Co-written by Sarah Herron and Morgan Tilton
Gear isn’t the end-all of an outdoor adventure, but making solid equipment choices can be essential and important.
For some activities, like rock climbing or backpacking, and conditions gear is a direct link to safety from choosing the correct rope length to selecting an adequate warmth rating for your sleeping bag. Secondly, finding the right gear to support your needs helps you be comfortable as you play outside, which means you can stay outside longer and ensures that you keep coming back for more.
Finding a perfect-match piece also leads to long-term sustainability—my goal isn’t to own as much gear as possible. Dylan and I live in a state with four seasons, and our gear closet is consequentially CHOCK-FULL. But most importantly, it’s environmentally vital to contribute as little as possible to manufacturing waste, which, like the fashion world, penetrates the outdoor industry, too.
That said, finding your favorite-fitting gear is a JOURNEY. And it can be an expensive one. As you test the waters, you don’t always NEED to buy new. (Although, be wary about buying used rock climbing gear, which can be a safety hazard.) I’ve shopped at plenty of used-gear and consignment stores and gear swaps, as I dabbled in new outdoor pursuits. However, investing in my choice backpacking pack or stand-up paddleboard has allowed me to enjoy those adventure-tools for years to come.
Here are my most-loved pieces of gear for my favorite outdoor activities year-round including camping, backpacking, uphilling, resort skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and hiking. All of these products have been tested and approved based off of my personal body, abilities, and experience. These pieces are treasured!
**ALL opinions of gear are my own. There may be affiliate links below, which allow me to earn a commission off of product sales. As a small business owner and gear tester, I appreciate your support.**
A handful of the equipment below is solely used for drive-up camping. Other pieces are multi-sport and work well for backpacking or stand-up paddleboarding (SUPing), like my satellite communicator.
A single-burner stove is simple and perfect for car camping.
This double-wide sleeping pad fits perfectly in the back of my car or on the floor of our four-person Kelty tent. The thick, high-quality foam insulation is more comfortable than a traditional air mattress—we even put guests on it when they come visit us at home. It’s easy to inflate with a small electric pump, which comes with the pad.
We always carry a satellite (SAT) communicator with us. You can send texts from it, since it pairs to your phone via bluetooth, but we don’t use it for texting. It is merely for emergencies. And, if we are out on long trips, we can drop pins for family members at home who can watch our progress. I took this with me on my Mount Kilimanjaro expedition, and my mom was able to track our ascent.
This is the only camp chair we bring for car camping! It’s big enough for both of us to sit side-by-side, plus snuggles with our dog Rio.
We call this tent, “The Palace.” The Sequoia was a major upgrade for our car camping trips. It is SO spacious. Dylan is 6’2” and can completely stand up in it. Plus, it’s mostly mesh, which is great for stargazing (when you don’t need the rain fly) and helps me feel completely outside. Additionally, if it’s buggy during the day, everyone can bring their camp chair inside and chill.
These cute, functional lights make camp more homey, and they are also solar powered!
I had a very hard time finding a sleeping bag that I love. I tend to get cold when I camp out, but I need a sleeping bag that’s also super lightweight for backpacking. Then I found Aya. This bag’s warmth rating is 15 degrees Fahrenheit (remember, freezing point is 32 degrees Fahrenheit). The bag has 800-fill down insulation that’s section-treated with water-resistance, waterproofing, and Nikwax, so the bag retains warmth in damp environments. The design is tailored to women via the head contour, foot box shape, and contoured core shape. I love the cocoon hood and blanket flap, since I curl up when I sleep. The zipper vents are awesome, in case I get too hot. And, the bag is only 2 pounds, 1 ounce, which is great for backpacking or multi-day stand-up paddleboarding.
I NEED to sleep with a big, plush pillow, which can be hard to do when you’re backpacking. I tried so many inflatable and small down-fill pillows but none were supportive enough. This Therm-a-Rest pillow was a turning point! It’s the closest match to my at-home pillow that I’ve found. It’s lightweight, full of tiny soft-foam cubes, and expands when you unroll it. It comes in three sizes. I take the size small when I go backpacking, and the size medium when I am car camping. Also, this pillow is great for air travel or sleeping in the car on long road trips. This pillow was a lifesaver when I traveled across the Atlantic to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.
