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Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers.
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Ben Brogie
Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 19:07:31 MDT Print View

I have some friends that want to get into doing overnights. They have been asking me for gear recommendations, but what do you tell them when you use a tarp, sleep in a home made quilt, and use Pepsi cans for a stove. I really want them to get into backpacking but I don't think they are ready for the ultra lite just yet.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 19:29:26 MDT Print View

Are you going with them? Or can you 'demo' your alky and other UL gear on a day trip (or even backyard) with them? If so, then I think it's an excellent idea to start people right off with the right kind of gear.

I was a complete newbie back in 2004 -- starting off 'traditional light' but hated it and switched to UL within months with no ill effect.

The one caveat is whether these newbies are doing their overnight on rough terrain and cold temp? If so, then gear selection is probably the least of their problems, and you might want to dissuade them. But otherwise, most all 3-season hikes, UL gear should be fine, even for newbies.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 19:34:00 MDT Print View

You take the friends out on a dayhike of a few miles, and you hand them two backpacks that you've prepared. One contains traditional gear, and it weighs 30 pounds or so. The other contains ultralight gear, and it weighs 15 pounds or so. One friend starts with the big one, and one friend starts with the small one. Then halfway around the dayhike, they swap. At the end, you take back both backpacks and then ask them which way they want to go for an overnight trip.


drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 19:34:37 MDT Print View

I'd try to get them into lightweight gear that feels traditional. Some examples are Golite sleeping bags (W's for $99), Tarptent Rainbow, and that $12 canister stove that's been the subject of a recent thread.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
newbies on 08/24/2012 20:01:40 MDT Print View

What gear do they have now? And how much do they want to spend?

What i would do is get them to buy things that look like normal backpacking gear. So a backpack like the ula circuit, a tarptent or smd tent, a neo air for comfort or a foam pad for cost, and a decent quality bag if they want to spend the money.

If they already have a full car camping kit and dont want to spend to much i would have them focus on only bringing necessities.

Jim L
Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers on 08/24/2012 20:24:27 MDT Print View

I would pop open a cold one and talk about some central themes they should be considering as they chose what's appropriate for them. You know all this - they might not realize it yet.

Simplicity. Product complexity or too much stuff are two sides of one coin. They won't enjoy carrying stuff that's complicated to use or worse stuff that never comes out of the bag because they really don't need it at all. Don't get seduced by the piles of useless gadgets at the gear store.

Appropriateness. Just because everybody's gear list has rain jackets doesn't mean you need one if where and when you hike hasn't rained in decades. If they're low altitude summer hikers, it's unlikely they need layers upon layers. They should take what they need not what someone else needs.

Lightness. Given two equal products that do the same thing(s), take the lighter one. One product doing more things (multiuse) is only a benefit if the added capability is needed.

Personal. Each person has different desires and needs. For example, have them try your quilt on a CCF pad under a tarp in the back yard for a night. Each person will balance the pluses and minuses of this sort of stuff differently.

Insecurities. Encourage them to address their insecurities as impassionately as possible. Warn them of the evil desire built in to many of us to carry solutions to every conceivable but highly unlikely situation.

Simple. Appropriate to the situation. Light. Personalized. Realistic.

Sorry to be so long winded. It make require more than one cold one :)


Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 20:53:52 MDT Print View

I agree wholly with Bob.
It will be like the GVP "Lighten Up" video. Then you will be able to explain all the nuances of a kit as a system, as opposed to a bunch of gear in a pack.

Explaining how every little piece matters to noobs can be overwhelming. But if you did Bob's trick, they should be more receptive and patient with learning. -They will instantly see how big of a difference in comfort it makes. (let alone the ability to make miles)

Ben Brogie
Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers on 08/24/2012 21:01:11 MDT Print View

Unfortunately I'm not in their area or else I would show them my gear, take them out a couple nights and teach them some basics. I love your idea Bob I will use that in the future, and Jim those are awesome topics. They are very fresh, one of them has never spent a night outside and the other has only been car camping. I used to have a tarptent and loved it so I will throw them that idea.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Check out the ideas in articles here on 08/24/2012 22:27:20 MDT Print View

If you go back to the front page and then dig down, you'll find a number of articles aimed at helping Boy Scouts buy gear and get set up. You'll find those perfect for what you want to do.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/24/2012 23:22:44 MDT Print View

Ben, here are two articles I wrote on this very subject. They are free for anyone to view. You can share the links with them or whoever you'd like.

What a Beginner Needs for Backpacking: Part 1

What a Beginner Needs for Backpacking: Part 2

Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Re: Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/25/2012 10:25:02 MDT Print View

Ben, I made a couple of gear lists specifically considering how one approaches UL backpacking at different levels, i.e just starting out (<20 lbs) to advanced (<5 lbs). One word of caution I am not trying to make specific recommendations in these list but rather give examples of the type of gear you might purchase and the skill level required to use that gear. Also these are a couple of years old now so some of the exact pieces in the list are no longer available.


The "transition light weight list" has all the feel for traditional backpacking gear with a focus on easily purchased lightweight versions. In other words no more skill is really required to use this list than would be required of a traditional backpacker.

I am a big fan of REI for new folks for the ease of access and the great return policy.


Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Gear recommendations for beginner backpackers. on 08/25/2012 10:33:19 MDT Print View

GoLite Jam 70: $119....~1.5 pounds
Golite ShangriLa 1: $119....~2 pounds (with inner)
Kelty Cosmic Down 20 degree: $99....~2 pounds, 10 ounces
Cat can stove with grease pot: under $10...under 6 ounces
Blue foam pad (cut to torso length) from WalMart or similar: under $10....under 7 ounces
Driducks rainsuit: $20....under 1 pound
Petzl headlamp (tikka): $35....under 4 ounces

Add to that: synthetic Tshirt, generic fleece top or long sleeve, some nylon shorts/pants...

There's all your basics...Under $400 and you'd have a solid 3 season kit with a base weight of under 10 pounds. You wouldn't feel too "ultralight" or skimpy with this gear either...traditional sleeping bag with a fully enclosed shelter with netting.

Edited by xnomanx on 08/25/2012 10:37:28 MDT.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
sell it on the shoes, not the ul/sul stuff on 08/25/2012 12:48:10 MDT Print View

The reason that people understand to go lighter is the shoes. I ran into two girls last fall who were chugging along at a reasonable pace, but I passed them when one stopped to take off her boot and readjust the boots, a process I remember well, and with no fondness. I stopped to talk to them, noted that I was wearing low topped hikers with a low weight pack. They found UL backpackers somewhat ridiculous, though I will always regret not having asked them exactly why, but they did get the thing about shoes. Running shoes will be even more convincing, but it's my feeling that the tread on running shoes is not as safe for new backpackers as it is on more chunky low top hiking shoes. They may also have noticed that I was 30 years older than them but still was passing them, I don't know.

I'd say, if you want to turn off a new backpacker if they are sort of average types, by all means introduce them to UL gear on their first trip, not all, mind you, there will be some who really like it and respond to it, but many or most will see the gear as flimsy and delicate and a pain to use, which is fairly accurate if you're objective.

Light gear, on the other hand, is a different story, Craig Wisner gives a good sample list, but you don't have to go so low in weight, I was just at an outdoor store, you can get roughly 3, 3.5 lb. packs that are decent, small, 35 liters, with frames, padding, everything, and pretty much like a normal backpack. And very cheap right now on closeouts. Deuter had some especially nice looking ones.

The thing with a regular backpack is it's pretty durable, it's easy to use, you just toss stuff in it and it's right.

A 3 pound or so tent is going to be more durable and less delicate than one of the really light tents, and it will probably correspond roughly to what they expect. A rainbow is not bad but I think it depends where you camp with tarptent type tents, if it's just summer stuff, who really cares, but if it's going to hit rain or wind, most people are going to be a lot happier in a two walled tent.

If I wanted someone who either has never camped before or who is doing it again after years, to have a good time and want to return, I'd lend them a fullsized old thermarest, sleep is number one, and ccf is not comfortable for most people. Then I'd point them to the various foam core air mattress options, explaining the differences re weight and shape to them.

If the person is going alone or with a friend, they need a water filter, and that's the sawyer squeeze, easiest to use, most convenient, a slam dunk for gear, the only gear item I would consider best for any weight category in my entire light gear set. Costs the same roughly as any other option, which makes it even easier.

If they are cooking for themselves, I'd recommend a gas stove, they are just too easy, and as someone noted above, you can get the stove part for some $12 right now. Everyone understands how to use a gas stove. Alcohol is too picky, wind, windscreens, and the cat stove is too unstable, if alcohol, I'd show them a stove with a stove stand, but I think alcohol is a bit touchy compared to gas for a new camper. Maybe show them your stuff if you go with them, or show it to them in the yard, if you have one, and look at their reactions. If you show them a simple, non priming alcohol stove and they seem to like it and understand the point of rehydrating food (remember, you can cook easily with gas, not so much with alcohol), simmering vs rehydrating, etc.

If you add in all the real stuff you're going to bring, you might be able to hit a 15 pound base weight, not sure, very easily, but anything under 20 pounds is totally fine for a weekend 1 or 2 night trip. It's the difference between 50, 40, 35, 30 pounds, not 25 20 15, that matters, unless the person is just horribly out of shape, then you have some risk issues like ankle or knee sprains due to stumbling, which is helped very much by trekking poles or a hiking stick, but I think poles are better.

Extra socks, some blister moleskin stuff, a small knife, with scissors, water bottles, at least, you'll find the weight really isn't going to be anywhere close to 10 pounds base, not even remotely. Maybe 15 if you do it really well. Nor should you try, you're trying to make them like it, not hate it, and most people like the camping part more than the hiking part, the campfire, etc. Remember, you spend 18 or more hours a day camped if you are a normal hiker, 16 would be the minimum for most hikes and most hikers, so talking about hiking weight vs camp weight is sort of something that really only applies to people putting long hours and big days in, which is not your beginning backpacker.

Another piece of gear I think people understand is reusing 32 oz water bottles, right now, both whole foods and trader joes here in usa have a 33 oz 'electrolyte' water bottle for about 99 cents, it's light, reasonably strong, and has a good shape for backpacks. That's a nice way to introduce someone to the notion that gear doesn't have to be expensive or specialized to work well, and be light.

Edited by hhope on 08/25/2012 13:22:43 MDT.