Getting Started Backpacking (Basic Gear) Part 1

So you have decided you want to try an overnight trip in the outdoors.  What kind of gear are you going to need, and how much will it set you back?  This article should help get you set up with the basic gear.  First of all I would start with reading this REI article on backpacking for beginners.  

You will want to start with the 10 Essentials (which you should already be carrying on every hike).  on top of that you will will want to add the following. 

Nothing beats sleeping under the stars, however, you don’t want to be caught out in a downpour with no shelter.  So you will need to bring some kind of shelter.  Your dads old canvas tent may keep you warm when you are car camping, but it is much to heavy to cary on your back.  You should look for a tent that weighs no more than 5lbs packed.  Many people choose to bring an ultralight tarp weighing only a few ounces and use their hiking poles, and rope to support it.  There are many good used tents available, craigs list, ebay, and rei garage sales are all good places to start looking. 


  • If you are buying used make sure and inspect the tent carefully for holes.  You can repair small holes later.  Also make sure the tent has stakes, poles, rainfly, and guy wires included. Inspect all of these to make sure they are in good condition.  
  • If you are going solo and want to be ultralight there are hammock / shelter combinations that are cost effective and a very light way to travel.  However they do require trees which may not be available everywhere you want to camp. 
  • You may want to consider buying one size up on your tent.  For example if you are buying a tent for two people consider getting a 3 person tent.  This will give you a place to store your gear, or room for your dog.  Most good tents do have vestibules that will allow you to store some gear.  
  • If you will be camping at altitude or in the spring / fall make sure you get a 3 season tent.
  • Don’t buy a really cheep tent new.  It may seem ok at fist but it will likely not last very long. Worst of all it may come apart in a storm.  One of the best ways to determine the quality of a tent is to check out reviews online. Make sure the review is of the exact brand / model you are considering.  Here are some points you should look for regarding quality. 
    • Aluminum poles are stronger and last longer than fiberglass
    • Ensure the rainfly covers all the way to the ground and has guy wires to tie your tent down in high wind 
    • Ensure the zippers operate easily and seem well constructed this is often one of the first areas to break on a cheap tent 
    • Ensure the floor is made of a high denier fabric and has taped seams to prevent leaking. 

Cost: You should expect to pay at least $80 for a good used tent.  If you are buying a new high end tent you should expect to spend $300.  


Sleeping Gear
Now that you are protected from the wind and rain you need to get something to keep you warm and comfy at night.   If you are planning at high altitude it can get quite cold when the sun goes down. At 10,000 temperatures below freezing are common even in the summertime.  With the proper gear you will sleep like a baby in this crisp air.  

Sleeping Bag
The first sleeping item to consider is a sleeping bag. You may already own, or be tempted to purchase, a square car camping bag.  Technically you can bring this bag backpacking, however, this style of bag is usually quite bulky / heavy. Backpacking bags are typically a mummy style bag which provides the best insulation to weight ratio.  You should look for a bag that weighs between 2-3lbs. Make sure you get one that is rated for the coldest temperature you expect to camp in.  I think it is easier to open and vent a bag to make it cooler so I tend to be conservative and buy a bag that is rated to 15-20 degrees celsius. Obviously if you are camping only in low altitudes in the summer you don’t want to waste money or weight on a bag rated this cold. 


  • Go for a mummy style bag even if it seems constricting at first. 
  • Get in the bag in the store and make sure it fits you well.  
  • I would not purchase a two person bag as my only sleeping bag. This basically limits you from ever going without your parter.  
  • Down provides better insulation to weight ratio, and compresses better than synthetic material.  The downside is that it does not insulate when it is wet, and it  

Sleeping Pad 

 Optional Items 


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