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Planning to take up backpacking (up to week at a time)

Hi.

Haven't done backpacking. Would definitely need to be as light as possible. Equipment recommendations. I have done hut to hut treks through various weather conditions and elevation changes (0-4,000m) carrying my belongings. Clothing etc should not be an issue. (Working on a trip to Alaska in September).

Thanks

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Hey Wai,

Rei has some great blog posts about getting into backpacking: https://www.rei.com/learn/series/intro-to-backpacking

This article in particular goes over all the basic equipment with recommendations: https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/beginner-backpacking-gear

Depending on where you are headed to in AK in September (Hiking the Chilkoot trail vs. a backcountry trip in Denali etc.) recommendations will vary slightly.

Hope this gives you a place to start.

@Wai this is such a fun question for us to weigh in on! I'm tagging a few employees who love to backpack and will likely inundate you with ideas and suggestions! @REI-BreeM@REI-EricP@REI-EthanS@REI-JackiH, @REI-JohnS@REI-LizH. And our community moderator, @REI-JohnJ, actually lives in Alaska, so he will likely be able to provide some location-specific intel! 

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

Hi @Wai! Congrats on taking the leap to backpacking and planning your first extended trip! As you look to transition from hut-to-hut treks or base camping, the primary pieces of gear that you may want to look to invest in first are your shelter and your backpack. You may need a backpack equipped for heavier weight and that fits more comfortably on your body. Ultralight packs trade some "extras" to ensure the pack weight is as low as possible, so think about what creature comforts are important to you. For example, I realized on my first backpacking trip that I drink a LOT of water, so having an exterior pocket for easy access to a water bottle became a non-negotiable item on my ultralight pack. Here are a few lightweight pack options for extended trips:

We always recommend doing a pack fit first (especially important when you're wearing your pack for a week or more!). This Expert Advice Article on Backpack Fit can help walk you through the steps an REI Specialist would take to fit you for the right size. 

Before you decide on your shelter/tent, it would definitely be worth considering if you will primarily be backpacking solo or if you want a shelter that you can share (also allowing you to split the weight). Another important consideration is whether you are investing in the ideal shelter for your adventure in Alaska, or if you would like something that has more versatility for different climates?

I did eventually upgrade my sleep system to a lighter weight option after a few backpacking trips, but you may want to experiment a bit with what works for you in various weather conditions before switching up your gear for sleep. 

I hope that is helpful - enjoy planning that Alaska adventure! 

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

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Not really such a thing.  Use a lightweight 3 season tent for 3 seasons...you can usually extend a bit into winter conditions depending on the tent.  Get a proper "4 season" tent for winter camping if you actually do that.

The main difference is that light 3 season tents have lots of mesh and venting and will be very drafty and cold in the winter  where 4 season tents use much less mesh and venting, are often single walled and will the heavy and stuffy in the summer.

A good 3 season tent to look at is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 which comes in a couple of versions depending how light weight you want to go and how much you want to spend...There are lots of other good options but that one is very highly rated.  I had the original version but now use a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 to save 8oz for a bit less robustness and a bit more pitching annoyance.  MSR and NEMO have competing tents and the latest crop of REI Quarter Dome tents are worth a look.

There are also so called "trekking pole" tents some of which supposedly can handle weather well if you don't mind having to pitch them but that requires some careful research.  They are generally lighter because they use your trekking pole(s) instead of a dedicated pole structure.   REI have just  starting making these this year and while they look promising there are early reports of that 1 person does not handle condensation well in certain conditions.

For occasional use winter tents,  one light weight reasonable cost option is the Black diamond First Light 2P  (for some reason REI only stocks the 3P version and for some reason BD only make in it light green...).  I have not used this tent personally but it is the one I would choose to try out winter camping.

Note that lightweight 2 person tents are great for extended solo use but a squeeze for 2 people.  For a week with 2 people, a 3 person tent will likely be more comfortable.

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Another difference between winter tents (aka 4 season)  and 3 season tents worth noting is that winter tents are designed to hold and shed a snow load where 3 season tents because they are designed to be light, airy and spacious may tend to accumulate snow and fail under the weight. 

You can make different trade offs for weight when camping on snow when there are no bugs and it doesn't rain.

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@OldGuyot This real helpful. I wish REI can extend the membership discount until the current crisis is over. Thanks again

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@Wai Some thoughts on packs...To give you an idea of weight you carry you can get a pretty good compromise between trail comfort and camp comfort with a base weight (pack plus gear in it minus supplies) in the 15 to 25 lb range. That will cost some money. You can go lighter for more money and even lighter for not very much money but you will start to compromise things that may not be appropriate in Alaska.

As to supplies, a rule of thumb is 2 lbs of food a day so for a week that's about 14 lbs at the start. In Alaska you will likely need a bear can that adds another ~2.5 lbs but probably you won't need to carry much water, say 1.5 quarts or about 3 lb. You will carry a filter to purify water as you hike. For fuel a 4oz canister can last a week and weighs about 0.5 lb. You may want to carry bear spray in Alaska which adds another 1 lb. That's is about 21 lb.

So for a week at the start of your hike you will be carrying about 35 to 45 lbs. You might be able to go lighter if you can be more efficient with food but that requires more detailed planning. If you are carrying camera equipment or gear for some other interest you might well have a heavier load.

Based on that, only the Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Southwest Pack of the packs referenced elsewhere claims to be up to the job with its stated load capacity of up to 60 lb. Personally I'm a bit skeptical of that claim but I haven't used that pack. I suspect how well it can carry 60Lb depends a lot on how well it fits you because it is not very adjustable. It is also not ventilated in any way. The Crown2 is rated to max 35ib and the Levity 60 max 25lb. I would also look at some heavier packs that are know to be comfortable carrying heavy loads. The Gregory Baltoro and the Osprey Aether are two that are noted for this. They are available in a couple of sizes depending on how bulky you expect your gear to be.

The way to effectively lighten up is not to first buy a lightweight backpack but to assemble the gear that you plan to take and refine it to reduce your base weight not including the pack. A great deal of lightness comes from not taking stuff you don't need. Then get a pack that can comfortably carry your base weight and the supply load you need to carry for the trip. Obviously if two packs are equally comfortable carrying the load then the lighter one probably wins but a pack's lightness does not equal comfort. The fit of the pack and how it supports the load you need to carry is more important than its intrinsic weight. And there are also other factors like robustness, convenience of use and even customer service that you might value.

That is not to say the lightweight packs don't work but generally they are not comfortable with heavier loads and you should pay attention to the weight you need to carry when choosing a pack. You might choose a lighter pack because you only plan to go for a week once so you don't mind be uncomfortable for those 2 or 3 days of your life and you would rather not carry the extra 2 lbs for the weekend trips you usually do. Then again if money is not an issue then you might buy the pack you need for a particular trip. There are always trade offs.

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@OldGuyot I will definitely look into these recommended packs. The weight should not be a problem but elevation could be an issue. Could always go slower with the up but down can be scary at times. Thanks

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