Need to Know: Trail Runners
In the Store: Go to a specialty shop and get fitted by an expert.
A good store should have a treadmill, or at least let you take a spin inside the building, to check fit and comfort.
If you know you overpronate (roll your feet inward), look for motion-control shoes, like the North Face and Merrell models in this section.
In the Field: Tighten laces on steep descents to get more stability and control, but otherwise loosen them up to allow for foot swell.
Use aftermarket insoles from Shock Doctor, New Balance, and Superfeet to increase support and cushion.
At Home: Clean mud-caked shoes with a soft-bristled brush and a mild soap.
Dry shoes in the sun, not the dryer—but not for too long.
Need to Know: Road Bikes
In the Store: Most good shops offer demo programs: Before you buy, run a bike through your favorite rides.
A bike is like a good suit: It needs to be fitted. It’s more cash, but proper alignment could determine whether or not you love the bike.
In the Field: Make sure your quick-release skewers are tight before every ride.
Bring the essentials: spare tube, tire levers, pump, and a multitool.
Brush up on basic maintenance—knowing which screw to turn could make the difference between a 15-minute tech stop and walking home.
At Home: Lubing your chain and airing up your tires will extend your bike’s life.
Clean mud and road grime off your rig when you finish a ride; you won’t want to do it when you’re on your way out next time, and a quick once-over now will mean a better-running bike next week.
Need to Know: Storm Shells
In the Store: Know thy destination: If you like to bash through rainforests in the Northwest, perhaps that seven-ounce wonder isn’t for you. Look for a full-coverage cut, good hood and cuff protection, and strong fabric at the elbows and shoulders.
If you prefer aerobic day trips in the Rockies, a highly breathable soft shell may be just the ticket.
In the Field: To prevent overheating on the trail, dress so that you’re slightly chilled when at rest.
Open pit zips and remove layers before you start sweating.
At Home: Soft and storm shells alike are treated with a DWR finish—which invariably loses effectiveness over time and after repeated washings.
When you notice that water no longer beads off, use an aftermarket DWR treatment from Nikwax, McNett, or Granger’s.
Need to Know: Light Hikers
In the Store: Shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are a bit swollen (like they will be on the trail).
Wear hiking socks when you try on shoes.
Good stores will have an incline board that you can stand and jump on to ensure that your feet won’t slide forward on descents.
In the Field: Take your shoes off and air your feet during long rest stops. Keeping your dogs dry helps prevent blisters.
Use aftermarket insoles (from Shock Doctor, New Balance, Superfeet, and others) to increase support and all-day comfort.
At Home: Leather is skin: It will dry out and crack if not treated. Clean thoroughly and apply leather-conditioning agents from Nikwax or Granger’s.
Shoes soaked? Stuff with newspaper to speed drying.
Need to Know: Backpacks
In the Store: Packs are like shoes: Get fitted by an expert.
Raid the store’s shelves for the things you actually carry, and see how it all fits—and feels (add ballast with sandbags).
It’s easier to compress than to expand: Choose a pack for your biggest hauls.
In the Field: Pack a symmetrical load, with heavy items in the middle, close to your back.
Make sure your hipbelt is actually on your hips (not below) and cinched tight enough that it won’t slip down.
Stop to adjust shoulder straps and load lifters during the first hour of hiking.
At Home: Clean grungy packs with mild soap and warm water. Dry thoroughly before storing.
Remove grit from zippers with a vacuum.
Need to Know: Sleeping Bags
In the Store: If you sleep cold (you know who you are, Popsicle), look at bags rated at least ten degrees below what you think you’ll need.
Climb in, roll around, stretch out, cinch the hood. If you’re not comfortable in the store, you won’t be in camp.
In the Field: Air your bag out each morning to dry any moisture.
If you’re base-camping for several days, leave your bag unstuffed.
Need a few degrees more warmth? Add a silk or synthetic bag liner, which also serves to keep your bag clean.
At Home: Air your sack (again) to ensure it’s completely dry.
Always stow your bag in a large, breathable sack.
Don’t fear the washing machine. Launder according to manufacturer instructions.
