Getting strarted.

11:31 a.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

Well the time has come again. The lurkers are here looking for information on gear. Their goal? To start backpacking for the first time. What should you buy to get started? Thats simple, a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear including stove. I know that I'm just scratching the surface, but thats where the gear list starts.

 You, being new to backpacking, I find your enthusiam is an insperation to me. Youre always wide eyed. Talking about major hikes, and looking at all the greatest gear. Heres where I say slow down grasshoper. #1 youre not ready for that big hike or climb. Theres alot to learn bfore you even attempt anything like that. And all that high priced gear, forget about it for now. Though we all love buying the stuff from you for pennies on the dollar after you find out that backpacking is not your cup of tea.

Now lets take a real look at what you are going to do, and what you will need to get started. Your hikes should be on the easy to moderate variety. Dont push yourself to hard. Pushing yourself will only make you tired and sore. And well, thats just not much fun.

So now we have you on an easier trail you are in need of a backpack. It has always been my experance that most new packpackers carry to much stuff, forgeting some of the most importaint things. I would start of with a fairly large pack. And seeing that you are going to stay on the trail , I would juggest an external frame. Why? They are cheaper than inner frames. Thy allow more flexablity. And they will keep your back cooler. My picks for you would be a Kelty or a Jansport. They are both well made and cheap around $50 will get you a good one off Ebay.

Tents. Do you realy think you need that 200-300 dollar tent? Nope, you will be a fair weather hiker starting out. Once again, dont push yourself. You are not ready to handle the worse that mother nature can throw at you. Freestanding or nonfreestanding that is the question. Only you will know the answer. But remember if you choose freestanding you should always stake it out. Tents make great kites (look it up on youtube). Me, for the most part, I'm a nonfreestanding tent guy. I would also stear away from single skin tent, and opt for a full rainfly. Most inexpencive single skin tents will have condensation problems. My juggestions would be the Alpine Designs Hiker, Biker tent (the on with the rainfly. The Gander Mountian Blaze Solo. Both are nonfreestanding. For a freestanding, Eureka and Coleman both make inexpencive and doable tents. Try to keep the weight down under 6 pounds. You can get these tent for less than 75 bucks.

Cooking gear. All I got to say is get an Alcohol stove. Fuel is everywhere. They burn clean, no parts to wear out. Pots and pans a BSA set will work and are very cheap. But I liked the Texsport stainless steal set that I started with, around $24.

Sleeping bags. Go ahead and buy one of those real cheap ones. Get it rated for at least 10 degrees cooler that the weather you are going to be sleeping in. After your first year backpacking you will upgrade. But for just beginning it will work. Around $20 should work.

There you go. All for just over 100 bucks. It need not cost a arm and a leg to get out there and start backpacking. There is other gear, you might want, but not nessary to start with. As you gt out there more you will figure those things out. Your needs may not be the same as others. I'm sure that others might have other juggestions.




12:34 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
5,732 reviewer rep
2,048 forum posts

i would add some basic thoughts about other parts of the hiking experience.  i'm assuming, jumping off from the original post, that we are talking about manageable hikes and relatively reasonable weather, maybe some rain.

-wear shoes that are comfortable for the conditions.  running shoes may be fine, so may work shoes/boots (avoid steel toes, they can cause blisters).  preferably, the shoe will be stable and have some buffer between your feet and the ground.  dedicated trail running/hiking shoes or boots are great but not essential.

-don't wear cotton socks.  typical cotton or cotton blend athletic socks can ruin a fun hike.  wool and wool blend are better because they handle sweat better and don't tend to bunch as much.  wool or wool blend socks can significantly reduce your risk of blisters.

-weather can be unpredictable, so look at a weather report and plan accordingly.  cotton may be OK to wear in dry climates or warm weather; fabrics other than cotton are better for cooler and/or damper weather.  bringing at least one layer of clothing more than you might think necessary is usually a good idea.  so is a light wind/rain jacket, depending on conditions.

-like any physical activity, exceedingly important to stay hydrated and bring energy foods.

-bring a basic first aid kit and other essential things.  you could search "10 essentials' on this site and get an excellent idea of what this means. 


most important, enjoy the experience.  it can be very rewarding in terms of keeping you in shape, getting you outside, and keeping your head clear.


1:25 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

It's real easy to spend a lot of money starting out in any hobby, and It's not unusual to see people go out and blow $1,000 for hiking gear only to regret it a few months later.

There is a lot of good advice here, but I do have a few concerns.

First of all, if you want to go backpacking rather than just dayhikes, weight becomes a serious factor. Few people are used to walking around with 40 lbs on their back, and fewer yet are used to hiking all day up a mountain trail with that weight. If you're a beginner you WILL have a problem with the weight of your gear.

The problem with buying inexpensive gear is that it's usually not very light. And unless you're going to carry a luggage scale with you when you go to buy your gear, it's pretty hard to tell how much something weighs.

Consider this:

  • A cheap backpack big enough to carry everything you'll need for a weekend will probably weigh at least 5lbs.
  • Tents made for car-camping ARE NOT meant for backpacking. Backpackers shoot for 2-5 lbs for a 2-person tent, but a regular car-camping tent will be closer to 10-20. Tents sold by companies like Coleman or Woods as 'backpacking tents' are still in the 10+ lb range. You might plan on only being a 'fair weather hiker', but the reality is that weather changes very quickly. And this kind of tent WILL not get you through a severe storm at remote campsite even if you want to lug it all the way up there.
  • Cheap sleeping bags will weigh around 5-8 lbs for ones rated to 40°F.  If they get wet, they weigh even more, and they will lose any insulating value.
  • You'll need a thermarest or other lightweight mattress for 1-3 lbs. Commercial rubber air mattresses won't keep you warm and they weigh a lot more.

One example: A Napier™ X-Treme PAC: Two-man Camping Package weighs 21 lbs! It includes two folding stools, but other than that consists of only a tent and two sleeping bags. Ditch the stools, and the car-camper 'backpacking' package is still around 16 lbs. All by itself.

  • Even a cheap alcohol stove weighs around a lb. with fuel.
  • Food will weigh at least a lb/day/person, or 6-10 lbs for two people for a weekend. Assuming everything you carry is dehydrated, and you skip the canned goods and the case of beer!
  • Water (2 pints) weighs about 5 lbs. Add the weight of a filter or other water treatment system.
  • For clothing, including jacket, hat and gloves, rain gear, sweaters, extra socks, a change of clothes, you're probably looking at between around 10 lbs.
  • First Aid Kit, flashlight, hiking poles, camera, miscellaneous odd and ends add another 2-5 lbs.

That total comes to over 50 lbs. What would you like to leave behind? Or would you rather cut those weights in half?

if you want to go cheap, I'd suggest you start with car-camping. If you want to go backpacking, go somewhere like REI (or MEC in Canada) where the sales people have some experience with the gear they're selling. Plan carefully, and pick and choose, maybe rent most of the equipment first, then take what you've chosen out and test it at a safe location. THEN think about backpacking!

I don't mean to be a nag, but most people who get into trouble in the bush or on a mountain do so because they don't take this stuff seriously.

Best case, you get half-way to your destination and you're so sore you're not enjoying it. You have a lousy weekend and you never want to do it again.

Worst case, you're stuck 15 miles from nowhere at 2:00AM with a soggy, collapsing tent, a wet sleeping bag, and hypothermia setting in. And I can promise you that SAR won't come out until morning, even if you can reach them on your cell phone.

1:42 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts

Ah, to be starting out again. Wouldn’t it be fun?

Back in the 70’s I used a canvas rucksack, cheap cotton sleeping bag and a boy scout mess kit.  My Mom eventually helped me add to the kit and I gradually acquired a 1 quart flat aluminum boy scout canteen, a folding sterno stove, a rubberized yellow rain poncho and an official boy scout pocket knife!

Man, I thought I was set! Sure, I froze my butt of on every trip, but for some reason I was still addicted to camping out.

Why oh why couldn’t we ever go in warm weather? The scout masters would haul in a travel trailer and set up while we kids, led by an older scout or two would hike in the long way with our rucksacks. At the camp the scout masters would pass out canvas pup tents, or sometimes they would set up big canvas wall tents and we’d all pile into those to sleep.     

Then the scout masters would retire to the travel trailer and get hammered on gin and play poker all night long, as we shivered in our tents.

I remember one time when the big wall tent was set up over a damp spot. The scout masters were probably already drunk and didn’t notice. We kids got to camp after dark and when we went to bed the water seeped through our bags and soaked them. Everyone shivered all night long, sleeping in damp cotton clothing and wet cheap sleeping bags!

Ya know, I had that poncho with me, but I was so dumb I didn’t even think to put it under my bag!

Well, I kept right on hiking and camping and by the time I was 25 I had a pretty good kit - a very expensive genuine second generation gore-tex rain suit, and MSR Whisperlight stove, a Karrimor jaguar 75 liter internal frame pack, and a Sierra Designs sleeping bag. Never did bother with a tent. My friends called me “Bedouin Bob” because I was always sleeping out in the open or throwing up any ‘ol kind of tarp for shelter. Usually I carried a G.I poncho and used that as a ground cloth or tarp.

These days I get to relive the joys of starting all over again, by torturing my nephews! I learned to camp the hard way, so by golly so will they!

None of this cushy sleeping pads and tents BS! I was in my twenties before I ever used a sleeping pad! At the start of a two week backpacking trip in the White Mountains of new Hampshire a friend I was hiking with presented me with a brand new 3/8 inch thick ensolite pad. At the time I was mad, and called it just another damn thing I had to carry along!

Yes sir, gotta teach these kids to be tough!

So, I outfit them each with a Swiss army surplus rucksack. They have a few tattered cotton sleeping bags, and I usually let one borrow an old military surplus mummy bag I own.

