Camping on BLM land in Utah
Camping on BLM land in Utah; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

I Visited 50 National Parks in 3 Months: Here’s the Gear That Got Me Through

Quality gear is important because it can make or break your trip. Your gear should be keeping you safe, comfortable, and happy.

As a minimalist who travels constantly, I like to keep our gear to the absolute essentials. This was our fourth year on the road for multiple months with just a rental car and tent, van life without a van as I say.

Instead of hiking the northern half of the Appalachian Trail this summer due to an injury, my boyfriend and I drove around the country, visiting 47 U.S. National Parks and three Canadian National Parks.

In past years, we’ve stayed in one place for much longer, day hiking or backpacking our way through a nearby National Park, National Monument, or National Forest, using most of this gear.

Below is a list of camping, cooking, hiking, and travel gear that we used every day this summer.

National Parks Road Trip: Dialed-In Gear

Sleeping Kit

Our sleeping set up which can be packed down even more - Nalgene for scale
Our sleeping setup, which can be packed down even more — Nalgene for scale; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

Our sleep system is minimal and comfortable. Everything rolls up, compresses, and packs down into two Hyperlite stuff sacks and the two Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad sacks.

Cooking Kit

Our whole cooking set up
Our whole cooking setup; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

We love to eat and we’re always on a budget, so we cook most of our meals at any picnic table we find along the way. This cooking system is compact and durable.

Footwear and Apparel

Hiking in Canyonlands National Park
Hiking in Canyonlands National Park; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

We hike as often as possible, and these items have been comfortable and long-lasting. These are brands that I continue rebuying from when my socks or shoes finally need a new pair.

Duffels and More

Sleeping stuff and day packs behind the passenger seat, tent and clothes behind the driver’s seat
Sleeping gear and daypacks behind the passenger seat, tent and clothes behind the driver’s seat; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

With just a passenger-size rental car, I try to keep our things as organized as possible. At the end of our road trip, the REI duffel holds all of our things as we move to a new temporary home. The Hyperlite stuff sacks and pods help organize things into categories like warm weather gear, electronics, toiletries, and so on.

Our Gear Organization — Living in a Rental Car

The car trunk full of food and extra gear
The car trunk full of food and extra gear; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

My biggest tip for organizing is to set a place for something and always keep it consistent. The way I organize a car depends on the car. On this trip, though, the food went in the back with all of the cooking things, bath towels, and extra layers.

The backpacks and sleeping items went behind the passenger seat. The clothing bag with toiletries and the tent went behind the driver’s seat. Extra shoes we place under the seats to maximize storage.

At the end of the trip, all of the food will be eaten and everything else can be packed into the duffel bag, the Hyperlite backpack, and my Osprey backpack. It’s a simple system for our gear that I think we’ve perfected.

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Why Van Life, When I Don’t Own a Van

Unlike many people, we don’t own a car or a van. We travel consistently, so we’re either given a rental car for a contract job, or we choose to rent a car for months at a time to travel ourselves.

Morning light on the NEMO Dagger OSMO 2P Tent
Morning light on the NEMO Dagger OSMO 2P Tent; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

Having a car and a tent makes things much easier in my opinion. Here are a few reasons why.

  • We don’t have to worry about road restrictions for larger vehicles like narrow roads or low clearances, which exist in many National Parks.
  • A rental car doesn’t require oversize vehicle parking.
  • We typically use less gas compared to vans — not on this grand road trip all over the country, but in this rental car hybrid, I could fill up the tank for about $40 and get over 550 miles.
  • A smaller car saves space. I believe the more space you have, the more things you’ll have, so making sure I can pack everything into two duffels helps me cut back on 1) spending on extra gear and 2) packing excess gear.

This is something I learned and truly felt on the Appalachian Trail — you need very little to exist and enjoy life.

Our gear list has slightly changed over the years as lighter gear has come to market, but we love gear that we can use for years — and the gear on this list is it. We’ve tested it for months backpacking, hiking, car camping, road tripping, and more. And we hope to use most of this when we return to the Appalachian Trail in March 2023.

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Xiaoling Keller
By

Xiaoling is a contributing writer for GearJunkie. She has just begun writing about hiking, camping, and backpacking, but she has been a lifelong lover of the outdoors. In the past five years, she has hiked 1,013 miles of the Appalachian Trail, visited 48 of 63 U.S. National Parks, traveled throughout Central America and Thailand, and moved nine times. She is currently based in Ashland, Oregon, working at a gear store before starting her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in March 2023.