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Most important gear item
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Sean Monahan
(Zvolen) - F

Locale: CA Central Valley
Most important gear item on 03/25/2013 17:14:50 MDT Print View

Okay here is my predicament; I've backpacked in the past as a kid - its probably been 10 years or so. Therefore I have a backpack, sleeping bag, most of the clothes needed and I no longer have a tent, stove, or sleeping pad. I want to get back into backpacking and outdoors in general so I will need to purchase some gear but at this time I don't want to purchase all of the gear and end up not using it.

I have a dividend from REI I was planning on using as well as the member coupon and was trying to decide which piece of gear I should get. My hope is get something so that I no longer have an excuse to not go out (for instance not having all the required gear) but not spend an arm and a leg to do so since I don't know how much I will be able to get out. These trip will consist of small weekend trip and nothing much more than that for the foreseeable future.

My thought was to get a tent, like the Half Dome, which would allow me all the gear I would need and could then purchase a cheap foam mattress from Wal-Mart or such. But I do have the option to borrow a tent so was then thinking of getting an inflatable sleeping pad for comfort (which if I am comfortable I will go out more, right?) Then hopefully be able to also purchase a stove as well.

What piece should I focus on, or should I go an entirely new route all together. I was just looking for guidance and help or ideas would be beneficial, thanks.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Most important gear item" on 03/25/2013 17:33:19 MDT Print View

If you're looking for the one piece of gear that will keep you from not getting out backpacking, then figure out what one piece of gear you currently have (or don't have yet) that is preventing you from getting out now. I don't think anyone can really guess for you.

For me it was my entire package. I wanted to lighten my load considerably. I've changed my pack, sleeping bag, mattress, tent, stove, pot and cut down on clothes, first aid kit, etc. For this year's REI dividend, I wanted a better air mattress. The one I got last year is fine but I don't sleep that great on it. I'm getting a Big Agnes Q Core SL wide. The weight penalty is worth it to me if I get a great night's sleep.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Most important gear item on 03/25/2013 17:39:45 MDT Print View

Don't kill your back or wallet on an expensive shelter right now. If you're not ready for tarp camping, buy and seam seal this shelter from Big 5 for $50. Get rid of the pole and stuff sack (use a trekking pole instead) and you'll have a 2.5lb shelter. Add ~10oz if you decide to keep the pole and forgo the trekking poles.

Half dome is a nice tent but no point spending that kind of money if you're not sure that this is for you IMO. With the Hi Tec V Lite 2, you get a shelter which is half the weight for a third of the price.

You can buy an Esbit stove and fuel for $20.

I'd just rehydrate food for this trip and don't worry about frying or any psychedelic cooking for now. Buy the cheapest aluminum pot you can find which will boil two cups of water.

I'd just go with a Zlite or blue closed cell foam pad (as you mentioned) for the time being:

All this will get you moving for less than $80 before you've even touched your dividend.

Edit: Just suggestions based on my experiences. Didn't want my suggestions to come across in a bossy way.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 03/25/2013 17:48:46 MDT.

Andrew Urlacher
(anarkhos) - M

Locale: Colorado, Wyoming
Get some good Books! on 03/25/2013 17:51:32 MDT Print View

I agree with Dena. You need to figure out what exactly is keeping you from getting outside and tackle that first. I think for most people it's their shelter. You would obviously be more comfortable with a double walled tent for total protection and peace of mind, at a weight penalty. And the cheaper you go on the tent, the heavier it will be. When I first got back into backpacking I bought a cheapish REI tent. I liked it, but it was heavy (almost 5 pounds) and I really regretted not spending the extra money and going lighter to begin with. You will save money over the long run if you go for quality now versus "something that will do for now."

On the other end of the spectrum, you can get a lot of really good functional equipment for cheap. Instead of dropping $100 on a stove, take a small MYOG alcohol stove and use that, damn near cost free. If you decide you hate alcohol cooking, you can switch later without having wasted money. Same goes for things like cheapo blue foam pads for sleeping (don't waste money on an expensive air pad if you can hack it with a CCF pad).

