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10 things not to buy for backpacking
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Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 18:26:36 MST Print View

A couple of friends are getting into backpacking, and I realized they are buying the same things everyone buys when they go to REI with a lack of experience and a full wallet (myself included, got a shed full of unused junk to prove it). I started putting together a list in my head of all the things that have come, through the miracle of advertising, to be viewed as essentials, but don't have a real solid purpose for backpacking. If you had a friend wanting to get into backpacking, what would you put back on the shelf for them? Initial thoughts-

Water Bottles- whether it's nalgenes or kleen canteens, I've certainly spent a bit of money on water containers, only to leave them behind in favor of spring water bottles from the recycling.

Groundsheet- When I bought my first tent for backpacking, I added the $12 or so for the (heavy!) groundcloth, and I still feel stupid.

Fancy Cookwear- it takes a bit of time on the trail, in my opinion, to figure out what works for you when it comes to camp kithen. It's crazy to see people pop out of their first gear binge with $100 in cookwear (usually a big "kit"). Anyone here actually use plates, butter knives, espresso makers, or spatulas on the trail? Me neither. I bought all kinds of titanium goodies off steepandcheap, only to end up with a fosters can and a cozy made out a car window shade.

GPS- I never indulged myself, but a couple of friends keep dragging them on trips where we stay on established trails and have a good map. I think a $10 compass will suffice for %90 of hikers.

Compression Sacks- Guilty here as well, I have a compression sack... full of compression sacks. I can't find an argument for them, and haven't used them in years

Pack covers- Anyone else shell out $30 for a pack cover only to see it quickly replaced by a two cent trash bag liner? Me too.

First Aid "kits"- expensive, heavy, and full of things most people will never use. I'm not saying people shouldn't carry a fak, I'm saying most of the pre-made ones available for purchase are ridiculous, and target the misinformed.

I'd like to throw in multitools, flashlights, pump filters, freestanding tents, $100 canister stoves, and other things, but I'm trying to stay away from personal preference and focus more on a "smart consumer" standpoint. Any thoughts?

Colin Krusor

Locale: Northwest US
List on 11/16/2011 18:48:59 MST Print View

Excellent list. I'd like to print this out and distribute it. It really would make backpacking a much more affordable enterprise for novices.

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 18:51:44 MST Print View

I think you're mostly right. Here's my experience or devil's advocate arguments on a few of these items though:

Water bottles: I'd much rather have a leech-free way of carrying water. Springwater bottles are not the answer.

Groundsheet: I'm mostly with you. But silnylon floors with a low HH can leak when you kneel on them if there's water beneath. Groundsheet of any kind (I use the super light poly thermal window treatment film) can solve this.

Fancy cookware: Cooking a back-country gourmet meal is a great way to get spirits up. To me, I think it is worth the weight. Right now I'm just using a 1L ti pot and a Caldera Code, reconstituting stuff I made in my home dehydrator. But I am considering adding a solution for frying or baking (lightweight of course) on the trail as well. I love good food.

GPS: I use a smartphone GPS to verify my position occasionally, even on trail. Probably not usually necessary, but I'm not leaving it behind. If I get lost, it can help me get out of it very quickly and confidently. And yes, I also bring a compass and map. Comparing the two positions is part of the fun.
Oh, if there's geocaching available in the area I'm in, I'm all over that, too.

Compression sack: Yeah, mine sits at home with other compression sacks in it too :)

Pack covers: Well, I'm not convinced a garbage bag liner is the answer. If I want to get something out of my pack in a downpour, I don't want everything else getting soaked.
Additionally, a pack cover can actually save weight because it will stop your pack from absorbing water (heavy).
Right now I'm experimenting with using a bunch of drybags, so most can stay closed when I have to open one. I do sometimes still miss a pack cover. It sucks when your pack is drenched.

FAK: Yup, learn and build your own. Then you'll actually know what to do with it when you need it, too.

Multitools: I keep imagining so many situations in which having one would be so handy (anything that needs bending, clamping, screwing or plying). But I haven't run into one in the real world yet, so I've reluctantly traded in my multitool for bringing a fixed blade of about the same weight, that I know I can always use for firebuilding or whatever.

Freestanding tents: There are a lot of areas around these parts where you are required to use raised wooden tent pads. Non-freestanding tents won't pitch on them.

Flashlight: Even if it's just an LED button light, it makes having to do anything in the dark so much easier.

