I have a friend who is starting to get interested in backpacking, we went on a short trip last year and had a great time despite the fact that we melted each-others shoes and almost burned down our hut. Anyway, to say his backpacking skills were limited is an understatement, and his gear was pretty bad as well. All things considered it wasn’t really his thing. But the experience kept with him and he’s starting to book different trips for backpacking and so on. With that he also wants suggestions on gear – this is when I realize that I’m better at writing generalizations than actual gear suggestions based on user experience.
So I’m having to really think about this a bit as I want him to have good gear that will last a while, be easy to use, comfortable and light. I want him to avoid the regular failings of every newcomer to the backpacking experience. The one that starts with the visit to the local gear shop, asking the salespeople what gear to buy and leaving with no money and a shit load of useless gear that will be phased out with experience.
To start I have to look at my local market: What is possible for him to buy in our area. Being we are in Sweden it’s not the easiest to buy “ultralight gear” without it costing and arm and leg (with import fees and shipping). Also, one of the pleasures of shopping is seeing, feeling and experiencing. So in this sense the local gear shop is an excellent place to start for a newbie. It’s not just a question of staring at a picture and making a purchasing choice.
I wrote in an earlier article that I didn’t think that “Ultralight” might be the best choice for every backpacker, and I still hold that to be true. I think staying true to the ultralight idea requires a steady knowledge of a specific climate. (why ultralight tends to work very well along major trails like the Appalachian and PCT but much less so in brooks range alaska and Northern Sweden, where temperatures and weather can be highly unpredictable). With that said I do think that striving after minimal weight should be the focus for just about anybody. Why buy a backpack that holds 70 liters and weighs 3 kilos when you can purchase a backpack that can hold 70 liters and weighs just 900grams. The former is just a stupid choice regardless of where one might hike.
The same can be said for a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping matt as well. Ultralight in the regard of sleeping under a cuben tarp and no ground floor is perfectly acceptable in warmer more predictable climates and trails. 300 grams and your done. Or you can choose a two man Hilleberg beast that weighs 3kilos. While the Hilleberg might be perfect for two people during a winter trip, it serves no real purpose in the summer months. However something like a Mountain laurel designs Trailstar with an inner tent might be the best of all worlds. Total weighing under 1 kilo, large enough for two people and can withstand just about any weather that is thrown it’s way.
The Hilleberg enan is a fun, fast tent big enough for most users. Expensive but will definately hold for the long run.
The MLD duomid is a large tent that weighs around 600 grams. With an innertent duomid becomes the ultimate 1kilo dubble wall tent.
This kind of reasoning should be applied to gear purchases. I know it’s an awesome experience walking into a gear shop and buying all the coolest gadgets, and perhaps you should buy them so that you can get a better understanding of what you actually need. But, if your more like my friend, who will probably make the initial investments but never keep the same kind of interest that I have, than buying the right gear from the very beginning will help you and (him) keep the interest longer by making those first crucial hikes an enjoyable experience.
In this exercise I will put up several gear solutions in table form and total weight. One is the traditional solution, the middle column is for “lightweight in gear shops” solution and the third is the optimal lightweight solution for any newbie that won’t cost significant sums of money. You can start splurging on cuben fibre gear once the interest has become big enough to justify that kind of investment.
|Traditional||weight grams||lbs.||Lightweight gearshop||weight kilo||lbs.||Cheap(ish) preffered lightweight||weight grams||lbs.|
|Fjällräven Kajka 75liter||3.6||7.92||Granite gear V.C||0.98||2.156||HMG Sidewinder 4400 70liter||0.980||2.156|
|Hilleberg Nallo||3||6.6||Hileberg Enan||1.2||2.64||MLD Trailstar + inner||0.98||2.156|
|sleeping bag||sleeping bag||sleeping bag|
|Fjällräven Sarek 3 season||1.3||2.86||Mountain hardware hyperlamina spark||0.65||1.43||Mountain hardware hyperlamina spark||0.65||1.43|
|Sleeping mat||Sleeping mat||Sleeping mat|
|Exped down 9||1.2||2.64||Thermarest xlite regular||0.38||0.836||Small Thermarest xLite||0.23||0.506|
|Total big three:||9.1||20.02||3.21||7.062||2.840||6.248|
It is possible to get a lighter tent and even cheaper tent than the Hilleberg Enan in a gear shop. I just put in the Enan because out of gearshop tents available the Enan is my preferred tent. Expensive but great. However the Mountain laurel designs Duomid or Trailstar with an inner-tent is atleast in my own reasoning the best all around solution for comfort, weight and durability. This I have as my choices in the “prefered gear list” column. The difference between gearshop and prefered is the fact that prefered will probably have to be special ordered directly from the producers websites while the gearhop is usually gear easily found in most gearshops.
Also, there are certainly lighter and warmer sleeping bags than the Hyperlamina spark, but for a good three-season lightweight sleeping bag that is cheap, the hyperlamina is hard to beat.
All these gear choices are chosen for the solo adventurer in three season hiking in all-around temeratures and climates. Meaning that this solution will work just as well on the pacific coast trail as it would in northern sweden.
A good rule of thumb when purchasing gear for the first time is the 3 for 3 concept. The three biggest pieces of gear: tent, sleep system and backpack for a total under 3 kilos. The lightweight gear shop solution crosses the threshold by 200 grams, but I think that’s ok all things considered.