How to Choose Gear
Choosing gear can be one of the most fun, but also the most stressful parts of backpacking. There are so many options for each gear item and it’s often hard to know which one is best, and how much money you should spend.
Before we get into any details, we have to introduce Outdoor Gear Lab – our favorite resource for selecting any new gear item for backpacking or camping. Outdoor Gear Lab is a free online resource (kind of like Backpacking for Beginners) where you can go get information on the best gear out there. They test everything from socks and shirts to backpacks and even vehicle storage containers. The rankings are updated often, and Katie and I have found them to be very reliable.
Go to www.outdoorgearlab.com to check them out.
Beware of advertisements in magazines and on websites, as these can be misleading. We love Backpacker Magazine, but we find that their Gear Guide rarely lines up with the gear on Outdoor Gear Lab, which raises some questions as to how they came to choose the gear they advertise in their magazine. I’m not saying it’s bad gear, but you shouldn’t rely on magazines as your single resource for gear selection.
How much should you pay for gear? Well, that depends. Some gear items, like tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks are going to put a dent in your bank account if you want to get a quality item. Keep an eye out for deals, but don’t trade quality for cost. If you decide to buy a backpack for $100 instead of $200, and end up with a sub-par product, you’re inevitably going to have to buy a new backpack when that one breaks or becomes warn down after a couple trips. You’ll end up spending even more by choosing the cheaper option, whereas if you had purchased the quality item you would likely never have to buy another one for at least several years if ever.
Of course, we recognize that everyone’s budget is different. So, we recommend saving money for backpacking. Maybe cut some monthly costs by cancelling that subscription you never use or working on lowering your heat and electricity bill. Whatever money you save, you can put towards backpacking gear and equipment. If you exchange gifts for holidays or birthdays, ask your family or friends for gift cards to places like REI or even Amazon, which you can use to purchase better gear items.
Ultimately, it is up to you to determine what gear works for your personal style. Sometimes, you don’t need the best or most expensive item to have a successful piece of gear. If you’re a person who likes to do it yourself, there are plenty of resources online and in books to help you design and build some of your own gear.
Make sure to talk to people who are more experienced, and explore blogs and other reviews online in addition to Outdoor Gear Lab. Sometimes, there is no “right” piece of gear to choose; you just have to get something that works for you. But there is usually a wrong piece of gear to choose – those products that are not good quality will fail you in the backcountry. You have to be able to depend on your gear, so whatever you choose, make sure you do some research and ask questions.
Feel free to contact us for some recommendations for gear or to answer questions. We’re happy to help in any way we can! Also, be sure to check out and download our gear lists on the Plan page – I even put the gear products that I carry in a separate list.