What’s in My Pack: A Yosemite Backpacking Guide’s Favorite Gear

By Jackie Florman


No matter how many trips I guide in Yosemite National Park, I’m always on a mission to pack the best possible gear for the job. In my three seasons of guiding backpacking trips in Yosemite, narrowing down my personal essentials for the trail has been a process of trial and error. Here, I simplify the process of deciding what to pack for Yosemite by sharing my tried and true trail essentials.

Keep reading to check out my Yosemite packing list for guiding in the park during the summer season!

Backpacking gear attached to hiking pack

Yosemite National Park is located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range – a rugged and sun-soaked range with soaring granite peaks, lush alpine meadows, and sweet-smelling, low-elevation Ponderosa-pine forests. Most of the trips I guide in Yosemite range from four to thirteen days in length during the summer season. The weather in Yosemite is usually cool and crisp in the evenings (especially in the high alpine), and warm, sunny, and dry during the day— with the occasional system of torrential, afternoon thunderstorms.

Why You Should Trust This Review

In search of the optimal gear for my job, I’ve tried countless mid-layers, bowls, backpacks, shoes, and more. I’ve thoroughly researched the gear I use, and have put it to the rigorous test of summer in the backcountry. I’ve assessed the durability of the products I use, and the products that didn’t make it back into my pack didn’t make the cut for this list. 

Here, I cover my favorite personal gear that I choose to bring out in the field when I guide Yosemite backpacking trips. 

A Guide’s Yosemite Backpacking Must-Have Gear List

1. The Backpack: Granite Gear Crown 3 60 Women’s (Men’s)

Best tent and mattress for backpacking

The Granite Gear Crown3 60 is a roll-top, minimalist pack built for rugged terrain. Despite its ultralight-style, it carries weight well. I appreciate the organizational features of this pack, including the huge mesh pocket on the outside and gaping water bottle pockets. The highly adjustable waistband is awesome, allowing for size customization for a wide variety of body shapes and sizes. The Crown 3 60 has massive hip-belt pockets, which allow me to store trail snacks, my phone, my inReach, and everything in between. A bonus: the undyed version that I own is more environmentally-friendly than dyed packs, and looks awesome out on the trail (even when it gets dirty!). Take a look at my full review of the Granite Gear Crown 3 60 pack.

For more options, check out the best hiking backpacks and favorite Osprey packs.

2. Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Expedition 3 Ski Poles

While the Expedition 3 is not your typical trekking pole, I appreciate gear that I can use season-to-season. For this reason, I let my ski touring poles double as trekking poles. With a comfortable grip, easy adjustability, and high durability, I use these poles from the skin track to the trail. For this snowy year in the Sierra, the powder baskets have been a major plus for traversing snow. These are not the most lightweight poles, but they get the job done. And they certainly save my knees for long downhills on trail.

3. Water Filter: Katadyn Be Free Water Filtration System

The Katadyn Be Free has been my go-to filter in the Sierra for years. A slim-profile, lightweight, and effective filter, I bring it everywhere I go in Yosemite. I can screw the filter cap onto nearly any size soft-flask bottle, making it a convenient option for running, backpacking, and everything in between. I rarely go into the mountains without it, even for short day trips.

What’s In My Tent

4. The Tent: Six Moon Designs Owyhee Backpacking Tarp (2 Person)

Best lightweight tent for backpacking set up in Yosemite

The Owyhee Backpacking Tarp strikes an excellent middle ground between the weight of an ultralight tarp shelter and the comfort (and bug protection!) of a tent. Weighing in at 24.6 ounces (697 grams), the Owyhee Tarp provides ample space for minimal weight. It can be set up with just trekking poles, or with tent poles available for purchase on Six Moon Designs’ website. I always use trekking poles with mine, and feel that this set-up saves weight and works excellently.

Even when out solo, I use the 2-person version for my own personal backpacking mansion. It features full perimeter no-see-um netting and a removable bathtub floor, which keep bugs out, even in the worst conditions. In torrential rainstorms in Yosemite, this tarp shelter kept me dry and comfortable all night long, for weeks on end! Check out my full review of the Owyhee tarp here.

Similar: MSR Front Range 4-Person Ultralight Tarp Shelter

5. The Sleeping Bag: Enlightened Equipment Revelation Sleeping Quilt 20F

Best sleeping bag for backpacking in summer with cold nights

The Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt might be my favorite piece of backpacking gear that I own. It’s seriously lightweight, shockingly durable, and keeps me toasty in the alpine. I prefer a quilt to a traditional sleeping bag because Yosemite’s lower elevation regions can get hot toward the end of the summer, and the ability to vent my quilt and avoid sweating at night has drastically improved my sleep quality.

I chose the 20F option because it offers the right warmth-to-weight ratio for my purposes. In temperatures below 30F, however, I found this quilt to be too cold for my personal comfort. While not my choice for the coldest conditions, the Revelation is a favorite for summer backpacking!

