Beginner ????

2:21 p.m. on November 15, 2004 (EST)

My wife and I just spent a day on the southern most end of the AT around the Amicola Falls area and fell in love with it. We have done some light day hiking before and would like to start doing some weekend backpacking/camping. We would mainly be hiking in north AL, GA and TN areas, Spring to Fall times. Not planning any trips with temps below 25ish. Nothing "extreme" at all. The most time out would be two nights. I have tons of questions about gear. Packs, recommendations, internal or external frame and how big? Tent, recommendations, how light, do we need a footprint......? Boots???? Any help would be very much appreciated.

4:25 p.m. on November 15, 2004 (EST)
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experience is your absolute best teacher

buy what you think you need and improve on your equipment as you learn it's limitations and your needs and desires.

Boots. start with gore tex lined boots.

Tent buy the lightest brand name tent that that fits your budget. I like Eureka for us recreational backpackers.

Yes a footprint. will save wear and tear on your first tent. Buy a roll of plastic sheeting from your local home improvement store and cut it 6" smaller than the perimeter of your tent without the fly (yes, your first tent needs a fly).

Packs. look into Eureka or camp trails. I think they are the best bang for the buck and very well made. (my opinion. you will hear many others)

Get on Campmor's mailing list.

Get mini hammocks from sporting goods stores in Canada.

Get ready for Bill S.

7:16 p.m. on November 15, 2004 (EST)
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Repeat - Experience is your Absolute best teacher

The only thing I have to add to Ed is - there are several good books out there with lots of good advice and hints. The Seattle Mountaineers book Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills has lots of good basic stuff in it (don't be scared off by the title and size - it is The Outdoorsman's Bible for everything from head (caps, hats, etc) to foot (how to select boots for various purposes), sleeping (bags, pads, tents), finding your way, cooking, you name it, on up to technical climbing. You don't have to read and memorize everything. Just go step at a time. There are other smaller basic books, including some that are expansions of MFOTH's chapters of specific topics.

And, of course, find a good outdoor shop. Not a chain store, although EMS and REI are ok (a lot of their personnel have no more experience than you do). Try to find a local shop whose people are out in the hills and woods at least once a month on multiday treks. Stay away from the Big 5, Sportmart, and that type of shop. Also, stores that push hunting and fishing gear are more oriented to the car camper with a camper shell on their 4WD pickemup with lifts and huge tires. Stick with a store specializing in backpacking and climbing gear.

I believe that there are several such stores in the Atlanta, Knoxville, and Chatanooga areas. Be sure to go to several shops before you start spending lots of money.

As you get knowledgable, ask specific questions about specific gear here. There are week-long courses covering all the questions you packed into your sentence "I have tons of questions about gear. Packs, recommendations, internal or external frame and how big? Tent, recommendations, how light, do we need a footprint......? Boots????" Scan down through the archives here and on and you will find long discussions of many of your gear questions.

Ed's advice on buying something that looks like it fits your needs is good. At first, you should stick with basic, less expensive, but good quality gear. Then as you get experience, add to it and get better quality gear for the longer term.

Oh, yeah, do not get more than the following basics for your first few outings.

Basic gear list for a weekend -

well-fitted boots (I disagree with Ed on the need for Goretex boots. Full leather is just fine for weekends. Fit is most important)

good socks - a wicking liner plus a heavier wool (I prefer Smartwool, but Thorlo makes good socks, too). Take a spare set or two for a dry change.

Pants, shirt, underwear suitable for the temperature (preferably synthetic so they are fast-drying). Layering is better than a single heavy shirt, for example. A change kept dry in a plastic bag is handy.

Warm jacket for those 25 degree evenings - all poly fleece, with no cotton mixed in, which you can get cheap at WalMart, Target, and elsewhere

rain jacket - it WILL rain in the GA-TN-AL area. A light, inexpensive coated nylon is adequate for weekend trips until you have thoroughly investigated the latest crop of miracle waterproof/breathable fabrics (Goretex has been superseded by several newer fabrics in the past couple of years).

hats - sunhat and warm stocking cap (synthetic) - a warm cap adds amazing warmth when your clothes and sleeping bag are inadequate.

sleeping bag - for your temperatures above 25F, get a bag rated at 15F or cooler (rule of thumb, get a bag rated 10 deg cooler than you plan to be out, because there will come that night when the weatherman was very wrong). Mummy bags are much warmer for the weight. Until you gain experience, stick with synthetic fill (Primaloft, Polargard, Liteloft, but not HolloFill or Quallofill). It is much cheaper than down and retains a little warmth (admittedly not a lot) when wet, unlike down, which just goes flat and takes forever to dry. You might consider getting your and your wife's bags with matching full length zippers (one right hand and one left hand). They can zip together to provide extra warmth and other benefits.

sleeping pad - avoid air mattresses - they are cold. Use a foam pad, such as "blue foam" ($5 or $6 at WalMart). There are more expensive foams (Ridgerest and ZRest, for example), and the thin foam may prove too firm for you. But the blue foam will provide insulation and some padding. And as you look at other options, you won't have a lot invested. ThermaRest and similar inflatable pads have open cell foam inside, so they are just as insulating as blue foam. But they are much heavier (2 to 5 times as heavy), and much much more expensive. If you get to the point of doing winter camping on snow, you will want a combination of foam (like the blue foam) and a Thermarest or similar to provide enough insulation, so the foam may find a future use anyway.

