Gear

“To equip a pedestrian with shelter, bedding, utensils, food, and other necessities, in a pack so light and small that he can carry it without overstrain, is really a fine art.”

Horace Kephart – Writer, Bushcraft Pioneer & Yale University Librarian

– Horace Kephart, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

I view backpacking equipment as a means to an end.

And that end is to have the safest, most enjoyable experience I possibly can whilst out in the wilderness.

With that philosophy in mind, I look for five basic attributes in all of my outdoor gear:

  • Simplicity
  • Functionality
  • Durability
  • Lightweight
  • Value for money

1.  Simplicity

No matter whether I am in the backcountry or the city, I strive for simplicity. Life generally seems at its best when it’s kept simple. Isn’t that one of the reasons why many of us head out into the wilderness in the first place?

In regards to backpacking equipment, simpler designs equate to less zippers, less compartments, less straps, less that can break, rip or go wrong.

Chocolate teapot2.  Functionality

Always go for functionality over style. A piece of equipment may look fantastic in the store, but unless it performs as it is supposed to out in the field, it will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

This is where all that research you did comes to the fore……….scour the internet, read backpacking magazines, ask the advice of experienced hiker buddies, etc. You don’t want to discover you have a porous rain jacket whilst caught in the Mother of all Storms. A couple of points to note:

  • Not all gear reviews are created equal. If I’m interested in a piece of equipment, two websites that I have generally found to be useful sources of information are Backpacking Light and Outdoor Gear Lab.
  • Look for reviews based on extensive experience in the field. Be wary of any report that begins with: “ I just received X piece of gear in the mail, and after trying it out in the backyard this weekend, I definitely give it a double thumbs up!!” 

3.  DurabilityHeavy load, porter, Gokyo, Dudh Kosi, Milky River, Khumbu region, Nepal Himalaya, Sagarmatha National Park

We all want gear that is going to last. Ask yourself whether the design and materials of the item you are thinking of buying are appropriate for the conditions in which you will be hiking (e.g. an inflatable sleeping mat may not be the best choice if 100% of your walking is done in rocky, desert-like terrain). Once you have taken the purchasing plunge, the key to making your gear last is doing the “little things” routinely. For example:

  • Not overloading your backpack (see photo).
  • Making sure your tent is clean and dry before storing it.
  • Not overly compressing your down sleeping bag for long periods of time.

4.  Lightweight

Hiking is more enjoyable if your backpack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne. Innovative designs combined with increasingly lightweight, yet still durable materials, have meant that manufacturers can now produce incredibly lightweight equipment, without unduly sacrificing performance or safety (see Going Light).

5.  Value for Money

Discerning what constitutes value for money basically comes down to a balance between the long term effectiveness of your purchase and what you paid for it. In regards to the latter, there are a handful of reputable sites on the net that regularly offer sizeable discounts on all sorts of quality hiking gear. Listed below are eight (in no particular order of preference) that I have personally used:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The knowledge and skills aspects are covered elsewhere in the website. In regards to choosing the right gear, consider the following five points:

 

 

 

 

  • Research: Not all backpacking gear is created equal. There are a myriad of options on the market. Before purchasing, do as much research as possible (see Research in GOING LIGHT)………scour the internet, read backpacking magazines, ask the advice of experienced hiker buddies, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Functionality: Always go for functionality over style. A piece of equipment may look fantastic in the store, but unless it performs as it is supposed to out in the wilderness, it will be about as useful as a chocolate teapot. This is where all that research you did comes to the fore………..you don’t want to discover you have a porous rain jacket whilst caught in the Mother of all storms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Durability: We all want gear that is going to last. There are two keys: quality of workmanship and taking care of your equipment. The first is self explanatory; the second involves doing the “little things” routinely (eg. not overloading your backpack, making sure your tent is clean and dry before storing it, not overly compressing your down sleeping bag for long periods of time).

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Weight: Hiking is more enjoyable if your backpack doesn’t weigh the proverbial tonne. Innovative designs combined with increasingly lightweight, yet still durable materials, have meant that manufacturers can now produce incredibly lightweight equipment, without unduly sacrificing performance or safety. In choosing your gear, find out what you need to be comfortable and safe, then go out and buy the lightest well-made version that is within your budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Horses for Courses: You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Gear won’t be much good to you unless it is suitable for the conditions into which you are venturing. Think about the environments in which you will be doing the lion’s share of your hiking, and purchase accordingly. For experienced hikers, chances are you will have different gear for different seasons/conditions. This being the case, before each and every trip, review each piece of equipment and ask yourself  two questions: “Do I need this?” What will happen if I don’t have it?”.