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A starting backpacker looking for advice
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Andreas Evers
A starting backpacker looking for advice on 06/09/2012 04:56:07 MDT Print View

Hey everyone,

I've been looking around on the forum for some time now trying to make up my mind on which gear I should buy for my first real hikes.

I have done a couple small hikes in the past, such as the Zion Narrows (with tent), Iceland's Landmanalauger's trail and some others around the world, but I never really went on big trails without a car nearby.

I'm living in Belgium so to cut down the costs I've planned a couple big hikes in Europe first:

- Tour Mont Blanc (first 2 weeks of July)
- GR20 Corsica (last 2 weeks of September)

Now these are obviously no thru-hikes, but they're challenging for the steep trails and demanding schedule.

That brings me to my question, what gear do you propose for a starting hiker?

I'm not planning on hikes that take longer than 3 weeks in the future, but I am willing so spend some money on quality gear that lasts. I keep asking myself the question whether I should ease in the UL or SUL backpacking gear by first buying Light gear. Should I first experience whether I need more or less comfort, and not spending that much on something that - while it might give me a great light pack during the day, could ruin my nights completely.

I've been looking into tents first, and there I noticed tarps, cuben fibre and bivy bags. Like I mentioned, would these SUL tents be too basic and not enough comfort? The trekking poles seem like a great way to cut down the weight, and I haven't found any commercial tent that applies this technique.

Looking forward to hearing from your experiences on what would be the best tactic to start backpacking!


Chris Lucas
(ChemE) - F

Locale: SC
Dive In! on 06/09/2012 06:14:51 MDT Print View

My approach when converting from traditional backpacking to my current SUL setup was to choose the lightest possible item in each category and eliminate as many items as I could on the first go round. I figured that if any item I selected was too light/fragile/uncomfortable I could replace that item after testing revealed its inadequacy. I only had to replace or augment a few things and I have the comfort of knowing that I don't have a lot of needless weight to eliminate because I eased in rather than diving in. My test hikes have been short, close to exit points, and in fairly well traveled areas so help is never far should I need it (just to be safe).

Now that I've got a SUL full-comfort gear list I would like to try to get a XUL full-comfort list. Full-comfort is a term of my own which to me means: sleep on air, be able to cook, and sleep in a tent since bug pressure is significant in the Eastern US. It is easy enough to get SUL if you tarp it, skip cooking, and sleep on foam but much more difficult with cooking, a tent, and an air mat. So again, my advice is to dive in, you'll be surprised at just how comfortable SUL can be.

EDIT: My Full-Comfort 3 Season SUL Gear List

Edited by ChemE on 06/09/2012 06:17:39 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: A starting backpacker looking for advice on 06/09/2012 08:14:11 MDT Print View

No reason to get heavy stuff first, then lightweight - people do that because they're unknowledgeable and the light stuff is less well known and fairly recently developed

Superlight stuff like just a bivy or using a rain poncho as your shelter may be too light

Get a lightweight tarp/tent that weighs 1 to 2 pounds - like from MLD or Tarp Tent. Most people like quilts. If you have a quilt and tarp with raised edges so there's more rain splash then you probably need a bivy.

Dilemma - do you buy expensive (high performance) stuff, like a quilt, that will last a long time, or do you buy cheaper stuff first to see if you like quilts vs sleeping bags.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: A starting backpacker looking for advice on 06/09/2012 08:43:27 MDT Print View

One of the most efficient ways to build a gear list is to look at what others have put together. Many folks here have a gear list on their profile page. Pay just a little attention to who is posting and what they are doing and you will have some good models.

Look at several lists, pay attention to the seasons and locations, the date of the list (outdated gear), and then build a comparative spreadsheet. At first it may seem impossible, but with only a little effort a 12# "skin out" kit is easy. After that you have to decide how much robustness and comfort you need.

In general, most of the gear mentioned here is good for a hundred+ trail-days of hiking, with just a little awareness and care. Comfort is relative, and variable, depending on the trip at hand. For fast solo trips I give up a lot. For social trips I take a lot. Desert canyons take less than alpine ridges. But a good mantra to always keep in mind is "Don't Pack Your Fears".