Tent - Here is a real dilemma. You want to go as light as possible, but you want durability and weather protection. This combination is hard to get until you get into very expensive tents. The Big 5, Sears, SportMart tents are way too heavy and have inadequate flies. For a first tent, look at backpacking tents from Eureka, Sierra Designs, Kelty, North Face, and others in Campmor's catalog ( and the REI and EMS store brands. Look for a fly that really covers the tent, not the tiny pieces of cloth that seem to be only decoration on top of the tent. A dome tent is probably better than the A-frame for your beginning trips.

cooking - stoves - Since you will be staying above 25F, a butane stove that attaches to the top of the cannister will work quite well. MSR, Primus, Brunton (Optimus), SnowPeak, and Markill all make good quality stoves. Camping Gaz (a division of Coleman) is good, too, but they use a proprietary fitting that only takes their cartridges. The others use a standard threaded fitting, making it easier to find, even in a lot of local hardware stores. The butane backpacking stoves will be easier to use for your first experiences than liquid fuel stoves.

cooking - pots - You could just use your regular kitchen pots, but there are several good brands of backpacking cookware that aren't too expensive. GSI makes sets of hard-anodized aluminum pots that are as easy to clean as non-stick teflon, but a lot more durable.

other necessities - the 10 Essentials - map of the area, compass (inexpensive base-plate style is best, $7-10), first aid kit, matches (wateproof/windproof, to back up your lighter or the piezo device on your butane stove), knife (small Swiss Army type, no need for the "50 blade" type or the heavy Leatherman for a weekend trip), flashlight (MiniMag type that takes 2 AA cells, with extra batteries - don't get the "policeman" type that takes 10 C-cells), clothes, food, whistle (emergency signal - no, you don't need flares).

Well, sorry for fulfilling Ed's warning and making this too long. Main thing is, stick with the basics and don't let the store sell you everything in sight. You don't need it, and you probably have a lot of the stuff right now.

-- The Old GreyBearded One

7:27 p.m. on November 15, 2004 (EST)
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Oh, yeah, the pack

You do have to carry the gear.

For your first pack, Ed's suggestions are fine. An external frame that fits comfortably is a good choice to start with - cheaper than an internal frame of the same capacity and if fitted properly, just as comfortable. Proper fitting is an absolute necessity, for which you need an experienced pack fitter (good reason for going to a real backpacker's store, and avoiding the mass-market sporting goods stores). Campmor has some very good packs, but I would advise against buying your first pack by mail or internet. You need it to be properly fit and adjusted.

And no, you do not want a pack "big enough to carry everything." You will just be tempted to fill it up. 3500 cu in is plenty for a weekend trip (Jim S and I do it in less than 3000 cu in - except when Jim insists on taking his chair).

Suggestion for keeping stuff dry - pack everything in individual plastic bags (save the bags from the grocery store and other stores). This includes a plastic bag for your sleeping bags in combination with their waterproof stuff sacks.

Didn't mention food - freezedry is light and better than it used to be. But you can go as light and much cheaper with grocery store foods. I recommend June Fleming's book on backpack cookery as a good start.

7:30 p.m. on November 15, 2004 (EST)
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lots to chew on...

Hi Craig. Welcome to Trailspace!

Sounds like you have a lot of decisions to make and a lot of shopping to do! Since you're pretty much starting from scratch, you might consider renting for a few trips (if there's someplace near you that rents gear, of course). It's a good way to try out some different gear and get some miles and nights under your belt before laying down any serious amount of cash.

For short, three-season trips in the south, you should be able to keep things pretty simple.

Boots: it's all about the fit. Find a competent bootfitter who will work with you to find boots that fit your feet. You probably don't need anything super-heavy. Look for midweight boots with good ankle support and Vibram soles. Don't scrimp. A good pair of boots will last you a very long time.

Pack: internal packs seems to be dominating the market, but externals will still get the job done just as well, and often for less. Don't go out and buy the biggest pack you can'll just end up filling it with stuff (heavy stuff) you don't really need.

Sleeping bag: lots of good (though sometimes conflicting) advice in this recent thread: My vote: a 20 or 30-degree synthetic bag.

Tent: It's hard to go wrong with the Eureka Timberline. There are certainly lighter tents out there, but this is a great entry-level tent. Footprint is a must: cut your own from hardware-store 3-mil poly.

In all cases, avoid the discount-store brands. You definitely get what you pay for as far as that goes. But as Ed said, there is decent gear to be had at a reasonable price. Eureka, Camp Trails, Coleman are brands worth looking at if you're on a budget. This stuff can definitely get pricey in hurry.

As I alluded to above, the first few times out you're likely to end up carrying some things you don't really need. Keep track of what you take on each trip, and what you actually use. Start leaving behind the stuff you find you don't use and your pack will become miraculously lighter.

