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Balancing Price, Durability and Weight with Backpacking Supplies

So I've been struggling with how to balance the backpacking budget, durability and weight.  I had a Gregory Forester pack (6+ lbs), an old REI Half Dome (6+ lbs), etc.  I carried a lot of weight. Now that I'm older that weight just isn't doable for multi-day backpacks.  I now have a Gregory Paragon (4 lbs) and a Big Agnes FlyCreek UL (2.2 lbs), along with a Patagonia Micropuff hoodie and other lightweight gear.  I love the new stuff!  However, a pole on the tent broke on my first backpack.  The zipper broke on the Micropuff and it has two small tears.  The pack is less robust than the old one.  This lightweight gear just isn't as durable.  Understandable, but both really expensive and not durable are an issue for me.

I know that many thru-hikers can get down to a ridiculous base weight.  But that's not me.  I want hot tea in the morning.  I want to sleep without mosquitos buzzing me.

So I'm just wondering how others choose value vs. durability vs. weight.  What are your views on the balance?  


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13 Replies

While i do pay attention to cost, I have found over the  years that reliability, coupled with durability, is the most important value.  Weight is also a significant factor, but if the product is heavy, that's life.  Climbing ropes are both heavy an expensive, but when you are dangling from one, high in the air, both those factors fade into insignificance.  Same thing with a good light and warm sleeping bag.  Over the years the initial price becomes a good deal, as you experience comfy night after comfy night.

You mention the Patagonia Micropuff.  Years ago (1981or thereabouts) I bought a Patagonia fleece, one of the first they marketed.  It soon became a mainstay in my wardrobe, especially when outdoors.   After about sox years or so of heavy use, the zippier broke.

At the time, I lived about two miles from their store and I thought it worth fixing.  Showing it to a clerk, i was informed it was guaranteed (lifetime) and they would fix it up at no cost.  However, it wasn't the highest priority and it would take a couple of weeks.

The new zipper has performed flawlessly ever since and i still own, and wear, that jacket.  Every time i put it on, memories return of the many times that jacket has kept me warm, snug, and safe.

Patronizing reliable, reputable companies pays off handsomely  in the long run....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I think each piece of the decision on which gear to purchase and take with you is important.  I generally start though by looking at how the manufacture warranty protects you. Something like Osprey's All Mighty Warranty would reduce your concerns of "Will it break" as they will fix/replace it. Also, I use youtube alot to see reviews of people that have used what I am considering.  I especially appreciate those that identify a challenge that the seller fixed. Finally, if your getting ready to set out on a major adventure like the PCT/AT or CDT purchasing from REI (Not a sells pitch) is great because of there return policy.  Good luck and happy hiking 🙂

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I've been struggling with this as well now that I am building out my backpacking gear.

Although the ultra light folks have some great ideas and I've been able to discover good gear that weighs less, there is a tendency among them to forgo quality in exchange for weight. Frankly, I am waiting to see one of them post a YouTube video where they exclaim they can shed another 8 pounds by not carrying water and, instead, just lick the morning dew off of leaves.

There's one particularly well-known UL person on YT who claims that the only first aid kit you need is a couple of Advil, a needle and thread to deal with blisters, and one bandage for every 1000 miles you hike. And then to say that carrying anything extra is merely "packing your fears". And, of course, young up-and-coming YouTubers gleam onto that and repeat it. Now it's almost a source of pride to carry something that can only be described as a first aid kit if you're feeling incredibly generous (and I rarely am). I am all for not packing your fears but I think that, too often, the phrase becomes synonymous with "leave your common sense at home." In the motorcycle community, we say "there are old bikers and there are bold bikers. There are no old and bold bikers."  And I have come to see that this applies to the backpacking community as well. So I choose to live by another tenet of bikers: "dress for the slide, not the ride".

Anyway, I digress.

But going back to the "dress for the slide, not the ride", I've chosen to carry some extra weight with some of my gear, shed weight where I can, and always buy the best that I can afford. So here are my thoughts on priorities (weight v. quality v. cost):

  • Sleeping bag - quality, then cost, then weight. Not that weight isn't important (it is) but I'll sacrifice an additional half pound to a pound to carry something that won't tear and is still friendly to my budget
  • Shelter - quality, then weight, then cost. A quality tent that isn't expensive is going to weigh a lot and an additional 5 pounds on a less expensive tent will make a difference on my back. Again, cost is still important, but the shelter's weight beats out the cost here.
  • Backpack - quality, cost, weight. A good pack that I can properly adjust to fit my body will let me carry a heavier (empty) pack comfortably than a lightweight pack will. For example, I stopped using my 20L day lightweight day pack (12 ounces) and use a 40L pack with a good hip belt (2.6 pounds) because it is far more comfortable and distributes the weight on my hips. I do make sure I don't start carrying excessive gear just because I have the room! So my backpack (65L) is a few extra pounds heavier than the UL packs but I want a frame and structure that fits me. And the extra weight virtually disappears because of the fit.
  • Everything else - cost first, then quality, then weight. An 18 ounce stove instead of 12? Okay. A $5 trowel digs just as good a cat hole as a $30 titanium trowel and my cheap self will gladly carry the extra 6 ounces and save $25. But by trying to (safely) save weight on two of the big three items, I can go with budget items for the rest of the stuff and not pay too much attention to the weight.

