“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, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917
All the fancy advertising and grandiose claims made by gear companies are best taken with a grain of salt. A 20 kg (44 lb) pack is going to feel heavy at the end of a day’s hiking no matter what sort of harness system or hip belt you may have. When you get right down to it, there are two things you need to remember when it comes to your backpacking kit:
- Have the appropriate gear for the conditions into which you are venturing.
- Have the knowledge and skills with which to use that gear properly.
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 much use 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. When making your purchase, 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 (eg. An inflatable sleeping mat may not be the best choice if all of your walking is done in rocky, desert-like terrain)? Once you step out of the store, the key to making your gear last is 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, etc).
- 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 (see Going Light).
- Horses for Courses: Think about the conditions in which you will be doing most of your hiking and purchase accordingly. There is no point having a -15° rated sleeping bag you picked up for half price, if all of your camping is done in three season conditions.