Similar: Therm-a-Rest Vesper Down Quilt 20

6. The Sleeping Pad: Thermarest Z-Lite

Best Thermarest Sleeping Pad

A closed-cell foam pad is always my choice for long backcountry excursions. This is because closed-cell foam pads are much more durable than inflatable pads, which are prone to popping holes at the most inconvenient of times. A foam pad is also excellent for sitting on during lunch or around camp, eliminating the need for a sit pad or a camp chair. I use the Thermarest Z-Lite because it is relatively inexpensive, durable, and comfortable enough for my purposes. I love being able to toss my pad down on the ground just about anywhere without fear of it popping!

7. The Pillow: Thermarest Air Head Pillow

For years, I denied needing a pillow. When it comes down to it, using a pillow helps me get a good night of sleep in the backcountry. This is truly essential when out guiding. This pillow is comfortable, packable, and soft against my face when I hit the sack.

Favorites For My Feet

8. Trail Shoes: Topo Ultraventure 2 (Topo Ultraventure 3 now available)

Best trail runners for backpacking and long hikes

My favorite trail shoes change nearly every trip I go on. Recently, however, my favorites have been the Topo Ultraventures. These trail runners provide ample comfort, breathability, and lightweight construction that keep my feet happy and blister-free on the trail.

I am a huge fan of trail runners for backpacking in the Sierra Nevada because of the dry climate, which allows my shoes to dry easily overnight if they do get wet. Plus: Topo uses Vibram rubber on the outsole of the Ultraventures, meaning I have excellent traction on trail.

9. Socks: Darn Tough Women’s Micro Crew Lightweight Hiking Sock

Best hiking camping backpacking wol socks

Most people I know who wear Darn Tough socks have sworn off any other socks. I’m one of those people. Any time I’m in the backcountry, I treat my feet to pair of merino socks. The Micro Crew Lightweight Hiking Sock is the best Darn Tough sock that I have used. They’re comfortable, quick-drying, and stink-resistant for long days out. I never bring more than 2-3 pairs of socks on any given trip because they dry quickly and stay fresh, even after getting soaked by a creek crossing or a mud puddle on trail.

My Favorite Backpacking Layers: On Top

10. Shell Jacket: Rab Khroma Cirque GORE-TEX Jacket

Best lightweight waterproof shell for backpacking

I bring the Rab Khroma Cirque shell jacket on my trips because it is seriously waterproof, packing down to nearly nothing. Designed for ski touring (not backpacking!), this shell jacket does an excellent job when the weather in the mountains takes a turn for the worst.

The shell features GORE-TEX Active 3-layer construction. The jacket has pit zips for venting my jacket on the move. It also has huge pockets, perfect for storing any essentials I don’t want getting wet on the trail.

While I can’t say that it is the most lightweight rain shell, it actually keeps me dry in torrential conditions (unlike other jackets I have used). This is essential when out guiding for weeks on end, and the Khroma Cirque has done well from the Sierra High Route to the Yosemite backcountry in torrential storms.

Check out more of our favorite waterproof hardshell jackets and rain jackets.

11. Down Jacket: Himali Accelerator Down Jacket (Hooded)

Best down jacket for hiking and backpacking

The Accelerator Down Jacket is a versatile, packable piece that comes with me on every trip, no matter which direction the temperature swings. It packs down smaller than a Nalgene water bottle, and keeps me warm and toasty at night under 850 fill down.

As a result of the Pertex Quantum fabric construction, the Accelerator is also highly windproof. The warmth to weight ratio is impressive, and the slim cut fits all my layers under it without any extra bulk. This jacket always makes it on my Yosemite packing list. Check out my full review of the Himali Accelerator here.

Similar: Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie

12. Mid-Layer: Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie

Best fleece mid layer for hiking and backpacking according to a guide

Like most folks who have lived in Colorado, I bring my Melanzana Micro Grid Hoodie everywhere I go. It’s crazy soft, lightweight, and functional. The Micro Grid Fleece features an awesome, cinchable hood that keeps my head warm on cold nights in the backcountry. Even though mine has developed a few holes after years of high-use, it still comes with me on nearly every trip. While it’s not the easiest hoodie to track down, it’s worth the trek to Melanzana’s Leadville store to find one.

Similar: Mountain Hardwear Summit Grid Hoodie

13. Sun Hoodie: Ridge Merino Solstice Lightweight Sun Hoodie

Best wool sun hoodie for hiking and backpacking

A great merino wool piece always makes it into my pack on trips. The Ridge Merino Solstice Lightweight sun hoodie is my go-to choice because it offers both warmth and breathability in cold or warm temperatures. As a result of merino wool’s sweat-wicking properties, I can wear it on trail during the day, let it dry, and cozy back up into it in the evening. If you’re not sold, check out my full review of the Solstice Sun Hoodie here.

