Schedule Your Consultation
We provide free equipment consultation. It's easy. Simply email us and tell us what it is you plan to purchase, as well as the environment where you plan to use it. The consultation can continue via email, or live in person if you live near Chapin, SC. Facetime or text is also a viable option, from anywhere. We will give you the advice needed to ensure you are purchasing the correct item(s) for your backpacking journey, or as a gift for that special someone.
Backpacking Gear Buying Guide
This backpack gear buying guide is not designed to make you an expert. The idea is to provide basic knowledge to assist with the sometimes daunting process of acquiring gear. This will enable you to make intelligent buying decisions when you are ready to move beyond borrowing gear.
Whether borrowing or purchasing, there are some things to consider when acquiring gear for backpacking. The following list is covered in more detail below.
3. Sleeping Bag
4. Insulated Sleeping Pad (inflatable)
5. System for Cooking Food
6. Water Containers
7. Trekking Poles
Your backpack is the most important item you will use out on the trail. A poor fitting backpack will lead to an unpleasant experience. But the difference between unpleasant, and "wow, this is tougher than I thought," can be subtle. You likely won't realize whether you've chosen a pack that is right for you until you've put some miles under your belt.
Do not fret. Finding a pack suitable to you is simple these days. And you can be budget conscious in the process.
Though there are links to backpacks on this site, the way to make sure you choose a pack which works for you is to visit a store with a sales person qualified to do a fitting. That doesn't mean you can't purchase a nice pack online. One of the leaders in quality, and price, is Osprey Packs. They offer a pdf download with instructions on fitting.
A proper fitting backpack distributes most, if not all, of the weight to your hips.
Where you will spend the money is the pack weight, pack quality, and often whether it has a warranty.
One decision you will be faced with is the internal capacity, measured in liters. The general decision point for most backpackers is whether to go with 50L (50 liters) or 65L (65 liters). The rule of thumb is; the greater the internal capacity, the more one will carry. If you endeavor to be a lightweight hiker, then 50L or less is probably for you. If you are okay packing a little heavy, in the neighborhood of 40 pounds, then go with the 65L capacity. There are packs with greater capacity, but you probably want to avoid those unless you plan to be out for 10 days with no resupply.
Before you get caught up in lightweight backpacking, which is the focus these days, we advise you decide what you want to carry, and then pick a backpack to fit it all. You'll probably go out too heavy at first, but so what. This is about enjoying your time in the wilderness. Make sure you have what you need to be comfortable, then learn to adjust what you carry as you gain more experience.
Clothes, Boots, Socks
Most hikers on multi-day trips, or section hikes on the AT or PCT, carry two sets of clothes. Hiking clothes and campsite clothes.
When planning your trip you will be forced to think about space and weight. There is only so much you can cram into your backpack.
After a full day of sweating on the trail it is nice to get into dry underwear, shorts, and a dry shirt once at camp. The next day, those sweaty clothes that where hanging up overnight are going right back on your body.
Boots or trail shoes? Many hikers these days have ditched their boots and instead use trail shoes. Your boots or trail shoes should be one size too large for hiking. This helps to prevent the loss of a toenail.
Have you thought about socks? Jerry wears two pairs of socks while hiking. Some call this the two-sock system. Go here to learn why.
Even the most expensive backpacks are not waterproof. That's why a rain cover for your backpack is on our required gear list. We had them on more often than not during a 2017 AT Section Hike, when this pic was taken.
Tents are probably second in importance to your backpack. We don't currently have any members who use hammock sleep systems.
Before you begin your tent search make an honest assessment of what you can spend financially. And remember! You get what you pay for. We recommend purchasing a backpacking tent listed at or above $90 (before any lucky discounts you might get).
Some decisions you will be faced with and ultimately need to decide:
Do you want a 1-person or 2-person tent?
Single wall or double wall? Go here to learn the difference.
Three Season or Four Season? Most of us use three season tents.
Budget Conscious Tents
Price range will be $100 to $170
At this price range you can expect a total packed weight of 6 pounds
Tent should still be advertised as waterproof with an easy setup
Make sure it has a vestibule. Most important for 1-man tents. It's hard to imagine a backpacking tent that doesn't have a vestibule, but ya never know!
Not sure what a vestibule is? You can learn about them here.
High End Tents
Price range will be $250 to $700
For many, this is the first place to reduce weight in your backpack
Light weight. A 2-man tent can be as light as 3.5 pounds. A 1-man tent, 2.5 pounds.
Super easy to setup, durable, and waterproof
Eureka and Hyke & Byke tents are reviewed on this site. Both companies make a great quality tent. As long as you don't mind carrying a 6-pound tent, these would be a great start. Hyke & Byke provides great tents for around $100, while Eureka is less than $200. Alps Mountaineering is another brand for right around $100. MSR, Nemo, Big Agnes, REI, and other similar companies have great options for lightweight tents.
