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Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex
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Josh Certain
(hgother) - F
Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 10:55:38 MDT Print View

There are too many options and too many opinions. There seems to be some product or right choice for every possibility, but yet no products seem "just right". Sometimes because of features or cost or both. And everyone has opinions that often conflict. Experts are exhausted and just leave recommendations open-ended. Even if you have a gear expert somewhere you can trust, you often have to adjust for his/her bias as a hardcore enthusiast!

I was trying to choose a sleeping bag and got completely overwhelmed by all of this and decided I would make my own recommendation based on simplified criteria. Essentially, if you were going to own one bag for life, which would it be. My choice: Marmot Helium +15. Full explanation:

Edited by hgother on 07/10/2008 10:57:42 MDT.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
The SUV syndrome impacts gear selection on 07/10/2008 11:03:26 MDT Print View

The SUV will do everything that you need a vehicle to do, but nothing well.

The quilt v. bag thread might well have been a discussion of specialized gear v. all-purpose gear.

If I could own only one bag it would be the Nunatak Arc Alpinist.

Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 11:24:17 MDT Print View

If I could own only one sleeping bag?

If I wanted a down bag, it would be a Nunatak Arc Alpinist with differential cut, 2 oz overfill, 3" baffles, quantum shell, & sized halfway between medium & large. Versatile & lightweight for the warmth.

If I wanted instead to have a synthetic bag, it would be a Ray-Way Quilt w/Alpine Upgrade. Ditto.


mark henley
(flash582) - F
Choosing Gear is excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 11:36:18 MDT Print View

I would also vote for the Arc Alpinest ....

And if I couldn't afford that ... I'd go with the Golite ultra (but wish it were the Alpinest).

If I had to choose just one stove ... I'd pick an alcohol stove ... simple and reliable. With a Snowpeak 600 mug.

If I had to choose just one tent ... for my style of backpacking it would be the Shires Tarptent for two or Wild Oasis for 1.

If I had to choose just one Pad ..... Max Termo 3/4

If I had to choose just one pack ..... Any by ULA ... most comfortable pack I've ever owned.

Edited by flash582 on 07/10/2008 11:42:36 MDT.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 12:20:20 MDT Print View

First off, let me say that you seem to be meandering very close to troll-territory with the subject of this post and the blog post you reference. I'm assuming you wrote the blog. Backpackinglight is chock-full of (to quote your own words) "Forum Crazies"- who will undoubtedly attempt to refute your decision on your sleeping bag choice with an incredible amount of statistics, data, opinions, etc...just your blog post predicts. If you don't believe me, just check out the recent thread on sleeping quilts. But that doesn't mean were a**holes, nor are we crazy. I'm not sure if you're are trying to elicit a negative reaction with this post but let's hope not.

Simply put, we can't help it. Many of us simply love talking shop. For us, the discussion isn't (as the blog post submits) 'market-confusion generated by these companies to justify huge and diversified product lines'. For most BPL actives discussion of gear is a passion, just as avid golfers might debate club choices or performance sports car enthusiasts might debate which set of tires to put on their Porsche Cayman S.

As for the myriad of product choices in UL gear, many of the choices discussed on this site are manufactured by small cottage business, run by hikers, for the benefit of hikers. They're not trying to justify bloated product lines by reinventing the wheel ad nauseum. They're just tweaking, refining, and genuinely inventing. Mainstream gear producers such as Marmot, The North Face, etc. have far less cache with the discriminating costumers you'll find on this site. Now, on other backpacking forums, that rule might be reversed. So the 'truth' about product choices you espouse on your blog isn't necessarily accurate.

Admittedly, for the uninitiated, all this gear talk can be confusing. By rule, much of the talk here isn't oriented towards the beginner hiker. Most of the frequent posters here are (I hope!) experienced hikers who are sharing their experiences and opinions on gear they have used quite a bit. These forums can provide an incredible amount of education to the neophyte backpacker but he or she will have to sift through a lot of information to get in the know. There will also be a certain amount of trial and error required. One redeeming feature of BPL- all are welcome. We're generally a friendly bunch. In my 3+ years visiting BPL, I can't recall a single instance of a 'Noob' with a basic question who was treated poorly. If you don't know then ask. Someone will help...and generally give you good advice to boot.

At the end of the day, gear is just that- gear. Just a tool to help you explore a little dirt path winding its way through a patch of woods. In the never ending quest to shave every quarter ounce off of our backs I feel we sometimes lose sight of that here at BPL. It's true that for some, its more of a mechanical exercise than a real-world application. Again, just talking shop. But the message is simple- the less weight you carry, the more you can hike and enjoy that hike. That's really what its all about. Every person has their own comfort level about what they can and can't leave behind and what they 'need to carry' to feel comfortable and secure on a hiking trip. Sometimes, no amount of logic and reasoning will dissuade a person from leaving behind their obscenely heavy folding camp stool (at 20 ounces) or their backbreaking full length inflatable sleeping pad (at 21 ounces). And that's fine, as long as those items don't keep you from hiking the hike you want to hike.