Another key to success is learning about food. Finding 3000 palatable calories per day under 1.5 pounds a day is a challenge if you are going the "just add boiling water" route, but it essential to reducing fuel and kitchen weight. My observation is that the mechanics of building a gear list is far easier than building a menu.

Edited by greg23 on 06/09/2012 10:30:59 MDT.

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
re:A starting backpacker looking for advice on 06/09/2012 10:19:29 MDT Print View

+1 what Greg says,especially the first paragraph. I began bpking a little less than 2 years ago, and looking at other's lists has been valuable to me. And of course watching pertinent threads here. Learning about UL cottage industries before running to the nearest REI saved me lots of weight and money in the long run. Experimenting with gear close to home(at home FTM)is also essential.
Good luck and have fun.

Katy Anderson
(KatyAnderson) - F
Huts along the way on 06/09/2012 12:17:47 MDT Print View

Both the routes you are planning have huts, Inns, hotels, restaurants and stores along the way. So before you go out and buy a large pile of backpacking gear think about if you will actually have an opportunity to use it.

You could I guess pack a pack with shelter, pad, sleeping bag, pot, stove and a two weeks worth of freeze dried food. But you might feel kind of silly when others are walking by with just a day pack.

So yes, look at gear lists, but it needs to be gear lists from people who are doing a similar type trip as you.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: A starting backpacker looking for advice on 06/09/2012 15:56:01 MDT Print View

Hi Andreas

First of all, camping around the TMB is meant to be illegal. You might get away with it in some places if you stay out of site, but why bother?

Sevond, the route is very well provisioned with Refuges, at least every half day. I can especially recommend Les Motets: the dinner was excellent! On the other hand, Col de Balme was run by an elderly couple who were extremely stingy.

The TMB route does have some ups and downs, but I would not call it 'challenging', just good fun. The schedule is definitely not demanding. Children do it with their parents.

I saw people doing the TMB with a day pack holding a jacket, towel, toothbrush, a jumper and their lunch. Many did not even have a real map, just some photocopied notes. But don't misunderstand me: it's a great walk! We enjoyed it very much.


Jason Amick
(isneer) - F
Re on 06/11/2012 04:56:53 MDT Print View

I am also new here and I think by reading this post I can really improve myself.

Devon Cloud

Locale: Southwest
starting fresh, spend money on UL gear on 06/11/2012 10:32:58 MDT Print View

You will simply triple your costs if you buy non-UL gear. You will use it once, realize how heavy that made your pack, and spend twice as much lightening your pack thereafter. The very first rule to remember:


That is not to say that the same can be said for warmth, rain, and food preparedness.

That being said, don't buy a pack that can pack the kitchen sink and all the items in the world. That will be what your instincts tell you to do, fight it. Buy a pack just big enough to take the smallest tent that will work for you, your food, layers of clothing needed to keep warm, perhaps a tarp (look into cuben fiber tarps)and your water filtration. a sleeping bag/pad, if it can fit in the pack great but if not keep it on the outside in a waterproof compression sack. I would not purchase a heavier bag just for the purpose of having enough room for your sleepingbag (or quilt which would be lighter to fit in your bag.

Next, consider where you will be camping. If you will have no problems fingind finger-sized sticks to burn, I would purchase a wood burning stove to cook your meals. This would mean no fuel weight other than some vaseline covered cotton balls to start your fire with. IF you need fuel, I would think about an alcohol burning stove or a nesbit burner. search the forum for these stoves, there are a bunch of them out there and there are quite a few to choose from.

Next, be careful how much you pack in clothing. Most everyone I see overpacks. Make sure it is light fiber that, if wet, will dry quickly (no cotton).

There are a bunch of gear lists to look at to help you as well. I highly suggest trecking poles as if you do any river crossings could save you from going into the drink.

Andreas Evers
Great feedback! on 06/13/2012 13:52:49 MDT Print View

Wow - amazing response.

