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Backpacking as a Couple: The Best Ultralight Thru-hiking Gear Guide

Backpacking as a Couple: The Best Ultralight Thru-hiking Gear Guide

You’ve found a million posts on the best ultralight gear, but most of them are for solo hikers. But what about backpacking as a couple?

How do you merge gear? Who carries what?

Karma and I met on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2015 and started hiking together on the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) in 2016.  By 2017, we fully merged our gear and have gone through a few different setups since then.

In this post, I’ll describe our gear setup for backpacking as a couple. This will help you purchase gear for your own couples backpacking trip. I’ll break down who carries what and why.  

The most expensive parts of backpacking couples gear are the “big three:” shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag.  Also important for traveling as a couple is a cooking setup.

Woman with a backpack in the desert.

This post contains affiliate links. I have used every product mentioned and if you purchase one of these products I can make a small commission at no cost to you.

What are the “Big Three” and Why They are Important

SMD Haven tent with an Arizona sunset

The “big three” in thru-hiking gear includes your shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag.  They are the big three because individually, they are usually the heaviest and most expensive items. 

Therefore, if you’re aiming to be an ultralight or lightweight hiker, you should focus on these three items first. 

➡️ These items will make the most difference in your overall pack weight. The goal back in the day was to make each under 3 pounds. Now, I’d aim to make each under 2 pounds.

Basically, if you have extra money in your gear budget, spend it on these three items.

Backpacking gear for couples can use elements of your solo backpacking gear. However, the tent will be the gear item you’ll need to upgrade first!

Backpacking as a Couple: Our Favorite Ultralight 2-Person Shelter

Six Moon Designs Haven Bundle Tent setup for a couples backpacking trip in the desert.
Six Moon Designs Haven Bundle

1️⃣ The first piece of couples backpacking gear YOU need is a two-person shelter.

Theoretically, you could continue with the rest of your solo gear and transition to backpacking as a couple as long as you get a shelter to share.

⛺️ Karma and I are using the Six Moon Designs Haven Bundle.  The Haven Bundle includes a tarp and net tent. Together, they make what most would consider a traditional tent.

We’ve used the haven now for 3600 miles between the Continental Divide Trail and the Grand Enchantment Trail.

Most importantly: the tarp and net tent can be set up separately or together AND we can take the dry net tent down underneath the tarp WHILE it’s raining.

Some nights, you might want to maximize airflow, but there is a chance of rain.  On those nights, you just set up the tarp. 🌧️

On other nights, you might want to escape insects, spiders, and scorpions, but you want to see the stars.  For these nights, you can just set up the net tent. 🦟 🌌

As a couple, this shelter is very comfortable BECAUSE you each have a door and you can both sit up at the same time.  There’s nothing worse than having your head climbed over as your partner gets out to go to the bathroom.

⚖️ Moreover, you can divide the weight between two people easily. One person can carry the tarp and stakes while the other can carry the net tent and ground sheet.  If you’re backpacking in the desert, I’d suggest using Tyvek as a ground sheet.  If you’re backpacking anywhere but the desert, I suggest trying to use polycro to save weight.

Ultralight Backpacks That Work for Both of Us

I’m on my 12th different pack and so far, it’s working out great!  That being said, I can tell pretty quickly what I like and what I don’t like about a backpack. 

🎒 Karma and I both used the same backpack with different-sized harnesses and hip belts on the CDT.  We picked the Six Moon Designs Swift V with the Vest Harness.

Now, I use the SMD Swift X with the Vest Harness. Karma got a new Swift V with an updated, stronger outer mesh.

While you do not need to have the same pack while backpacking as a couple, it can be handy if you have to fix anything on the fly. 🪡

🍔 💧 The Swift V is very adjustable for many body sizes, can fit 5-6 days of food, and has plenty of side pocket space for water bottles. The similar Swift X with the Flight Harness is equally adjustable.

We’ve now hiked the entire Continental Divide Trail with one Swift V each. The pack held up for the entire trail only showing normal wear and tear. The outer mesh has recently been upgraded by Six Moon Designs to an Ultra Stretch Material that is even more durable. The CDT will put a pack through the ringer, so it passed that test.

On the Grand Enchantment Trail, we tested the new mesh on the Swift V and the Swift X for a brutal 800 miles. Both the Swift V and Swift X are still going strong.

Vest Harness

If you’ve ever used a running vest to go explore outdoors, you’ll love this vest harness. It makes the shoulder straps not only comfortable but usable! The main pockets will perfectly fit most phones (even the iPhone 13 Pro). It also includes two zippered pockets for things like headphones and wallets.

In a nutshell…the vest harness makes the whole pack worth a hike!

Backpacking Sleep System for Couples: Ultralight Sleeping Bag Setup (Quilts!)

Two hikers in a tent with sleeping liners and sleeping bags.
Coupled Sleeping Quilts and Homemade Liners

Backpacking as a couple has its perks. If you’re a cool sleeper–you can steal your partner’s warmth!

We use the Jacks R Better Sierra Sniveller coupled.  We each have a Sierra Sniveller but one side of each has omni tape so we can make one giant quilt.  This is our go to sleep system as a backpacking couple.

Jacks R Better has recently “upgraded” the couples quilt to have snaps. We replaced our quilts after 8,000 miles of hiking and were disappointed by this “upgrade” while backpacking. The snaps left significant holes in the middle of the quilts whereas the omni tape stayed together nicely.

We have since ripped the snaps off and added omni-tape back on.

⚠️ Even as a couple you should carry your own sleeping quilts for safety reasons!!!

There are any number of reasons that a couple backpacking together could become separated by accident. On the rare chance it occurs, you should come up with a plan beforehand. It’s also helpful if you have some core safety gear for yourself, like your own sleeping bag/quilt.

Thru-Hiking Couple Cooking Kit

When Karma and I started hiking together, we had separate cooking setups.  This persisted for a while, but when we wanted to shed a few extra ounces, we combined systems.

➡️ We now use a Soto Windmaster Stove with a Titanium Pot.  Our pot rests in a homemade cozy made from Reflectix and duct tape.  We have separate titanium spoons, and we share the fuel canister.

This setup only works if the two people are willing to eat the same thing.  Our cook pot is big enough for the two of us to eat at the same time.

Before the Continental Divide Trail, we made up 180 dehydrated meals for two people.  It’s a lot of up-front work, but totally worth it on trail.

If you do not eat the same thing, you might consider going cold soak OR making your meals separate where you only need boiling water. That way, you could boil water for both of you on one stove and pour it into two separate meals.

Conclusion

Two open six moon designs backpacks on the CDT in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

The best backcountry gear for a couple will ultimately depend on the couple. However, these three big items are a great place to start. Backpacking as a couple only changes a few key pieces of gear. If you swap your tent and sleep system out, you’ll be in good shape.

Over the years, this is the best setup we’ve found that works for us as a couple.  We’ve used three shelters together, multiple packs, and multiple sleeping bags.  All three are lightweight and affordable (when you look at how much some of them cost). 

Drop any questions in the comments 🙂