Need to Know: Sea Kayaks
In the Store: Whitewater paddlers: If serious playboating’s your thing, buy a boat that places you at the upper end of its recommended weight range. Sea kayakers: Consider the length of your typical trip, and be sure to get the cargo capacity you need.
In the Field: Dreaming of whitewater glory? A great boat can’t make a great boater, but a great wave can. Head to one of the new school’s hot spots, like Ottawa’s Garberator, the New River Dries, or Skookumchuck. Unlike a sticky hole, even the biggest wave will flush you downstream in seconds.
At Home: Store your boat out of the sun; UV rays will damage it.
Need to Know: Luggage
In the Store: Beware of wheeled luggage under $100. Below that amount, most luggage won’t hold up to frequent, rough travel.
Zippers on the main compartment should be big and burly to withstand regular use and take overstuffed loads.
Check fasteners: Parts with screws can easily be replaced, while rivets require more labor.
Fancy handles with lots of parts mean more chance of breakage.
In the Field: If your bag gets spritzed with corrosive salt water, clean it immediately with freshwater.
For grime, a brush and mild nonphosphate soap will do.
At Home: Inspect wheels and other moving parts before heading out. If something’s loose, tighten it or have it fixed. Don’t let fabric holes go unattended—they’ll grow and even split.
Need to Know: GPS
In the Store: Before you get lured in by a unit’s onscreen mapping abilities, make sure your home computer’s operating system is compatible with the proprietary software.
A long battery life is key for multiday tripping in the backcountry, while a large, easy-to-read screen is indispensable for car or bike travel.
In the Field: Use a durable, rubberized case to protect your device from falls or getting crunched in a pack. Likewise, an IPX7 rating—indicating that the unit can be submerged in three feet of water for 30 minutes—ensures you won’t have to baby your GPS in a storm.
At Home: Don’t skimp on digital-mapping software. Expect to shell out about $100, but custom maps are worth it.
Need to Know: Tents
In the Store: If you’re not actually through-hiking the PCT, do you really want an ultralight tent that’s smaller than a birdhouse and weighs less than some truck-stop steaks?
Make a list of must-haves and stick to it: Do you want to be able to sit up straight? Are two doors a requirement? How much space do you need for gear?
In the Field: Use an accessory “footprint” (available from most manufacturers) that lets you pitch your tent fly only—saving considerable weight—when severe weather and/or bugs are not in the forecast.
Avoid leaving your tent pitched in strong, fabric-degrading sunshine for days on end.
Treat poles gently when folding and unfolding; chipped edges can damage the precise fit.
At Home: Hand-wash with a mild soap and warm water.
Thoroughly air-dry to prevent mildew.
Store poles unfolded to take tension off the elastic and extend its life.
Need to Know: Surfboards
In the Store: Buying a board off the rack in a surf shop can save you time but not necessarily money.
Custom models are hand-shaped to fit your body and surfing style but take a month or more to make. If you don’t live near a good shaper, you’ll pay around $100 extra to have it delivered.
Beginners should stick with boards that are thicker and longer with rounded outlines: Think seven feet four inches to nine feet. All boards reviewed here are available in multiple lengths.
In the Field: If you ding your board, get it patched immediately; the water can damage the core.
At Home: Always keep your stick in a protective bag or board sock to avoid inadvertent bumps and bangs.
Need to Know: Digital Cameras
In the Store: Always hold a camera before buying. How it feels in hand is as important to the shooting experience as its list of features.
Pad your budget to include a high-capacity memory card. The tiny cards that most cameras ship with are virtually useless for storing the large files created by today’s high-res sensors.
Don’t obsess over megapixels. Image quality is determined as much by sensor size (the bigger, the better), lens quality, and the quality of the internal software.
In the Field: Your battery will die just when the elephants appear. Always carry a spare, and keep it close to your body in cold weather.
Changing lenses? Be careful not to let dust get on the image sensor. Clean it with a blower brush if it gets dirty.
At Home: Don’t let your images turn into the digital version of a box full of slides. Organize them on your desktop as soon as you get home, and start each trip with an empty memory card.