I would really, really recommend buying Andrew Skurka's Gear Guide or Mike Clelland's Ultralight Backpackin' Tips. There is excellent info in those, especially for novices and people upgrading to lightweight gear.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Most important gear item on 03/25/2013 17:58:51 MDT Print View

The one piece of gear that you should really lay down the cash for is a sleeping bag. You can get a cheap shelter, cheap clothing, a cheap pack, but if you get a cheap sleeping bag, you are either going to be very cold or carrying a ton of weight.

Sean Monahan
(Zvolen) - F

Locale: CA Central Valley
Re: "Most important gear item" on 03/25/2013 18:03:43 MDT Print View

I understand your point and maybe I didn't explain myself well enough this goes for Ian as well. I want to backpack more and have a knowledge of it currently and I know I will be doing more in the future, so its not a maybe.

As far as what has stopped me in the past it was easily time but that I didn't have a full system and I could easily completely change that but would rather have some days/nights under my belt to better make that decision plus the initial cost is prohibitive.

Now since I do eventually want to gear towards lightweight I was hoping to get things that could fulfill that purpose now, as mentioned I would rather buy quality gear now then regret that decision later. I suggested the tent because I eventually want a TT Double Rainbow, but spending that money now is not available and figured the Half Dome could work in the meantime to get me out there and then I could always use the half dome in the future for easier trips or even more car type camping occasions where weight is not an issue.

I have tried an alcohol stove in the past and just didn't like the fuss of it all and would rather just get a canister stove now knowing I will use it now and in the future as I convert or even in the car camping scenarios I explained above. I hope that clarifies my need, I just need a system and of the items I need which would be the most important to get now?

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: "Most important gear item" on 03/25/2013 18:19:13 MDT Print View

Hi Sean,

Could you tell us what kit you have already and we could make recommendation on what best to change.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: "Most important gear item" on 03/25/2013 18:49:25 MDT Print View

Good idea, Stephen, or post a list with weights as a Gear List post for evaluation.

Your kit is a system and usually has some related parts. In my case my shelter and rain gear are the same. My clothing is a calculated part of my sleep system

More to the point: you can go a long way with a decent CCF sleeping pad. A blue foam pad from REI is $27.50 and a RidgeRest is a little more.

You sleeping bag should be close to the temperature range expected. You clothing can fill some gaps.

Tents can be expensive. IMHO, good tarp is better than a cheap tent and being lighter, it might take up the slack for other gear that is heavier. A decent silnylon tarp will always be useful. Add some Tyvek or Polycryo window film for a floor. You could start out with an Esbit or alcohol stove and a Stanco grease pot or a Snowpeak titanium bowl for your kitchen. Alcohol stoves are cheap and you could make your own. There are canister stoves that aren't too expensive if you gave some budget to work with. Add a plastic spoon or fork and some recycled water bottles. Micropur tablets are cheaper in the short run than a filter.

I don't know what your pack is like. If it is big enough, work with that as your the rest of your kit together and buy your pack last.

Here is my generic gear list that shows the things you should be taking:

Climate, temperature range and personal metabolism should be considered with the clothing list, which is deliberately minimal. It is assumed that any liquids like bug repellent or sun screen would be decanted to the smallest possible container for the trip.
Of course, the devil is in the details. Weigh everything and make a list (most use spreadsheets). Seek out those products that deliver the highest performance, lightest weight, and multiple uses. If you are not going to use a particular item, leave it at home. Keep electronic toys and other extras to a minimum. Be diligent and you will be rewarded with a comfortable, safe, and light kit. The list:
Backpack Pack liner Trekking poles
Shelter Ground cloth Guy lines Stakes
Sleeping bag Sleeping pad
First aid kit
Fire starter
Insect repellent
Small repair kit (duct tape, sewing kit)
Water container(s) Water treatment
Cook pot Stove Windscreen Fuel container Spork
Food Bear bag Line
Base layer shirt Pants/shorts Insulation layer Windshirt Bandana
Insect head net Hat
Rain jacket/poncho Rain pants
Potty trowel Toilet paper Hand cleaner Soap Toothbrush Floss, Toothpaste, Comb

