Friday, September 27, 2013

194. Gear Preparation

This countdown post is published in conjunction with the newly put-up Gear Review page! You can find our AT Gear Reviews on the top part of this blog (Between the 200 Things link and the About link). Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about gear, and our process for choosing things!


When you began the trail, most of your gear was new. You had a few things that you had re-purposed, like that swiss army knife you'd had since Boy Scouts and probably wasn't sharp anymore but made you feel brave. Maybe you had a trusty bandanna or a pair of pants that seemed like they were up for the trip. But for the most part, as you laid out all of your old hiking gear, you realized that you were going to have to buy a few things before your epic adventure. Maybe you only had to get a few things, or maybe you were starting from scratch. Regardless, you knew that you had some shoppin' to do.

You remember walking into outfitters several times over the course of many months leading up to your trip. Every time you walked in those doors it felt like walking into Santa's Toy Shop. Everything looked beautiful and strangely sexy. Clean, soft hiking clothing. Thick, fuzzy socks. Brightly colored shoes that have no idea what they're in for. Random gear that feels totally unnecessary and simultaneously essential. Ooo, a plastic container just for backpacking with eggs? What will they come up with next!? You remember having a brief moment of wondering if this is what all those women who like shoes feel like when they go into a shoe store. But that seems ridiculous! Shoes can only serve one function! In an outfitter, you remember thinking proudly, all problems can be solved.

You walked down the aisles, spending hours reading all of the specs on all of the possible things you could buy. You've never been so excited to pick out a spork before. Will it be a green spork or an orange spork? DOES IT MATTER? You don't care! It's so much fun to pick all of this stuff out. You touch all of the miniature models of tents, imagining yourself as a tiny pocket-sized person living in this teeny tent, making a fire out of a few pine needles and cooking soup in an acorn top. You become delirious with the excitement of decision making regarding getting a tent versus getting a hammock. You spend hours lounging in the hammocks strung up around the outfitter, reading gear books and trying to decide if you like the feeling of weightlessness.

There is one wall that has 50 sleeping bags all hung up for you to touch and examine. You look around surreptitiously to make sure that no one is looking, then you fling out both of your arms and lean forward into the wall of squishy down fluff, hugging as many of the bags as you can at once. You are drunk with power, delirious with the idea that you could choose any of these bags. You have been saving money for months, and you know that there are some things you're going to splurge on. You are intoxicated with the possibilities. 

But, as ye olde spiderman always says, with great power comes great responsibility. You don't want to splurge on the wrong thing. You don't want to blow all of your money on a 5-inch thick self-inflating air mattress that is way too heavy anyway and now won't fit inside of the tent you chose. Everything feels connected. Where do you start? How do you decide what you should buy first? The aisles of beautiful products look like a fast-moving river of colors and choices. Where you do jump in? 

You decide to approach this puzzle like the book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." You pick one random thing to focus on first, knowing that all of the other gear will naturally follow. If you buy a spork, you're going to need a cooking pot. If you buy a cooking pot, you're going to need a stove. If you buy a stove, you're going to need food to cook, so you'll have to buy a dry-sack for your food. If you buy a dry sack, you'll have to put it in something, so you'll have to buy a backpack. If you buy a backpack, you'll need something to keep it dry in the rain. If you buy a rain cover for your backpack, you need a rain jacket for yourself, etc. etc. etc.

There's no right or wrong way to buy gear, but you are going to have people who will want to tell you that the things you got were WRONG and you are DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE because you got the incorrect pair of socks. But those people are silly and they're just jealous that they're not going on this adventure with you. You've done all of your own research, and you've thought a long time about all of the different gear. Whatever you get is the right thing for you. 

It doesn't matter if you got a hammock or if you got a tent. It doesn't matter if you are hiking in chacos or boots or trail runners. The only real way to test some of this gear out if to go backpacking with it. If you're on your trip for a week or two and something doesn't work out, then find your way to an outfitter and replace it. You decide to set aside some money you've saved specifically so you have a few extra dollars if you have to buy something new.

Clever Girl

P.S. I would totally recommend getting a membership to an outfitter like REI, EMS, or any of those. You can get a lot of discounts and great options for returning things if something breaks or doesn't work out.


  1. Both wicked funny and very helpful! We hope 2014 thru hikers happen on to your blog early; it would make their life a lot easier.
    Picking out trail gear is like picking out baby gear. No matter how much research you do, there will always be someone who will tut-tut at the fact that your baby is wearing a wool hat in the spring...once you snatch it off feeling like a bad parent someone else will tut-tut about not having a wool hat on that beautiful baby. As you your research, trust your instincts, and GO! Love, Mom and Dad

    1. Well, this thru-hiker happened upon this blog and is loving it! (2015 - planning early!) Thanks so much.