8:04 a.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)

I hike the N GA hills and the area too. Dave, Ed and Bill are on the mark on their recommendations and I agree with Bill in regards to the Goretex. GTX is an expensive way to make up for poorly designed boots IMHO. A good source for gear and advice is High Country Outfitters in ATL and there

8:54 a.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)
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Yer honor, I must protest about this Goretex thingy!

Now this is just my opinion, but....tis not true that goretex is an expensive way to make up for a poorly designed boot.

the boots I hike in (in Southern Georgia and Florida) are Vasque Talus GTX - mid height trail running boots with a running shoe last and synthetic uppers.

These are fantastic boots for my environment and the Goretex bootie sure helps makes 'em that way.

Due to daily rainstorms, heat and humidity, give me a waterproof, lightweight and breathable upper over heavy Herman Munster stability shoes any day!

10:15 a.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)

"Packs, recommendations, internal or external frame and how big? Tent, recommendations, how light, do we need a footprint......? Boots????"

Packs- internal frame or frameless; shoot for around 3,000 cubic inches; look at golite packs too; shoot for less than 2 pounds for empty pack weight.

Shelter- Henry Shires Tarptent; learn to tarp; you don't need a footprint, but it's okay to use to keep bottom of tent clean or protected; use 2 mil plastic sheeting for footprint.

Footwear- if you have healthy ankles don't buy boots, but instead wear trailrunners and buy rocky goretex oversocks for when it's wet. In days of rain your feet may get wet with even goretex boots.

11:10 a.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)
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Since these people are beginners by ther own admission, they need sound beginner advice, not ultralightweight leave the tent at home advice. It takes skill and practice to use a tarp - if they get wet and the tarp blows away they will never camp again. Boots are great for people who don't feel the need to run on the trail, and their backpacks should be large enough to hold the gear they will need, which is significantly greater than the gear required by an experienced ultralight camper. I would suggest light cheap frame packs in the 5,000 inch, 3 pound, $100 category.
Tents - any three season tent that you like, and no you don't need a footprint - never had one - never needed one - thay add weight, expense, and they can catch and hold water leaving a puddle under the tent that otherwise would not have been there, BUT they are great if you pitch your tent where its muddy.
DO NOT buy a small alcohol stove - a beginner needs a reliable hot stove, preferably one that will simmer, and generally the compressed ags stoves are considered the best and easiest for 3 season use.
Paople argue a lot about sleeping bags - probably synthetic mummy bags are the way to go - maybe LLBean. And get full lenght sleeping pads at least 1" thick. If you want to enjoy sleeping on the ground carry air mattresses which also allow you to play on small lakes.
Be aware that most of the Ultralight gear is extremely fragile - it is not for bushwacking or rough use, and you give up a lot using it, like maybe you can get a 6 ounce jacket, but how comfortable will it be in a real storm?
Tent - find something under 6 pounds - REI has a good selection - look at their trail dome.
Don't get heavy boots, but do not err on too light either.
Just my own personal $.02 worth, others have differing opinions, your mileage may vary, and NEVER take any advice from the internet as gospel...
Jim S

So I will just say - you will get a lot of conflicting advice from a lot of well meaning people. Generally I would suggest that you start with some more traditional gear and then learn to go withnless if you want to. Ultralight camping is its own thing - to do it you have to deny yourself a lot of things you may consider to be

12:26 p.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)

My advice is not ultralightweight, but simply lightweight. On my first backpack, a four day trip, my base pack weight was probably around 15 pounds, not ultralight. You must be from the old school bombproof backpacking society. It's so 80's.

Stove- alcohol or canister (snow peak probably best canister stove)

Sleeping bags- this one is more personal depending on if you are a cold or warm sleeper has great info on hiking the AT. You will be happier not carrying 40 pounds of crap you don't need.

1:13 p.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)

no honor here

Yer right Ed, but I'm a leather boot fan and IMHO (emphasis there) there's no need for GTX in a well designed leather. I should've taken more time on my post to add all the disclaimers and details.


2:07 p.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)
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I hears what you sayin' my friend! n/m


4:05 p.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)
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Beginner ?? I think not!


(:->) He he he... well lets say that by the 80's I already had over 20 years of camping in, including Boy Scouts and I remember one BS camp in November in Illinois and an unexpected snowstorm hit. There was 24 guys in camp, no cars, and I had the ONLY pair of gloves. I was once young and invunerable but then I shattered my leg under a fallen redwood tree and all that changed. I have put together my solo ski gear for this winter. I do add the weight of my skis boots poles or what I actually wear skiing, but the weight of my pack, including ski skins, 2 lbs water, 2 lbs food, camera, GPS, Bibler tent and vestibule and deep winter gear - 36.5 lbs. Thats a weight I can live with and ski with for solo winter travel and feel pretty much prepared wherever I can go in the Sierras where ropes aren't required.
Jim S YYMV (:->)

4:08 p.m. on November 17, 2004 (EST)
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Re: Beginner ??OOps

Oh I meant that I DO NOT add the weight of my skis, boots, or ski clothes into the pack weight. I ski in goretex or paclite shells and gaitors over monte bell fleece long underwear.
Jim S

11:31 a.m. on November 18, 2004 (EST)
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"It's so 80's."

