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Gear Diary: Choosing the Right Backpacking Gear

I’ve always been a day hiker and car camper.  Maybe it’s my mid-life crisis coming on but all of a sudden I’ve caught the bug to go backpacking.  A mid-life crisis usually involves a motorcycle and dating a younger woman and so my wife has been supportive of this new venture.  She’d rather have me spend my energy on this versus risking life or limb riding a motorcycle.  And burying me in the back yard would take a lot of effort on her part if I got a girlfriend.

So, I started out doing a lot of research on the art of backpacking and the type of gear that’s needed to enjoy a multi-day trip into the backcountry.  Even for a gear head like me, choosing the right equipment was a real challenge.  I usually follow the “buy once, cry once” philosophy, but I also didn’t want to over invest without knowing if it’s something I’m going to stick with.  I settled on a middle-of-the-road strategy.  Purchase quality gear from good brands but not necessarily top of the line.  That way, I’m limiting my initial investment without hampering my enjoyment of the outdoors by having gear that’s super heavy, hard to use, or simply doesn’t work.

COOK SET

My first purchase was cookware (don’t ask me why).  I selected the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Ultralight.

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The kit includes a hard-anodized 1.8-liter pot with strainer lid, 2 insulated mugs with lids, 2 bowls, 2 cheap telescoping “foons” (which I promptly replaced with Lite My Fire Sporks), a welded sink and a stove bag.

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After messing with it at REI, I loved how everything stacked together inside the sink.  It really saves space and the entire setup only weighs 1lb, 5 ounces.  Yes, a Snow Peak all titanium set would have been lighter but it’s also twice the cost.  This set received good reviews and I’ve already used it on one car campout with excellent results.  So far, so good.

Next up was my stove.  I wanted something light and compact that could fit inside the GSI set to save space.  It needed to be durable, simple to set up, have the ability to support the 1.8 Liter pot, easy to light, and relatively powerful for its size.

I opted for the Kovea Supalite Titanium.  The Kovea Supalite is 3 x 4.25 x 4.25 inches and weighs 2.1 ounces.

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It fits inside one of the GSI mugs  and will boil a Liter of water in a few minutes.  I’ve also found it easy to control the intensity of the flame, which is important if you’re trying to simmer something versus doing an outright boil.

SLEEP SYSTEM

I’m a large human and a side sleeper, so I needed a sleeping pad that could comfortably cushion my 6’4 frame and keep me off the ground.  The Klymit Static V Luxe was one of the largest inflatable pads I could find.

Klymit-Static-V-Luxe

It’s 3″ thick, 30″ wide and 76″ long and weighs 25 ounces.  Not exactly feather-weight, but as someone whose body has been through a lot, I’m willing to give up some ounces for the sake of comfort. The Static V Luxe packed size is only 8″ x 4.5″, which is crazy small compared to the foam pads I used to camp with.  The only downside?  It has a minuscule R-Value of 1.3, which means I’ll probably need another pad for cooler weather.  If you’re not familiar with R-Value, this Section Hiker article provides a pretty good explanation.

For a camp pillow, I splurged a little for the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight.

Sea to Summit

I was blown away that such a large pillow (16.5 “X 11.5 ” X 5.5 “) would net down to something smaller than an apple in my pack.  The valve holds the air after each breath so it’s very easy to inflate.  I also take it on the train with me during my daily work commute.  Worth every penny I spent on it.

I haven’t picked a sleeping bag yet.  I’m toying with the idea of going with something like the Kifaru Woobie or Enlightened Equipment Prodigy instead of a traditional bag for most of my warmer weather outings.

Kifaru Woobie

Kifaru Woobie

The Woobie uses APEX insulation, which is very light and compressible.  It’s also more versatile than a light sleeping bag because it can be used all around camp like a traditional poncho liner, as part of a car kit, or even at home as a quilt.  I’m hoping Santa will deliver one down the chimney this year. 

TENT

I caught a screaming black Friday deal on the Big Agnes Tumble 2 mtnGLO.

Tumble3-mtnGLO-Tent

At the price I paid, I couldn’t go wrong with this tent.  The Tumble 2 is a three season, free-standing backpacking tent with an integrated lighting system.  I haven’t had a chance to put it up yet, but from all the reviews I read, it should be a pretty quick operation.  The packed size is 6″ X 20″ with a trail weight of 4lbs, 8 ounces.  It also can be carried in a fast fly configuration using just the footprint and rainfly that cuts the weight down to 3lbs, 3 ounces.

Why go with a heavier 2-person tent versus a 1-person tent or bivy setup?  It was a tough decision.  In the end, I wanted something that I could easily fit in and comfortably store my gear.  As I get more experienced, I could probably do something smaller and lighter, but I didn’t feel ready to make that leap just yet.  If you’re younger and more gung-ho then your mileage may certainly vary.

PACK

I haven’t selected my backpack yet but I definitely leaning towards the Osprey Atmos AG 50.

osprey atmos ag

I checked it out at a local outdoor retailer and was immediately impressed with the features and organization on this pack.  It’s also got rave reviews from some experienced outdoorsmen whose opinions I value so unless something new comes along, it will probably be mine this coming Spring.

Overall, my kit is slowly coming together.  I fully expect some trial and error after I get out and get some practical experience with everything.  Hopefully, this will give you some ideas if you’re trying to tweak your setup for the upcoming season.  And of course, for any of you experienced backpackers out there, comments and suggestions are always welcome!

2 Responses so far.

  1. Lt. Dan says:

    I trust you are aware of Hill People Gear’s mountain serape if you are considering a woobie

    • Blaine B. says:

      I am aware of the HPG Serape. I looked at both and decided to go with the Woobie. The Serape is 9 ounces heavier and $30 more expensive. It also doesn’t compress down as well as the Woobie so it takes up more pack space. The Serape is more versatile since it can be worn as a jacket, but for my use cases, the Woobie was the better option.

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