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Re: Re: "Most important gear item" on 03/25/2013 19:52:26 MDT Print View

I hear you that you know you what to get back into backpacking.

A quality sleeping pad is the easiest decision. Sure, people will pick nits, but an inflatable around 10-12 ounces, R=2 to 3 for summer only use. R = about 5 if you expect to do 4-season camping. That one pad could then be part of whatever system you decide on - bag or quilt, tent or tarp.

I wouldn't fault a decision to get a blue foam or RidgeRest pad now. Decently comfortable and light, it will always be useful for a trip to a place with sharp rocks, when inviting a friend or doubling up with an inflatable for winter use.

For the quilt or bag, I'd suggest taking more trips and figuring out what your total sleep system is. The sleep system includes the pad and clothing you wear at night.

If you are ready to go to a tarp - if that level of weight savings is appealing and you feel ready to jiggle each set up to suit the location, it's cheaper and lighter than any tent. For the occasional bug-infested trip, borrow or rent a full tent or add that to your gear closet far in the future.

I agree with other posters that if you want to try alcohol stoves, there is little financial outlay there.

If you get any modern, light canister stove, that's where many experienced people end up. I'd suggest the canister stove and a very cheap pot (tin can, Foster's can, etc) while you consider what Ti pots or HX pots fits your needs best. Long and group trips favor HX pots because there is more fuel to be saved. Short and solo trips are better for beer cans and such.

Jan S
Go make experiments on 03/25/2013 20:40:28 MDT Print View

In my experience it's really not simple to judge what equipment works for you. It's even harder from afar and books and guides get you starting points to think, but can't really tell you what piece of equipment works for you and which one sucks. What you want and need is a bit of an experience thing. WHich is sad for your wallet. And I would bet everyone here has sunk quite a bit of money into stuff that was just plain crap for them (I know I did).

So, my advice would be not to buy a tent. Especially if it's one you don't really want to use, but borrow one and spend a couple nights out in various conditions. That should give you an idea what you value most in a tent. If you want to give tarps a shot, get something that works in mild conditions and try it. No need to buy a cuben tarp and discover later that you want the full blown double wall experience.

If you don't own a stove and can't get one, buy one. If you can borrow something or want to fiddle with cat food cans, do that. If you find out that freeze dried cardboard isn't your thing and you want to actually cook, get a decent stove if you want to use self dehydrated stuff get a decent dehydrator later and keep the cheap stove for some time. Trouble is, it's hard to decide this stuff at home.

Same for sleeping pads. Buy an expensive NeoAir (or something like that) and find out later that you can't sleep well because you're afraid all the time that it might go flat on you but you sleep excellent on foam pads and you've sunk quite a bit of money.

Sleeping bags. Apart from the eternal down vs synthetic fight, there is the question wether you sleep cold or not. Again you will probably need to get cold during a couple nights to find out what exactly fits your needs. No reason to sink a lot of money into bags that are either overkill or just not enough.

Basically I'd try to start out with the cheapest kit you can get that has an acceptable weight. Acceptable weight here means something you and your backpack can carry well. Also keep in mind that weight is only one variable (albeit an important one) in the whole setup and depending on your style and what you want to do others might become more important.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Buy Good Stuff Once. on 03/25/2013 21:00:23 MDT Print View

I bought the bare essentials from the ground up starting last February, 2012. In August 2012, I was prepared for a 30-day long camping trip.

Now it's March of 2013.

