Initial Research for gear

3:38 p.m. on September 4, 2008 (EDT)
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Mornin' folks,

New to the boards, but greatly appreciate your time and advice! Looking primarily for a good website or outfitter to order my gear from. We have an REI in Houston but I'd like to stay away from the "chains" and the associated expensive sales crap. There are, as ya'll know, 4 million places to buy gear online and I was hoping someone could lead me to a known site with great trail tested gear for the best prices. Is REI a decent outfitter or costly and car salesman like??

I'm also looking to narrow down the 500,000 choices for a backpack and tent. My details:
6'2" height, 170lbs.
Looking for a pack that is obviously very lightweight, sturdy and can handle a few weeks out on trails ranging from the Wonderland to the AT to the hot Arizona/Grand Canyon trails. Something around 4000 cu/in. or slightly higher for the longer trips.

Also looking for a recommendation on a two-person, very lightweight 3 season tent which will fit myself, again 6'2", and my pack in case of rain but wont be to hot during the south trips.

Again I'm not trying to do things uber cheap but would like to keep cost low if possible and at least start researching trail tested, durable, known packs, tents, etc.

Tks so much folks! Have a great one!

5:20 p.m. on September 4, 2008 (EDT)
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It seems like you either pay a lot at REI or get a real good deal.

Check out the scratch and dent sales that REI has periodically. I got a $85 pair of shoes there for $4 because of a minor defect that I was able to easily repair myself. I believe they have one at the store in a week or so, ask at the store for a specific date.

6:52 p.m. on September 4, 2008 (EDT)
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Backpacks are 'impossible' to fit in cyberspace...even with provided measurements. Even if we knew additional important measurements (like your torso size), it would still be impossible to know what to recommend.

REI's are a good place to sample packs due to their larger inventory. Finding employees that really know how to fit you properly is another story; it can be hit or miss. Just about all the packs REI sells (including their own) are be solid enough for what you're seeking to do. Kelty, Osprey, Gregory, etc. are all good brands. The really important part is getting a proper fit.

You definitely want to try your pack on with the amount of weight you think you'll be taking. For a 7-day trip (or more), you could easily be talking 40+ lbs. So you really want to see what that feels like on your back.

Also important is getting good boots for carrying that weight. A big mistake people make is trying on boots with 'cold feet'! Ideally, you want to walk/run a fair amount leading up to your you can see how the boot will feel after you have been walking for a few miles! That will also affect how a loaded pack feels.

As for tents, you should have plenty of good ones to choose from. Mountain Hardwear, Sierra Designs, MSR, Marmot, Big Agnes, The North Face, and others all make lighter-weight and extreme-light-weight tents. Many have reviews in here already. You may want to read them, and see if they have any recommendations given your 6'2'' height. It's been my experience that usually people 6'4''+ are the ones that have the height issues.

REI should let you pitch a tent in question, if you need to see the thing before you buy. Always a good option if you don't exactly know what you're getting.


1:36 a.m. on September 5, 2008 (EDT)
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Guys I can't thank you enough. Great advice! I'll go ahead and head up to REI this weekend to try and get fitted to start my research with some real hands on. Then follow up with some online research of different options and prices.

The scratch-n-dent is a great idea. I'll ask em' when the next one is.
Great advice Matt on trying on the boots. I'm a runner normally with a big run Sat. morning so I'll head into REI after my run and try on some boots.

Tks again! Ya'll take care!


9:30 a.m. on September 5, 2008 (EDT)
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the sales on the 27th in Houston, its a members only deal, so if youre not a member, its a one time $20 fee, you just have to spend $10/year to keep it active. good luck man!

3:52 p.m. on September 5, 2008 (EDT)
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I'm not sure REI enforces that $10/year spending policy. In my 9 years since I signed up, I know there was at least a 2 year stretch in there (when I lived abroad) that I didn't buy anything.

For general summer-to-3-season backpacking, I think boots are your single most important purchase. It's the one thing that you know going in that you're going to need. I've survived a few nights in less-than-quality tents and sleeping bags, and I've even had to hike out a cheap backpack or two for someone that wasn't physically able to get down -- it's doable. But get a crappy pair of boots, and it really doesn't matter whether you are hiking up Whitney or down into Death Valley -- it's not going to be a fun trip.

6:15 p.m. on September 5, 2008 (EDT)
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27th in Houston, and boots, got it. Thanks a bunch for the info. Sounds like the initial fee is worth it in the long run. Headin' that way tomorrow to start trying stuff on and asking questions!

Have a great weekend ya'll.

