New to backpacking: need recommendations for gear!

11:27 p.m. on March 7, 2016 (EST)
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As the title of this thread states, I am new to backpacking and am in need of advice and recommendations for gear! Right now I want to purchase a backpack, a sleeping bag, and a two-person tent. I am not ready to start going on long treks at this time, but I want to get gear that will serve me well whenever I am ready to do so. 

I work at a bike shops and get killer discounts on Thule and Kelty brand gear, so I would like to know whether or not either of these brands have anything that is good enough quality to meet my needs for full-fledged backpacking excursions. 


I basically want something that will have enough space for extended backpacking trips, is compartmentalized, is weather-proof, and (ideally, but not necessarily) can be converted into a smaller size for shorter trips. How much space will I need? 

Sleeping bag:

I want something that will keep me warm in below freezing temperatures, is lightweight, and moisture proof. 

Tent: I want a two-person tent that is waterproof and has plenty of ventilation.. I think a three-season tent would best meet my needs.

What other things would be good for me to consider when looking for gear? 

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated...thanks!

3:17 a.m. on March 8, 2016 (EST)
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1st off welcome to the forums. As far as packs go take a look at London Bridge, Eberlerstock, Kifru,mystery ranch. Some may sell tents and sleeping bags too. I own a London Bridge patrol pack and it's a beast and has dividers and has served me well. Waterproofing can be done with a spray or a cover for your pack even some ponchos are made to accommodate packs. Instead of a tent also take a look at hammocks they have become pretty popular. I do like the Snugpak tents and sleeping bags alot but I'm sure there is better out there,I've even concidered just a bivy and tarp setup. Your gonna want a stove I recommend the site MySurvivalPack.Com  I really like their stoves. Some how to carry and purify water A good knife  A saw,hatchet,or tomahawk 1 well equipped 1st aid kit A way to hang your food or bear container  Flashlight that's light but bright and runs on common batteries AA or AAA emergency fire starters...I always have a couple brand new bics,a ferocious rod, wind and waterproof matches along with a plastic dip can with wood shavings and saw dust and a eye dropper with lighter fluid in it and some other fire starting materials . compass and map of the area your in if allowed a just never know duct tape  Sewing kit I'm sure I'm missing alot. Dont be afraid to spend money on expensive gear if your gonna stick with it, it will save you alot of money in the long run.

If you want specific names of the brands I use just ask and I'll list them for you.

7:44 a.m. on March 8, 2016 (EST)
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Hi Jesse. Be prepared for some questions because most folks here will want to understand a bit more about you and your plans before giving advice. There is no one right answer and what works for one person may not do as well for another. Starting off with short trips is a great way to find out what works for you and what you enjoy without the risk of ruining a big trip.

Backpack choice is often dictated by everything else you'll be carrying. It is frequently suggested that a person wait until they have the rest of their gear together first. That will give you a good idea of how much volume you need. Some go as far as bringing all their gear with them to try on packs with it inside.  Pack fit and comfort are really important so while it isn't necessary to do that, it can be worth the effort. I will say that if you can, buy your pack in a store rather than online. Different packs just feel different and sometimes in a bad way. Also store staff can be a big help in getting the pack adjusted to fit your body correctly. Most modern packs, other than UL stuff that cuts corners to save weight, will have some form of compression. That allows you to cinch down some of the excess pack when you aren't using all the space. Given that, I think its better to err on the side of having too much space, but you do have to carry that extra pack weight around. Kelty does have a line of good backpacks though they tend to run more on the sturdy side and so weigh a bit more.

Sleeping bags are another area where your Kelty discount might come in handy. They have several 20°F down bags that use DriDown which is intended to resist absorbing moisture. You can spend a lot more to get a lighter or warmer bag, but based on what you described as your needs these would likely do you well. I don't own any Kelty bags, but a lot of folks do.

Tent is again something that you could use your Kelty discount on as they do make serviceable tents. Much like their packs they tend to be priced well and sturdy, but weigh more. I have a 3 man Kelty Trail Ridge that we use for family trips. It is heavier than the more expensive tents, but very functional and durable.

