Your first year as a backpacker can be painfully expensive, overwhelming and confusing. Baffle or no baffle? Do you need dual-density hiking shoes? A vestibule for the tent? Is your jacket DWR? Why do I need to cook my pack frame?
Despite the absurdly techy side of this industry, this shopping phase should be one of the most exciting things you’ve ever done! It’s your first plunge into the epic realm of backpacking and it’s important to do it right.
I’ve received lots of questions lately about the best primary gear for the novice backpacker, so I’d like to share the contents of the little purple house on my back. This is what works for ME and may or may not work for you.
Do I really need to buy new shoes? Eh. If you’re a moderately active person and you ask me, I’m really going to say no. I know several hikers who just recycle old running shoes for hitting the trail.
I invested in Salomon speedcross 5 years ago and though they are now stinky, blood-splattered and worn, they are still awesome.
Why invest? The bottom grip is insane. The shoe is durable, water-resistant and holds decent enough ankle support. Plus, I can trail run in these suckers too.
Click here to buy: Speedcross
Tents can be a bank-breaker if you go all-in so its important to do it right. My position: If you take the time to do the research, study the specs and take care of your equipment, you’ll end up saving money in the long run..Especially if you purchase the footprint to go with it.
Why invest? This thing will last you a lifetime! It’s a one-time purchase that you will constantly be thanking yourself you made. It’s lightweight with the perfect balance of versatility and comfort, excellent stargazing mesh openings and a super easy setup.
I’m not here to argue for synthetic or down. I just know what works for me and I know I run seriously cold at night. From research, it looks like the Lamina 0 that I own has been discontinued or upgraded. Today’s equivalent looks to be the laminina Z torch. Its a little bit heavier than other bag options because it is rated for 0 degrees. I’ve slept on top of the snow in Colorado, the sand in the Chihuahuan desert and the moss beds of British Columbia – its versatile enough for me.
Why invest? I won’t force you to make this big chunk-of-change investment. But I have had years when I was sleeping in this bag a full quarter of the year. Consider it my second set of bedsheets.
Click here to buy: Lamina
For the longest time, I refused to purchase a sleeping pad. Eventually, I invested in a sleeping pad because I got older and less stubborn.
Why invest? I hate inflatables and this isn’t one of them. They just always pop. The egg crates are lightweight and strap right to the bottom of your pack. One and done!
Tip: You don’t need to go running to an REI for something like this. If possible, definitely check your local gear exchange for a thermarest. (In fact, a lot of these things may be found at your local gear exchange for cheaper.)
Click here to buy: Therm-a-rest
I own a gross amount of stuff sacks and compression sacks. While I may only own one actual purse, my bag obsession is wide reaching in the outdoor sector. Realistically though, there is only one sack you really need to get started.
Why invest? Your sleeping bag will come in a stuff sack (Yay, more stuff!) but to pack it in the backpack, you’re going to need a compression bag. In the pic above, I just clipped it on to the back of my daypack for an overnighter. This is the best one and 15L fits the lamina pretty well. Sea to Summit is the go-to brand for bags. And with my love of water sports, the versatility of a waterproof bag makes the extra cash worth it.
Click here to buy: Sea to Summit Dry Sack
MSR versus Jetboil is an intense argument that I’m not prepared to get in the middle of. I know what works for me and what I grew up using, therefore…we are here. Note that the bottle and camp fuel is sold separately.
Why invest? If you’re only planning short trips or have airline related travel limitations, you may not need a camp stove set for your first few trips. I know I don’t always use it. Granted, it may not be the cheapest option, but the durability and user-friendliness of the MSR makes me a happy camper.
“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk to go with it.” Again, if you’re not ready to pull the trigger on the whole kitchen set, no big deal. But if you are and you want to do it right, I’m pretty MSR loyal.
Why invest? Don’t feel like you need to. The 2 pot set is actually cheaper than a lot of the 1 pot options (or just use an old pot like I did for the longest time). I like the alpine kitchen set because it just has everything and a little sprinkle of glamping to it.
It’s something you may not think too much about but extra water bags have saved my life (not kidding). Don’t ignore the fact that you need these in some form if you’re doing multiday trips…especially when you can refill at waterfalls, because that’ll always be fun and cool.
Why invest? Again, I love MSR because they are durable but lightweight. The bag is super flexible and packability is pretty easy enough. Platy, viable alternative.
Click here to buy: Dromedary
Last but certainly not least, I don’t care what kind you get, but bring a first aid kit and make sure it has all the sweet goodies you’ll need and KNOW how to use.
Why invest? Because…you have to. I like this one because “ultralight” and “watertight” are two of my favorite things. Thankfully, its gotten minimal use.
Click here to buy: First aid kit
Admittedly, it’s not cheap to be a backpacker…at least not the first year. Sometimes, we splurge. Sometimes, we have to take a few trips to see what we really actually need. And definitely always, when possible, we check the local gear exchange to find cheap, sweet used gear.
And when Year 2 comes around, you get to stare into the beauty that is the REI DIVIDEND.