Hmmmmm ... Your "so 80's" comment gives you away (by the way, as a hint, "so" is "so old hat" 02-03. yer a bit out of date)

If you had been reading this forum for more than a day or two or had scanned back through the threads, you would know that Jim's experience covers everything from the ancient mountain man through ultralight and everything in between. He has taught a lot of beginners through this forum and, more important, through actually taking them into the hills in all seasons, everything from basic hiking on good trails to hard core winter backcountry on skis. One hole in his experience (probably the only one) is his orienteering. His wife forbids him from orienteering these days, ever since his argument with a giant redwood. That's the incident he refers to when he comments about breaking his leg (he was running hard in a competitive orienteering event in the back part of Big Basin Redwoods, when he tried to leap a giant fallen sequoia that grabbed his foot and resulted in a severely broken leg - 4 or 5 screws to put it back together).

If you scan back, you will find a trip report from when Jim and I headed into Crown Valley on a 3-day. With all our food, fuel, and initial water (plus filters), our packs were 21 and 22 pounds. That's complete packs, not just the "base pack." Since we were comparing notes, we were essentially parallel solo, not sharing any of the load. We did have some luxo items - Jim with tent, chair, and down-filled air mattress, while I used a bivy and tarp, plus real food (not freeze-dry, except for my oatmeal), cameras for each, books to read (ended up hiking to some interesting lakes and not reading), my ham radio handheld, other items.

Now, would I recommend a beginner start with our packs? No, for a number of reasons. First is that we (along with many others here) have accumulated and experimented with gear over many years to know what works for each of us and what doesn't. A lot of gear is individual, especially tents, boots, sleeping bags, pads, and packs.

A fundamental thing to keep in mind when working with beginning backpackers (and I do teach beginners continuously in courses and individually, and have done so since the 60s) - beginners will make mistakes. Well, so do "highly experienced" outdoorsmen for that matter - even the most experienced learns something or is reminded of something on every trip. If you don't learn something on every single trip, you either weren't paying attention or you fall into the well-known category of "fat, dumb, and happy", the little mouse or bird just sitting there as a tempting morsel for the hungry predator that Nature is.

So the important thing is to provide a big safety margin. As you gain experience in what works and what doesn't, you can cut the margin, largely because you learn how to improvise and when to do the "180". It is a good idea for the less experienced (meaning less than 50 to 100 treks of a given type) to lean toward what you so derisively call the "bombproof" side. Gear will fail, even when well cared-for. Your recommendations do not leave a sufficient safety margin for the less experienced, which Beginner???? said he was.

As Jim notes, alcohol stoves are not for beginner overnight trips. I happen to love alcohol stoves, especially my Trangia. And, for years, I have had young Scouts on their first few trips use alcohol stoves (a well-designed, very efficient commercial stove that incorporates burner, windshield/heat exchanger, pot, and lid all in one). The major reasons for this are safety (alcohol burns at a lower temperature and is the only common liquid fuel that can be doused with water, hence is safer in case of accident) and because it requires patience to use efficiently (in other words a learning opportunity). But these beginner Scout trips are provided with experienced older youth and adult leader backups.

As previously stated in several posts, a canister stove is the best choice for a beginner, largely because it is reasonably safe and is closest to the gas stove they probably have experience with at home. However, I must disagree with your assessment that SnowPeak is the best. If you want efficiency and heat output, MSR's Pocket Rocket and SuperFly far outperform SnowPeak. The Pocket Rocket is close to the weight of SnowPeak's lightest model. You can beat the weight of the SnowPeak with Markill's stoves while still exceeding SnowPeak's efficiency in fuel usage and heat output. Primus also has some very light and compact models that outperform SnowPeak. Besides, some people (especially beginners) get persuaded that SnowPeak stoves can only use SnowPeak canisters, which are far and away the most expensive per unit fuel or any of the canister stoves. In fact, MSR's, Markill's, and Primus' canisters are significantly cheaper per gram of fuel, and the MSR and Markill isobutane/propane mixes work to lower temperatures. Oh, in case you are wondering, I have or have used all the stoves I am commenting on in conditions ranging from backcountry ski tours at -40F (average during that week-long trip was -15, highest was +4, and yes I carry recording thermometers) and high altitude expeditions (Denali, Orizaba, and others) to Death Valley in the summer.

The pack - It takes experience to put gear in a frameless pack so that it rides comfortably without sharp corners poking your back. GoLite does make semi-framed packs (we have several GoLite packs in my household). But a beginner should get an inexpensive, well-fitted external frame pack (not the cheapy mass market ones, though), with instruction from an experienced pack-fitter for the first year or so of backpacking. In that year, observe what other people are using and ask lots of questions. You will find some really good packs that work for you, and discover by careful listening that some folks are extolling some pack, but at the same time can hardly stand what it is doing to them (listen for the super-macho coverups). Not all packs fit all people. For example, for expedition use, I find my Dana Terraplane is really great (despite its 8 pound empty weight), but I can't get Gregory expedition packs to feel comfortable with anything more than 15-20 pounds. Friends on some of my expeditions find just the opposite - they swear by their Gregory, but can't get comfortable with a Dana (my Dana, by the way, is from when Dana Gleason owned and ran the company, with his folks in Montana handmaking them, not the present K2-owned versions made in SEAsia). On weekend to 4 day summer backpacks, when I am not carrying climbing gear, I often use my GoLite "RayWay" that weighs just over a pound or my Kelty Cloud (2 pounds with the framesheet). The GoLite wouldn't work for the climbing trip (except as a summit pack).