I gave ‘em each a short list of things to take, then let ‘em fill the rucks with whatever they want –  The first time out they naturally each brought four or five flashlights and their favorite toys.

Heh, they had to eat with chop sticks they carved for themselves out of old tin cans they found along the way because no one brought a spoon or a cup or bowl…

I keep us hiking to well after dark and did not let anyone use a flashlight – Gotta get these city boys used to the dark, ya know.

---Heading out from my back yard for an overnighter on the mountain, August, 2011 .

By this time I’ve relented a bit and allowed ‘em to carry sleeping pads if they wish to, and only the youngest decided it was worth the bother to try one. Heh, of course I’m carrying an inflatable thermarest!




We sleep out under the stars whenever possible.

Here is one camp where we simply conked out on the side of an old forest service road -  



Here is my bed that night –

It’s a pile of knapweed! I figure the kids need to learn the technique of using natural materials for a bed, but I don’t want to encourage the cutting of pine boughs or anything like that, so we gathered armful of knapweed. Made a surprisingly comfortable bed.




I carried minimal gear myself on that overnighter, it don't take much.

Lets see what I got there... Three water bottles, empty soda bottles work just as well, I got the cooking pot, a plastic bowl and spoon, the yellow bag is the food bag and yeah, I do have a very nice compact  down sleeping bag and a pillow in the red stuff sack next to it, laid out on my groundd sheet which is big enough to pull over me in the unlikley event it rained. 




Another trip, camped out around a fire ring. I got up first and snapped this photo –



We cook over fires usually. Here is a neat trick, dump yer stuff into the cook pot, and balance the pot on one of the cans you just emptied -  




Cooking up oatmeal over a more conventional fire ring –




If we use a shelter it’s never more than a tarp. We have used one long tarp pitched A style with two people in each end, and more open types like this, on our first overnight bike trip together –




Yeah, these kids got it easy starting out. I keep 'em warm, well fed and take care of 'em, which is mnore than I can say of my early experiences!

Anyway, if I had to give new campers and hikers advice it would be to travel as light as possible and to simply start!

Sticking to easy trails and fine weather is also very good advice.

Gear? Gear is secondary. Use what ya got or cab scrounge up, just get out there. If I had to give specific gear recommendations I’d second the “inexpensive”  ( still cost me a days pay!) external frame backpack. They do work usually better than military surplus.

Got to walmart and get a blue foam sleeping bad for under ten bucks. Bulky, but very warm!

Go to Harbor freight and get a 9 x 7 tarp, also under ten bucks. In fine weather you’ll certainly not need a tent.

I’ve slept under the stars many times rolled up in a wool blanket or two, and ain’t no reason can’t do the same, but if a new fella was gonna blow serious coin on any bit of gear I  would recommend it be on a good sleeping bag! I’ve spent way to many nights shivering in cheap bags!

Get one twenty or more degrees warmer than you think yer gonna need!

I know this guy who just got into backpacking last year. This guy is an engineer and can afford anything he really needs, yet he got a cheapo-on-sale 50 degree sleeping bag!

He lives in Texas and figured he didn’t need to warm a bag. Wrong!     

It gets cold in the hills and hollows at night, even in Texas and he’s used to very hot temperatures, so even a 65 degree night seems quite cold to him when he’s lying in his tent listening to the wind at night.   

I reckon a fella can endure just about any kind of day and call it fun looking back upon it so long as he gets a decent eight hours sack time.

If ya don’t sleep comfortably, chances are your first trip may be yer last, so pick yer sleeping bag accordingly!



2:05 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

How about this. If you are new at backpacking, testing your skills, and equiptment. Dont travel far from the car. When I first started I had a older Coleman tent. And carried everything in duffle bags. The next year I had gotten a backpack, and bought a tent very much like the Alpine Desings that I spoke of. It weighed in at a mere 4.5 puonds. My Coleman was over 8#.

I learned alot from 1 mile trips. Yet I was easly within the safety of my car. There is a big learning curve from car camping to backpacking. Doing it slow will be very rewarding. Remember that mountain or lake that is 20 miles away will be there next year when you are more prepared to tackle it.

I still go back to that first area to test inexpencive gear. Not long ago I took out a 40 year old tent. It rained and I had to bail becouse the tent had lost its water proofing. One inch of water on the floor of the tent. And the rain was still coming down. Safety is always rule #1.

2:20 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts
  • Even a cheap alcohol stove weighs around a lb. with fuel.
  • Food will weigh at least a lb/day/person, or 6-10 lbs for two people for a weekend. Assuming everything you carry is dehydrated, and you skip the canned goods and the case of beer!
  • Water (2 pints) weighs about 5 lbs. Add the weight of a filter or other water treatment system.
  • For clothing, including jacket, hat and gloves, rain gear, sweaters, extra socks, a change of clothes, you're probably looking at between around 10 lbs.
  • First Aid Kit, flashlight, hiking poles, camera, miscellaneous odd and ends add another 2-5 lbs.


Hmm, lets see here.

Yep, probably right about the stove, and many places, maybe even most these days, ya can't cook over a fire. And besides, few people know how these days! When I was a kid I could catch a glass of water on fire, and dang near burned down a few houses prooving it! 


Despite my toutoring my nephews are still pretty much hopless in the fire department. A propane stove can be had pretty cheap from Walmart and is probably what I'd recomend over an alcohol stove for a rank beginner. easier to use, don't ya know.


I would recomend keeping the rest of thje cooking kit to a minimum!

I like a two quart aluminum cooking pail with lid and bail. Add a plastic bowl - A cottage cheeese container works very well - and a spoon and yer set!

Avoid at all costs the tricky, heavy and to durn small mess kits and such in the camping stores!

Food - A pound a day! Ye gods and little fishes! I'm starving already!

More like two pounds thank you! Sandwiches and leftovers work well for me for simple overnighters. I'd recomend shopping in a supermarket and avoiding all the fancy expensive mountain house crap.

Gotta have water too. Don't wanna dehydrate! I've never once in my life ever filtered or treated water in any way - I simply strain it with me front teeth. I'm either very stupid and very lucky, or maybe I'm just used to it, or travel only in areas where water born stuff ain't a problem. So I'm not the fella to ask about water treatments and filters. I do know city folk who insist they will get sick drinking "wild" water, so naturally they do every time!  Just start out on trips where ya know you can find water at decent intervals. Again, empty soda bottls make fine water carriers.

Extra clothing? For starting out on simple overnight trips and the like? Why bother? I'll wear the same pair pof sock a week running and not think twice about it.

I'll say it right here up front and this is a lesson I rekon every new camper needs to lean - Extra clothing is out of place in a backpack!

Supplimental clothing is what ya pack, if ya reckon you'll need it.

Something warm to slip into at the end of the day  - Fleece or a wool sweater - is a very fine thing indeed. But leave the change of clothes at home. You'll probably have to wear the same clothes the next day. It's just one of those things backpacker do. 

I always carry a warm hat because I'm going bald. My wife never does. Rain gear? Only if I think there is a real chance of rain. Starting out on easy summer trips, why bother? If ya have to pull out yer ground cloth and wrap yerself in that.

Shorts are nice to have.  A bandanna. - Shrug - what else do you really need for an easy trip?

Flashlight, camera, first aid kit, hiking poles, folding gee-wizz gadgets and yadayadayada, I don't let my nephews take any of this junk.

I remember on one of our first trips we were hiking around my mountain at dusk when all of a sudden a strange, tiny electronic sound was heard! One of the kids pulled out a smart phone and said it was their Mom telling them to go to bed soon! They all pulled out phones and took pictures of the sunset and sent these photos along with textx to their Mom and friends in a furry of typing on tiny keyboards!

It blew my mind! This is a wilderness trip? No more! That was the last time they had those things along!  

Oh, I'll have a little LED light in me pocket and a small first aid kit hiden away and even a small digital camera as you can see - But on short trips none of this is really needed, and it adds more like ten pounds to the beginners pack!

See, lots of good advice here but most folkks starting out already have this impression that they need 50 pounds of fancy expensive gear to simply survive much les be comfortable out-of-doors, and it simply ain't true.  









2:29 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
33 reviewer rep
85 forum posts

This is a very interesting read to me, as I am pretty new to backpacking, but an old (as much as I can be at 29) hat at camping. Almost every weekend during the summers as a teenager, my friends and I would lug everything we could possibly carry a half mile or so up into my woods and camp. Never owned a bag of any sorts until much later. I had no idea you could sleep in a tent either apparently, as none of us every had one. froze my butt off many a night. But the stories and the fire were the main focus.

A little older, but not much wiser, I decided to get into backpacking. I would echo the go cheap early unless you either have the money to burn, or know you love the outdoors too much not to do it again. I borrowed a bag the first couple times i went out, which if can be done may be the best advice i can give. No matter what bag you get tho (and craigslist is fantastic for finding deals) make sure it fits! my first bag didn't and it showed.

Second, sticking to easy trails/good weather is a beginners dream. unless you are a glutton for punishment like my friend and I, you will be much happier.

Tents are for sissies! just joking! I don't own a tent (but am looking for one), so for starters you may want to look for trails with backcountry shelters as this will save the weight and money on a tent until you know for sure what you like. Practice with a tarp and rope if you want to go that route, as not knowing how to hang one properly is a damper on a good evening.

Finally no matter what bag you get (and i have a very cheap one) make sure you get a pad of some sorts. And a groundcloth or poncho to put under it if camping on the grass. I never had one as a teen and got one for my first backpack trip, and realized what i had been missing all my life. $10 foam pad from walmart, and you are in heaven. EtdBob said it best

I reckon a fella can endure just about any kind of day and call it fun looking back upon it so long as he gets a decent eight hours sack time.