Again, not that any of the three (quality, price, weight) are ever not important, but I do prioritize them.

But, as always, hike your own hike, right? This is just how I am approaching my purchases.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Seeking workable multi-purpose items works to minimize weight. although this can be driven to extremes.

I like strap buckles that incorporate a whistle.  Typically these are located on pack sternum straps where they are nice and handy.  Dad Aint Hip mentioned trowels for digging cat holes.  There is almost some item which will do the job - boot heel, handy stick, trekking pole, etc., saving money and weight.

I often go with a small tarp and biy sack, rather than a tent, saving a lot of weight....





Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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@johnt @hikermor @Dad_Aint_Hip @Gary2 

Thanks for this great conversation, I love the different perspectives! One thing that has always stuck with me was something a customer once said to me when I was fitting them for a pack:

"I have three priorities when looking for a new pack:

  1. Durability.
  2. Lightweight.
  3. Inexpensive.

Sadly, you can only have two of those, never all three."

For some reason the simplicity and truth of that statement has stuck with me ever since.

Thanks for the great conversation!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@REI-JohnJlol!, In my old line of work, engineering/construction, we would tell a customer you can have the project 1. Fast, 2. Cheap, 3. High quality, pick only 2!

REI Member Since 1979


Boom! I love universal wisdom!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@johnt, (I'm late to this party)

File under: unhelpful musings.

Isn't this the backpackers battle between good and evil!

And it seems everything is mega expensive these days!  It certainly pays to shop around.

Unfortunately the learning curve is high and not cheap, that's probably why we all have tons of extra stuff from days long gone by and multiples of tents, sleeping bags, stoves, you name it.

I think we all learn from trial and error, especially the suffering that comes with it....ah but the memories!

I've said this before, I think it's funny, but true,...sitting around the campfire, backpackers will say "if I had just this ONE thing, I'd be good to go!"

And we start calculating how we're going to get that "one thing" as soon as we get home.

But it's hard, because most of us are looking to take something out of our packs, not put in!

My tent just started shredding apart, which put me back in the market, about the last place I wanted to be.

To get the weight below 2lbs seems to mean an incredibly delicate tent or a tough dyneema material, lasting only about 100 nights and at an enormous cost.  I've witnessed how the delicate tents hold up in a wilderness, if not super careful, and own the dyneema solid gold $600 tent (now shredding itself after only 3yrs of moderate use),

But the goal remains the same, staying warm and dry and getting a good nights sleep (carrying lighter loads is in there somewhere). They say you can't take it with you, so you might as well suck it up and pay the price.

My current feeling is a dyneema tent not worth the price to save 1.5lbs

I'm sorry what was the question again?

REI Member Since 1979

I read all the posts (at the time of writing this) and I'm actually PLEASED to see consistently good advice/opinions across all posts in this thread so far! (Shocked? None more than I!) 😉

Half my family is in law, the other half in realestate (in one form or another, including construction), so I know the old conundrum of "speed - quality - cost", more to the point, "weight - quality - cost (and multi-use)." But like first-aid kits, that depends.

Before everything/anything else, you FIRST need to decide what KIND of hiker you want to be: day hiker, distance hiker, wilderness hiker or bushwhaker. THAT will tell you what qualities you will look for first.

If you want to be a distance hiker (PCT, ACT, CDT, etc.), you'll likely want light or ultralight gear... in between hotel rooms, care packages, pizza and beer, movies, etc. So, while a distance trek is typically not that hard on ultralight gear, you can expect more cost, and frankly, less durability! And unless you're wreakless, that gear will likely stand you in good stead.

I'm a wilderness hiker, I spend weeks, or a month or more, in the backcountry, MILES from the nearest hotel room or pizza or even from the nearest person and I'm almost always SOLO. So my priority is QUALITY! (durability and dependability). I can't have gear failing at critical times, particularly if that gear is life-dependent! Weight is, of course, important too, but that becomes a factor when I'm shopping two pieces of gear of similar quality.

Cost is a DISTANT third!! (for me). The cold, hard fact is "Good gear costs good money." On the other hand, I don't mind spending money, but I DO mind wasting money! Thankfully, REI has a stellar return policy!! No questions asked!!!


Earlier in the year, I picked up a ultralight tent and hammock, not surprisingly, they failed (tore, broke, etc.) It's NOT that they were badly designed or of poor quality, I'm just hard on gear (Hard use, not AB-use) and I feel those pieces of gear are just meant for a different kind of hiker. That's why I require quality gear!