The point of all this is the beginner needs enough backups to stay comfortable and safe during the learning curve. He doesn't need a 40-pound pack, but if he gets the kind of gear that I and others (but not Mr. Lwt Bkpkr) have suggested, a 4-day pack with food, fuel, and sharing the tent and cookware will be in the 25 pound range. Of course, the beginner should stick to overnighters of total distance in the 5 mile range for the first 2 or 3 treks, then move up to the 10-mile range for the next 2 or 3. This will provide a lot of insight. Take it step at a time, and don't try to buy your ultimate set of gear on the first trip to the store. Find out what works for you and what doesn't. Don't just accept other people's word (including mine). Keep a journal about your gear and other people's experience (watch others when you are out on the trail). Maybe even do what Jim does - weigh everything and keep a spreadsheet.

11:58 a.m. on November 18, 2004 (EST)
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Tarp tents? - not for beginners!

Your advice to Craig Bell to get a tarp tent is misguided. He states that he is just starting out. Yes, I do use tarps a lot, and have used them since the 50s, including in blizzards and heavy rain, which includes several week-long trips that it rained every single day for the full day with lots of heavy wind. You can succeed with them. But it takes experience, lots of it. And it is true that a tarp can be very light. My SilTarp, for example, weighs 5 ounces.

But for a beginner, you should have a large safety margin and you should be very comfortable. As others have said, if the beginner has a miserable experience on the first 2 or 3 trips, he/she will give it up. There are plenty of good, light, and moderately priced tents out there that are easy to pitch and will keep you dry in pretty heavy rainstorms without the skills needed to pitch a tarp for shelter in blowing rain. They may not be in the 5-ounce range like a light tarp, but they are in the 4-5 pound range, which is 2-3 pounds each for a pair sharing the load.

Your "avoid boots" advice is also misguided for a beginner. Yes, I use trail running shoes for a lot of my hiking, even as approach shoes when carrying a fairly heavy pack of climbing gear. But I have been doing this for years, and when going on a rough trail or cross country, I use boots. A beginning hiker needs the ankle support until he/she gets the leg and ankle strength built up for rough trails. We had an incident in a course I teach a few years back where a lady who is a trail runner (she has run in backcountry marathons) insisted on using her trail running shoes (low top) on the "adventure trail" hike (this is a 5 mile hike that has several stations where the students work as a team to accomplish tasks ranging from preparing a meal to practicing safe stream crossing). She stepped on a stick that rolled and ended up breaking her ankle. She had insisted that her off-trail running had strengthened her leg sufficiently. Boots can be light. You don't need mountaineering boots, but trail running shoes are insufficient for an inexperienced backpacker.

Goretex oversocks are far too expensive. There are waterproof socks for much less. And actually, plastic food bags work just fine if your footwear is not waterproof. You wear them over your outer heavy sock and inner liner sock. The big problem with Gtx, aside from the price, is that when the footgear gets wet or muddy (whether a trail shoe, leather boot, or Gtx oversock), the Gtx does not breathe at all and you get condensation inside. The plastic bag also doesn't breathe, but the socks, surprisingly, actually are drier than with the Gtx.

12:34 p.m. on November 18, 2004 (EST)
Re: Tarp tents? - not for beginners!

Attack anybody who is not a heavyweight backpacker is your MO. I used most of this equipment the very first time I went out. Don't label everyone an idiot because they have never been backpacking. It's not rocket science.

8:46 a.m. on November 19, 2004 (EST)

I've also done most of my hiking in NoGA and Western NC. You know- a lot of these ideas as far a using really light gear are great. Over time, I have become a lighter camper in some ways- mostly in acquiring better gear over the years. However, I maintain that, depending on your stregth/endurance and overall discomfort threshold, you can get away with using cheap, heavy gear. This is particularily true on laid back trips where you might hike in miles on a Friday, chill out or explore without packs on Saturday and hike out Sunday. Being willing to deal with a heavy pack allows you to delay diving into the pricier gear plus you can bring with a a lot of amenities. However, if you pack heavy, do yourself a favor and get some boots.

11:29 a.m. on November 19, 2004 (EST)
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Re: Tarp tents? - not for beginners!