2:45 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
1,343 forum posts

Nice posts.

In this day a many excesses it is a hard sell to interest people in simplicity. I don't know anyone but myself that would be caught without a cell phone. You'd think people could not remember a trip with out a camera, are we taking this trip for ourselves or to brag to others thereby needing visual proof? Even on short jaunts people bring their GPS, wouldn't want to get lost now scary, scary. Yes there is something to be said about going out into the wilderness and being totally disconnected from society. Something which most people just cannot make themselves do.

2:54 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

I think starting out sucked, personally. There was so much information to sort through, especially for my specific interests. Sorting through the truths and myths, the biases, the critics, the flamers...holy crap I would hate starting over.

My recommendation for the beginner is to do your own research as best you can before asking everyone else. Everyone else will have opinions and biases that could lead you in the wrong direction. Find out what you want to get out of the sport, what exactly you want to accomplish, and what types of trips you are aiming for once you are experienced.

As I tell my patients, if you don't have the goal figured out, it makes it hard to figure out what steps it takes to get there. Figure out what you want out of this whole thing, and you can take baby steps to make it happen.

I personally started off by researching what types of gear you can get away with buying at walmart or other department stores for cheap, and what types of gear you need to spend the money on for quality reasons. For example, some underarmor or north face base layers will run you over $50. Or you could go to walmart and get a shirt of the SAME EXACT MATERIAL for $10.

Once you have the goals and all that figured out, once you have done your own research, once you have done your own planning - THEN approach others about the topic and try to learn learn learn. 

3:35 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
38 reviewer rep
395 forum posts

If youve never backpacked before I would say car camp outta of your pack a few times first. That is, load your pack with what you intend to take then stay with your car but only use whats in your pack. No exceptions! (well unless its absolutly needed for safety) You'll surely find things that you packed that your not using.

In the morning pack up your kit and go for a short day hike with it. Again practice using items like your stove and water filter while your still close to car and not depending on them.

Doing this will help you figure out a few things that worked for ya or those things that didnt or can be left behind. How to load your pack and adjust it properly, and if the pack even fits comfortable with your intended load.

You can learn alot about your gear this way and bail to the car if its just not working for ya.

All the latest and greatest gear wont insure a safe comfortable trip. But once you've gained some experience it sure can make it more pleasurable.

Knowledge is the most important thing to have. So +1 on LEARN LEARN LEARN! and add to that PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! Before heading out on a long challenging trip.

3:44 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

There are many alternates available at less cost than the high end stuff, but there is usually a price to pay in other areas. I really don't think there's much difference in insulating value between an Arcteryx fleece and one of similar weight from Walmart. Underwear for summer backpacking doesn't matter as long as it's synthetic. I carry a few dollar-store ponchos for people who forget to bring rain gear and it works just fine, for one day. A couple of them plus my bear pole cord and hiking poles makes an emergency shelter.

The big difference though is the weight. Take a 8-10 lb tent, an 8 lb sleeping bag, a rubber air mattress at 6 lbs, canned food for an extra 10 lbs, and similar differences on every other item and it starts adding up. Compare that to a 2 lb down bag, a 5 lb tent, and 8-10 oz of dehydrated food, and the savings make a real difference.

Last year, I took a few people on an easy overnighter, backpacking in Jasper National Park. There was one woman who turned up with a 110 litre expedition pack stuffed to the max. It turned out she had everything in there she could think of, including flannel pajamas, her swimsuit and goggles (to swim in a glacier-fed lake??!!!), two complete changes of clothing, and a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit to go with her meals. I wound up carrying her tent for her after about the first mile (part of my job, I guess) but I wasn't very impressed.

On another backpacking trip a few weeks earlier (last year was a bad one) one woman turned up with brand new Salomon Quest 4D boots (turned out they were a size too small) a new Osprey pack, and five Safeway bags full of extra stuff. At the trailhead, I tore her bags apart and got her down to something a bit more manageable. I still had to send her back the next morning.

4:03 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
38 reviewer rep
395 forum posts

I forgot to add one thing. No matter your experience level or the gear you carry, sooner or later Mother Nature is gonna spank ya! She's gonna remind you who is really incharge. Meeting the challenge is part of the game.

4:07 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts

Wow! Peter, you've had some very interesting experiences with new hikers!

Those examples were both for easy overnight trips, yes? So why did anyone bother to bring a tent, piles of extra clothing and such?

Did you give these folks a list of stuff to take beforehand?


Reminds me of when one of my sisters went on her one-and-only camping trip.

I was in my late teens and owned a Sears Hillary brand external frame backpack at the time. It was quite big, as I remember it.

My sister loaded that thing to bursting, and also carried a cooler in one hand and a steel ammo box crammed ful of stuff in the other! 

 She had quite a pile of clothes in the backpack, and of course needed that cooler for the food ( and probably beer ) and I haven't a clue what was in the ammo can. This was for a two night weekend trip in the summer. She and a few freinds planned to hike a few miles into a lake and camp. 

I was flabergasted by the mountain of gear she was trying to shift, and tried to tell her a bit about the way I hiked. She would have none of it though.

I guess she had fun that weekend, but she never went out again.

Big difference between backpacking and camping.



5:31 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

EtdBob said:

Wow! Peter, you've had some very interesting experiences with new hikers!

Those examples were both for easy overnight trips, yes? So why did anyone bother to bring a tent, piles of extra clothing and such?

Did you give these folks a list of stuff to take beforehand?

The tents were part of the experience, and people were supposed to team up, with each one carrying half the shared gear.I don't normally carry much extra clothing more than a spare pair of dry socks.

I included equipment checklists on the postings for each event, and on the website for my trips. Some people just don't read them, I guess. I start every year with a three-day Backpacking Prep, meant to screen out the wannabes as much as to test new gear. That helps a bit.

People seem to have this idea that backpacking is 'Me and my little knapsack skipping through an alpine meadow', not realizing what a slog it can actually be.

5:42 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

azrhino said:

I forgot to add one thing. No matter your experience level or the gear you carry, sooner or later Mother Nature is gonna spank ya! She's gonna remind you who is really in charge. Meeting the challenge is part of the game.

That's where the knowledge and the preparation comes in, and the extra safety gear. If you're ready for the bad weather or the unexpected delays, you'll make out okay. Excellent point, azrhino.

One 'pro' for carrying a small camera is that when I'm trapped at a desk in the city (like now), I can escape briefly to a better place by letting my screensaver display the photos I've taken on various trips.

9:23 p.m. on March 21, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

I don't worry to much about weight. My gear is all fairly light, but I never take the time to weigh my gear and try to find the lightest thing available. I have a bomproof 4 season tent and -20 bag that combined probably weigh 12 lbs. I have carried as much as 75 lbs on one trip and didn't complain once while hiking for several miles and gaining 3000 feet elevation. The reason for this was because I carried almost everything our party needed so others had less weight.

I've gotten quite a bit of "crap" from friends over the years because I take so much extra stuff. Fortunately I'm not foolish enough to take extra stuff such as goggles and flannel pajamas, but I'll frequently bring a rope and ice axe on non-technical trails. One trip I took, I was the only person on the mountain other than a father and son duo who were completely unprepared in terms of how they were dressed and in terms of what they brought with them. The trail, which isn't particularly technical, was no-joke 100% ice. Neither of them had a crampon, a hiking pole, nothing, yet they kept going up to the very top. The temps that night dipped below zero, and had I left the top without them coming with me, if they had fallen or broke a leg on the ice, they would have been overnight with nothing but windpants and a sweatshirt on their back. I had to use my rope to lower them down icy sections. I bet that most people who would have done that trip would not have taken rope with them, but by my bringing un-necessary gear, I very well may have saved those folks' lives.

My point is that this sport requires fitness. If you want a light little backpack, stick with car camping. Otherwise, you will be carrying weight. It's the nature of the beast, and you should prepare for it with your cardio and your lifting.

3:58 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts

Hey now,  lighten up!  : )

Ain’t we talking about beginners here, on easy starting trips?

Are you saying a feller needs to be able to carry 75 pounds and needs to do cardio workouts and lift weights and needs a -20 degree sleeping bag and twenty more pounds of specialized gear before they dare go out on a summer weekend trip?  

Because I’ve got news for you, I have been backpacking all my life, and there is no way in heck I can carry a 75 pound backpack, I don’t own a -20 degree bag, I have never lifted weights, and the only cardio exercise I get is walking, snow shoeing and doing chores about our homestead. I have never once carried more than 51 pounds on my back, and that was in my youth.

Heh, and you’re  telling me to stick to car camping?


Do I get my wheel chair now too?

To bad I’m not smart enough and strong enough to play with the “big boys”.  Maybe when I grow up, eh?                              

Hehe, better not tell Ray Jardine to take his “light, little backpack” and stick to car camping!

Backpacking is not about carrying heavy loads.

 It's about carrying the right load.

The learning curve is figuring out what that load should consist of, and that is kinda what we’re talking about here, no?

See - I think it’s advice like that which screws up folks who are thinking of getting into backpacking, and as a result they show up for Pete’s trips with bulging expedition packs, five safeway bags of food and goggles.

So remember, this thread is about what it takes to go backpacking for the first time.

My BN ( Bike Nut ) friends are the same way –

After some 28 years of not even looking at a bike, I decided to go on a cycle touring trip.  

But first things first – I needed a bike!

After wasting two weeks looking at Craig’s list and high end used bikes I simply bought a Wal-Mart Schwinn Sidewinder mountain bike.

When I told my wife and she said  "Took you long enough. They really had you wound around the axle for a while there."
I mean, I wear ten dollar jeans and 12 dollar eye glasses. I favor fifteen dollar knives by Mora and Cold Steel, shoot a 199 dollar rifle, drive a 450 dollar car and live in a 20,000 dollar home. A expensive bike just doesn't fit in. I’m not a materialistic kind of guy. The way I can afford to go on trips like that cycle touring trip is because I spend an absolute minimum of coin on things. This gives me the money and just as importantly the time, to run off on crazy adventures.