Some things to look for in the reviews, or to ask a salesman.
One or two vestibules? Two is better than one in our opinion.
Is the tent well ventilated with the rain fly closed? Poor ventilation can lead to condensation on the inside.
Does it have storage netting on the inside?
Does it come with a ground cover?
Ease of setup
Helpful Tip. Denier is an important measurement of tent fabric durability. Go here to learn about Denier.
Check out Jerry's review of the Hyke & Byke Zion 2P tent. This might be a great option if you need a roomy starter tent. You won't have to break the bank for this one. Jerry has since upgraded to a lighter tent.
A vestibule is a great place to store your backpack overnight, as seen in this picture. Boots as well. In this picture the vestibule door is pinned back for airflow.
Now things can begin to get complicated. Choosing a sleeping bag becomes a daunting task for some. But we know how to make this easy.
If you can, borrow something. If your first hike is in the summer, find a sleeping bag that at least keeps you a little bit warm.
Just like with our overview of backpacking tents, you do not have to break the bank for a backpacking sleeping bag. And also the same with the tents, don't go too cheap. We recommend you spend north of $100 assuming the sleeping bag has good reviews. You can stay below $200 with Hyke & Byke.
Things to consider
Temperature Rating. Very Important.
Stuff size and weight
Durability of the fabric
Type of insulation and total fill
Durability of the zippers
Tendency (or lack of) for fabric to become stuck in the zippers
There are rectangular sleeping bags, quilts, and mummy sleeping bags. Most people don't know what is right for them until around 2am at a campsite.
Unless you are a slender individual, you might find it difficult to roll over in a mummy bag. Yet they are great for retaining warmth. These are generally very light, but can be pricey.
A traditional rectangular bag sacrifices some warmth, but you get freedom of movement. One plus of a summer rectangular bag is that you can bring a fleece insert for those chilly summer evenings at high altitude. This is also a negative as you've added weight to attain the same degree of warmth as a mummy bag.
Summer quilts are the newest trend. No one at the Mountain Blazers currently uses a summer quilt, so do your own research.
Sleeping bag ratings. If a sleeping bag is rated to 30 degrees F, then it's a good summer bag. The rating refers to survivability, not comfort. You can learn more about sleeping bag ratings here.
Insulated Ground Pad
Though we discuss these after sleeping bags, pads are more important when it comes to staying warm at night. You can have the best sleeping bag in the world, but if a cold ground is sucking the heat from your body, then you are going to get cold.
Things to look for in reviews when deciding upon an insulated ground pad
Stuff size and weight
Thickness when inflated
Ease of inflation
How quiet or noisy is the pad when rolling over
You can get inflatable, insulated, sleeping pads from $45 up to $200. Weight, comfort, ease of inflation, and insulation values are the price drivers. Go here to learn more about the R-Value of an insulated ground pad.
Something else cool about sleeping pads. If you end up in a shelter along the AT, waiting out a rainstorm, you can inflate your pad and have a nice little nap. Ah, the hiking life.
Cook Your Food or Boil Water
There are some hikers who bring mess kits. They might cook macaroni and cheese and use a tin plate to eat it. The decision on whether to cook and eat from a plate, or boil water and eat from your freeze dried package, might come down to your desire to wash dishes. With freeze dried meals you have significantly reduced what needs to be cleaned out in the wilderness.
You are probably going to need a camping stove. They use small propane tanks. The leading company for camping stoves is MSR. Jerry briefly reviews the MSR Pocket Rocket in this article, and provides insight on this meal routine in the article Carry The Simple Pleasures.
You can save money and get a nice enough stove at Walmart. A few of our members use those. Don't forget to pack a lighter.
Not all hikers have a need to carry an extra drinking up. If you enjoy coffee, or hot tea, or hot cocoa at night, then you definitely want a small cup, in addition to what you might use to boil water. The pic on the right shows a drinking cup inside a larger Stanley cup. Both were purchased at Walmart. Notice how the stove, lighter, and eating utensil all fit inside the Stanley cup.
Picture on the left is water being boiled for some morning coffee (same cups as pic on right), taken at Plumorchard Gap Shelter along the AT in Georgia.
Internal water bladders or water bottles. We believe you should consider carrying a combination of both. Most of us carry a water bladder inside our backpack with a drinking tube to allow for sipping water while hiking.
Getting water out of your bladder to do things like boiling water or washing your hands is not a simple process. That's why we recommend you carry two water bottles with a minimum capacity of 750ml each.
It takes a while for new hikers to realize the utility of using trekking poles. There is a reason why most seasoned backcountry hikers use them. They help. And they can be used for a variety of things at the campsite. Some tents require their use. They are perfect for setting up a tarp to eat dinner during the rain.
Over time you will likely come to the conclusion, as many of us have, that hiking without trekking poles really is not an option.
Things to consider
Twist lock or Snap lock when extended or retracted