As for your choice- it's a good one. Sure, there are lighter bags which will deliver the same performance and it might be overkill for warmer hikes. So what? Many people have hiked far, long, and wide carrying bags far inferior to the Marmot Helium. The important thing is to pack up that bag and hit the trail. And if you need a recommendation on which alcohol stove to bring along post your question then postpone your hike for the next two weeks while we fill you in on all you need to know.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Sleeping Bags on 07/10/2008 12:26:11 MDT Print View

Product decisions are often based on division. For example, the first thing to decide is whether to sleep in a "normal" sleeping bag, or something less conventional ( or If you've decided to get a normal sleeping bag, the next question is whether to go with down or synthetic. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

If you decide to get a high quality down bag, you're choices narrow considerably, and I don't think you can go too wrong. The only unusual bag I know of is the Montbell bag -- because it has the ability to stretch. The other makers (Feathered Friends, Western Mountaineering, Marmot and Nunatak) are very similar (my apologies if I left out another bag maker). This makes sense. There are only three things that a down bag contains: down, fabric to hold the down and a zipper. To save weight you have to either: make it smaller, use lighter fabric, use less down or have a lighter zipper. You can find bags without zippers (or ones that use a half-zipper) and that is an obvious trade-off. The down that these makers use are all fairly similar. A bigger difference is in either size or material. With size, the trade-off is also fairly obvious, as makers print the sizes, you can determine how tight you can handle. With material, it gets a little trickier, but generally speaking, the more waterproof a material is, the heavier it is. Some of the really new materials (Nano-Tech) are really light, but expensive and relatively untested.

If anything, there is greater difference between the stated weights of the products and the actual products than there is between the products. Marmot is famous for claiming weights that are lower than the weight of the bag while FF is famous for doing the opposite. I think both makers may have corrected that problem recently, though.

Of course, with any product of this nature, there is bound to be variance with the item itself. You might be able to find a bag on the shelf that weighs an ounce or two more than another (of the same model and brand). Of course, the lighter bag just has less insulation.

Edited by rossbleakney on 07/10/2008 12:30:19 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
RE: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 12:43:01 MDT Print View


Thank you for you intelligent and balanced response to the original posting.

Being relatively new to light weight backpacking, there is a lot of research and education that needs to be done to make wise choices with our hard earned money.

You are absolutely right about this forum.

All of my noob questions were always taken seriously and I have always been impressed and amazed at the wealth of information that is gladly shared.

I even had an experience when I posted a question about using carbon filtration with my gravity filter and Ben Tang mailed to me for FREE his carbon cartridge that he was no longer using!

It would be wonderful if there was this Master List out there at we could all use to buy the perfect gear and be done with it all, but no one person is the same as another.

Going light is about making choices for yourself based on your skill, experience, individual biology (do you sleep warm or cold), and personal preferences.

No one Master List could hope to work for everyone.

I do think that for the casual outdoors person that a List would be a good place to start.

It did for me when I first started at my local REI.

The choices I made were logical and well researched using top 10 List from Backpacker Magazine.

As I have evolved and learned about light weight backpacking, I have since replaced all of my gear and I do lament that I wish I had discovered to BPL Handbook before spending my thousands of dollars at REI.

My choices at REI were not bad ones, my preferences and requirements simply changed as I became more educated and made the choice that light weight backpacking was important to ME.

As for all the chatter on the forums about gear, chalk it up to Gear Porn.

If I can not get out every weekend to go backpacking, I spend my time on the forums dreaming and drooling about the next trip or what new gear might help me on that next trip.

Some people are into cars or computers. Backpacking gear is relatively inexpensive in comparision to my friend who bought a Lotus sports car for his "fun".

Anyway, I read the blog and found it pretty funny to be getting "abusive" advice from the blogger.

I do happen to own the Marmot Helium EQ version of the bag and I do love it (see my review on the forum) and it is insanely expensive, but it has servered me very well.

All comments welcomed and respected.

Thanks for listening to my rant.


Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
Funny blog on 07/10/2008 13:05:17 MDT Print View

I took the blog as being mainly humorous with a touch of the truth. Renting first is a great idea.

Great responses from Russell and Tony BTW.