So I put the Schwinn together and wobbled around my homestead in the snow and mud a bit.

I thought it was one hot bike! Remember I was comparing it to the last thing I had ridden 28 years ago – A  40 pound, all-steel 1970’s vintage ten speed with crappy side pull brakes, friction shifters that hit maybe every other gear, and wandered out of gear every few miles.

V-brakes, indexing twist-shifters, front suspension, aluminum wheels, braze-ons for two water bottles, a kickstand, and 21 speeds! To my eyes this looked like a fine machine. As the roads around my homestead dried I re-discovered the simple joy of riding that I knew as a kid – It was like flying! I found Wal-mart had all sorts of nifty bike stuff, and outfitted my Schwinn with water bottles, a bike “computer”, and lights, and myself with a helmet and fingerless riding gloves.

But my bike-nut friends reacted in shear incredulity at the Schwinn. They simply could not accept the fact that I spent less than 1,000 bucks on a bike that I actually intended to take on a trip.  One said  “Is he F’in serious?”  It was like Apocalypse Now to them “The horror, the horror…”

My poor friends who rode bikes because the Child Support Nazi’s took their licenses and such said things like “Cool bike, I rode one of those for ten years running.”

I mean heck, I was just starting out in that whole Bike Thing, not entering the Tour de France.

And there are levels of backpacking as well. What a feller needs to tackle mount Everest is way different than what a feller needs to thru hike the Pacific crest trail, which is  different than what you can use for an easy 10 or 15 mile weekend hike along the shores of Priest lake in northern Idaho, which is a hike I’ve taken several beginner backpackers on.

And car camping? I’d never tell a backpacker-wanna-be to “just go car camping”.

That will start ‘em off on the wrong path. They would go to Walmart and buy a ton of bulky cheap camping equipment like coolers, folding chairs, double burner camp stoves, cheap sleeping bags that occupy three cubic feet when rolled up and cast iron pot and pans.

They need to be started off on the right path to become backpackers.

Once upon a time on a weekend canoe trip to upper Priest lake my wife and I came across a poor woman who was struggling along by herself in a cheap Coleman canoe with a huge pile of bottom-of-the-line camping gear tossed in haphazardly. We were headed up lake and she was headed back to civilization, and she was very close to tears as she struggled along.

She told us a tale of a horrible overnight trip she had had. It seems she was trying to deal with a very stressful life back in town and someone had recommended to her that she should try a weekend up at the lake to relax. She liked the idea, and had asked what she needed to bring. The end result was the cheap canoe and the huge pile of gear.

She’d struggled up part of the lake somehow, and had gotten a tow the rest of the way by some folks in a motor boat, spent a horrible night in a poorly pitched tent ( it had rained rather hard that night ), and now all she wanted to do was get the heck out of there and never leave town again for the rest of her life!

We spent maybe an hour in our canoe next to hers, trying to show her the simplest of all steering strokes ( the goon stroke ) and otherwise making sure she didn’t drown on the spot.

But it was a lost cause, she was already so distraught she couldn’t learn anything, and all we could do was escort her to the landing.

Her gear wasn’t the problem.

Her level of fitness wasn’t the problem.

It was her lack of knowledge. She simply didn’t know how to steer a canoe, set up a tent, or use much of all the brand new gear she had with her, so she had a miserable trip.

A backpacker starts off learning what they need to know on simple overnight hikes.

They need to learn what it really takes to spend a comfortable night in the woods. I think this is perhaps the most basic bit that needs to be learned. They need to know what it takes to be warm and dry at night so they can get a good nights rest. Backpacking can be strenuous, and a body needs rest to recover from it.

So, does it really take a -20 degree sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and six pound tent? On Mt. Everest it sure as heck does, but by the lake in the summer is sure as heck does not, and telling beginners they need that kind of gear and need to be able to carry that kind of weight is doing them a dis-service.

 They need to learn how to pitch a cheap tarp in a simple A or diamond pitch, how to feed themselves in the woods,  how to poop in the woods, what it feels like to carry a moderately loaded backpack, how to stay warm with a minimum of clothes, and most importantly what their own limits are, and how not to push those limits. At least, not at first.  

P.S. -

IClimb, I’m not trying to pick on you with this post, and I’d certainly never try to tell you your business. I guess my point is that gear is indeed secondary or even tertiary coming in way behind knowledge, and there is no reason on earth why a fellers backpack needs to be heavy for starting out on pleasant summer trips.  I don’t want some wanna-be backpacker reading this thread and getting turned off because they can’t hump 75 pound packs.

5:11 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

no offense taken.

I merely meant to state that this is a physical activity and I also don't want newcomers to think they can get away with carrying almost nothing or think that they don't need to work on their fitness to some degree first. I agree that beginners are going to take smaller trips and work their way up, and that they will also probably make mistakes, carry things they don't need, have equipment that weighs too much, etc.

My ultimate reason for writing what I did is that I'm against this whole ultimate light weight fad that has companies charging muchos mula for gear that is the "lgihtest" possible. For me I say, no thanks, I'll keep my money, work a little harder at the gym, and carry a few extra lbs.

5:15 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

also I backed myself up with evidence that sometimes carrying extra gear is worth it...and if someone is concerned with carrying a lighter load and leaving that questioned item of gear behind, it could make a big difference if something happens. 

Granted I know this could attract the vultures to the conversation that "you can't carry everything plus the kitchen sink" on a trip hoping to be ready for any disaster.

Again, it is based on comfort and experience when you decide on what gear to bring and for what conditions. Did I need the rope? Was I unprepared? No. I was well prepared for the conditions and well prepared to make shelter, stay overnight, melt drinking water, and have a meal if I got injured. And I was prepared for all of this while just on a day hike, so ya, my 40lb pack may have been overkill, but the dudes who made it down safely because of that extra 5lb rope I brought were probably not concerned about how light weight I was traveling.

another good point for beginners is that it's not just about being prepared for weather or your own mistakes. Sometimes its about being prepared for the stupidity or bad luck of others too, and that's the community of hiking and mountaineering that I hope stays alive.

5:23 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

and one more thing - 51 lbs is nothing to scoff at!! That's a heavy load my friend, don't count yourself short. Notice I wrote that when I carried 75 I didn't complain...verbally...but it was a tough day.

5:24 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
913 forum posts

WOW! I haven't seen a thread with so many big posts in such a short period of time.  Lot's of good advice.

And here's my take. 

First.  Stick around here.  Read a lot and post questions. The people here are friendly, helpful and give good advice. The only dumb question around here is the one that isn't asked because you don't want to look stupid. The people here are truly better human beings. 

Second. Don't try to be an Ultra-Light gram counting backpacker at first.  These people cut corners to reduce their weight, sacrificing just about everything, including their pocket books.

I'm going to assume you are like me and have some money to spend on gear but you are not Bill Gates nor are you a poor college student with practically nothing. My philosophy is that when you are starting out in something you may not end up liking (yes I know you are just raring to go through hike the Appalachian Trail and people with no experience do it all the time) you should shoot for mid-range gear.

If you go to Walmart and buy all your gear from them you will probably not have a pleasant experience, the backpacking equipment they have is not near the caliber needed to have reasonable experience.  They're fine for car camping stuff just not backpacking.  

Ever see a sign that says something like this?  "What kind of job do you want? You may pick 2 of the following... Cheap, Fast, Quality.

With hiking gear there's always trade-offs between weight, bulk, durability, and price.  You have to figure out what you want/need to trade off.  Walmart trades almost everything for price when it comes to gear.  I'm partial to Alps Mountaineering gear.  It can be had reasonably cheap, and is built for durability not lightness.  

There are a lot of gear lists that list everything you need to take on a hike and like opinions everyone has there own. I'm not going to cover things like eating utensils, emergency kit, med kit, etc.  Just what most people consider to be the major pieces you use each trip (hopefully you are not using you med or emergency kit each trip).  For overnight hikes 99% will have the following major pieces. 

  1. Backpack. You aren't going very far carrying very much without one. The trade offs with packs are comfort, durability, price and weight.  The main thing to worry about with you pack is comfort.  Look for well padded waist belts and shoulder straps and a torso that adjusts to fit you. Try the pack on with 30-50lbs of weight in it. Durability-wise look for well sewn seams and zippers that are big enough and slide easily. 
  2. Sleeping Bag.  Unless you live in an area that has warm nights like Florida you will want one.  The trade offs are weight, bulk and price.  For summer use you can't go wrong with a 20 degree synthetic bag.  Your bag is probably the place you can save the most weight and bulk in by buying a slightly more expensive bag. 
  3. Shelter.  Usually a tent, other options are hammocks and tarps.  A decent "all weather" hammock will cost as much as a tent and the price of a sil-nylon tarp will surprise you. Tarps are also a bit primitive for most people who are starting out.  Sure you can sleep under the stars but if it rains you are going to be an unhappy camper.  Trade-offs are weight, durability and storm worthiness.  
  4. Stove and pot.  No it's not absolutely essential for backpacking. You can eat cold food if you want to. You can cook over a fire if you're allowed to have one, know how to build one reliably and it's not pouring down rain.  Trade offs with stoves are ease of use, fuel type, speed to a boil (most common thing people do when hiking), bulk and weight. Soda/beer can alcohol stoves are cheap to make and run, very light but not the fastest or easiest to use. The easiest to use IMO are canister gas stoves and the second lightest, however the fuel is the most expensive.  White gas are the most versatile, fuel is cheap but they are not the easiest to operate, usually the heaviest and dangerous if you are not careful.