Similar: Smartwool Sport Hoodie

14. On Top: Tera Kaia MARA Crop Top

Best bra shirt bikini top for hiking, backpacking, camping

The MARA crop from Tera Kaia is my favorite sports bra in both the frontcountry and backcountry. It does triple-duty as a sports bra, a shirt, and a swimsuit top. Thanks to the antimicrobial fabric, it doesn’t smell, even after weeks of use (with a good creek dip in the middle, of course!). The streamlined design of the MARA Crop Top prevents chafing, and feels smooth and soft against my skin. See my full review of the MARA Crop Top here.

Similar: Roam Loud Yanta Tank Bra

The Best Pants + Bottoms For Backpacking

15. On the Bottom: Himali Guide Flex Pants

Best hiking pants for women

The Himali Guide Flex Pants are functional, stylish pants for everything from hiking to hanging around camp. I bring the Guide Flex pants on my trips because they are comfortable, water-resistant, and thick enough to defend my legs against mosquito bites in the backcountry. They’re cozy enough to sleep in, but breathable enough to hike in. These highly durable pants have an adjustable waistband, high-quality construction, and a durable water resistant layer to keep them dry.

Similar: Arc’teryx Gamma Pants

16. For Extra Coziness: Ridge Merino Iva Bell Merino Wool High Rise Leggings (25″)

Best wool leggings for hiking women

I choose to bring these merino wool leggings on my trips because they stay fresh smelling and fit like a glove. I usually layer them beneath my Enlightened Equipment Torrid pants. I prefer bringing wool leggings like this on trail over traditional long underwear because I can wear them on their own, or under another pair of pants. I love the new Ridge Merino Iva Bell leggings because they have huge pockets and keep me warm at night in the backcountry.

Similar: Smartwool Intraknit Merino Leggings

17. Underneath: Tera Kaia TOURA Brief Bottoms

Best hiking underwear for womrn

The Tera Kaia TOURA briefs are my go-to on trail because they do double-duty as underwear and swimwear. They dry quickly, stay fresh, and are durable for high-use on trail. I bring usually bring 2-3 pairs on trail, which I swim in daily. I write more extensively about the TOURA Briefs in my Tera Kaia gear roundup— take a look at it here.

Similar: REI Co-op Merino Hipster Underwear

At Camp

18. Towel: Packtowl Ultralite

Despite this towel’s crazy light weight, it provides full coverage, unlike most camp towels of similar weight. I bring it on every trip because I love nothing more than a cold dip in an alpine lake. It’s excellent for laying down on a granite slab, changing clothes behind, or drying off with in cool conditions. It packs down to nearly nothing, making it a no-brainer to bring on any trip.

Similar: REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe

19. Camp Shoes: Xero Aqua Cloud Sandals

Best sandals for camping

Xero makes the absolute best camp shoes for backpacking. Hands down. I’ve been rocking Xero sandals for four seasons now, and haven’t looked back. They’re incredibly lightweight, secure on my feet, and comfortable for wearing around camp or hiking around in. Because all Xero sandals have a back strap, they’re also great for water crossings. I am a huge fan of the Aqua Cloud sandals because they’re easy to take on and off, comfortable enough for hikes to and from a water source, and weigh next to nothing. Toss your heavy Chacos aside and add these to your Yosemite packing list for your next backpacking trip!

20. Puffy Pants: Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pants

Best down pants for staying warm while camping or backpacking

I’m obsessed with these Enlightened Equipment puffy pants. I used to struggle with layering my lower body, and ever since buying the Torrid pants, my legs are always cozy and warm at camp. Even on warmer-weather trips, the Torrid pants are stowed in my sleeping bag stuff sack, ready to pull out when I’m cooking a gourmet backcountry dinner in the evening or stargazing in Yosemite’s high country. They’re crazy light, and add unmatched warmth and coziness to my guiding kit.

Similar: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Pants

Other Favorites

21. Gloves: Ridge Merino Glove Liner

I have perpetually cold hands, and for early mornings on trail, I like to break out my Ridge Merino Glove Liners to keep my hands warm while cooking. They’re just enough to keep my fingers warm during the summer, with a slim profile and high comfort. I pack them away into my Himali Accelerator puffy jacket’s pocket for storage while on the trail.

Similar: Icebreaker 260 Tech Liner Gloves

22. Sunglasses: Goodr A Ginger’s Soul Sunglasses

I’ll be honest. When it comes to sunglasses for guiding, I prefer relatively cheap, polarized glasses. I mostly want them to make it through the season in one piece. Nothing fancy— just a pair of glasses that will be protect my eyes for long days in the high alpine. Enter: Goodr. Boasting an affordable price without sacrificing quality, these sunglasses live in my pack on every trip. They don’t slip on my face, feel comfortable, and have shockingly nice, polarized lenses for the price point.

In Closing

After years of field testing, these are my go-to gear pieces for guiding backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada. Finding great, versatile gear is a passion of mine. I’m always on the hunt for more durable outdoor gear with the best features for my objectives. I hope this list serves you well, and helps you decide what to bring to Yosemite!

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