From road and river trips to car camping, the Tundra 45 is extremely resilient to toasty weather and sunshine. THIS is the cooler we have to have. It keeps food and drinks cool for at least two days. Plus, the durable top doubles as a level stove-cooking surface and cutting board—or, a foot stool.
Read tips on how to get started camping my blog, “Camping for Beginners and Where to Go.”
For my backpacking gear, my goal is to find a blend of lightweight, comfortable, and durable designs. I don’t mind packing in comforts for the wilderness like a camp chair and pillow, and I offset that weight by investing in lighter items overall.
I LOVE my Crazy Creeks! They are surprisingly SO comfortable, durable, easy-to-pack and provide you with a place to sit, anywhere. These work for car camping and overnight SUP trips, too.
I can’t say enough good things about the Futura Vario backpacking pack made by long-time brand Deuter, which was founded in 1898! It’s women’s-specific, so the shoulder straps are narrower, and the torso length is adjustable, which can accommodate shorter sizes. The hip belt is tapered to fit against the curvature of the hips—the plush lower back support is AMAZING. The capacity of the pack is 45L (L stands for liters), but expands to 55L. The shoulders and waist are well-padded and cushy. And the back panel has the brand’s “Aircomfort” design: a tensioned mesh panel suspends the pack off your back, which allows airflow to cool you down. A rain cover is integrated into the pack. Also, the Vario is made out of ripstop nylon, a super durable material. Mine doesn’t even show any signs of the rugged places we’ve gone together. Lastly, I love that this pack can be entered from the top AND the front AND the bottom, for the sleeping bag compartment. When I’m fishing out gear, I don’t need to unpack everything.
Good To-Go dehydrated meals
We’ve tried ALL types of packaged dehydrated meals. Good To-Go is my number one favorite. The curry, noodle, and rice recipes are all delicious.
I use this compact frying pan and pot cookset as a catch-all for eating on overnight SUP and backpacking trips, as well as for coffee in the morning. The capacity is 30 fluid ounces. At a weight of only 6.2 ounces, it’s incredibly light to bring along.
This Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad is surprisingly comfortable despite how thin it is! I’m even a side-sleeper. Plus, it’s self-inflating, so you only need to top off the final bit rather than gassing yourself as you arrange camp. This pad is also extremely lightweight and small when rolled up, so it’s super for backpacking. I opt for the women’s LONG, because the regular is a little too petite for me.
Read tips for overnight foot-adventures in my blog, “How to Get Started Backpacking.”
Skiing: Alpine and Backcountry
A few accessories are transferable from my alpine ski setup to my backcountry ski setup, like my helmet. (Alpine refers to downhill or resort skiing that’s in-bounds on groomed runs.) But for the most, the equipment and apparel that I use for uphilling versus riding the ski lift is completely different.
For my uphilling goals, I prefer skins made out of synthetic material, like nylon, rather
than mohair. This pair is entirely fixed with nylon. In general, synthetic skins are durable and offer great traction, which is perfect for comfort and ease while learning how to ascend. Snow conditions and the track shape don’t always make uphilling easy! Alternatively, mohair skins provide good glide, which is nice for flat approaches and returns. The tail attachments are also easy-to-adjust and durable, so it’s fairly easy for me to pull on my skins. Overall, the underside stick has remained grippy—I haven’t needed to remove and replace the glue, yet!
I love these lightweight, wide, responsive backcountry skis—they’re so much fun. They are women’s specific, so the mounting point for the bindings is different, which allows for easier turn initiation. They have a wide 112mm waist that helps me stay afloat in deeper snow. And the tip and tail are both rockered, which enhances my maneuverability on packed snow or through powder.
This 20-liter ski touring backpack is awesome. The front chest strap is adjustable, so I can move it above my bra line. The internal pockets are well-designed and organized for a beacon, shovel, and probe. I LOVE the stowable helmet pocket, which is easy to pull-out, so that I clip my helmet to the pack’s exterior before I go uphill. Plus, the profile is sleek.
I use this women’s specific all-mountain ski for laps at the resort. The ski is 106mm wide and features rocker in the tips and tail, which helps my maneuverability but also feels playful. The ski also has carbon reinforcements, which make it strong but light (one pair is 7 pounds, 2 ounces).
This helmet is GOLD. The chin strap has a magnetic clip, so it’s easier for me to close and open with one hand. Plus, Switcher features MIPS, a system in the helmet that provides more protection for your head during an angled crash, because it reduces rotational forces. I also like that there are 22 adjustable vents, so I can open those if I get too warm.