I still use:

My $75 EMS 20ยบ Sleeping Bag, with no need to replace it.
My Hennessy Hammock Tent. Made a good call.
My Smartwool Midweight Baselayer, crew and tights.

I have replaced:
Backpack (Twice)
Sleeping Pad (Twice)
Shoes (Trail Runners)
Hiking Snow Boots
Trekking Poles
Hiking Pants

Almost all of these replacements were from going budget, and then later seeing the value in quality gear. My shell ripped, my sleeping pads gave me a poor night's sleep, my boots gave me blisters, my fleeces pilled and absorbed water, and my backpacks were not as comfortable as they could have been for long distances.

Take your time. Become an expert at buying used gear, following sales, buying gear out of season, and finding the best reviews. Figure out where to strike a balance between durability and light weight. Otherwise, you'll buy twice eventually.

Edited by mdilthey on 03/25/2013 21:00:53 MDT.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
All the advice you'll ever need on 03/25/2013 21:43:39 MDT Print View

Well, Sean, I was going to add my $0.02 to this thread, but it seems you have all your answers already:

Buy cheap to start
Buy quality to start
Don't buy a tent
Buy the tent you really want
Buy a tarp
Make a stove
Buy a stove
Invest in a good pad
Get a Wally world pad

Clear as mud! ;)

Seriously, though, people are making recommendations based on their assumptions of your goals. What ARE your goals, short, mid, and long term? I think knowing that will clarify how much you're prepared to invest right now, which will in turn give you a better idea where your money would be best spent.

James Cahill

Locale: Suthern Carl
Do it to it on 03/25/2013 23:59:46 MDT Print View

Like everyone has mentioned, its all personal preference. Before I took sleeping outdoors seriously, my experience consisted of getting shitfaced in the woods and passing out on the ground.

When you have nothing, you realize what you really need.

This may sound stupid and trivial, but go lay in your backyard at night and attempt to sleep. You will quickly realize what it is you miss the most (warmth, comfort, bug protection) and that will determine your most important purchase.

I vote you buy an inexpensive and light CCF pad - you will be able to modify it for a number of different lightweight applications if you decide its not worth sleeping on (sit pad, pack frame, wing pads, extra winter insulation, etc.) that will make it worth the $.

ps - I know you said you didn't like alcohol stoves, but in my biased opinion give it another shot. A $1 can of cat food changed my life ( ). In a good way. And i don't even like cats.

Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
books on 03/26/2013 01:19:54 MDT Print View

I'd definitely buy books from

- Mike Clelland
- Chris Townsend
- Andrew Skurka

Before ANY gear purchase

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Most important gear item on 03/26/2013 02:44:01 MDT Print View

Well, what do you want to do now?

>Buy quality items that are light that you will not need to replace, based soley on our suggestions?

>Or just get decently light items for cheap to get you back into it, then replace items as you get the money and knowledge of what works for you?

From what it sounds like, it seems you are saying the latter. If that's the case, then I will second EVERYTHING Ian said. I actually have that tent I picked up to replace my quarterdome, just seem seal it good.

I would only add, that you can pick up an older external frame from craigslist for $20-$30. This will make carrying what is likely to be a heavier pack more comfortable until you start spending the money to lighten your gear list.

I would say, right now, use your REI dividend on a stove or sleeping bag, but I would save it for next year, until you figure out what works for you and have a better idea of what you want before spending $400 on a sleeping bag, just to find out you prefere a quilt.

Personally, haveing gone through spending $$$$ to get into backpacking, just to realize that what I really want out of my gear will cost me another $$$$$$ to replace what I am using now, I totally suggest getting in as cheap as possible, and spend your time researching, saving, and hiking.
After hiking, you will know what you want each piece to do for you.
After researching, you will know what is the lightest itteration of that piece. Finally, after saving, you will be able to afford that piece.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
you can always rent on 03/26/2013 05:07:54 MDT Print View

If you are close to the REI then you can always rent a tent and maybe some of the other gear. Good way to test too. In that case, I would say get a pad and stove, you could get out for less than $100.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Most important gear item on 03/26/2013 08:32:52 MDT Print View

"I actually have that tent I picked up to replace my quarterdome, just seem seal it good."

