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Re: Starting out Backpacking - what resources do you recommend?

I have gone backing packing once 4 years ago with a company and had the time of my life. However, the guides provided all the gear and I want to really get into it but I have no idea where to start when looking at what kind of gear to buy or how to plan? Is there any good resources to read for beginners?

8 Replies

What I should've said is how do you figure out which gear is right for you with all of the different options?


That @tjwaugh , is a question that tends to elude all of us!  Whether you have years and miles under your boots, or are just starting out, such as yourself.

First and foremost, figure out exactly what you want to accomplish and what your priorities are.  For example, if you are more of a camper, who hikes to your destination but wants some creature comforts, then you would probably forgo the ultra lightweight gear.  But, if you intend to put miles behind you and the camping part is just a slight delay on your distance goal, then you are a likely candidate for ULW gear.

After that, focus on your shoes (and socks), your pack, shelter and sleep system.  You'll want to try on the shoes and pack as fit is hugely important with those items.  Read everything you can.  This Conversation page and the Co-op Journal are great places to start.  Talk to other backpackers and hikers that you know.  Ask the folks at your local REI store, both employees and customers.  

After that, if you stay in this hobby/lifestyle for very long, you, just like Goldilocks, will be embarking upon a lifelong search for items that are "just right".  And as soon as you find that something, a new, fancier/lighter/stronger/etc version will come out.

Enjoy the ride!

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

Rob, this was such an amazing respond! 

Thanks @Andresr5 !

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

Let's start with the B's - Boots (well Broken in), Backpack, Bag (sleeping) and Buddy - a knowledgeable companion is an immense resource.  Of course, there is your Body to consider as well - what kind of shape are you in?

Where are you going to be backpacking?  Environments vary considerably  between, say southern Arizona and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and require significant differences in equipment and strategy. 

Have you any experience with hiking in general?  If not, begin with easy day hikes, gradually extending them to overnights, and proceeding from there.

Learn about the Ten Essentials.  Learn navigation skills (especially how to use a topo map) and first aid.  Learn to build a fire and when a fire is feasible and when a fire is dangerous.  Have the means to shelter yourself if necessary.  This can be no more than a simple lightweight tarp

Purchase gear gradually and thoughtfully.  Borrow or rent first, if at all possible.  As Rob6 states, this is a lifelong quest.

Welcome to the club!  Many wonderful times await!

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

I agree, boots, bed, and body are most important.  If your boots/socks don't work for you then you will not enjoy the journey and if you don't sleep well, then you won't have the energy to enjoy or even make the journey.  Part of taking care of your body is having a backpack that fits and is comfortable to wear.  I just returned a backpack today that I oh so much wanted to love as it was two pounds lighter than my current backpack, but it just wouldn't ride well and left me sore, so I will be carrying/wearing my current heavier backpack on our adventure next week as I know that it rides effortlessly.  Sometimes you have to play the pros and cons to get a system that works for you as you have to take care of your body first and foremost.

One resource for gear reviews and some other tips or ideas I've found is Backpacker Magazine.  It doesn't hit all the brands and has some weird stuff in it, but what it does review, it does a pretty thorough job of reviewing.

Enjoy the journey off the beaten path!

Found Myself Outside

You'll find that a most of the time, price is inversely proportional to weight. If you're not using it a lot, it's usually not worthwhile to invest in the lighter versions. My collection has some stuff bought (at a premium) because of weight, but sometimes lighter isn't better, and a lot of times lighter also means shorter life or easier to destroy. I've gradually lowered my base weight and increased my daily mileage, but I don't think that the increased miles are completely because of the lighter weight, because I'm also in better shape now (partly from backpacking more LOL). 

It usually comes down to a personal choice depending on your physical fitness, what you can do without, what keeps you comfortable, what you need for safety, and what your goals are. You might not be interested in big miles, so light weight might not interest you that much. You could be more interested in the camping aspect, or you might be interested in a slow casual hike, with the sleeping portion just being a necessary part of it. Each person is different, so what's great equipment for some might not be right for others. 

I think everyone learns more about themselves as they go, it takes some experimentation to find what's right for you. I've bought stuff that just didn't work for me at all, and things that I loved but decided they were too heavy and either quit using them or bought lighter versions. Hopefully you like to shop LOL.

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

Lots of backpacking resources & info on YouTube.