I own enough equipment for my family (me, wife 9yo son, 18yo daughter) to go hiking.   Prices listed are what I remember.

Packs: All the packs have hydration pockets and ports. All the Alps include rain covers.

  • Alps Cascade 5200, 2009 model $65, Mine.  Nice big pack w/removable top that can be used as a fanny pack. When I go hiking with my son I end up carrying an extra air pad and need the room.  Starting out with a big pack also gives you plenty of room for the extra gear that you want to take but will eventually not carry or the "luxury evening or weekender" and when you do whittle down that gear you'll have a big enough pack for longer trips.
  • Alps Red Tail, Wife. 4900 cu in. 2009 model,  $55. The newer model lets you remove the back pocket and use it as a mini pack. Top also detaches to be a fanny pack.
  • Alps Cascade 4200, Daughter, $60. Mine just smaller.
  • Deuter Climber, son, $45. Great quality pack he can carry his bag, jacket a little food and his 2-liter camelbak bladder.

Tents: I got 3 man for the room.  A lot of inexpensive tents measure the floor room using the sardine method meaning that a 3 man tent is a comfortable 2 man. Both tents are well made with taped seams and thicker than usual cloth. Both include gear lofts.

  • Alps Zephyr 3, 5lb 7oz., ~$105. This is the tent if I'm going with my wife and son.  The wider area at the "head" end gives plenty of room for all three of us.
  • Alps Chaos 3, 5lb 15oz. ~$88. Excellent tent. Vertical walls on two sides make it very roomy.  

Bags: These are all synthetic insulation bags.  I have 4 Alps lightweight, size long, self inflating sleeping pads to go with them.  The pads are not really that lightweight at 3lb 14oz. but are very comfy at 2" thick. Considering I only paid about $30 a piece I think they were a steal.

  • Alps Clearwater 20 wide, Mine and Wife $40
  • Alps Clearwater 20 regular, daughter $35
  • Mountain Hardwear Mountain Goat, son $50


  • 2 JetBoil PCS and a GCS pot. The JetBoils are "all-in-one" canister stoves. They have a 1 liter "mug" that locks on top of the  Easy to use and no decisions to make about pots. I didn't really need 2 but I got them on clearance (model discontinued) for $49.  I purchased the GCS pot at an outfitter in NC for $20.  Take a lighter with you always.  Piezo electric starters don't work all the time.  

You don't have to spend a fortune to get some decent gear.  I used, and (my older son was a Boy Scout at the time.)

Here's a bargain on a stove.

If you aren't sure something is a bargain, check here. 


7:25 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

Actually Walmart has a few good beginer tents. The Stansport Star-Lite 2 2000mm HH fly and 3000mm floor at around 5#. The Coleman Max and Hooligan. Both heavier but shouldnt be bad. Then one that I reviewed The Giga Yellowstone. 3.5# well made, very roomy 2 person tent.

I think that I'm the cheapest guy on TS. I'm looking to go UL this summer. So what did I pick-up? A High-Tec V-Lite 2. Made a cut here and a snip there and I've got a 38 sq foot sleeping area, and a 13 sq foot vestiluble. At 32 oz and less than $50. I set it up yesterday in a strorm. One seam leaked. Worked on it today and I know that it is fixed.

 I love cheap tents. Sleepingbags are a differant story. To get light you have to spend some bucks.

BTW there is now a thread on inexpencive cookware.

9:45 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

mike - walmart also has had the coleman max backpacking stove in the past which is tiny, and the gas for it is pretty light as well. They also sell some pretty damn good hiking poles. My father in law paid $90 a piece for his poles from some expensive company. I paid $8.77 per pole from walmart and they have been incredible for the last 2 years, and have literally saved my butt a couple of times by giving me extra points of balance.

11:16 p.m. on March 22, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts

I suggest four certain items are not best bought on the cheap, as they are critical to your comfort, hence enjoyment.  I don’t mean to say you should shell out big bucks;  I mean make sure these items are of adequate quality or better.  If the price seems steep, keep in mind all of this equipment will last years, some even a lifetime.

Spend whatever is necessary to obtain properly fitted boots appropriate for the activity you intend to engage.  Light weekend hikes along maintained trails can get by with light boots; lugging a two week pack cross country requires sturdy heavier boots.

Make sure the pack you get fits, and will be capable of handing the abuse this piece of equipment will endure.  It is temping to buy the blue light special pack, but silly quality packs will fail sooner than later, with broken shoulder straps, busted waist band buckles, ripped pack cloth seams and broken weld joints. 

Primarily a rain shelter.  Tents have lots of workmanship, and lot of potential failure points.  You don’t need to spent $500 to get a good tent, but rest assure no new two man tent under $100 is worth the money, or your trust in bad weather.

Sleeping bag
Get one that will keep you warm for the weather you wish to camp in.  Warmth is facilitated by the insulation material, and the thickness (loft) of this material. Insulation that can be packed tight to take up less space in the pack is good; insulation that is light for the temperature rating is better.  Most beginners are better off with a synthetic bag.  A sleeping pad is a must if you intend to be comfortable sleeping on the ground.  Blue foam pads are economical and sufficient.


6:35 a.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

I should mention that the tent I bought is for summer trips. It would not hold up to high winds, big rains, or a snow load. Every piece of equipment has a reason and a season.

5:06 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

i agree guys, that some things can be cheaper, and some unfortunately you just can't go cheap with because you sacrifice too much quality. However, my tent is pretty bombproof and is a 4 season tent, and I picked it up brand new for $75. Look for deals newbies, look for deals.

5:25 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts

Actually, you can get some astonishingly good tents for just over 100 clams.

The first that comes to my mind is the Eureka Timberline 2.

This is a fantastic tent, very easy to set up, freestanding, roomy, 3.5 season, ventilates very good, not prone to condensation, good enough overhang on the door so you can sit there and cook in the rain, durable and long lasting, and spare parts are readily available. I’ve lived for weeks at a time in ours and it’s hard for me to imagine a better tent.

The one drawback is that it’s heavy, six or seven pounds. Still my wife’s hands down favorite tent though, probably because I’m the pack mule that gets to carry it….

Eureka also makes the non-freestanding Spitfire in one and two man versions, the one man is right around 100 bucks, and both are said to be a very good tents. The two man version is under five pounds.

But solo backpacking, I can count the times I’ve bothered to hump a tent along on the fingers of one hand. Traveling by canoe, bike or backpacking with my wife though, and I’ll usually have a tent.

If one keeps the load as light as possible, expensive, heavy boots are not needed. I’d not recommend that a new Hiker run out and dump a pile of coin on footwear unless they really  didn’t have anything at all suitable. Sneakers is fine for starting off, and heh, maybe that’s all a feller might ever need or want.

You can get good deals though. My current set of boots is a pair of Asolo something-or-other, that I got at an REI sidewalk sale for 15 bucks. Best boots I’ve ever owned. So far they have done about 700 miles by bike including a trip across Iceland, a five day backpacking trip, and three or four shorter trips, not to mention two years of mostly daily wear and countless miles in the woods around my homestead. Time for a new pair soon, REI got a sidewalk sale coming up??

Anyway, maybe a few specific examples would be a good idea, lets new guys see maybe about what we might be carrying in a similar situation, and they can then use that as a starting point for themselves. 

Let’s see, if I had to pick a budget backpack right now, I might go with the Outdoor Products “Trailhead”, which Campmor has on sale for 40 bucks.

I’ve never used one of these and I might blow a little more coin on something with an aluminum frame, but the few reviews these packs have here at Trailspace seem good, and the pack reminds me of the old Coleman Peak 1, with its somewhat flexible and easily adjusted plastic frame. The Peak One was cheap but actually quite serviceable.  This pack weighs five pounds.

I looked at Campmors “hot deals”  on sleeping bags and for sixty bucks they got the Eureka Silver City, a 30 degree mummy bag with synthetic insulation, packs compactly, and weighs only 2lb, 1 ounce catches my eye. It’s as cheap as I’d care to go for a summers bag.  I’ll scrip on everything else, but not my bag.

I’d go to Walmart and get one of their excellent blue foam sleeping pads for less than ten bucks.

While there I might get a Coleman peak 1 micro butane stove for under 30 bucks, or maybe I’d go on-line and get me a Mini Trangia. But at Walmart I’d also get some aluminum tent stakes, they have lexan spoons for 48 cents, as well as a few other good deals, then I’d try to get the heck out of Walmart before I filled the backpack up with knickknacks! 

Harbor Freight has good enough tarps for under ten bucks. I’d need a ground cloth, some para cord or other light line, call it three pounds for the tarp, ground cloth, stakes and cord to set it up.

I don’t know what the stove with a small canister weights – a pound maybe? – But so far we’re at about eleven pounds for this loadout.

And we still need a pot to cook in and a fleece jacket or sweater, some empty soda bottles  and what-not. I think we're looking at a base weight on the order of 15 pounds without food or water. Not to bad.

And I guess we’re up to a real cost of about 160 bucks by now. Hard to outfit yerself for under 200 bucks, but it can be done over time, say during the winter months look for good deals, and this gear is good enough to last for years of mild weather camping.

A note on the sleeping bag for beginners – Don’t strap it to the bottom of the pack frame. Your foam pad goes there, and put the sleeping bag in the bottom compartment of the backpack.

It wants to be the most protected thing you have along, not hanging out in the breeze on the bottom of the pack frame where it can get wet, muddy, and abraded. 

Do yourself a favor, throw the compression stuff sack it came with away! Nothing ruins a good sleeping bag faster than crunching-up the heck out of it!