Where the philosophy in the blog goes wrong for most members here is that we get out and backpack a heck of a lot more than twice a year. Therefore, we don't mind having a bag for every occasional. I know I don't want the same bag when nights are 70 degrees as when they are 20 degrees. While it isn't unusual for a newbie to try to find one bag to fit all occasions, we soon learn that doesn't really work too well. At 50 degrees you may lay on top of your too warm bag, but your top side will soon be too cool. Cover up, and soon you'll be too hot. It becomes a not too fun game of covering and uncovering all night long!

Soon the serious backpacker begins collecting gear and selecting the appropriate items for each trip. For a newbie, it might seem excessively complex as the title of this thread proposes, but then again, driving a car seems complex to a teen with a new learner's permit. As you gain in experience, both gear selection and driving become simple matters that you don't even have to think about...

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Funny blog on 07/10/2008 13:33:07 MDT Print View


That's true. For many folks here, having one bag won't do the trick. I have only a single, 20 degree bag which is way too much for summer hiking but I carry it anyway. Maybe I'll get something lighter for summer use, maybe not.

And I experienced the same syndrome Tony went through. I've replaced almost every piece of gear I carry at least once, if not twice. As I learned more from this site and others, I saw my mistakes and learned how to pare that weight down. Of course, all this came at considerable expense.

There are gear lists posted on this site and after much trial and error, my gear list now looks remarkable similar to them.

As for the OP's blog...I find it ironic that the blog designers purport to do 'too much research' for their readers (see blog's first post) only to be 'completely overwhelmed' by the complexity and volume of information regarding sleeping bags. I had no idea goose down was so daunting! Being that the sleeping bag dilemma is the first task undertaken by the blogger this would not seem to bode well for the SysTheory blog.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 15:36:48 MDT Print View

If I were to choose just one light bag that would work for almost anyone in almost any normal hiking situation, it would be the Western Mountaineering Versalite. Although it is not my current bag of choice, I know nothing about Josh...I don't know what size he is, where he hikes, time of year, what shelter he uses or anything at all. "Josh" may not even be a guy, but may be a chick with wide hips and narrow shoulders. "Josh" may be 6'6", or 5'1"

I think the Versalite is the most versatile generic high quality bag. It is wide enough to accomodate most folks, can be used as a quilt or a bag, has a hood, generous draft tubes and neck collar, is warm well below freezing in wind or calm, and baffles that allow you to adjust how much down you have on top of you. It has a long proven track record for lightweight and functional performance.

The problems with asking our "opinions" on this stuff has exactly to do with the fact that we ARE all different, and given the choice many of us would prefer to dial in our gear and only carry what we need, which will be different for all of us. Sure, if we didn't have all this choice, we wouldn't die of reatil therapy deficiency, nor would we freeze to death due to a lack of warm options. We would just carry a little extra weight and get on with our lives.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex? Not really... on 07/10/2008 16:47:49 MDT Print View

Many of us on this forum are gear heads who obsess over the smallest details, track things down to the gram, and always wonder if there might be something better, even though what we have is working fine. To make things worse, as our experience grows and our preferences change, what was "perfect" at one time becomes not so great later. Does that mean the task is complex? No. We have made it complex.

I would agree that there are countless options to choose between. Guess what? The vast majority of them will get the job done. Will they be "perfect"? Nope. But plenty good enough if our primary concern is to have decent gear and "get out there". It's up to us to decide how complex a task we want gear selection to be.

I would say that I have spent too much time on gear. Mostly because I want to be in the back country more, but other responsibilities keeps me in town. So I spend my free time planning my next trip and analyzing gear because I can do that while being in town doing the things I need to do. I used to spend way too much time doing this. Now, I am just slightly excessive and am working hard to be content with what I am using. I found participating in a lot of forums made the problem worse. So I have been trying to limit where I am reading. That is helped, but I still sometimes get gear fever.

My list of perfect gear which is more fully explained on my other pages.


Edited by verber on 07/10/2008 16:57:50 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/10/2008 17:17:45 MDT Print View

I beg to differ! Just walking pass the huge aisles of women's cosmetics in any department store -- thousands of powders, potions, mousse, gels and whatnot's -- gear selection seems almost self explanatory! :)

Edited by ben2world on 07/10/2008 17:18:27 MDT.

Richard Gless
(rgless) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex - Not Really on 07/10/2008 17:25:05 MDT Print View


Well stated. Your web site was one of the things that got me started on the journey to UL several years ago. It still never ceases to amaze me how something is perfect for one person and doesn't work for others. I too obsess over gear since it's a substitute for not being in the woods. Sometimes it tough keeping the obsession under control.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Choosing Gear is Excessively Complex on 07/11/2008 02:36:18 MDT Print View

The blog author seems to suggest that folks who would post on a forum like BPL are not the target audience. So then why call it to our attention with a post here?

