Good gear can be expensive to collect, but there are, however, a few essentials worth investing in. These are the items that, if cared for, will last you years to come so you might as well invest in good quality, well-fitted gear. After all, the quality of this stuff can make a good weekend great, or, if lacking, a great weekend miserable.
- A good pack. This is essential and goes without saying, but some first-timers are tempted to “cheat” with thoughts of using a regular backpack or getting a lower-quaity pack while they “see if they like it.” With an ill-fitting pack, you probably won’t. Go to a reputable camping/outdoors/outfitter store. The staff usually know what they’re talking about because they’re often hardcore enthusiasts too. You’ll want something that sits comfortably on your hips via the hipbelt, hugs close against your back and provides liberty for your neck when cinched up around your shoulders with chest strap done up. Packs have specific sizing for varying body types, just like clothes, so be sure to try a few on to compare. They should fit comfortably and bear weight mostly on your hips, not your shoulders, in order to distribute weight in a manner that can be more efficiently carried for longer periods of time. Make note if any straps rub or cause pressure and see how things can be adjusted to alleviate it or try a different size. Remember, it’ll have as much as 50lbs (or more) in it and after you’ve been hiking for a couple hours, that minor pressure could cause some serious discomfort (and distraction) while your struggling over terrain. Yes, they can be expensive, but a good pack will last for years and make your treks that much more enjoyable.
Check out Choosing the Right Travel Backpack for some great tips.
- A compact sleeping bag. When it comes to sleeping bags, size matters. Make sure it’s long enough that you can comfortably cocoon yourself inside, but the smaller and more easily compactable it is, the easier it will be to fit in your pack – in other words, bigger isn’t always better. Inquire if it comes with a compression sac, and if it doesn’t, get one, or get one that does; this will help you squash it down to maximize space in your pack for everything else. Make note of the weight. Some insulators weigh more than others and every ounce adds up. Also, consider the temperatures you are likely to be camping in and then drop it at least 10 degrees. That’s the minimum temperature grade you should be shopping for. For example: I camp camp from spring through fall but my sleeping bag is rated for -9 degrees Celsius (average temperatures range from 10-30+ degrees C, to give some perspective). It’s warm on the summer nights – perfect, unzip to cool down – and it’s warm enough if a cold front moves in or if I get caught in the rain and would otherwise shiver myself to sleep. (It’s easier to remove layers and open up tent vestibules if it’s too warm than it is to warm up when you wake up in the middle of the night during a cold snap and can’t feel your feet.)
- A tent. Shopping for a tent can be like shopping for car; there are so many options, models and factors to consider when making the purchase, it’s beneficial to clearly understand what conditions you are shopping for. Are you going on trips alone? With a friend? A group of friends? During which time of year? Though you might luck out and camp with a friend that already has one, if you plan on doing solo treks (or want one to share) it’s definitely worth shopping around to see what options are out there. After all, there are all-seasons, summer tents, winter tents, and tents with capacities that range from 1-person up to 6+. Different manufacturers use different treatments for waterproofing, so it’s important to consider longevity for rain-proofing. Some have large vestibules which are awesome for tucking your pack out of the elements, but there are also sometimes detachable gear tents for those that don’t. Decisions, decisions!
If you are likely to do a lot of solo stuff and are worried about the weight, there are even more options, including bivi bags (bivouac sacs, bivvy bags) and hammocks (lovingly called “bear burritos”).
You can find these at most major outdoors retailers as well as by shopping online.