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Equipment Suggestions for Getting Started Backpacking

I backpacked many years ago and I am wanting to get back into it. I am much older now and out of shape. I am sure the new equipment will not fit me anymore.  What are my options?

5 Replies

@Son-Of-Thunder this is such a fun (and big) question for us to help with! We will make some suggestions, then trust that our community will fill in all the gaps! With that said, are there specific categories of gear you need the most help with - clothing? Sleeping bag/pad? Pack? Tent? Stove? Water filtration? We can certainly help with all of these!

We look forward to hearing back on what topics would be most helpful!

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

This is a fun question! I, too, backpacked in my young 20’s. My backpack was an external frame, my tent a single wall that leaked, and I wore running shoes (not hikers). I got along fine since youth was on my side. Thirty years later I started backpacking again, so needed new equipment. Backpack, boots, sleep system are the big choices, and my choices have come from trial & error. Backpack: My initial mistake was going with the first recommendation, rather than trying different brands & styles, AND considering what pack weight would be ideal for age, fitness level, frame. Boots/Trailrunners: go to REI and try on multiple styles/brands. Tent vs Hammock: given my drive for comfort, I initially used a hammock. I found the weight of the carabiner clip, straps, & under quilt heavier than a tent. Given my age, fitness level, & small frame, weight matters a lot. I now have a lightweight tent. I put careful consideration into the sleeping pad for comfort, and I also have a hiking pillow. I recommend continued reading of hiking posts for more information and opinions. We are a varied bunch and there isn’t one absolute answer. 


Hi @Son-Of-Thunder , why do say 'the new equipment will not fit'? (just curious)

If you are a veteran backpacker, the process/requirements are still pretty much the same.

As expected, new products and updates on old products arrive everyday.

Just browse the old standbys...packs, stoves, purifiers and see what meets your budget and expected weather conditions.

Some of the more noticeable changes, more folks use trail runners these days (almost everyone on through hikes, so that tells you something), and quite a few folks are using 'smart water' bottles from the grocery store to shave some ounces off their load.

good luck


REI Member Since 1979

@Son-Of-Thunder  - I feel ya! I am in my early 50s and just returning to backpacking after a 30 year hiatus. Although I've been day hiking for a long time, backpacking is basically a new activity again. 

So, from someone in a similar situation, here's what my experience has been over the past year while getting ready to head out for overnights again:

  • Shoes and sleeping bag/pad - you're going to spend 99% of your day in one of them so buy the best you can afford. When you say that you're out of shape, I don't know if that means you're overweight or just don't have the cardio endurance that you once did. But here's the good news: if you are overweight and looking to shed pounds, you can still spend on quality shoes and sleep system and not have to worry that, as you lose weight, the shoes or sleeping bag won't fit. That was a real problem for me with clothes, but not my bag or foot size. So, since you will spend all of your time in your shoes or your bag, buy the best you can afford.
  • Clothing - here's where things can change rapidly as you get back into shape. So if this is the same for you, there are a lot of decent budget options for things like base layers, coats, etc. And I discovered that those budget-based companies cater to a much wider range of people so finding clothes that fit me was a lot easier. Sure, they're cheaper and will last one season but by the end of a season, you're likely a different size and need new clothes anyway (for example, in the past 18 months I've gone from a size 44 waist to a size 34). Just avoid cotton but look for sales and you can outfit yourself pretty cheaply. I bought a Columbia fleece mid-layer that was the previous season's for $17. One of the freedoms that comes with not being in my 20s or 30s is that NO ONE expects me to be fashionable LOL. That has made it a lot easier to find low-cost yet decent clothing.
  • Take advantage of REI's outfitting advice and book a time with a virtual (or in=store) associate who can assist you in getting the right gear. 
  • Finally, depending on where you live, see if there is a backpacking Meetup group near you. The groups are free to join and the one I engage with here in Chicago has an active monthly meeting (virtual) and (assuming we can) will have backpacking trips starting in 2021 again. In fact, they meet at the REI in Chicago for their monthly meetings (when we're not in a pandemic).

Nice to know I am not the only older guy who is getting back into the sport. Lots of "well-experienced" backpackers here but not as many new-but-old ones like us  🙂

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

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one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Son-Of-Thunder Ah look at this as a great opportunity.  Gear improvements over the years include reduced weight, functionality and in some cases a lot more personalization.  Just remember if your getting a new pack as well to get that last.  it'll ensure your upgrades/updates will fit properly.  Also, I'm a true believer in having a fitting at REI.  I would not have gotten the right size pack if I had not gone in and done a personal fitting.  They fit other items as well and it'll give you an opportunity to see what gear is currently for sale in large store environments.  you dont have to buy and you'll know if it really fits. 🙂 Welcome back to trail

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