Backpacking Gear - What to Buy and Why

I’m going to be straight up with you here.  I consider backpacking gear to be a necessary inconvenience in the pursuit of backpacking simply.  If I could get out into the woods for a few days without having to feel like a packhorse I think I would probably do that.

That being said there is a lot of really great gear being designed and made for us wilderness wanderers that can really increase the comfort and livability of our trips.  Modern fabrics are getting lighter and stronger every day so the “packhorse” factor is on it’s way down.

Gear That Gets You On The Trail And Keeps You There

The two main factors we are looking for with backpacking gear are it’s ability to get us on the trail and it’s ability to keep us on the trail.

That means that when we see our gear stuffed in the back of our closet we feel inspired to dust it off, throw it in the car, and head for the hills.

That means that when we are on the trail our gear is able to help us maintain adequate levels of comfort and enjoyment so that we don’t want to throw in the towel, tromp back to the car and head to Tasty Thai for breakfast.

That’s it.  That’s all it has to do.

Now, the modern backpacking community has developed some strong techniques and best practices for gear that allows us to do both of those things all while carrying a (relatively) light pack.

Weight vs. Durability

After you’ve got inspiration and comfort dialed in the next biggest question is the weight vs durability tradeoff.

The lightweight and ultralight traditions in backpacking have a strong following, and for good reason.  The “feeling like a packhorse” factor is real and lowering the weight you are carrying can significantly impact the comfort and enjoyment of your day-3-morning-putting-that-heavy-pack-on experience.

However, I’ve had my current backpack since highschool (that’s about 18 years).  Having it for that long means that when I see it in the back of my closet I get flashbacks to some of the great times I’ve had with that backpack.  That is major plus points for inspiration and getting my out on the trail some more.

Generally, the lighter a piece of gear is the less durable it will be compared to a heavier item of the same price.

Another consideration for me is ecological sustainability.  The longer my gear lasts the less gear that needs to be manufactured and ultimately hit the landfill.

Perhaps ideally, our gear would weigh nothing and last forever.  But then we wouldn’t have that tired-and-satisfied feeling at the end of the hike and we would never get to buy new gear.

My strategy is go as light as I can without jacking the price and without overly compromising durability.  This usually means that I’m not carrying the lightest or the heaviest pack on the trail.  But my pack is light enough to be comfortable and heavy enough to last for years.

Group vs. Personal

Some of the gear you’ll need for backpacking is your own personal gear.  This will include your backpack, your clothes, your sleeping bag, and other items that everyone in the group will need to have their own of.

Fortunately though, that won’t be all of the gear.  There is also some gear that makes a lot of sense to share with other people on your trip.  This can help a lot for keeping both weight and costs down.

A very common plan in backpacking is to share this group gear in teams of two.  This seems to generally be the right balance to take advantage of the weight savings and to keep group coordination issues to a minimum.  Tents, kitchen setup, and water filtering are primary items ready to be shared with a partner.

Where to buy?

I currently buy most of my gear from backcountry.com or from REI.  Both of these organizations have a huge selection of high quality backpacking gear.

You’ll want to avoid buying your primary gear at a car-camping store or the camping section of a large “-mart” store.  I will generally pick up some last minute supplies at these stores (like spare batteries or fuel), but car-camping gear is not made for backpacking and tends to be both overly heavy and not nearly durable enough.

Recommended Gear

Here it is.  My What-to-Buy-and-Why guides.  This is the what-I-would-buy-right-now list.  These aren’t all the exact things that I use because most of my gear I purchased years ago.  Some of it is not longer made and most has updated and better options are available now.

Do I go out a buy this year’s new best gear every year?  Absolutely not.  But when I do need new gear (unfortunately it happens occasionally) I try pretty hard to get really good gear that will serve me for years.

My recommendations are tailored for 2-10 day non-winter trips where group gear is shared between 2 people because those are the kinds of trips that I love to do.  If that is the kind of trip you are doing then these are great recommendations.  If you have other requirements you may need to tweak the recommendations a bit.

Tents

The most important wilderness essential after common sense and required medications is shelter.  This is your home-away-from-home. Who knows, you might even find that it becomes your home-at-home.

Backpacking Tents - What to Buy and Why?

Coming Soon

I’m currently working on “What to Buy and Why” guides for all of the following categories (I better get to work!):

Backpacks | Sleeping Bags | Water Filters | Boots / Shoes | Stoves | Sleeping Pads | Pillow | Cookware | First Aid Kit | Clothes | Socks | Headlamps / Flashlights