When not in use, hang it up in yer closet, or otherwise leave it out and fluffed up. On a trip, stuff it loosely into that bottom backpack compartment, this bag will fit fine in that backpacks lower section. Put it in a garbage bag to keep it dry.  Trust me, you’ll sleep warmer and the bag will last longer this way, and you’ll be the first on the trail in the morning while everyone else is deflating and trying to compact inflatable pads and trying to contort sleeping bags into un-naturally small stuff sacks.

Just stuff the bag into its garbage bag in the bottom compartment of the pack, roll the sleeping pad up any ‘ol way and strap it to the bottom of the pack frame. Stuff everything else ya got into the big top compartment of the pack. Down comes the tarp, and if it’s wet it also goes on the bottom of the pack frame, not inside where it will get other stuff wet.

But everyone has different priorities, and every beginner needs to figure out what his or hers will be.

6:31 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts

EtdBob said:

..This is a fantastic tent, very easy to set up, freestanding, roomy, 3.5 season, ventilates very good, not prone to condensation, good enough overhang on the door so you can sit there and cook in the rain...

Actually beginners, DO NOT cook in or next to your tent or its vestuble!  Many people get hurt and equipment destroyed doing this.  There are lots of folks who drive drunk, have unprotected sex, and cook in tents with no connsequence.  It doesn't mean any of these activities are safe.  No stove is fool proof; no need to prove it first hand.  There are several threads on this forum covering tent fires and cooking in tents.  Search for them, and learn vicariously.


7:06 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
179 reviewer rep
192 forum posts

Well, I have to say that I don’t cook inside my tent, but I have sat in the doorway of my tent and reaching out, cooked over my stove.

Then I’d pass a hot meal and a cuppa back to my wife, sitting cross-legged in the back of the tent. The Timberline 2 is 38 sq, ft., quite comfortable for two in nasty weather.

I’d never try it in the vestibule of my Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight tent, it’s just to durn small and cramped and the risk of catching the tent on fire greater than I prefer to risk.

But I feel the timberline is a different beast. For those unfamilar with them here is a shot of my two timberline 2 tents in my front yard, drying after a trip –



No vestibule to catch on fire and the overhang is high enough that I feel it is safe to have a stove close enough to the tent to reach from the doorway. If the tent is pitched with its back to the wind you have a sheltered place to cook.      

In any event, cooking in the wind and rain is a subject every camper needs to address sooner or later, and one will indeed need to figure out how to go about it.

You can do it outside, wearing your rain gear and try cooking in the shelter of a tree, then retreat into your tent to eat, or maybe under a tarp ( just as flammable as a tent, but maybe more room for such things and certainly belter ventilation ), or in front of your tent or even inside it if you dare. There are big risks associated, not just catching things on fire but also asphyxiation.     

My personal solution is to cook with the stove about two feet in front of the Timberline, or under a tarp shelter.

I’d love to hear what others do.

7:10 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

Ed is right. Dont cook in the tent. Get a light tarp!


And as far as boots. I started hiking with a pair of tennis shoes. Then like a good hiker i bought boots, then more boots. The extra weight on my feet was taking its toll on my legs and feet. Now I'm back to shoes, although mush better that my tennies. So I would say go with what feels best to you.

7:55 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
1,663 reviewer rep
3,956 forum posts

Well, I will have to reiterate Whomeworry's concerns.

Do Not cook in or near a tent - or under a tarp if it is your only shelter!

There are several reasons -  first and foremost is the risk of personal injury or death. Stoves can and have malfunctioned even with experienced outdoors-men / women using them. You can get badly burned especially with your escape path blocked by a melting tent.

Not everyone will be camping in mild temperatures, and losing your shelter in below freezing temps can subsequently become life threatening under certain circumstances. You can freeze, especially if your sleeping bag or clothing has already become compromised in some way (burned by the stove fire for example).

Secondly, cooking close to a tent / tarp coats the tent fabric, and surrounding surfaces, with food odors (especially fatty foods which can provide energy for staying warm in cold weather)  and can attract critters to your tent to chew - and worse- on your stuff. These odors can bind to the tent fabric and remain there for long times even through storage. I have personally watched a black bear walk straight to a tree I had cooked beside earlier in the day and then spend several minutes scratching around looking for the food.

In some areas this may not be as big a concern, but since we do not get to pick the areas / regions where beginners backpack they are generally advised to cook at least 50' and preferably 100' from their tent / tarp.

In bear country this becomes even more important and beginners should be advised to set up a camp triangle with all cooking, washing, food storage, etc well away from the sleeping area. In using a camp triangle no food or beverages are brought into the sleeping area, (water is okay if the container is used just for water) and clothes used to cook in are left in the cooking area.

Mike G.

11:27 p.m. on March 23, 2012 (EDT)
153 reviewer rep
235 forum posts

Never hurts to team up with experienced folks who have Been hiking and backpacking. One doesn't have to go far to gain experience or practice good technique. A great deal can be learned in your back yard. If you mess up, use the back door of the house and spend the night in your bed.

2:49 a.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
60 reviewer rep
116 forum posts

I love this thread.  Starting out backpacking is going to be unique for everyone.  How and what you pack is an expression about who you are.  Just like your haircut, or clothing.  We all do what works for us and aint hardly any 2 alike.  Basically, backpacking is going into the forrest or desert or somewhere remote and living  away from civilization. To spend time enjoying nature, a friends good company, and the sights along the way, how I see it anyway.  You can take as little as a wool blanket and tarp in a book bag size pack, some aluminum foil, and a fly rod.  That how I got my start, didn't have much of a choice in the matter.  Its definitely not the model to go by, but it worked.  

Later on I started to borrow equipment from friends.  I loaded a small external frame pack with failing suspension that I borrowed with about 60 lbs of gear and food and climbed up Mt Washington to ski for 4 days and nights.  At the time I didn't know sleeping bags had ratings.  I had a coleman rectangular bag and it was no where near up to snuff for the temps we had at night up there and didnt have any sleeping pad either.  I didnt sleep well, but stayed for the duration and I had a blast skiing.  Finally after many years of backpacking I had money to buy a pack, internal frame, sleeping bag rated 5 degrees, and CCF bed role.  Man I felt like king shit.  Hitched out to Colorado with my new gear and bought a 5x7 tarp for shelter.  I lived all summer with just that tarp for shelter.  Finally bought a decent tent 10 years after I started backpacking.  Again not a good model to go buy.

I hiked the AT from the Susquehanna to the Connecticut rivers about 4 years ago and I saw all kinds of hikers.  Some with equipment from 60's, some thru hikers with tiny little packs not big enough for my sleeping to fit in.  I met one couple that just decided one day to take up hiking and their first hike ever was a thru hike of the AT.  They went to their local outfitter and bought everything brand new right down to the last needle in their sewing repair kit.  They were at the PA Jersey border when I last saw them and they were doing great.  I'd bet they finished.  Then the best example I met was 2 identical twin brothers thru hikiing.  They acted the same, wore the same clothes, same hair cuts, the only time you could tell them apart was when they were on the trail, they had different packs and loaded them differently.  

So my opinion after much observation is that your rig and contents make a statement about yourself and give insight about who you are.

My advice to someone just starting backpacking is to let your equipment, and level of conditioning dictate your hike.  Don't try Hell Brook route to get to the top of Mt Mansfield.  Choose a route that is gentle, and forgiving; don't go very far into the wild, hike in a short distance a mile or so, just enough that you can't hear traffic and not but near enough that you can make it back out relatively quickly  if you need to; and use a trail that is fairly popular and gets heavier use to increase your chance help being near.  

9:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

There seem to be two themes evolving here. One is the camping group, with no concerns about weight, who think nothing of adding an extra three or four or ten lbs to their pack.  The other is the backpacking group, who have to look at carrying everything with them, including food, shelter, sleeping gear and equipment for possible emergencies. This is good advice:

"Choose a route that is gentle, and forgiving; don't go very far into the wild, hike in a short distance a mile or so, just enough that you can't hear traffic and not but near enough that you can make it back out relatively quickly  if you need to."

I think of backpacking as being entirely self-sufficient for at least a few days, but this is a good place to start, and if you forgot something the ramifications probably won't be fatal.

1:08 p.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
1,663 reviewer rep
3,956 forum posts

peter1955 said:

There seem to be two themes evolving here. One is the camping group, with no concerns about weight, who think nothing of adding an extra three or four or ten lbs to their pack.  The other is the backpacking group, who have to look at carrying everything with them, including food, shelter, sleeping gear and equipment for possible emergencies. This is good advice:

"Choose a route that is gentle, and forgiving; don't go very far into the wild, hike in a short distance a mile or so, just enough that you can't hear traffic and not but near enough that you can make it back out relatively quickly  if you need to."

I think of backpacking as being entirely self-sufficient for at least a few days, but this is a good place to start, and if you forgot something the ramifications probably won't be fatal.

 Peter makes a good observation here.

I have read this entire thread twice. This thread, like most threads, has drifted and changed focus somewhat from the initial post. 

The thread has stayed mostly on topic and does offer some good advise as well as some not so good advise. It has also completely left out some very critical information for beginning backpackers which I find troublesome given the authority with which some of the posters seem to assign to themselves.

Some of the good advise:

  • Start out slow. Doing easy day hikes or over-nighters close to home or car, or even just car camp the first few times as you learn. New gear can be tried out in the backyard,  even more experienced people do this.
  • Plan to hike in good weather starting out. This is good advise but we need to understand that not everyone lives in the same climate zone and the advise given must fit the conditions that person is likely to encounter.
  • You don't need to spend an arm and a leg on gear. Yes this is mostly true. Most newbies don't need high end gear to start. Some will need the more expensive technical gear due to their climate - terrain - or other conditions though and many of them do not need or want to save money if it means lower quality.

