Purchase a waterproof phone case: Accidents happen. Weather happens. A waterproof and shockproof phone case is a must-have when backpacking, especially if it’s your main way to ensure you’re not getting lost in the woods.

  • Protect your maps: As we mentioned before, Gaia GPS and Topo Maps+ also allow you to print paper maps for reference. If you’re going to use them in physical form, you’ll want to print them on waterproof paper. Otherwise, they’re likely to become nothing more than an ink-bleeding, wadded mess. Another option is to use a waterproof map sack to keep maps protected and dry.

In Case of Emergency

It’s important to note using your phone’s GPS navigation app will help with location, but in the event of a medical or life-threatening emergency, it won’t be able to call for help.

For this reason, it’s good to pack a satellite messaging device. These devices let you send simple messages, track your trip, and send an SOS signal at the push of a button - all without cell service. Here’s a list of our top picks:

  • Garmin inReach Mini 2-way Satellite Communicator: The Garmin Mini weighs a mere 3.5-ounces and boasts 50-hours of battery life for when you need it most. It features two-way messaging with confirmation, location sharing, downloaded map storage, basic weather forecasts, and an interactive SOS for 24/7 emergency response.

  • SPOT Device: This rugged device works solely off satellite to send your GPS coordinates to your personal contacts or a rescue center. It features SOS for emergencies, help for non-life threatening emergencies, one-way messages for check-in, and progress tracking.

  • Garmin inReach Explorer+: If you like the inReach Mini, but want more features, then take a look at the Garmin inReach Explorer+. The Explorer has a longer battery life, larger screen, and built-in digital compass as well as colorful topo maps for GPS navigation. The one downside is a loftier price.

More Information

We hope this guide answers your questions about how to use your phone for backpacking navigation. If there are any apps, phone chargers, or emergency messaging devices you’ve found particularly helpful on your journeys, let us know in the comments below.

For more CleverHiker backpacking tips, check out the following links:

 

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.

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