Edited by dasbin on 11/16/2011 18:55:52 MST.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Things not to buy on 11/16/2011 18:53:02 MST Print View

Candle lantern
Pack fly

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
Re: Things not to buy on 11/16/2011 18:57:44 MST Print View

Yeah, I never got the candle lantern thing either. Provides light for a very long time, but the heat is really nothing and most of the IR is reflected back inside by the lantern itself.
Tried it in an attempt to reduce condensation with 2 people in a tent in the winter. No noticeable effect for me. I don't get the success stories on this one.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 19:13:44 MST Print View

I would disagree on the cookware. Why? I feel every trip has its own demands. Just as I don't own only one tent or sleeping bag, I own many pieces of cookware. What works for a solo pack doesn't for a couple or a family. Those fancy pieces of cookware have their place indeed. I'd rather use an MSR or GSI pot (and MSR isn't cheap) than a no-name pot or a Ti pot that burns everything.

Water boiling can be done easy enough in a Ti pot or a HAA tea kettle but actual cooking calls for tools.

I DO use a spatula (it is small and UL) for making pancakes, biscuits, etc. I also carry a bamboo set of knife, fork, spoon and chopsticks on some trips. And yes, I have actually carried a backpacking wok, a pepper mill and even gasp.....a cheese grater. I carry an actual insulated mug on nearly all trips (I like warm beverages) and when I travel with my kids or husband I carry a UL bowl (same size as my mug) so we can share meals.

On canister stoves? You gets whats you pays for. Again, I have no issue paying money for an MSR or Snowpeak stove. They don't fail often and if they do the company will actually help you.

GPS? It is a fun toy. I use mine more for walking and rail to trails but enjoy it very much. YMMV of course, I happen to find it fun.

Multi tools? Use my mini one ALL the time. I carry it in my purse even. Freestanding tents? Sure. I have better things to do with my time and I like the headroom and overall structure of the tent. I have all kinds of shelters and I go back to my free standers all the time.

Nalgenes....funny is I had a couple years I put them away. Then I realized I just preferred them, especially in winter. I despise bladders for drinking out of - although I carry the bladder part for my water source in camp.

Pack covers? Still prefer them as well. I am not a fan of garbage bags and I like packs that open up, not top loaders.

Samuel Kau
(Skau) - M

Locale: Southern California
Fancy Watch on 11/16/2011 19:19:06 MST Print View

I thought the coolest thing were the $300 dollar watches that had a compass, barometer, altimeter, thermometer. I still think the watch is cool but...rarely use it other than telling me the time...

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 19:31:22 MST Print View

I also take/need a few of these things, but not the REI version!

Water bottles: Never nalgenes! I decided to stick with platypus because they are (1) lighter than soda water bottles and (2) fold up to take far less volume in my pack.

Groundsheet: Do you mean a groundsheet or a footprint here? I agree that footprints are expensive unnecessary weight I usually take nothing, but if I expect the ground to be really soggy, I will throw in a thin piece of plastic dropcloth or polycro.

Fancy cookware: I'm with you on that! I do have a lightweight frying pan to take when fishing--I haven't yet been able to christen it, though. :-( Otherwise it's a 550 ml Ti pot and a plastic spoon. I rehydrate my home-dehydrated dinners in and eat out of a freezer bag. Some folks, though, really like to cook, and once upon a time, 30 years ago, I was one of those.

GPS: I've spent many years using map and compass and see no need to struggle learning a new gadget which also requires carrying extra batteries. I'm still trying to decipher the owner's manual on my 4-year-old camera!

Compression sacks: Aren't they horrible? I have an enormous one I bought for an enormous synthetic bag 25 years ago; haven't used it (or the bag) in years! I think the compression sack weighs almost as much as the sleeping bag!

Pack covers: I use my pack as a pillow, so I want at least the front of it dry. On the other hand, a pack cover will not keep your pack contents dry either in heavy rain (that runs down your back into the back of the pack) or if you fall in the creek! I gave up on trash compactor bag liners because I would spend 5-10 minutes every morning shoving small items down into the pack only to have them pop right back out at me. I use a dry bag for my sleeping bag and another for my insulating clothing. For what it's worth, my pack cover is from ZPacks and weighs 1 oz. The dry bags and pack cover together weigh about the same as a trash compactor bag liner.

Store bought first aid kits: Better to take a good backcountry first aid course which teaches you to improvise with what's at hand for major injuries which you'll rarely or ever encounter. I put together my own kit for minor stuff plus a few items for my dog.

Multitool: I have to differ on that. I don't have much strength in my fingertips, so I use the pliers on my Leatherman Squirt (1.9 oz.) more than any other part. I also use the file blade on my perpetually-splitting fingernails and occasionally need one of the screwdriver blades for prying. On rare occasions, I may even need to cut something!

Pump filter: I don't use a pump filter, but I do use a lightweight homemade gravity filter. After my dog came down with giardiasis some months ago and almost literally exploded all over the car, I'm now filtering his water as well as my own, and neither of us likes chlorine-dioxide treated water.