No one has attacked you. You have given advice to beginners that others in the group think is a bit cavalier is all. I personally like solo rock climbing, but I don't reccomend it to begginers. I can do it and get away with it - you enjoy UL tarp camping - OK great. I don't think you're an idiot because of that. Judging from the inquires here for help - most people do not have the knowledge to do what you do. I tarp camped for 3 months on a 450 mile trip one summer, but I much prefer to be in a tent and away from the mosquitos. Most people go camping for fun and want to enjoy themselves and the self denial of UL isn't compatible with their "mission requirements".
Jim S (:->)

5:56 p.m. on November 19, 2004 (EST)
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Questions and comments

"Attack anybody who is not a heavyweight backpacker is your MO."

You missed the points made by a number of the responses to Craig Bell's question. You were not attacked, first of all. Second, most of the people posting responses are not "heavyweight backpackers" (probably none). Many of the people posting on RCU are casual weekend backpackers, including ones giving some of the best advice. There are a number of people posting who are strong advocates and practitioners of light and ultralight backpacking, but for experienced backpackers, not beginners. That includes Jim, Ed, adam, and atl backpacker, as well as me. None of us likes carrying a heavy pack. But pretty much universally, everyone recognizes that you don't send an inexperienced person out with lightweight or ultralight gear. I don't think anyone here is a protoge of Norman Clyde (Clyde, you might recall, carried a full library of books in his pack - now there was the true "heavyweight" backpacker).

"I used most of this equipment the very first time I went out."

Did you do your "very first" backpack tabula rasa? Or, did you have a mentor who went along (or who guided you through gear selection and on the trip)? Did you read books (such as Jardine's) before your trip? Did you have any camping experience before you went on your "very first time" with "most of this equipment"? How long was this trip (the backpacking part, distance and time)? What season and where? What was the weather situation - clear, rain, temperature? These all make a big difference. Did everything work perfectly the first dozen trips" Did everything work perfectly during the first dozen times the weather turned seriously sour, particularly when you were at least a day away from the trailhead? Your answers to these questions would help put your advice in perspective.

Maybe your answers are that you acquired the gear and did the first trip with no guidance off the top of your head, and maybe you had everything work perfectly on your first dozen trips in severe weather. It does happen, but the vast majority of people starting out learn many of the lessons the hard way, even with an experienced mentor. The main point of the many posts here advising "step at a time", "get less expensive gear to start and observe, even though you will be upgrading" is to go step at a time and minimize the consequences of the inevitable mistakes.

"Don't label everyone an idiot because they have never been backpacking."

No one was labelled an idiot. Craig was asking the normal questions for a beginner. He labelled himself a beginner and asked basic questions. There are several basic things to include with any beginner -

1. Safety - play things conservatively at first, and go step at a time, keeping the risk and potential consequences minimal.

2. Gaining experience to see what works and doesn't for the particular person - step at a time, hopefully with an experienced mentor

3. Cost, both long and short term. Pretty much everyone finds that some gear works for them and some doesn't. Pretty much everyone has to add to and modify their gear to suit their own local conditions and style of backpacking (example - Jim has to have his down-filled air mattress, while I am comfortable most of the time with a single "blue foam" pad, while I like my SLR with several lenses and Jim uses a P&S camera). A beginner who has virtually no gear but purchases an expensive sleeping bag is likely to find its temperature range doesn't match the conditions he goes out in the first couple of years (when in the Deep South, I saw people getting a 0 degree bag, although the coldest I saw during the 10 years I was there was 18 degrees. At the opposite extreme, I see people showing up to my winter camping course with little previous camping experience and a 45 deg summer ultralight bag).

It is true that if you buy top quality gear that matches your activities right at the start, your long-term cost is less. But if you guess wrong, and your "expert adviser's" favorite activity and preferences do not match your own, your long term cost will be much higher. Since almost everyone does replace gear for many different reasons, it is cheaper to start with something that is adequate for your learning trips, then replace it when you determine your personal needs and preferences. Almost everyone has strong personal preferences in boots, sleeping bags, tents, cookpots, stoves, and packs. Packs and boots have to be fit individually, in any case. Some people sleep warm and some sleep cold, so sleeping bags are pretty personal.

"It's not rocket science."

Very true. It involves knowledge, judgment, and skills that are very much pre-rocket science, out in the woods and hills. These are basic survival skills that are unfamiliar to most people in the industrialized countries these days. The consequences of making a mistake in judgment or lacking a skill can be serious injury or death. The knowledge, judgment, and skills needed to launch off on a throughhike with lightweight gear are not learned by reading a book or from posts on the internet, but by getting out there and doing it.

By making use of an experienced mentor who is on the trip with you and by going a step at a time, first on an overnight which is basically a car camp, then a short hike with the car available to bail within a half mile or so, first with known good weather, then with known worse weather, gradually gaining experience in tougher conditions, you build the skills and judgment with a comfortable safety margin. You learn the limitations and backup knowledge. Can you build a fire in a heavy downpour when the rain soaks all your clothes and rips away the tarp that you didn't know yet how to properly pitch? What if your partner, or a party you come across, gets injured - can you help them? There are dozens of scenarios which can get the beginner in deep trouble if inappropriately equipped a couple days' hike out that are easily dealt with close to the car or with extra gear.


