Selecting Gear: What's The Right Amount?

  • Select equipment designed to perform in the toughest overall conditions you anticipate experiencing. It's better to be a little over-prepared than to find yourself 20 miles from the trailhead and wishing you had chosen a sleeping bag rated 10 degrees warmer.

    Conversely, don't go overboard buying too much gear, or expedition-level gear that exceeds your realistic needs. For instance, you probably don't need a GPS receiver for modest strolls in nearby foothills. Good equipment is a big help in the wilderness, but don't view it as a replacement for backcountry smarts and good preparation. Your most valuable asset in the wilderness is an assured, well-informed mind.

  • Choose gear that best accommodates your long-range ambitions; look beyond your near-term trip and anticipate what your needs will be 2, even 5 years ahead.

  • Try before you buy. Rent gear from your nearest outdoor store or borrow it from friends to help you gain insight on backcountry equipment. It will make you a savvier shopper when you finally make a purchase.

  • Start with the essentials; add gear as you gain experience. If you are new to outdoor adventure, multi-purpose clothing makes a smart first purchase. Start with a light- or midweight synthetic top, one that wicks moisture from your skin. These garments will work well on the trail—or while biking, running or just working around the house. Another smart initial purchase: durable, trail-ready footwear. Consider a rugged trail shoe such as the men's Merrell Mesa Dry Lo or Timberland Omni Pass for women. They can handle wet sidewalks as well as slippery trails.

  • Know your personal preferences and comfort level; work at keeping your load light, but carry enough items to ensure that you feel cheerful (maybe a few favorite food items) and secure (extra flashlight batteries) in the wilderness.

  • Scan trip-planning checklist. These can be picked up at your local outdoor store. See what items you already have. Select a few items you would most like to own and begin researching them.

  • Understand that all of your gear will wind up on your back; strive to be properly equipped while keeping your load light. Don't, for example, take both cups that came with your cookset if you only need 1; skip the lantern if you're already carrying a headlamp.

What About Price?

It's smart to shop for quality. The good stuff performs reliably and lasts for years. Happily, in this performance-minded industry, even modestly priced gear from established equipment-makers conforms to elevated standards of quality.

Most outdoor stores offer a product mix that caters to all experience levels and budgets. Their lines of less expensive gear can be counted on to perform well in the field, delivering greater long-term satisfaction than lower-priced (and lower-quality) items found in department stores and mass discounters.

Many times you "just want the best" when selecting new gear. That's good; just keep in mind that what's "best" for your ambition level does not necessarily have to be the most expensive item in the store.

Some Thoughts About Weight

Some outdoor purists lament that the modern wilderness visitor has become overly reliant on wonderfabrics and specialized gizmos. Recreational hikers, they believe, simply carry too much stuff into the woods.

We all like to travel light in the backcountry. Some ultralight hikers step out for week-long trips with all of their equipment and supplies stuffed into a compact daypack.

That's impressive. Yet a minimal load typically requires a wilderness traveler to make some soul-searching choices. For instance, should you:

  • Skip a tent and opt for only a tarp?
  • Leave the stove and fuel behind and rely solely on ready-to-eat foods?
  • Minimize your clothing options?

Only you can answer such questions. Reflect on your past outdoor experiences. Can you live the life of a backcountry minimalist and remain content? Or are you really a hedonist at heart? Or do you fall somewhere in between?

We encourage backpackers to travel wisely and lightly. So don't take 2 fuel bottles when 1 will do. Carry a 4-ounce tube of sunscreen, not a 32-ounce bottle. If your tent came with 12 stakes, do you really need to carry them all?

Tip: Minimize; just don't compromise.

Quick Review

The reason you carry gear is to help you feel comfortable, secure and content in the wilderness. How much is enough? It depends on your individual standards of comfort, security and contentment. How can you know what those are? Take a hike, get some experience, ask friends for advice—educate yourself about what factors are most important you in the outdoors. Equip yourself accordingly.

Bottom line: Know thyself. It's your best first step when approaching a gear purchase.

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