Some kind of light is part of the "Ten" Essentials. I would recommend a lightweight LED headlamp over a flashlight, though. Especially those heavy metal ones!

Most of these choices fall into the YMMV category. But I think it's more important for beginners to start simply, avoid the high-priced gadgets or really heavy stuff and borrow/rent the main pieces of gear (pack, tent, sleeping) for their first few trips.

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/16/2011 19:41:27 MST.

Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Compression sacks on 11/16/2011 19:40:18 MST Print View

Why the hate on compression sacks?!

Here'd be a fun game: you have 750 (or 1000) dollars to spend at REI to totally outfit yourself in the lightest way possible. Go!

Todd Ler
(Toddler) - F

Locale: PNW
check out for awesome gearlists on 11/16/2011 19:55:42 MST Print View

"Here'd be a fun game: you have 750 (or 1000) dollars to spend at REI to totally outfit yourself in the lightest way possible. Go!"

Forum member Jamie Shortt has this covered already on his excellent website.

$350 ultralite gear list

sub 10lb gear list from rei

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
Silly game on 11/16/2011 20:13:24 MST Print View

You really need to specify conditions and situation though. The true "lightest way possible" is to put the $1000 in the bank and start walking.

May or may not be appropriate for the conditions.

Even those gear lists would be considered suicide for at least half the hikes I do around here.

Edited by dasbin on 11/16/2011 20:15:40 MST.

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
Preference on 11/16/2011 20:29:35 MST Print View

Yeah, by groundsheet I meant footprint. And obviously a light of some variety, just not the traditional flashlight.

I realize there is a situation or preference to argue for each of these things, I just figured from a "first time out", general backpacking perspective there were things you don't need to be concerned with. Maybe a bit broad for a concrete list.

I love the "UL on the Cheap" lists, and have made a couple up. Then I feel silly for all the money I've spent on gear in the last 5 years.

And I have never found a leech in my spring water bottle ;)

Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 20:43:59 MST Print View

I think most backpackers carry a lot of whats on that list. You really mean whats not wanted for lightweight backpacking.

Everything has its place...sometimes.

Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Re: Silly game on 11/16/2011 20:46:11 MST Print View

Jeez, it was meant lightheartedly, no need to be so crankypants.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 21:24:41 MST Print View

Anything marketed as Bomber.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 21:24:53 MST Print View

1. The token carabiner to hang on your pack. Somewhere, sometime, somehow, non-climbers decided this detail gives you backcountry cred.

2. A KABAR or similar frightening gigantic fighting knife. Now maybe I'll regret it, but I've yet to have to brain somebody on the trail or cut my way out of a fuselage.

3. Camouflage clothing, tactical vests, or MilSpec boots to match your KABAR. Yes, I saw a tactical vest on a backpacker recently. Unless you're hunting or sporting a 12" red mohawk, camo is SO 1984. Remember Red Dawn?

4. The camper's ice cream ball. Unless it doubles as a habitat for your trail gerbil.2

5. The overweight "comprehensive" first aid kit, stocked for "Trips of up to 28 days". 28 days of wounds, broken bones, infections, and illnesses? Besides, it's backpacking, not trench warfare.
(See #2 and #3)

6. Anything around the checkout counter at REI. No, you don't need a blue anodized carabiner keychain shaped like a shark with a whistle and bottle opener on it. Real drunks open beer bottles with belt buckles, Bic lighters, or teeth.

7. Just about anything locked in a glass case at REI. That $450 Suunto watch? Leave it for the cosmonauts.

8. A whole roll of toilet paper. A buddy, inexperienced backpacker that he is, recently showed up on an overnight with a complete, unopened roll of Charmin sticking out of his pack's side pocket. I asked him how much food he brought...

9. Any outdoor gear branded "Jeep", "Marlboro", "Bear Grylls", or similar. Might as well get the decoder ring and a dog named Pete while you're at it.

10. The North Face MET5 electric jacket. Most people will think you're a fool for buying it unless you're flying a Colonial Raptor and fighting Cylons.

Edited by xnomanx on 11/16/2011 21:36:26 MST.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 21:29:40 MST Print View

Awesome post Craig!

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: 10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 21:35:38 MST Print View

Yeah, well, it's a slow night around here...

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
electric jacket on 11/16/2011 21:48:11 MST Print View

that north face jacket is an epic piece of wacker gear, never heard of it before!

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
10 things not to buy for backpacking on 11/16/2011 21:52:26 MST Print View

Yeah, you're clever now, but wait until the Soviets get back together and invade the middle of the U.S. Then where are you going to be?