I can't disagree with the author that the Helium is a good choice for the casual or neophyte backpacker. Heck, it's a good choice for experienced backpackers. But I don't think that telling us about the Helium was the intended point.

I agree heartily with Richard and others about our character and motivation here. Hopefully folks who do not share a common interest can leave us happy gear scrutinizers to enjoy our hobby.

René Enguehard
(ahugenerd) - MLife

Locale: Newfoundland
Talking shop on 07/11/2008 06:12:41 MDT Print View

I think talking shop is what keeps most of us sane/happy during or downtime. Whether it be about gear (here) or about work, we all do it to some extent. If somebody were to stumble onto my conversations of why particular algorithm is better suited for a task they might also find it 'excessively complex', but it HAS a purpose. Talking about gear is similar. It's not like we're uselessly debating stuff just to make you confused. If it were a total waste of time I doubt we'd all be sitting here typing away.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Talking shop on 07/11/2008 16:42:12 MDT Print View

Complicated? I guess. I spent about 6 months researching and reading stuff on BPL before getting myself outfitted for ultralight hiking. It was a little overwhelming at first... but that never bothered me. I enjoyed learning so much.

Josh Certain
(hgother) - F
Perhaps it's not so complicated on 07/13/2008 17:11:59 MDT Print View

Russell, Tony, others,

Thank you for your very considered responses. At first I was a bit taken aback (especially with the troll reference), but I understand how it can appear to just show up with something like this.

The truth is, in trying to decide for myself, it was completely overwhelming. The more ability and desire you have for critical analysis, I think the more daunting it is.

I appreciate your points that this is what it is, but also I think it could be helpful to consider a little bit more pragmatically. The truth is, it is not just forum "crazies" and "noobs" as I had simplified. Many people who are out there and want something are not immersed to the point of being gearheads. They are in many ways more genuine than some of us who are out every weekend. They are taken by the idea of getting out there, and they hit something of a wall when it comes to this complexity.

Well, why do they HAVE to come to that level of complexity? Clearly they can avoid it, and this is what it is, and is for the audience it is for. What I mean by being more pragmatic is just this though, because many of the readers of these forums have nothing to do with forums. They show up from doing very basic searches. It is just the nature of things that beginners can get into much deeper water than they expected with one simple search.

I have to apologize though, because my own frustration with the difficulty of getting a simple-version answer is more that of the nature of the internet and its ability to support infinite amounts of depth. This means what gets indexed is often the most intense, and this is no fault of community members here.

Perhaps what I should be advocating is a beginners friendly composite output that perhaps could be made by folks here, and somehow get high search rankings to people do not get overwhelmed into giving up (thinking they can't go out without [even as I had supposed] a $300 sleeping bag). Maybe I should put my efforts towards this.

Regardless, your criticism is heard and I agree--and apologize for the gross simplification.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Perhaps it's not so complicated on 07/13/2008 17:51:07 MDT Print View


I think a 'beginner's guide' to lightening up is a fine idea. It could encompass basic suggestions such as "it's better to get a bag that's slightly too warm for your anticipated needs, or too big, than a bag that may leave you caught out in the cold or too restricted".

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
K.I.S.S. on 07/13/2008 19:03:29 MDT Print View

I love to cruise the various BPL forums to see what others are doing and get ideas on how to improve and/or lighten my load. There is an unimaginable amount of very high level information here at BPL.

When I begin to experience ultralite overload I load my pack and head for the trail. Which is what this is all about anyway. Better to be hiking out there instead of sitting at my computer.

Years ago, while I and many others spent the afternoon wet sanding the bottom of our sailboats, in preparation for a big championship, another fellow drug his boat down the concrete ramp and went sailing. He won more races with his banged up bottom than we did with our babys-butt smooth bottoms.

Josh Certain
(hgother) - F
overload on 07/14/2008 06:43:23 MDT Print View

Allison--I completely agree. I think though that specific recommendations could help, because just giving buying guidelines for most folks can be too vague. They need something as broad as "if you live in the west and think you might go out at various parts of the year, but aren't quite ready for mid-winter camping, do this. If you also want to do winter, do this." etc.

I think I have to institute this policy myself!
Coincidentally, sailing was my primary interest before backpacking, and you're spot on. I remember one time after researching and then tweaking for a couple of weeks, we went out, gunned it and generally went nuts. On the way back passed at least three very beat up boats in a flotilla, but they were all full of girls in bikinis, guys fishing, and people generally just having a good time not giving a second thought to equipment. Isn't that what being on the water is all about.

Then again, there was a poorly fitted newport 30 that dismasted under high backstay pressure. Oops--could have used some more research there...