I would actually say don't spend a fortune buying top of the line equipment right out of the gate. You may be able to rent the major items to do a test trip. If you have friends you can borrow stuff from and augment with reasonably priced gear that works, go that route until you are sure you actually want to invest in becoming a more serious backpacker. Some folks find it just isn't what they dreamed of when they finally go on a real trip :) If you do decide you are in it for the long haul you can start replacing your basic gear with the expensive stuff later.

Check out these areas to see what other folks have reviewed if you haven't already.

9:12 a.m. on March 8, 2016 (EST)
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Get your backpack last. The main criteria for a pack is the fit and that its capacity matches your gear volume, so without having your gear first you can't know what size pack to get. You also won't be able to gauge the fit without approximating your gear weight and load distribution.

When it is time to get a pack bring all your gear to the store and load it in the pack. A good outdoor store will be used to people doing this and will encourage it. Osprey is a very popular brand, and for good reason -- good fit for many, well thought-out features, lightweight materials.

Lighter is better than heavier, so I would steer away from Kelty even with the discount. Their Salida 2 tent has gotten decent reviews, and I used to own one, but it's nearly 4 pounds minimum trail weight whereas my current shelter system is just over 1 pound, that's a big difference to be carrying all day.

Your desire for a 3-season shelter and a sub-freezing sleeping bag are a bit at odds with each other. Not always, but if you're going to be doing a lot of summer camping you don't want a 10F bag. Many people have multiple bags (or quilts, which IMO are much better), a summer-weight and mid-temp weight and if they go into deep winter conditions frequently then an expedition weight as well. One strategy is to have two bags/quilts, perhaps a 40F and 20F, and for really cold conditions layer them together rather than pay for a third bag.

1:43 p.m. on March 8, 2016 (EST)
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You are concerned with keeping you and your gear dry, which of course is desirable.  What is most important in that regard is pitching your tent in the right place, keeping your bag in its stuff sack until ready to use.and in general how you handle your gear when it s raining.

Start with day hikes, lengthen them, and even try camping in your back yard or in a convenient campground.  Progress on to overnighters on the trail and multi day trips.  As you go through that progression, you will have a much better idea of what will work for you.  It is safe to say that you will want a comfortable pack that carries the load well, and a bag that is warm and light.  Neither will be cheap, especially the bag, so take your time...

5:10 p.m. on March 8, 2016 (EST)
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Good advice so far. The main thing is also to rember like someone posted. What works for me might not work for you. II've backpacked for over 20 years now and things and gear change like everything else. Rei has a great gear exchange.  Just in case you don't like what you try. It all comes down to personal preferences.  Like nike vs. Converse.  Shop around and compare.  Weight,prices, and look at reviews. Camp out in the yard and learn your gear at home. I've had boy scouts that had no idea how to light their stoves. On trips. You'll get good advice here. I spent months shopping around for a new pack. I even went as far as loading all my gear in it and walked around my neighborhood. People thought I got kick out. The point is have fun,  look at all opposition.  This is not a cheap sport to get into. Try Craigslist. I've seen stuff like jet boil and other brands on it. 

10:42 a.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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It is as expensive and you want it to be. The amount of choices is overwhelming. There is a lot of really good used equipment out there. I would focus on that starting out.

11:52 a.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Do you want a single person tent or a 2 person tent?

What season's do you plan on hiking 3 season?

The same criteria for your sleeping bag?

I did look at Kelty's website at 3 season bags...The Cosmic 20 doesn't look bad with the dri down but it's 600 fill as opposed to a higher down bag or quilt with 800 fill which is warmer...It's only 2 .6 lbs..Not bad for a starter bag...

12:19 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Jesse, welcome to Trailspace.

One important bit of information that you did not include in your opening post - where in the world are you located (we have regular posters here from literally all over the world), and where do you anticipate heading out into the woods and hills? Even the "3 season" request depends on where you are - what will serve you well depends on where on the continent (and which continent) you are camping out.

