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Advice on gear direction while trying out backpacking

Greetings everyone!!

I have a small dilemma that I would like some advice on. 

The plan is to get myself into backpacking. I have done many car camping trips, and that's all great and I love it. So does my daughter. However, I've been wanting to experiment a little more with backpacking either solo or potentially with others. With my last trip to Yellowstone I bought a cheap 35+15L backpack from another retailer as I just wanted a bag that could carry stuff for me and my daughter.

Now, I want to do a 3 day backpacking adventure by myself. The sleeping bag I have is a 0º bag and not really for backpacking. While comfy, I don't plan on getting into the 20-30º range at all. I can fit it into my existing backpack, but it won't leave much room for everything else, including leaving the tent an pad strapped to the bottom instead of inside.

Do I buy a smaller sleeping bag rated more for the warmer temps I would likely backpack in, or do I spend the money and get a 70L bag that will fit what I have better? I don't want to drop $200 on a bag and decide that backpacking is not for me, but I also don't want to make my life miserable by saving a few dollars.

Thoughts? Thank you!


Finally finding time to have adventures instead of waiting for time.
5 Replies

Personally I got a good fairly expensive 70L (older model Gregory Baltoro) pack coming from a similar situation and I have not regretted it since it works for trips of a week or more and is comfortable for overnights. I still used it 12 years later.   I tried a 50L version first and my stuff would not fit.

It is a heavy pack at around 5.5lb but can carry 50lbs or more comfortably if necessary...I don't recommend carrying 50lbs on a regular basis but for a weeks trip 40-50lb starting weight including 2L water is not unlikely., particularly if you are using a BV500 bear can.

Doing that you can buy lighter less bulky gear over time reducing your base weight and thus increasing the time you can potentially go for.   With wise picks eventually you can consider using a different lighter smaller pack if you so desire.

Pack fit is essential so I recommend getting fitted at REI or similar rather buying some random pack.  If the REI routes doesn't work for you, make sure you understand how packs work before buying one...torso length is the critical measurement and that is not directly related to your height. Some packs come in fixes torso sizes...generally best if you are in the middle of one of their ranges.  Others are adjustable over a range which adds a bit of weight but can work better if you are between sizes.

At first I used my 20 degree synthetic bag (~4lb and bulky), self inflating 25inch thermarest pad standard for the day and shared the weight of ~6lb 3P tent with a companion along with other random gear I had from various activities.  I had trekking poles already.  Think my baseweight (carried gear and pack minus supplies) was in 25-30lb range.  Generally now it is in the high teens and low 20's depending. Might be a bit lower if I try hard.

I suspect your 0 degree bag is quite heavy and bulky.  I found stuffing my 20 degree synthetic bag into my backpack doable but not you might have a problem with it for anything beyond an overnight.  I pretty soon upgraded to a value (<$200) but decent quality much more compressible 650 fill down 20 degree bag that I still use.  You can sometimes get a good deal in a sale.  I found lighter 20 inch self inflating thermarests on sale when they changed models which we used for a number of years although I now use an X-lite inflatable which is much more comfortable and packable.

You can rent gear (packs bags tents pads) from some REI and other outfitters if you are really not sure if it is for you.

This is awesome, Shawn! From someone who owned a Gregory Baltoro (70L) years ago, I would be going the route of using your existing pack and going with a new bag. @OldGuyot makes some great points about overall pack fit, base weight, etc. There are some great lightweight synthetic bags/quilts out there if you don't want to shell out the money for down. Let us know how it goes!


Thanks for the replies so far everyone. One of my other concerns is indeed fit. It was a $50 cheap bag from a major retailer. So I am very worried about comfort. I will pack it up and go for a couple mile walk to see how it feels.

Also, the size I was actually looking at is the REI Traverse 60. I am not really ever planning on major multi-week trips. However, maybe I will get the bug and want to do the AT or PCT or the like down the road...way down the road.

Finally finding time to have adventures instead of waiting for time.

This is a common dilemma that most of us have faced and eventualy resolved to our satisfaction, one way or another.  The pack and the bag are two of the three most critical iteems in backpacking = the other being boots (the three B's).

Rent or borrow first if at all possible,  Consider your circumstances.  Could these items be useful for other things you do?  The real question is, "Will backpacking be a useful pursuit for you in the future?"

If the answer is yes, spend the money and get premium gear.  You will be glad you did.  proper fitting and adjustment of the pack is crucial.


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@Kb9nbd Go get fitted, I had a good fitting experience at a REI store.  At the very least you can discover what you're looking for in a pack, and more importantly what you're not looking for in a pack.  (For me I found out that I really need back ventilation.)  If you don't buy then & there, there are a lot of second-hand gear marketplaces available online as well.  Consider a down sleeping bag that can perform by compressing smaller, as synthetic bags take up quite a bit of volume inside a pack (that's a lesson I learned real quick).  Initially I also struggled the size of the pack, which I eventually settled on a 50L size.  For me that 50L size was my "sweet-spot" between: too small for my beginner gear; and heavy overkill being too much.  Best of luck!