Some of the bad advise:

  • You can use a cheap poly tarp as a reliable shelter. Fair weather hiking is a nice notion & advisable, but not practical advise for newbies to use when picking a shelter. The reality is that despite good planning efforts newbies may find themselves in nasty weather conditions that will have to be dealt with and cheap poly tarps will shred in high winds and suffer rapid degradation from UV rays (even the ones with UV coatings). In general tarps offer little protection from inclement weather, and have a much steeper learning curve than a tent and are much more suited to experienced backpackers or newbies accompanied by an experienced person. 
  • Cooking near a shelter. I know many people do this, I used to do it too. It is still bad, bad, bad advise to offer a new person for a multitude of reasons I have already covered in an earlier post. This is a no -no.
  • Your first stove should be an alcohol stove. Not really, I would only offer this advise to someone who was going to be accompanied by another person already experienced in using alcohol stoves and who was a good teacher with an emphasis on safety. Alcohol stoves have a steep learning curve when compared to canister stoves which is the stove type most recommended to newbies. The open type alcohol stoves are a fire hazard in the hands of someone not used to camp stoves, especially near or in a tent or tarp!
  • Get a cheap sleeping bag. Unless you know for a fact that the person you are giving advise to will be using the bag in very mild temps in fair weather this is terrible advise. The single most important place to spend money on gear is a sleeping bag with shelter and footwear a quick second and third.

Some of the missing advise:

  • Details on FAK's. First aid kits have been mentioned but no lists or links for good info has been given.
  • The Ten essentials. I see it mentioned but not listed.
  • A list of some good books such as The Complete Walker by Collin Fletcher. This a great way for new people to learn from some of the best teachers out there. Newbies can carry the books along on hikes and read in their leisure time and start learning what not to do instead of learning the hard way.
  • Leaving information behind with family or friends in case you get hurt or lost. Carrying personal medical information on your person in case of emergency.
  • Get to know the person you are giving advise to. You can not give out general, generic advise, or just tell people to do things the way you do them. This demonstrates a lack of understanding that new people will be coming to backpacking from different walks of life, with different skills, expectations, abilities, and budgets.    
  •   The gear & clothing you use may be completely inappropriate for someone in an upper latitude climate. As well, many people are not interested in buying el cheapo budget gear nor is it generally good advise for newbies although there are exceptions.  You need to also offer mid range gear options with as flat a learning curve as possible that will keep them safe, warm, and dry in the conditions that person will encounter.        Some of these gear options were offered but there seems to be a theme of frugality in the thread that disregards the importance of quality.

Mike Morrow's initial post started with:

"Well the time has come again. The lurkers are here looking for information on gear. Their goal? To start backpacking for the first time. What should you buy to get started? Thats simple, a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear including stove. I know that I'm just scratching the surface, but thats where the gear list starts."

The key phrase here for me is "To start backpacking for the first time."

I think this is a great topic for a thread! Especially in the Beginners forum of course.

Lets help these folks get started on the right path, starting off slow & easy, staying close to home or a vehicle, and picking affordable gear designed for backpacking that will provide the safety and functionality they need to get started. Take the time to ask questions and learn about the new person so you understand what their specific needs & expectations are. What you do works where you live or backpack, they don't all live & backpack where you do.

Mike G.

2:31 p.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
3,760 reviewer rep
954 forum posts

Trouthunter (Mike) makes some excellent points that need to be read, twice.

Unfortunatly on a site like this there a some times broad strokes and blanketing statements made. These can be correct,... or wrong. Do you want to take that 50/50 chance of being wrong? Better yet, should we lead a relatively new backpacker wrong. What works for me in Northern Ontario would be brutal and uncomfortable in a desert or tropical landscape.

I also agree with Whomeworry's (ed) opinion on where NOT to go cheap. All 4 of those pieces of equipment have the possibilty of ending a trip should they fail. Again, doesn't have to be a Hilleberg or a Western Mountaineering, just make sure it is of quality.

On a personal note, I would never call the eureka spitfire an "astonishingly good tent" as it's been called here. I was with a buddy who owned one and saw it fall apart firsthand. We had to spend 2 nights together, with my 2 large dogs, crammed into my 1.5 man shelter. Trip was cut short because not only did it leak, he had used it a couple times before with no problem, one of the poles broke. I agree with a lot of people who see great value in it. As a beginner who is a day hike away from civilaztion probably a good bet given the price. I would just be hesitant to call it "astonishingly good". Good value, yes. Good build quality, maybe.

4:55 p.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
136 reviewer rep
623 forum posts

agreed trouthunter, which was why my initial posts mentioned the new hiker doing their own research and determining their own goals before coming to a community like this. Biases, opinions, and experiences that people have had make us frequently think that our way is the best way. That's the lovely ego of man (and woman). 

and THAT'S why a newbie should know what information they want BEFORE they come here, so they can filter through what won't even apply to them.

6:40 p.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

I would have to say that I disagree that new hikers shouldnt come here for information. And I will point to the fact that all of us say keep your hike easy to moderate. and keep close to safety. I would say its ageed that that might be the first rule.

We all have our biases on gear. But then again we all agree that the sleeping bag is not the place to save money. Some newbies might what to try the cheap tarp. And I would say go for it! But follow rule #1. And as far as my comment about going ahead and get a cheapo sleepingbag. I ment it in temps around +50F at night. After the first year you will be looking for a better bag. But for the most part it will do the trick.

My main point was is that you dont have to start out with the best gear. Rather you must stay within your limits. And that meens to play it safe. After your first summer you will ether start gearing up or quit.  Heck you dont even need a backpack, duffles might work that first year. So you look like a dork. :) Who cares! Have fun but play it safe.

And read forums. There is a world of great information, and TS is one of the best. I, like you ,started out slow. But with the help of these type of forums I've become a much safer and better backpacker. Keep on hiking ol brothers and sisters

11:22 p.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
38 reviewer rep
395 forum posts

I would stand atop of every mountain available and scream at the top of my lungs......IF YOU'RE WANTING TO GET INTO BACKPACKING YOU NEED TO CHECKOUT TRAILSPACE!!

This forum has so much to offer. One must read and learn as much as they can before heading out into the wilds. The more you learn the better your prepared.

If being a UL minimalist is what ya want, best to build your way up to that. To just head out on a long extended trip with tarp and a cat stove for your first packing trip would be foolish! Seriously... downright foolish.

I do think balancing the wieght and usefullness of gear is important. To a first timer I think comfort is very important. After all if your not enjoying the experience, whether thats because your pack is to heavy or your uncomfortable, cold, wet, or have been a buffet for the bugs, why would you want do it again?

Once you've done several trips and esatablished the fact that you enjoy backpackings upsides and hardtime challenges at times, then you can look into becoming a UL minimalist. UL will be a new and more trying challenge on your skill and comfort level.


9:18 a.m. on March 25, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

I disagree with the idea of the cheap tarp, too. We're talking about backpacking, which to me means being some distance away from help. The weather could be nice or it could turn out to be snow or raging thunderstorms, and a tarp requires some skill to set up so you don't get soaked. It also provides little to no warmth. A tent (even a cheap one) will help stop you from  having a terrible, soggy night, and perhaps even getting hurt.

In a forum like this I think we have a responsibility to provide the best (and the SAFEST!) advice we can. If we send someone out with the wrong gear, we are responsible for what happens to them.

It's not our problem if they buy a cheap pair of boots and get blisters because they didn't follow our suggestions to break them in properly first. It IS our responsibility if we tell them to use their tent for cooking and they get badly burnt. We're supposed to be the experienced ones, here.

12:09 a.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
5,732 reviewer rep
2,048 forum posts

i spent a couple of summers guiding teenagers on canoe & hiking trips in the adirondacks, usually 5-7 day trips.  i had been backpacking and canoing for nearly ten years by that point; living out of a backpack or a canoe was new to most of them.  i didn't have much choice in the gear they showed up with, though i did used to bring a spare couple of backpacks and synthetic sleeping bags for the ones who showed up with wholly inadequate gear (there were a few every summer).  what i learned:

external frame packs were more popular then.  the biggest problem we had was packs that hadn't been properly fitted and were too long or short in the torso as a result.  bottom line is that a well-fitted pack is more important than an expensive one....and beginners shouldn't carry a lot of weight for long distances, even if they are sporting a big, expensive backpack.   

simple tents worked best for these trips - 2 person A frames or domes that were pretty easy to set up.  the most important lesson we taught, though, was how to set them up back at camp, had the kids do this enough times that they could set up pretty quickly on their own, and where to set them up - down low in reasonably sheltered areas, not up high.  i wouldn't have put the kids into tarps, personally.   too much risk that rain or wind would leave kids wet & cold.  i would want hikers to have a couple of seasons under their belt before thinking about using tarps, and even then, depends on location.  i have used a hammock & tarp setup in the white mountains in the summer, but tents are a better option if the weather turns.  i grew up with 30-50 mph winds and horizontal rain always a real possibility, even in the summer.  you want to sleep under a tarp in that, well, good luck.  for beginners? no way, in my opinion. 

though i used white gas, canister stoves were easily the best option.  easiest to light and use for beginners.  we used bluet stoves; kind of like MSR pocket rockets, more or less.   

synthetic sleeping bags worked better than down.  beginners and kids are more likely to forget basic things like...keeping a down sleeping bag dry.  doesn't matter if you show them how to do it right; a lot of young people & beginners are so busy worrying about other things that they tend to overlook some details.   synthetic fill works better when damp than down. 

shoes and boots were the toughest, because kids often showed up with boots that were too heavy or not broken in - and we had no choice re: the socks they brought.  the best we could do was take them on a few shakedown hikes and figure out who was going to have blister problems, let them heal up, use some boot grease to help soften the boots up, and pre-apply moleskin for the longer hikes. 


