For the last 3 years, I have teamed up with Backcountry.com every month to bring you on my adventures. During this time, I have taken up new hobbies, tested gear, crossed of my bucket list items and have become a stronger, more knowledgable adventurer. Backcountry has taken me to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, they’ve helped me learn how to backcountry ski, fly fish, rock climb, repel and so much more. Overtime, I’ve found certain gear items make my packing list time and time again. So I thought it was appropriate to compile a list of the items I can’t live without and the gear that has made me a better adventurer.
Don’t forget to use my code SARAH15 for 15% off your first purchase at backcountry.com *some exclusions apply
Here are my top picks.
For more detailed lists, check out my posts:
Hiking / Camping
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.
Deuter Aircontact Lite SL 60+10L Backpack
The Deuter Aircontact Lite SL 60+10L Backpack is the big sister to the Futura Vario 45L but are you ready for this? It actually weighs LESS. This backpack is a great pack to graduate to once you’ve mastered your backpacking skills and are ready to carry a heavier load. This is a hauler of choice when embarking on a thru-hike along the Appalachian Trail. The moisture-controlling back panel keeps us comfortably cool on long, steep treks, while the X-frame evenly distributes the load to our hip belt for a comfortable, stable carry.
Deuter Futura Vario Backpack
The Deuter Futura Vario 45+10 SL Backpack is 45L (L stands for liters), but expands to 55L. THis bag is great for smaller backpacking trips where you may be splitting the load with a friend, or can pack on the lighter side. This is an excellent bag for beginners who will be backpacking with a partner.
For water, I pack my LifeStraw Go water bottle (you can fill it straight from a lake or stream), and a Platypus GravityWorks 6L Filter System, which is a gravity filter. The latter is VERY convenient, but may need a second set of hands to get it set up. (I find it challenging with one hand, but if I needed to, I could do it by myself.)
The Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot
After many years being a Danner brand loyalist, I had to make the switch to Merrell last summer while on a roadtrip. My feet had somehow grown (???) in the middle of the trip and I was getting excruciating blisters in between my toes while backpacking through the Sawtooths. I picked up a pair of these Merrells at a retailer because they were recommended to me based on their “wide toe box” and well, they CHANGED MY LIFE. They’re all I have worn ever since.
Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Communicator
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.
Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad
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.
NEMO Equipment Aya 15 Sleeping Bag
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.
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.
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.
With hip pack versus a backpack, you’re still able to bring some essential items like a water bottle, snacks, phone, keys and poop bags. I love wearing a hip pack on shorter hikes because it keeps my items easily accessible without weight down my shoulders.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
I graduated to this ski after two seasons of getting the hang of backcountry skiing, and it was an AMAZING upgrade. This ski gives me more security than the DPS’s skis I was on previously, but I know many people claim DPS is the best on the market—it’s all personal preference. In my opinion, look no further than the Backland 85 Touring Ski for all of your ski mountaineering needs. 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 and 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.
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.