Another bit of information is that Trailspace being an open site, you will have people offering advice who are very experienced (meaning they have camped and backpacked, and also bicycle-packed) for many years and under a wide variety of conditions, hence offer excellent advice that is tailored to what you give as your background and experience. At the other end, there are some  who post a lot, but have a very narrow range of experience over a very short period of time, yet believe they are experts (you can see this in some of the reviews where the whole review is "bought it, opened the package, it is the greatest piece of gear ever").

And everyone has their preferences and biases. As an example, the first real pack I bought after my Boy Scout days was a Kelty Backpacker, from Dick Kelty himself about 1960 when he was an "artisan manufacturer" working out of his garage. Still have it and occasionally use it, though I wouldn't recommend that particular pack for most uses these days. Remember, this is the web, so what is posted is very much personal preference as one of the posters above (who does give good advice) noted, while a lot of it should be disregarded.

As noted above, there are a number of good shops where you can get good advice (if you supply enough of your background and plans). Of the national chains, REI and Eastern Mountain Sports in the US are good sources of information. Local specialty shops (possibly like the bike shop where you work) are often good sources. To exaggerate slightly, most of the Big Box Chains do not have the gear best suited to what you said are your intentions.

Lone Stranger gave you links to several groups of gear reviews here on Trailspace. To judge the advice of the reviewer, look for those in the Trailspace Gear Review Corps (they have been thoroughly vetted). Some of the non-TGRC people in the Top 10 and Top 25 are pretty good and thorough in their reviews. Go on the basis of those who specify the parameters they use to evaluate packs, sleeping bags, and tents (as well as the clothing and footwear you will need). For example, does the reviewer note his/her height and shoulder width so you can judge whether the sleeping bag matches your dimensions for a comfortable sleep?

So clue us in as to your location and intended areas to backpack and camp. We can do a better job of helping you than if you keep us in the dark. US or Canada, or Europe, or intend to be a world wanderer? Live in desert, jungle, spruce forests, redwood forests, stormy or continuous blue skies?

4:57 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thanks very much for the info! This gives me a lot to consider..

5:22 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thank you very much for that in-depth reply, LoneStranger!

I was wondering whether it'd be worth it to go all out and buy top-notch equipment if I were to drop money on gear in the first place versus starting out with something basic.. I think I'm going to be taking your advice on buying more basic, entry-level gear for starters, especially considering how many variables there are in choosing the appropriate fit. While I do want to go on longer treks in the future, it's not an option for me at the moment. I actually just need a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a backpack right now. I want to have that stuff by April as I'll be visiting with a friend in Oregon (who has a 2 person tent and a bunch of other gear) to do some lightweight backpacking/camping.  

5:27 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thank you very much for the information, JRinGeorgia!

As I stated in another comment, I think I am going to go with some basic gear for starters for spring-fall kind of camping (bay area, CA and for and Oregon trip in April). I'm glad you mentioned sleeping quilts; I have never heard of 'em, but I am definitely going to look into them now. 

5:28 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thanks for the suggestions, hikermor!

5:29 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thanks for the tips, oogway!

5:34 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Thanks for the reply, denis daily! 

I will be skipping the tent for now as I'll be joining with a friend soon who has one to share. Looking to camp from spring-fall for now. I was actually looking into purchasing the sleeping bag you suggested..I think I may go with it.

5:56 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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That was very helpful information, Bill S..thank you!

I live in California, and I intend to start with shorter trips near the bay area. Based on all of the information and suggestions I've been I stated in earlier comments, I am going to start out with some minimal entry-level gear particularly for my upcoming trip to Oregon, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to get. I'll be visiting a friend and will be doing some very light camping/backpacking. Once I am ready to take it a step further and have narrowed down my plans a little more, I will consult the community and the resources listed :)

6:52 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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The SFBay Area (and California generally) has a veritable plethora of camping and backpacking area, thanks to our many State and National Parks, plus Open Space Preserves. Many of these have campsites to hike to, tough you probably will have to reserve a site a while in advance, because there are many avid backpackers in the State.

