7 Backpacking Accessories That Will Improve Your Hike
When it comes to backpacking, an overwhelming selection of accessories offer all sorts of comforts or shortcuts. And while some are universally great, others only fill niche roles—or are downright useless. I’d like to help you cut through the haze by highlighting a few of OR’s very best options. All of these items have come with me, personally, or with someone whose opinion I value highly. I make these recommendations based on the assumption that you’ll be hiking in the mountains during the normal summer backpacking season (roughly June to September). For my recommendations on technical clothing, see OR’s Best And Lightest Summer Backpacking Layers.
Ultra Trail Gaiters $47.50 (2.7oz)
It’s common practice among backpackers to wear light gaiters over hiking shoes to keep trail debris out. At only 2.7 ounces per pair, you’ll barely notice the Ultra Trail Gaiters and they’ll save you the discomfort of invasive pebbles and the time and energy it takes to stop and pour them out of your shoe. As gaiters go, these are very good at staying locked in place and are even more durable than they look. Mine have withstood well over 1,000 miles of abuse.
Ultralight Dry Sacks $31 (1-3oz)
If you’re already a believer in dry bags, great! These are our lightest ones and I recommend the 35L or the 55L (as opposed to multiple smaller bags) to carry your sleeping bag and camp gear. The one-big-bag approach allows your kit to settle into place naturally, rather than being packed into multiple dense balls that create pockets of unused space. If you normally rely solely on a waterproof pack, pack liner or cover, let me caution you to add redundancy with a risk-reward analysis. Risk: Rain finds a way in (like usual) and soaks your sleeping bag, ruining the trip. Reward: You saved 2-3 ounces. To me, that’s just not enough reward to warrant taking the type risk that could ruin a trip. Redundant sleeping bag protection is worth it. For consolidating knick knacks and storing them in your pack’s outer-mesh pockets or top compartment, I recommend smaller sizes in the 3-10L range.
Sun Runner Cap $36 (2.8oz)
This cap combines the neck coverage benefits of a 360-degree brimmed hat with everything you love about a basic cap, all in one sleek package. Two things that make it better than a 360-degree brimmed hat are that the rear doesn’t bump into the top of your pack when you look up and that it’s less prone to flying off in high wind. I recommend wearing it with a collared shirt to prevent any accidental neck exposure when you need sun protection most. And of course, you can always remove the neck cape and just wear it like a normal cap until it gets really sunny again.
Versaliners $52 (2.8oz)
At a base level, these gloves are already the perfect fleece thickness for a majority of three-season backpacking, and in addition to that, they come with a built-in hard-shell cover. While the shell only claims to be water resistant, this is because it isn’t seam-taped, not because the fabric itself isn’t waterproof. So it will feel much, much more water resistant than something like a soft shell. What’s better than warm hands? Warm, dry hands.
Wind Pro Balaclava $43 (2.9oz)
They might not be pretty. In fact, you might look like you’re robbing a bank. However, balaclavas simply have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than other hats or beanies. Keeping your neck, chin and cheeks warm is worth the extra ounce of fabric weight, especially if you sleep in a minimalist bag or quilt without a hood. I recommend the Wind Pro over any of our other balaclavas simply because the fabric is nice and it doesn’t bother with full-face and nose coverage that wouldn’t be necessary in spring or summer anyway.
Lightweight Pack Cover $40 (4.4 or 5.3oz)
The first step to keeping your gear dry is keeping your pack dry. Once soaked through, every single item on the inside of your packs needs to be in dry bags or it’s going to get wet. To avoid the inconvenience of bagging literally everything, I advise using a pack cover. It has many of the same advantages as a liner, while also allowing you to continue using the pack’s outer pockets and brain. As an added bonus, it prevents the accumulation of extra water weight from pack fabric absorption (unlike a liner). If your pack is in between sizes, these run big so I recommend sizing down.
Sensor Dry Envelope $16 (0.8oz)
I like to have one secure and waterproof place to store my phone, keys, cash, credit cards and ID when I go backpacking and this is what I opt for. It’s light, durable, and gets the job done. Go for the small size.
Though I do work for Outdoor Research, I was not asked to write this article and the gear evaluations and suggestions genuinely my own. See you on the trail!