I'm about to say something that may sound sacrilegious on a backcountry gear site, let alone during the annual shopping season:
It's not about the gear.
People regularly come to Trailspace inspired to start hiking, backpacking, or climbing. Great! Those are all worthy and wonderful endeavors.
Don't fall into the analysis paralysis trap due to an overabundance of gear choices, like the offerings above at the Outdoor Retailer trade show.
Naturally, first-timers have many questions about the gear, also a very worthy subject. While trying new activities is exciting, it can be confusing to figure out all the paraphernalia and whether it's even necessary. Educating yourself by talking to experienced users, reading books and instructional websites, and researching gear reviews is a good start.
The trouble comes when someone gets indefinitely stuck in the planning and research stage, trying to get the “perfect gear set-up:” the single “best” tent, the ultimate stove that will nourish them quickly and efficiently in all conditions, the boots that will never cause a blister nor let in a drop of water, all this before some have barely, or even ever, gone on a hike or climbed a mountain.
To those folks I say, just go outside and hike. (This advice differs for gear junkies who simply like to discuss their well-used gear. They should head to the forums.)
Your backpack is borrowed from a friend? Find an outing club or mentor and go on a day hike anyway. You got a tent off eBay, but you're not familiar with it? Do a trial run in the backyard. You want to go backpacking, but don't have stove? Rent one, borrow one, buy one from your local outdoor store. Better to be out and about with a working stove, than sitting at home awaiting gear perfection.
Okay, I admit that gear matters to some extent. It is often necessary, particularly where safety is concerned, and in some cases may be your very lifeline. I also firmly believe in the power of quality gear and proper fit, and that the only stupid question is the one you don't ask. Good gear can be safer (note: never ever buy used climbing gear), more comfortable and functional, a better value over time, and make for a more enjoyable outdoor experience. The wrong gear can ruin a trip, while the right gear can leave you pining for your next sojourn.
But that said, I think you can go farther with a positive attitude and a humble willingness to learn than with good gear alone.
“Grandma” Gatewood, first solo female AT hiker. (Image courtesy ATC)
Take “Grandma” Emma Gatewood. In 1955 she became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail solo. She wore Keds tennis shoes and carried a small homemade bag with an army blanket, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, and a raincoat. She was 67 and would go on to hike the AT two more times.
I'm not suggesting you throw caution to the wind or that you have to camp under a shower curtain for 2,000 miles. But, do not sit at home, paralyzed by gear choices (aka analysis paralysis), waiting to start hiking, camping, backpacking once you have all of your “perfect” gear in hand, because that's never going to happen.
You'll acquire gear along the way. You'll like/love/loathe/be indifferent to various items. Your hiking style/preferences/budget/knowledge will change. That's life. It's not stagnant. It's a journey. You're not out to buy a lifestyle, but to make the outdoors part of your life.
If you've got the choice between going on an easy day hike with your urban daypack and trail runners, or researching yet more gear, I say go on the hike. The trail will help reveal what gear you need, and you'll likely learn more about those needs and wants from the hike than sitting at the computer.
So, find an experienced mentor or group. Beg, borrow, rent, or buy gear as necessary. It does not need to be the newest, award-winning version, as long as it's safe, functional, appropriate, and gets you out there.
Remember that your brain is the most important piece of gear you'll take along. Be responsible for yourself and your choices. Start small. But start.
Gear is the means. It is the means to get outside and hike, climb, ski, or backpack, to see new places, to see old places in new ways, to learn about yourself, and to do all that great stuff that inspired you in the first place.
But, gear, even good gear, is not the end. It is only the beginning.