For places to go, contact the California State Parks Association, along with the National Parks web site.

Right here in the Bay Area you have a string of OSPs along the Peninsula and in the East Bay that are great for training hikes - On the east side Mission Peak and Sunol in the South Bay, Briones and Mount Diablo to the north, which all have campsites. On the Peninsula, there is Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Portola, which have hike-in campsites as well as good day hiking, plus popular day hiking in Montebello (which has a campsite on Black Mountain that is pretty much reserved for youth groups), Windy Hill, Wunderlich, plus many more.  For a long hike, Skyline to the Sea Trail is 35 or so miles with several designated campsites (most people make it a 3-day hike, and you probably need a pick-up). This is just a tiny sample of places within a couple hours drive. Pinnacles National Park and  Henry Coe to the south of the Bay Area (Gilroy and Hollister areas) have lots of trails and campsites.

When you build some experience, you will want to wander into the Sierra - Yosemite (crowded in the Valley, but lots of space in the backcountry), Sequoia Kings Canyon, and in the winter Death Valley (to avoid the hottest time of year). Plus the parks to the north, all the way up to the Oregon border. You could spend a lifetime in fantastic hiking country just within a few hours of the Bay Area, going to a different location to backpack every weekend.

7:51 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Hey Jesse, 

Luckily the exact pack you're describing is made, and the best part is it's made by Kelty. I tested out ....

...for the review corps a couple years back. It still impresses me to this day. It's got incredible value already (even better if you get a discount!) and its basically two packs as 15L is removable. It comes with the pack cover and in my opinion more than durable enough. 

8:35 p.m. on March 9, 2016 (EST)
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Excuse me if someone already suggested this (I skimmed through the thread) but I would also consider borrowing or renting to try equipment out before dropping the cash on items. This will give you an idea what you might like through trial and error without much risk, and expose you to a greater variety of equipment. I regularly loan out equipment to new backpackers from packs to tents and stoves. REI and some other outdoor stores also let you rent equipment and sometimes credit the rental cost toward your purchase afterward.

9:30 a.m. on March 10, 2016 (EST)
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Don't forget to work on skill, judgement and caution. It is easy to get tangled up in the equipment quest and neglect the other parts of your learning curve.

8:09 a.m. on March 17, 2016 (EDT)
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I think you will find that gear junkies will tell you that different gear is best for different people. I did however want to make some suggestions that could help. Pending how far you will be going, and what your shake down hikes do for you, you will find weight is extremely important. Keeping in mind your discount, you should check out the review i did on the kelty salida 1 person tent. The kelty salida 2 is identical in every way but size and weight. Here is a link

As far as bags go, the kelty cosmic down line is hydrophobic, inexpensive and warm. They could make you a good choice but are not the smallest and lightest bags out there. They are a serious contender at the $200 price point however. For moisture, a well chosen campsite is #1. Take high ground, look at your surroundings, where water travels and settles etc. That should help immensely. Down is not your best wet weather option. However when you get to lighter weights, i am personally using a 40 degree down sleeping bag, and i slip it into a 48 degree fkt synthetic bag. This keeps moisture down and retains your warmth. Synthetic is a great wet weather option and is cheaper, but a bit bigger usually and heavier. Pending the temps you will go into (this will be your first choice you have to make, what temperature you want) you should check out this review i did on a good synthetic, inexpensive, fairly small and light bag.

Backpacks however are a whole new world. They are much more specific. First you will choose your size. I use a 48L if im luxury camping however as a beginner hiker this might be too small. A 58L should be more than suitable and isnt too large as you start losing weight later in your progress. I have plenty of room in a 48 fully packed with food. The osprey exos line, im a huge fan of for an all around backpack. Backpacks generally do one thing great, but will always suit the purpose of carrying something. Ospreys line is a great do a little bit of everything bag. Bags you will need to try. Definitely go to a sporting goods store and get fitted. This will generally outlast everything else and will be your most important purchase. It IS the difference so take your time with this one. Hope this helps. 

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