Your help is greatly appreciated. The past days I've followed up the advice, and now I'm trying to find stores to get the gear you recommended.

I'll make another forum topic regarding Europe-based custom SUL gear shops. All the ones I found by reading the other threads were in the US or Canada.

I'll for sure also make another reply here to announce what I've bought and why.

Thanks already for the awesome feedback!

Andreas Evers
Bought me some gear! on 06/15/2012 17:58:51 MDT Print View

Alright, I followed up the advice from you guys, and bought the following items:

2) Sleeping bag: PHD Minim 400

Both UL to SUL parts, with the possibility to ship within the next 2 weeks. Also close to home, as I'm living in Belgium.

Next up: Sleeping mat (Therm-a-rest XTherm or XLite?), trekking poles and the most dificult part of all - the tent!

Floris Van den Abeele
Re: Bought me some gear! on 06/16/2012 14:22:27 MDT Print View

As far as the trekking poles go, I'm planning to get a pair of Fizan Compact trekking poles. They cost 60 euros a pair and are one of lightest aluminium poles available at 167.5 g per pole(according to the review on BPL). Since Fizan is an Italian brand, they are readily available in our region :)

As far as lightweight tents go, they are a whole range of options. Some notable brands that allow the use of trekking poles are Six Moon Design, Tarptents and Go-lite. They are all American however and thus a bit hard to get in Europe. A couple of notable european webshops that might offer items of your interest:

You might also be interested in a thread of mine on lightweight 2 person shelters at I ended up buying a Tarptent Stratospire 2 from, however I haven't been able to test it yet.
Could you share your (future) shopping experiences as well, i.e. which shop did you use and were you happy with their service? I'm from Belgium as well and it's sometimes hard to find suitable retailers in our region.

Edited by logion on 06/16/2012 14:23:56 MDT.

Andreas Evers
Bought more gear :) on 06/21/2012 09:40:48 MDT Print View

My previous post mentioned which sleeping bag & backpack I bought. Now I bought a couple more items:

1) Pack: LAUFBURSCHE huckePACK L (411g)
2) Sleeping bag: PHD Minim 400 L (886g)
3) Tent: TarpTent StratoSpire 1 (900g)
4) Poles: Black Diamond Trial (528g)
5) Rain jacket: OMM Cypher Jacket L (304g)
6) Mid layer: Klattermüsen Mithril Sweater (346g)

Some information why I purchased these items:

1) Based in Europe and very lightweight. Could be bought in cuban fibre but chose for the standard Dyneema X Gridstop fabric because of the durability.
Also bought the additional hip pocket belt M (1.5L) to hold my camera.
Bought straight from the "factory".
2) PHD offers highly customizable bags, which I made good use of. I wanted a full zip for those warm weather conditions.
Bought straight from the "factory".
3) For my reasons of buying this tent & where, see the following topic:
4) The BD Trials have the best price/value ratio. Also, BD tend to last longer than Leki or other brands. I didn't want the carbon superlights because they tend to break and you can't adjust the height when going up or downhill.
5) The OOM Cypher is made of eVent 3 layer fabric which is probably better than Gore-tex. It's definitely more breathable. The jacket appears to have an excellent hood. I would have gone for the smock as it's lighter and has less seams but I couldn't find one that could be shipped to Belgium in less than two weeks. Eventually I bought the shell in Sheffield as a mate of mine lives there and is willing to take it to Belgium over the weekend.
The shop is called AccelerateUK (
6) Mithril fleece is in outlet right now:

Edited by krosan on 06/21/2012 10:10:58 MDT.

carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Bought more gear :) on 06/21/2012 10:40:58 MDT Print View

A bit late but IMHO the pack should be the last item puchased. Once all other items have been gathered you will have a volume spec that will dictate pack size. My first purchase was a 50L pack. I found out later I only needed 33L so I had another purchase. Lots of great info above and with a bit of experience you can modify to suit you specific needs as to what is available on your hike, where your comfort is and the weather.