Choosing the “Right Gear”
Choosing the right gear is like going to a candy store. You will essentially get the same thing, but in different styles, sizes, colors, and weight. Do I really need this on the trail? Does color matter? Why is this bag so much more money than this one? Do 4, 8, or 12 ounce differences really matter for $200 more? For a first time backpacker it can be overwhelming trying to figure this out. Don’t panic! These were questions I started asking too when I first started. Besides colors, which is a personal preference, it really comes down to one question; how much do I want to carry?
It may be obvious to some, but I will state it anyway. What you need to remember about weight is whatever you bring, excluding fuel, water, and food, will remain with you the entire trip. Your sleeping bag, tent, pad, cooking gear, clothing are several items that will maintain their weight. The goal for your gear should be to become as light as possible. This is where you can make a significant dent in reducing gear weight and should strive to do so. The only hiccup for some may be the cost associated with lightweight gear.
Most lightweight gear can be expensive. Shave off a few ounces and watch the price jump. Going into a store and putting down hundreds of dollars to get everything at once may be an option for some, but I am assuming most people cannot do that. My advice is to shop months in advance. There are sales throughout the year both in-store and online. eBay can also be a good way to buy used gear. I have saved about $200 on one piece of gear because the person wanted to try something different. There was nothing wrong with it and I still use it today. Score!
Cutting Down on Weight
Reducing the weight of your gear applies to everything you can carry. However, there are several items you can “focus” on to help cut down the weight and keep closer within your budget. These items are a backpack, sleeping bag, tent, and stove. Let’s start with the backpack.
Backpacks range greatly in weight. I have seen light packs under 2 pounds and then others up to 8 pounds. The weight is shaved off by cutting down on the padding, bag material, and internal frame. Determining what you should buy is based on the gear you are bringing and your own comfort level. Try the bag out if you can by visiting a store like REI. If not, rely on reviews. My first bag was 7 pounds (Dana Design). Now I use a GoLite JamPak 70L. Perfect for up to a week long as long as all the weight in the bag is less than 30 lbs. More weight and longer trips requires better padding.
Sleeping bags can shave off weight. The two options to choose from are synthetic or down. I prefer down sleeping bags. I originally had a synthetic bag because when wet it still keeps you warm. However, they are bulkier and weigh more. Down bags pack smaller and are lighter. The warmth rating of the bag will be a factor in weight and cost. I stick with a 20 degree bag as I tend to camp in the late spring to early fall times of the year.
Some people do not use a tent while others do. Some hikers just use tarps and a couple of trekking poles. I have tried doing all of above and learned it comes down to a person’s comfort level. Your personal comfort level will determine the weight of your tent or shelter. If you enjoy “sleeping under the stars,” then this frees up space and weighs nothing. I like having a tent-like setup. For solo hiking I use a bivy sack. If I want more room I would look into a lightweight two person tent.
The weight of a stove depends on what you are cooking for food. Basically if all you want to do is boil water, then going with an inexpensive alcohol stove may be for you. These are lightweight and can be made at home. Otherwise the next best thing would be purchasing a MSR MicroRocket (2.6 ounces) and buying a fuel may be a great lightweight option ($6.95 a can). I first started off with the MSR Dragonfly and my friends had MSR Whisper Lites. I would say they are great and versatile stoves. You can buy fuel to refill the tanks that work with the stoves. A nice starting way to actually measure out how much fuel you use. That is one of the plus side for these stoves, but they tend to weigh more overall (stove + fuel + fuel canister)Further discussion on the types of food will be discussed in the food section.
Before You Buy It…
Still hesitant on buying gear or not quite sure of what will work for you? No worries. Here are a couple of ideas I highly recommend doing.
- First option: Find someone you know who enjoys backpacking. Ask to see if they have a second set of gear you could borrow for an overnight trip. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have some of their old gear lying around (I know I do). Offer to go on a trip with them too and this way you can try out what they have. If they are able to go with you, you can then learn from their experiences on the trail. Invaluable and free advice! You can see what works and get some outdoor experience yourself. This will only cost you time and money for travel and food.
- Second option: Go down to an outdoor store and try out what you can. For example, put on a backpack and have it sized for you. Ask the employee to load the bag up with weight and walk around the store. REI can be a great store to ask advice and help on gear. The cost is time.
Both of these options can ultimately save you time and money. I personally believe as your experience increases and comfort levels change, you will refine the gear you buy. Some things you just need to get field experience with, but might as well speed up the process by learning from others and doing research, yes?
Where to Buy Gear
There are dozens of stores and online retailers that carry the gear you are looking for. Getting the best deal may be the most challenging at times, but with patience you could score a really good deal. I recommend you check out the following online stores first. They have great deals on a variety of gear.