8:32 a.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

I would never tell anyone not to use a tarp. But as posted many times, stay close to the car. Myself, I only use a tarp as a kitchen in the winter months. It rains all the time. As far as a new hiker trying to use one as shelter, why not. Does it really matter weather you have been backpacking for 5 years with a tent then changing over to tarps, or just starting out with a tarp? The learning curve would be about the same. But until you learn how to use your new gear one shouldn't venture to far from safety.

Someone mentioned not using an alcohol stove. I'm wondering why? I went from an open fire to alcohol without any difficulty at all. And it seems to me that Alcohol is one of the safer fuels that one can use.

PS I just got a new computer! It checks my spelling for me! Happy dance! LOL

11:18 a.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
5,732 reviewer rep
2,048 forum posts

sorry, i guess i should have specified.  a fair bit of my hiking experience is in the northeast - maine, vermont, new hampshire, upstate new york, most often in and around mountain ranges that can experience cold, windy, wet weather quickly and unexpectedly.  usually a pretty solid distance from a vehicle.  if we're talking about people who are just starting out, in my opinion, sleeping under a tarp rather than in a tent increases the risk of an unpleasant trip, which in turn tends to harm one's desire to continue hiking. 

cooking under a tarp is a great solution for bad weather - much better than cooking in a vestibule.  tents and other synthetic fabrics tend to fare poorly in proximity to high heat sources.  :)  

2:28 p.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
389 reviewer rep
1,124 forum posts

if we're talking about people who are just starting out, in my opinion, sleeping under a tarp rather than in a tent increases the risk of an unpleasant trip, which in turn tends to harm one's desire to continue hiking.

100% correct.

2:58 p.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
90 forum posts

this is without doubt the best thread i have read in my short time here, lots of good info.

something JpTrain said stuck me, the overwhelming amount of data to sift through!! exactly the problem i had. this is how i handled that problem, i picked 2 people who's posts were obviously from experiance and i PM'd them asking if i could pick there brains, both agreed and their advice varied only slightly. the 2 folks i picked on were chosen because they had experiance in climates i hope to make trips to but being a native floridian have little experiance in, and that was going light as a sere school agressor in the carolinas and i nearly froze to death after temps dropped overnight and it rained like hell til daylight turning to snow around 8 in the morning. the only thing that saved me was that it was the last day of the drill.

another thing JP said that rings true to me is the camping without tents and bags. my dad bought me and my brother a air force issued canvas pup through a cousin who was active duty but it was more trouble than it was worth to us so we slept on the ground on pine straw wraped in the quilts our grandmother made for us and got by quite well that way for many years. we also camped nearly every weekend so my father decided to buy us sleeping bags but after i caught 2 on fire trying to sleep in the fire i started using wool blankets from the army navy store, they were warmer and kept me out of the fire in my sleep.

based on what info i have gotten from the folks i solicited and my comfort needs i have some big dollars to save to get the bag i want for sure, i may shortcut other things as long as i can stay dry but the bag and pad want be on that list.

all my gear is cheap gear or free gear, some heavy some not. my cook pot is a one pound coffee can with a length of stainless steel tig wire for the handle, with my fuel measure, stove, lighter and matches, four aa batterys, 2 peices of foil one of which is wrapped around the metal lid of a peach can for a priming pan and a few spices it weighs about 17oz. my measuring cup is a plastic single serve fruit cup. water bottles are 16oz gatorade bottles. my cup is a sixteen oz walmart cup for 1$, my bowl is a disney's cars bowl with lid my grandson got for Christmas that i confiscated, for utensils i use disposable that i get for the taking at any fast food joint, same with sugar, salt and pepper, hot sauce, mustard, ketchup etc', every time i eat out i take a few more than i use and stash em.

i know my coleman and ozark trail tents aint gonna make it in the cold north of southern georgia, nor will my sheet bag and fleece bags that work fine here in florida so those will stay in warm climes and new toys, i i mean tools will be needed for cooler places and will purchased when possible.

i have already started replacing my beloved cotton and was simply amazed at how much more comfortable these new ( to me ) high tech fabrics are. they actually seemed to work better while i was under a load and sweating as far as the cooling effect is concerned and the big seller to me was how much lighter they are.

pack weight. the trip i just took a couple of weeks ago i was carrying around 40 pounds + or - a pound or two, it was in the mid to upper 80's rh around 65% and it was to heavy to me. i didnt have trouble carrying it but why carry 40 if you can cover the bases with 30 ? i will have to suffer a heavy pack for awhile because most of the time i will carry for two or more and i simply can't afford to base my purchases on their status within the ultra light crowd so for the short term it is live and learn. this past trip i took way to much food, we carried 90% of it back out with us, Lesson learned, more to come.

Tarps. want leave home without at least a cheap nylon (5$ at walmart) tarp. it was quick and easy to throw up a shade or spread to get out of the ticks and it weighs less than a pound and can be stashed in a cargo pocket if need be.

ok, thats the newbie reply to the newbie thread, i have taken much away from this site already and expect to take more from each visit. a special thanks to you guys and gals who take the time to do trip reports, it may just be a walk in the woods to you veterans but to us new comers its a wealth of info and a great forecast to those of us who want to visit your neck of the woods.


thanks to all.



8:56 p.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
102 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts

mikemorrow said:

..Someone mentioned not using an alcohol stove. I'm wondering why? I went from an open fire to alcohol without any difficulty at all. And it seems to me that Alcohol is one of the safer fuels that one can use...

I have summarized the pro/cons of the liquid fuel stoves.  But if you ask for my suggestion, i think the canister (Propane/butane fuels) stoves are best suited for beginners.

Alcohol fuels:
Pros: Simplicity. Doesn't explode, easy to start.  Almost zero maintenance.  Fairly economical fuel.  Very economical device to purchase or make.  Stove weights are generally the lightest among liquid fuel stoves.  Alchy proponents will state this fuel/stove combo is the lightest weight cooking set up for trips with limited duration.
Cons: Most alchy stoves can spill fuel if tipped or otherwise disturbed — a distinct safety issue.  The flame is almost invisible and contributes to accidental burns and fire accidents.  Most stove designs have limited BTU output, translating to longer cook times.  Lower fuel heat/weight ratio.  The simpler stove designs have limited flame adjustment capability.

White gas and petrol:
Pros:  Works well in a wide variety of temperatures.  Flame is easy to see.  High fuel heat/weight ratio.  Very economical fuel.  Certain stove models have highly adjustable flame.  These are generally the heaviest of liquid fuels stoves, but are the lightest cooking system for longer trips. 
Cons:  Potentially explosive.  Most white gas stoves require maintenance, and some level of skill to start and operate.  The relative complexity of these stoves, combined with the fuel characteristics, make them most prone to accidents. Relatively expensive device to purchase; most people do not have the knowledge/skills to make this stove. 

Kerosene fuels:
Pros similar to white gas, plus it isn’t explosive. 
Cons are similar, plus it can be quite messy if spilled.

Propane/butane fuels:
(While not a liquid when burned these fuels are stored in liquid form)
Pros:  Simplicity.  Easiest to use, and safest of liquid fuels when stove and fuel instructions are faithfully followed.  Almost zero maintenance.  Flame is easy to see.  Easy to adjust flame.  Some stove models/fuel blends are good for lower temperatures, but this is generally a three season technology.  High fuel heat/weight ratio.  Some stove models are very light weight.
Cons:  Highly explosive.  Operation efficiency degrades as temperature drops, due to chemical properties of the fuels, thus not a good choice in below freezing situations.  Relatively expensive device to purchase; most people do not have the knowledge/skills to make this stove.  Fuel is relatively expensive. 


9:36 p.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
1,663 reviewer rep
3,956 forum posts

mikemorrow said:

Someone mentioned not using an alcohol stove. I'm wondering why? I went from an open fire to alcohol without any difficulty at all. And it seems to me that Alcohol is one of the safer fuels that one can use.

PS I just got a new computer! It checks my spelling for me! Happy dance! LOL

 I love alcohol stoves in all but cold temps.

As far as safety with alcohol, I think maturity has a lot to do with it.

You are correct that alcohol is not as flammable as White Gas, but because most alcohol stoves can be tipped over, and (not unlike white gas) the fuel can be spilled it is not the best stove choice for new folks, from a safety perspective, who do not have experience with camp stoves.

Usually canister stoves are recommended for newbies.

Again though, I am like you, I really like alcohol stoves for coffee, tea, oatmeal, etc.

Mike G.

11:48 p.m. on March 27, 2012 (EDT)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts

whomeworry said:

Alcohol fuels:

Pros: Simplicity. Doesn't explode

 Haha, or at least is takes talent ;)

A while back I met up with Tipi and Hootyhoo in the mountains. I started my alchy stove to make some tea, but it had gotten quite cool, and the first priming didn't get it going adequatly. So, using my squirt cap alch bottle, I squeezed a little extra around the stove before it went out completely. When I quite squeezing, it sucked the flame back into the bottle, igniting the vapors inside. With a tremendous KER-POW! the lid was blown.

Scared the living daylights out of all three of us, leaving me about as embarrassed as I have ever been.  Fortunately, I held onto the bottle and didn't fling fuel everywhere. 

Lesson learned: Don't prime a stove while still lit :)

9:33 a.m. on March 28, 2012 (EDT)
1,379 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

Reviews of the Trangia alcohol stoves often include comments about it being hard to tell when the fuel has run out.

Because it's almost invisible, you might think the flame has gone out, but it's actually still lit. And when you add more fuel, you can get a flash or an exploding fuel bottle.

Best practice is to cap the stove as if extinguishing it, then add your fuel afterwards.

June 18, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Any Bear and Snake problem in winter months in So Cal mountains Newer: late may backpacking in the sierras
All forums: Older: Lowe Alpine names Jeff Lowe Honorary President Newer: This is why we wear helmets: