My fiance and I have never been backpacking or camping. We'll be doing day hikes and an occasional overnight. Our budget is important, but I also want to know that our gear will last. What do we need? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Starting from scratch can be a tall order. Do you have any friends who backpack and camp? You might tag along with them to see how they camp and what gear makes sense. (That goes only so far: A while back in the Grand Canyon I ran into a group of Minnesotans who claimed 15 years of Canyon experience. As far as I could tell, their huge, 45-pound packs were stuffed with items of the least utility and the greatest weight. Blue jeans, for example. And heavy flannel shirts.)
Anyway, I’ll offer some guidelines:
Clothing brings the most variability, but light base layers like the Patagonia Capilene 1 T-Shirt and Bottom ($39 and $45, respectively) are good choices. For warmth try something like REI's Hood River Fleece Hoodie ($60). Over it all you'll need a shell, something like Outdoor Research's Revel ($160). You will find lots of options for shorts and hiking shirts, but a functional layering setup is essential.
Today’s midweight hiking boots handle all sorts of terrain. The Garmont Zenith ($160), Vasque Breeze ($150), and Asolo FSN 95 GTX ($200) all offer good construction, Gore-Tex booties, comfort, and excellent stability under moderate loads.
A pack of about 4,000 cubic inches should be right. Gregory’s Z65 ($229) is almost perfect: it boasts excellent suspension, is plenty sturdy (but not too heavy), and has multiple packing options. REI’s Flash 65 ($169) is a well-priced alternative.
For a sleeping bag, you'll want something with a rating of about 30 degrees. I prefer a down bag like the Marmot Arroyo ($269), but down can be expensive. Synthetic fill is cheaper and in this temp range not much heavier. A reasonable synthetic option is the Mountain Hardwear Lamina ($160).
You'll also want a stove, and you're best using a model with canister fuel. The Jetboil Flash ($100) is super-efficient, but it only allows boiling. That means you couldn't cook scrambled eggs, for example. The MSR Windpro ($90) is a bit more versatile.
Get a light, three-season model tent. The Big Agnes Lynx Pass 2 ($200) offers good room, a packable weight (five pounds), and excellent weather coverage.
Those are the basics! Initially, try borrow as much as you can or you'll end up dropping $2,000 at the outdoor store. If you do need to buy at the start, shop sales and find last year’s models.