Hmmmm. What is your connection to this website? Do you work for them, or are you a principal? People should be aware that BackpackingLight is a paid subscription website to access anything more than the abstracts of articles and ads. The site is very much geared to ultralight backpacking and features a lot of expensive gear that is not very well suited to the beginning backpacker

2:45 p.m. on November 26, 2004 (EST)

another good place to hike in north georgia is the Benton McKaye trail. also there is a outdoors store in Columbus called chattahoochee outdoors that could give you more info

9:33 a.m. on February 28, 2005 (EST)

First let me say thanks, to all the friendly and super helpful people on this forum, for all the great advice for Beginner???. With your help I have gotten a 3.5lb tent(tyvek footprint), 20F 3lb mummy bags(one left zip and one right zip so my wife and I can keep one another warm) and 3200ci internal frame packs. We went with middle of the road on most of this equipment with plans to upgrade as the need arises. We are studying boots now. We aren't skimping here. She has an ankle with hardware in it already and I don't want to join her so we we'll do a lot of research before making this important purchase. We do a little trail running and day hiking now in low "trail running" shoes. Do we need to go with full boots or would mids serve us just as well? I'm beginning to feel like we are buying a house again, so many choices. Any first hand advice would certainly help.

1:08 a.m. on March 19, 2005 (EST)
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1,902 forum posts

Craig, Sounds like you are on the right path. When I bought my first set of real camping gear, I got about the same setup you have and it worked fine for most kinds of weather-I still have my white gas stove, Sierra Designs tent and a synthetic North Face bag. I have a small amount of new stuff too, but there's nothing wrong with my old stuff,even if it is "so 80's."

Boots-I have a bad ankle that needs support, especially on uneven terrain so I like a full boot, but you can hike in anything from full boots to slippers. There are plenty of good brands. Go to a store with a good selection and try them all on. Goretex is nice but not necessary. Boots can be expensive, but fit should be no. 1, not price. If you are on a budget,watch for sales, boots are one of the things I wouldn't try to buy online. A good pair of boots should last many years so get something you really like. Bad fitting footwear can really ruin your day. Lighweight boot design has come a long way but I had a fairly new pair come apart after a few stream crossings. Not sure why that happened but I'm a bit leery of wearing something not sturdy enough for the task.

Learning to backpack-You can learn a lot from forums like this one-do a Google or Yahoo search and many more will show up. Read books like The Complete Walker or even Backpacking for Dummies (yes there is one). If you like groups, try the Sierra Club-they will most likely have classes, group hikes, trips and so on. REI puts on classes at their stores if you have one near you. Take a basic first aid class, learn to read a map and how to use a compass. Sure a GPS is great, but a compass doesn't need batteries.

Backpacking may not be rocket science, but I am sure you will have a better time, feel safer and be more comfortable if you know where you are, know how to set up all your gear, are warm and dry (or cool and dry depending on the weather)and know how to cook something you will enjoy eating.

Asking questions-I have been reading this forum for at least a year. Some of the other people who post here are very experienced with hiking and climbing in all kinds of weather and are very generous with answering questions for beginners. The one thing I would suggest is to ask a fairly specific question so you can get a specific answer. Have fun with your new gear.

7:15 p.m. on March 20, 2005 (EST)
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6,006 forum posts
Beginner no longer

Craig -

It is really great that you and your wife are getting out there and gaining experience. Next thing you need to do is register for this site, and start posting your experiences, including all the steps you are taking to gain experience. It will help others who come here as beginners.

Some questions -

What tent did you get, at 3.5 pounds? How is it for 2 people?

Which sleeping bags did you get? How are they working out? How cold have the nights been, and have you been comfortable/too hot/chilly?

What packs, and how are they working out?

On the boots - You say you both are doing trail running and day hiking in low trail-runners. This will strengthen your ankles and lower legs, as well as improve your balance. However, since your wife has hardware in her ankle, I would worry a little about the lack of ankle support with a low shoe, particularly when carrying a loaded pack on a rough trail. I am inclined to suggest a boot with a top that comes above her ankle. Although I actually do a lot of hiking in trail-runners myself, with a moderate load (or when I am going ultralight), and use low-cut approach shoes sometimes when carrying a full load of climbing gear to the foot of a climb, I would tend to discourage other people from doing so. I can get away with it (and I emphasize "get away with") because I have pretty flexible ankles and good strength, thanks to a lot of cramponing (French technique, lots of "pied plat"). Plus having done a lot of bicycling over the years (I used to race on national level many decades ago). But unless you have a lot of miles on rough trails in the trail-runners, the ankle support of over-the-ankle boots is a good idea. Unlike Jim S, I have never had a broken bone. Well, not quite. I have broken teeth (tried to add iron to my diet by biting a fork once). And when the snowboarder dislocated my elbow back the second weekend of February (always did have a bias against boarders), there was a bone chip. But that doesn't really count, does it? The healing process of the dislocation does tell me that if it is an ankle, you do need to have the support of the higher boot.

So many choices? Hey, we'll make you a gearhead yet! Actually, it is nowhere near the complication of a house. Just keep asking the questions you are asking here. Set out your requirements and intended uses, and read the multitude of conflicting personal preference answers (and get even more confused - naaah, you will be able to sort out what applies to you readily enough). If you can name some of the hikes you have in mind, then the folks on this board who are in that part of the country can offer good advice.

