Our 2015 Summer Backpacker’s Gear Guide

Long days.  Big miles.  Big sun.  Big sweat.  Big bugs.  Surprise storms.  Unreliable water sources.

Stuck in a four-way tie for our favorite backpacking season, it’s summer time.

The following list includes many of our favorite pieces of summer gear and apparel.  Submissions are courtesy of Appalachian Trials Writers, all of whom have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Any gear recommendations not attributed to another writer are courtesy of me (Zach).  Enjoy!

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Warmer temperatures translate to two glorious realizations for backpackers: less clothes and a warmer weather sleeping bag.  This can shave pounds and open a significant amount of space in your pack.  For that reason, carrying a smaller capacity and lighter pack will allow you to seemingly float along the trail.  The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is comfortable, and at under 2 lbs., will result in far less perspiration when climbing those exposed ridges on hot days.  Pro tip: the foam pad insert doubles as a quality sit pad.

REI Flash 18 Pack

“The REI Flash 18 is the Optimus Prime of stuff sacks. If you ever plan to base camp and explore day hikes from your camp, you need this 12 ounce stuff sack that turns into a day pack. The sternum strap and waist strap keep it from jiggling and it is exactly the right size for two to three liters of water, a sandwich, an extra layer or two, and TP (never leave home without it). I have worn my flash pack into the ground but that’s OK because, at $35 new, replacing it barely costs more than a normal, boring, non-transformer 18 liter stuff sack.” – Maggie Wallace, 2013 AT thru-hiker

3L Platypus Hoser Reservoir

“A Platypus 3-liter water bladder is great to have in the summer for those sections of the trail where water sources are dry and you need to ‘camel up.’ Also, I enjoy the Platypus bladder versus a Camelbak bladder because it’s cheaper and a few ounces lighter!” (and they’re currently 30% off at REI!) – Madison Dragna, 2013 AT thru-hiker

Patagonia Alpine Houdini

Designed for climbers, backpackers will also love Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini. It’s ultralight, weighing in at only 6.6 oz., and compressible, being able to be stuffed inside its own interior pocket.   Although not meant to endure a heavy downpour for extended periods, the Alpine Houdini has held up extremely well in light to moderate rainstorms.  Perfect for unexpected cold fronts or storms at elevation, the Houdini keeps you dry and protects from wind while breathing nicely.

Patagonia Merino 1 Silkweight

Patagonia makes my favorite base layers; the Patagonia Merino 1 Silkweight is my go-to for extended trips.  Although there are lighter / cooler options (see below), merino wool is the superior fabric for resisting hiker stank, especially beneficial during the summer months.  This is blended with 35% Capilene which improves durability compared to its pure merino counterparts.

Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight

Merino is my fabric of choice for longer trips, but if I’m trekking out for a shorter duration, Patagonia’s Capilene 1 Silkweight is my jam.  Lightweight, breathes incredibly well, and dries very quickly.

Ibex Pulse Runner Short

Although this features a hefty price tag, a built-in merino brief makes the Ibex Pulse Running Short the best lightweight shorts I’ve ever tested.  Previously mentioned, merino is second-to-none in resisting hiker funk, and when it comes to a backpacker’s swampy spots, this luxury is even more crucial.

Injinji toe socks

“To reduce blisters in this hot season, try out Injinji’s toe socks. I love these socks and wore them on my AT thru-hike. They are perfect for hikers that suffer from blisters in between the toes.” – Madison Dragna, 2013 AT thru-hiker

Darn Tough Socks

“Whoa, did we not mention these yet? Here’s what you need to know about Darn Tough socks: High-Density Knitting. You’ll wear a hole in your actual foot before you manage to put a hole in these socks. It took my hiking partner an entire thru-hike to get a micro-hole in the toe of his darn-toughs. Which is fine, since the Vermont-based company immediately replaced them. They are ridiculously expensive for socks (about $17 to $20 a pair) but considering that they have a lifetime guarantee (and live up to it), they’re the number one choice for thru-hikers.” – Maggie Wallace, 2014 AT thru-hiker

Altra Olympus 1.5 Trail Runners

Lighter packloads and the absence of snow are prime conditions for busting out the trail runners.  Traditionally, trail runners don’t jive with my embarrassingly fat shrek-feet, but the brand’s unique design with an extra wide toe box makes the Altra Olympus 1.5 the most comfortable trail runner I’ve ever tested.  These shoes aren’t exclusive to circus feet, as my more normal footed, long-distance friends, including Liz “Snorkel” Thomas and The Real Hiking Viking, also rock Altras (although they prefer the Lone Peak).

Bedrock Sandals

“Looking to ditch your boots for something more comfortable after a long day of hiking? Try a pair of Bedrock Sandals! These minimalist shoes were one of my favorite pieces of gear on the AT (until I tragically lost them!). I loved that they gave me the feel I enjoyed back home from my Chacos without the excess weight. Coming in at 4.3 ounces per sandal (at a size 9), these lightweight beauties can be used at camp, in town, in streams or even out on the trail. With a ‘Rock Solid Warranty,’ you can use them all day and don’t have to worry about wearing out the Vibram Soles or straps. So whether you’re looking to experience summer barefoot hiking, or you just want a lightweight yet strong camp shoe, Bedrock Sandals are the way to go.” – Bennett “Tandem” Travers, 2014 AT thru-hiker

Revo Huddie Sunglasses

revo huddie sunglasses

When it comes to abusing sunglasses, no one is better than me.  Which is to say, I am both tragically clumsy and negligent.  If I had a nickel for every broken pair of shades, I would buy a pair of the much more durable Revo Huddies.  Revo’s high-contrast polarized lenses block out the potent summer sun without stripping the detail of the beauty of the landscape that surrounds. Although there are more technical styles of Revo, the Huddies are my favorite design.

High UV Insect Shield Protection Buff


“The High UV Insect Shield version of the beloved Buff is perfect for avoiding ticks, mosquitoes, and sunburn in the summer. It feels and looks just like the traditional Buff and has all the same uses.” – Mariposa, 2014 AT thru-hiker

Disclosure: Some of the aforementioned products were donated for the purpose of review, including those from Patagonia, Ibex, Revo, Altra, and Gossamer Gear.

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