Hi Nick,

I own this tent too but I've only used it about six times with the kids so not enough to do a proper review. So far my impressions have been that it is comfortable, well ventilated, and light.

My original plan for the Wonderland this year was just to tarp/mid it but now that my daughter is going I'm more inclined to bring this shelter so she will have some relief from the bugs and have room to move around.

I haven't used in in a downpour or windstorm yet so take it FWIW but heck... it's $50.... and 2.5lbs if you use a trekking pole. There's a lot to love about it but it's a sleeper on this forum.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Spending strategy to get started on 03/26/2013 09:27:53 MDT Print View

My thoughts, FWIW:

SHELTER - I'd encourage you to consider buying this used. Put up a 'WTB' add in the Gear Swap and keep an eye on it. In the last two years, I've picked up a used Tarptent Contrail, Squall and Lightheart Solo, each under $150 and all in great condition. They're all good proven UL shelters and a great place to start, imo.

STOVE - Canister stoves are by-and-large all pretty reliable and inexpensive. You can pick one up for less than $10 on amazon or ebay or a discount store like,, and find a major brand in the $25 range.

PAD - CCF pads are cheap and fine if you can sleep on them. For inflatables, there are some decent deals at REI-outlet right now that you can use your 20% member coupon for (and still have another 20% coupon for a regular-priced item.) Big Agnes Air Core, Exped, Alps Mountaineering. These may not be the lightest, but they will work. You should be able to get something in the $25-40 range.

COOKWARE - Open Country aluminum cookware offer great value.

SLEEPING BAG - for me, this was the first "investment" gear item I purchased. Along with the shelter, it can easily be the heaviest gear item in your pack and it's also something that really affects your comfort on the trail, so it's worth putting a high priority on it.

PACK - This is "important" in that it needs to fit right and handle the weights you want to carry BUT there are a lot of discounted ones out there. Get it last when you know how much gear, volume and weight, and know how much money you can spend.

Nick Larsen
(stingray4540) - F

Locale: South Bay
Re: Re: Re: Most important gear item on 03/26/2013 09:55:16 MDT Print View

"I haven't used in in a downpour or windstorm yet"
- Ian

Me neither, yet, but when I first got it, I gave it a thorough hose test on full power against all sides. There were only very small puddles at 2 of the corners inside the tent. But! That was before I seem sealed it, so I'm pretty confident about it, and would have been comfortable using it not seam sealed if I was only looking at short showers here and there.

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: Most important gear item on 03/26/2013 11:03:20 MDT Print View

I think you're right in wanting to spend your money on an item that's holding you back rather than upgrading what you already have. If you're on BPL already I don't think you'll be happy with the Half Dome very long. Its really heavy and I think you'll probably end up getting rid of it quickly after you buy it. I would recommend renting one or getting a cheap tarp until you've saved up for the shelter you really want (Tarptent, MLD, etc) The Gear Swap is great for shelters, I've bought all of mine second hand so far.
I think going with a foam mat is fine to start with. I slept on one all through Scouts and when I started backpacking on my own. It was the last piece of gear I upgraded. I thought the Ridgrest was more comfortable than the blue pads but neither are "plush". A couple of Tylenol PM will ease the day's soreness and make the sleeping pad more tolerable.
If I were you I'd spend my dividend on a canister stove and pot. Those will probably be a much better investment than the tent or sleeping pad in the long run.

Only after you've got the stuff you don't already have would I look at upgrading your other gear. What good is a new sleeping bag going to do if you don't have a shelter to sleep in? After you've been out a few times you can decide what you're upgrade path should be.