6:30 a.m. on March 21, 2005 (EST)
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1 forum posts

Nice choice, but among others you have to consider such things as the duration of your trails, or if I might walking tours, the season and number of partners you are going along with. But certainly somethings should be on the list- tent(may it be a light weight one), a watter bag( a bottle at least), a knife, matches, a flashlight, a backpack...Let's see hope didn't miss anything.

10:39 a.m. on March 21, 2005 (EST)
4,404 reviewer rep
6,006 forum posts
that reminds me -

Basilio's post reminded me of something that we should repeat whenever someone new to the outdoor world posts questions about gear -

Background - This past weekend we had the outdoor part of the backpacking safety and 50-miler preparation course we do every year for scout leaders. The nominal clientele is the adult leaders who have been drafted ... er, ah, I mean, have volunteered to lead their troop on a high adventure trek, a canonical "50 miles". We strongly suggest doing warm-up and shakedown trips, so what is covered in a very digested form applies to any trek where they will have the group more than a day away from the trailhead, hence more than a day away from help.

As Snoopy's always-beginning novel starts - "It was a dark and stormy night." The weekend from early Friday through departure on Sunday was raining, ranging from light showers and the occasional glimpse of a blue patch of sky through heavy showers and hail. Lots of mud. And of course, being camped among the giant redwoods and with the "Adventure Trail" hike with practice scenarios, the learners got to hike in wet drizzly weather (our camp property is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, on the isolated northwestern corner of Big Basin, bounded on the north and west by Butano park - west side is abt 300 acres we sold to Sempervirens to add to the state park system).

Welllllll, although folks are supposed to have some experience at backpacking, we always get a number who are basically beginners - never set up a tent before (maybe using a borrowed tent), never lit a backpacking stove before, that sort of thing.

So, some useful advice for any less-than-expert backpacker (and a reminder for old greybeards who are suffering incipient Alzheimers). -

Tents, even the most expensive expedition tents, and certainly the bargain cheapies, MUST be seamsealed before the first use, and periodically after that. Otherwise, they leak. As the Course Director himself was reminded, the elastic loop that holds the door of the fly out of the way on his North Face tent also needs its stitching seamsealed (it wicks in moisture very nicely, thank you).

If you use a "footprint" (why don't they call them "ground cloths" anymore?), make sure all edges are tucked *under* the edges of the tent. Otherwise the ground sheet acts as a water collector, and gathers lots of water, which of course gets inside the tent and soaks your sleeping bag (one of the reasons we strongly suggest that scouts only be allowed to use synthetic bags - adolescent boys WILL get wet. Good idea for anyone camping in rain, as well. Down gets soaked easily, requiring lots of careful precautions, and then goes flat, no insulating value, and is virtually impossible to dry until you get home and get a really big dryer).

Wear proper boots when slogging around in the rain, muddy trails, and crossing that stream that was dry last August, but is now flowing deep and strong. That means no fabric boots with the free-breathing mesh. As several folks found, Goretex boots get a lot of condensation (and very wet socks) inside when the weather is cool and humid, and you are working up a sweat during the hike. Good full leather boots, properly sealed, work much better (I happen to like Biwell, but depending on how the leather was processed, silicone or SnoSeal work very well as well). Well, confession - I actually used my trail-runners and kept my feet dry. But then, the Old GreyBearded One has been doing this sort of thing for more than a few years and learned how to keep his feet dry in very wet muddy conditions (most of the time, anyway).

If the trails are wet and muddy, plus rough and rocky, and you have stream crossings where you have to do the "rock dance" (tripping lightly across the stones in the streambed, trying to make sure you don't slip on the mossy ones or overturn the delicately balanced ones), good high-top boots provide a bit more balance, and hiking poles are a huge help. One part of the Adventure Trail went down a waterfall that used to be a trail, then crossed a creek, with the "broken ankle" scenario station just at the stream crossing. No real sprains or breaks, but that's exactly the place it can happen.

Cooking and eating in the rain is FUN!!! Yeah, sure. A light tarp is nice for shelter when cooking and eating. Cooking in the tent is very dangerous (fire, oxygen depletion in the confined space, carbon monoxide buildup, and all that). Besides, spilled food (happens to everyone) keeps the aroma around for a long time. And that attracts various little beasties, including 500 pound big furry guys. At our camp property, there is an abundance of "masked bandits" - raccoons. These guys are really smart. They will unzip tent zippers, open pack straps, even get the occasional screw-top container open. And yeah, they are attracted to all smellables. Example from this weekend - one of these guys got into a stash of vitamin tablets and ate a few. Say, you don't suppose that's how they stay so healthy, do you?

Ok - seamseal your tent (and renew it), use the tent footprint properly, use proper boots and treat them properly, use hiking poles, protect your smellables (food, toothpaste, deodorant - does anyone really use deodorant while camping, esp on a 50-miler?, vitamin tablets, sunblock, etc.) Hey, bears are even known to get into photographic film.

May 22, 2018
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