11:52 a.m. on September 6, 2008 (EDT)
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If you're new to backpacking, I would do a few Google searches for "backpacking checklist" to get an idea of what you need to bring....and, more importantly, to make sure you don't forget something important.

That's how I developed my own lists back when the internet was just getting started, and from there I have tailored them to where I'm going and for how long.

Even after doing trips for years, the checklist has saved me numerous times from forgetting something important. Nothing wrong with being safe rather than sorry.

11:59 p.m. on September 15, 2008 (EDT)
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"Even after doing trips for years, the checklist has saved me numerous times from forgetting something important. Nothing wrong with being safe rather than sorry."

Hey a commercial pilot I couldn't have said it better. Thanks for the advice!


1:35 a.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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I have been an REI member for a long time, before the Internet. I shop there fairly regularly, although my gear has come from a variety of places, including buying used gear. I hear a lot of knocks on REI, but I don't think most of them are deserved. If you are expecting to buy cutting edge small run products at an unbelievably low price sold to you by someone who can explain exactly how it was engineered, then REI isn't the place for you. But, you could walk in there and outfit yourself for the average backpacking trip with quality gear and do it all in an afternoon.

One overlooked point about REI-it has a great return policy. It also has seasonal sales about 4 times a year that offer around 20% discounts on a lot of things. The quality of the help varies, but if you shop at one store long enough, you can figure out who knows what they are talking about.

Also unmentioned yet, REI members get a rebate at the end of the year- usually 10% on most purchases, so if you spend $200, you've already made up your membership fee.

11:54 a.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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As a 5-digit member of REI (and low int the 5-digit range at that), I agree with Tom that you can get good gear from REI at good prices, plus you get the rebate at the end of the year. The caveat I continue to give, though, is that far too many REI personnel are college kids who know little about the outdoors. IF you pick the person to help you with packs and boots, you can get a good fit. For most other items, it doesn't matter a lot, since REI has some quite good information sheets on each product category. REI (and EMS for that matter) offers good introductory seminars on a variety of outdoor topics, almost always by someone fairly experienced and knowledgable.

One way to spot the knowledgable staff is to get someone you know who is fairly experienced to go with you and listen to their questions of the staff. Another tactic is to look around at the other customers in the store - you will quite often spot someone who is experienced and can help you out (sometimes you can spot them as the person lurking nearby as a clerk "advises" a newbie, barely supressing a chuckle).

3:28 p.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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The thing to remember at REI or any big store is this-take a look around at how many different items are in there and ask yourself how long would it take you to get familiar with all of them or even the ones in a single department. I used to work retail so I don't expect a store clerk to know all that much about every item. Don't expect someone to have used even a small fraction of what's there. The best to expect is some general knowledge about the differences between a down and synthetic bag or a canister or liquid fuel stove. Some items, like climbing gear or GPS's do require specialized knowlege and you just have to judge for yourself if the person seems to know what they are talking about.

I've overheard a few sketchy things myself about different products and have seen questions posted on websites asking if the advice given at REI or somewhere else was right. One poster asked if the advice they got at an REI back East that "you don't need raingear in New Zealand" was true. Having lived there, this was obviously said by someone who'd never been anywhere near the place.

The remedy for this is to do as much reading as possible online on sites such as this one. is a good site for gear reviews. The gear reviews here are also helpful, but I've seen some praising gear the person says they've never actually used, so beware of those.

6:51 p.m. on September 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Tom noted that


One poster asked if the advice they got at an REI back East that "you don't need raingear in New Zealand" was true.

If you are a native-born Kiwi, this is true. Barb and Young Son did a fair amount of hiking down there a couple years ago and have a number of photos where you can see that the natives are wearing T-shirts and shorts in pouring rain, while all the tourists are bundled up in head to toe Gtx and other rain gear. I have asked Kiwi friends about this and the usual comment is that you are going to get wet anyway, so why bother with rain gear, plus if you keep hiking you will stay warm enough.

Then again, when I would visit Young Son at his under grad school (Boulder) and grad school (Ft Collins), I would be bundled up in down parka and Gtx during the snow storms, while he and his buds were walking around in T-shirt and shorts, shod in Tevas. In response to my "aren't you cold?" delivered through chattering teeth, they said it was only a short distance from dorm to classroom, and both were overheated, so why bother with the extra clothing for the few minutes you were actually out in the snow?

See, Tom, you aren't a Kiwi. Being an ordinary mortal and not a Hobbit, you have to depend on rain gear. You surely don't think the Maori had access to rain gear before the British Empire arrived, do you?

6:09 p.m. on September 17, 2008 (EDT)
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Again thanks so much for the info guys. Much appreciate! I'll become very familiar with my local REI.

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