With the exception of my SUP, all of my river gear works twofold for whitewater rafting trips.
I swear, nearly every non-secluded river trip I’ve been on, I see another lady wearing this PFD (personal flotation device)! For good reason. This design is 20 years old! It fits the curves of a woman’s body including chest space. Plus, the material is really soft. If you need a PFD with more features, check out the other great choices.
I love this SUP because it’s extra-wide for stability on turbulent water. It also features front rocker, which makes it easier for me to paddle over waves or rapids. It also has a nice padded handle in the center, which makes it easy for me to carry on my own.
This helmet is designed specifically for whitewater use, which makes me feel safe when I SUP! Often rocks or shifting debris sits beneath the surface of the river or along the edges of lakes. The multi-impact shell is designed to disperse impact. And the internal retention system keeps the helmet snug, even when it’s soaked. There’s also a visor to help block the sun. Plus, the helmet is only 1.45 pounds.
This compact waterproof case is so handy and durable. I keep it strapped to the top of my SUP, but you can also attach it to your belt. It’s the perfect place to hold my phone, wilderness search and rescue card, cash, ID, chapstick, and face sunscreen. And it’s streamlined, so it’s easy for me to quickly grab at stops and camp.
Nothing feels as liberating as being fully protected against freezing whitewater when I SUP or raft. I really like how streamlined this women’s specific wetsuit is beneath my PFD. This full suit is 3/2mm thick, which is recommended for water that’s 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The first number represents the suit’s thickness around the torso, and the second number is the thickness around the arms and legs. I also love that this has a back zip entry, which is the easiest type of wetsuit enter and exit. (Read more about how a wetsuit should fit here—don’t try to upsize!)
When summer heats up in Colorado, our river runoff is still freezing but the ambient temperature is too high for a full wetsuit, especially if you’re paddling. This women’s shortie wetsuit still protects my core, shoulders, chest, and upper legs from water shock and blasts of wind. It’s cute, too! The suit is 3/2mm thick, which is recommended for water that’s 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The first number represents the suit’s thickness around the torso, and the second number is the thickness around the arms and legs. I also love that this has a back zip entry, which is the easiest type of wetsuit enter and exit. (Read more about how a wetsuit should fit here—don’t try to upsize!)
The Riviera hat keeps the sun off my face at camp and on the river—as long as it’s not windy! I like how light and airy this hat is. But, if this one doesn’t match your style or outfit, check out a huge variety of hats here.
I wear sunscreen, but sometimes that’s not enough when you’re outside all day or on the water. This women’s specific lightweight, long-sleeve sun hoody keeps my skin healthy under direct light and heat—which also keeps me from wilting mentally! I love that there’s a hood to shield my neck and ears. Plus, the merino-nylon fabric is soft.
For day hikes, my goal is to travel lighter and more streamlined. A handful of my hiking apparel and gear overlaps with my backpacking gear list, like pants or a headlamp, but some are only suitable for day hikes.
I recently fell in love with these super comfortable hiking and everyday travel pants, created by startup brand Alder Apparel, based in Toronto, Canada. I even wore them to Mount Kilimanjaro. Alder was launched by two ladies with a unique background in outdoor apparel: National Geographic Explorer Mikayla Wujec and fashion marketing leader Naomi Blackman. They wanted to make something better for women of all shapes and sizes that was also produced sustainably. I think they hit the mark.
I receive bottomless questions about these women’s hiking boots—more than anything else I own! I have had four different pairs of the Danner Mountain 600, because I love them so much. They are great for wide feet, and they look like the boot worn by Reece Witherspoon in the film, Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed‘s 2012 memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which everyone LOVES.
All around, Osprey makes really solid packs and the Talon is no different. This daypack design is lightweight, comfortable, and available in 22L. I love that it has hip straps—with pockets!—to help distribute weight on longer day hikes.
Choosing the Right Gear
As you shop for your gear, be honest with yourself about your primary goals and where you’ll most use it! Note what the weather conditions and terrain will be, because your gear is a barrier for those elements. Look around for sales and deals, but don’t choose a cheaper option if it sacrifices safety on any level—like pulling on a used bike helmet instead of a new whitewater helmet. And consider your own body’s needs: do you run hot or cold or are your feet narrow, for instance?
Ultimately, finding your ideal gear is SO exciting! Gear sets you up to safely, comfortably explore the world in your own backyard and around the world.