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Suggestions for Vetting Your Backpacking Equipment

I'm new to backpacking and am trying to supplement some of my equipment (tents, sleeping bags, etc.) at a price that's not going to break me.  When I look at your sales and search for things, I notice that many do not have any ratings associated with them and that many are closeouts, too, meaning they weren't great sellers (to my way of thinking).  The lack of ratings gives me pause and I usually decide that no purchase is better than  getting something I haven't vetted well enough.  Any suggestions, other than trekking 50 miles to visit a store?

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Hi @HudsonRaider64 - Thanks for reaching out, though we’re sorry it’s because of a lack of ratings available for the products you’re looking at. We’re glad to hear you are getting into backpacking!

Many of our products go to closeout pricing because there is a newer version now available, not because they weren’t great sellers. With that, it makes great sense that you’d want to vet items before making big purchases. Are you looking at any pieces in particular that you’d like feedback on? Our community members have experience with a large variety of backpacking equipment and would hopefully be able to weigh in on specific items.

Additionally, you could schedule a free virtual outfitting appointment to meet one-on-one with an REI employee to go through your questions without having to make a trip to the store.

Thanks again for bringing your question to the community. Hopefully this helps!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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@REI-CarterC  IANARE, but I am tempted to jump in here.  What equipment and ratings are you referring to?  Sleeping bags do have temperature ratings, and they are quite specific (and accurate, in my experience).  I don't know of any rating system for tents, or, say , cook sets or stoves.   There are standards for technical climbing gear but I don't believe that is what you are interested in.

You do have user reviews on this website and many others.  i find them to be somewhat useful, if used with caution, since you have now idea of the competence or ability of the reviewer.  I like to look at the extremes, starting with the least favorable (which are very often lacking in information about deficiencies).

It is worthwhile to start out cheap.  You can make a perfectly adequate alcohol stove from two  beverage cans - cost 0$.  Look around for bargain sales and clearances.  i have scored some great items that way.  Renting equipment, or borrowing, is another way.  You will be surprised at how adequate a shelter you can devise from nothing but a tarp and a bunch of string

You actually need very little to accomplish a moderate backpack in decent weather, but as you address more challenging terrain and conditions, the need for better gaer becomes apparent.  Start easy and let experience be your guide.

Your most significant purchases will be backpack, sleeping bag, and boots.  Shop carefully and deliberately.  And here's to enjoyable backpacking!!

 

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

@REI-CarterC  Whether it's cars or camping gear, buying used goods can mean buying someone else's headache.

OBLIGATORY NOTE: yeah, you can get good deals on old gear, and discount items at dollar stores, and you may be fine with that. On the other hand, as the saying goes, "Buy once, cry once."

All that said, I DO check the REI sales and even "used" gear web sights. I don't always need the "latest and greatest" of anything, but in ANY case, it's a little like grocery shopping; NEVER shop for food while you're hungry! By that I mean, have an actual NEED in mind BEFORE you browse gear and have your minimum standards and/or preferred features firmly in mind, and stick to it.

User reviews are most useful when there is no 'standardized' rating on the item (it DOES happen!). But I agree with the above, thow out the best and worst ratings, then get a "feel" for how it performs from the remaining reviews. But be discerning, look past the positive/negative buyer hype and look for objective opinions based on significant EXPERIENCE, look for detailed explanations of how the gear exceeded expectations, or failed under the most basic conditions (terrain/weather). 

And while REI stands behind its sales, I still look at the manufacturer's warranty. If it's robust, I'll trust the purchase more. That's why all my socks are by Darn Tough (never returned a pair yet!)

With more expensive purchases, you just have to use restraint and think; "Do I REALLY need this? Am I OBJECTIVE in evaluating what I've learned about this product?" Etc.

 

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@HudsonRaider64 Make a list of items and options.  Go to YouTube and search for that item.  Most items have been through a (Multiple) gear review.  It should provide a good overview.  Then look around where you live and see if anyone rents gear.  Use that for a couple hikes to get your own feel for it.  And...buy what makes you comfortable, not what people brag about....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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I suppose it's natural to want the best you can afford. On the other hand, I cut my teeth on crappy equipment that I could scrounge during the 1970's when I was growing up. Leaky tents; heavy, bulky sleeping bags, no sleeping pad (then ensolite), cheap "World Famous" backpacks with wimpy aluminum frames. Almost all the equipment available now is better than anything I had then.

My point? Go ahead, get the best you can get your hands on, but don't worry too much about it; it won't be the last equipment you ever buy. And "closeouts" are often just last year's models - a good deal for the rest of us. Sometimes you can go on another website to get reviews, too. Sometimes even youtubers will specialize in equipment reviews.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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Hi @HudsonRaider64 - you are not alone in the quest for gear with good "value."

Couple of things I would recommend for you: Check out the REI Outlet site and the Used Gear site for items that are discounted from their original price. 

But the biggest recommendation I would tell you is to make an appointment with REI Virtual Outfitting - we can give you lots of advice about how to get the best value out of your purchases. This is a topic we get a lot, and we can help navigate you in the direction of what you really need, what you don't, where to spend your money, and when to save it. Plus, all of us have extensive personal experience with a variety of gear both new and old, as well as extensive experience working on the floor where we talk to customers about their real-life experiences and critiques (both good and bad) on their gear. 

And fyi, Virtual Outfitting is a free video-conferencing service we offer, and many times, we can get you in with same day appointments!

Hope this helps! And by the way, welcome to the backpacking world 🙂

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