Gear Guy

What gear would you suggest for my first overnight trip?

I have never spent a night on the trail, sticking to day trips instead. However, it's something that I think I would like to get into. My hiking partner has the tent, stove, and first aid kit. I don't want to go out and buy all the other equipment (sleeping bag, pad, boots, etc.) until I certain that backcountry camping is for me. What would you suggest for my first trip? . Melissa Greenwood, Delaware

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I suggest the barest minimum. You’ve already got 90 percent of the gear—your day hiking stuff plus your hiking partner’s equipment. So, I’d say all you really need is a sleeping bag and maybe a sleeping pad. I’d use whatever you’re using now for day-hiking boots—I usually like to see people in good footwear, but for test purposes I can’t see any point to shelling out $150 for boots that you might not even break in. A pack, I’m sure, you can borrow—ask friends, your hiking partner’s friends, that sort of thing. Some outdoor stores even rent packs (REI does, for $20 the first day, $10 a day after that, no charge for pickup and drop-off days). You might even find someone who will loan you a sleeping bag. If not, then find an inexpensive one. Slumberjack, for instance, makes a perfectly good $40 bag called the Black River 25 (for 25-degree rating). OK, it’s a little bulky and weighs four pounds, but so what? For a pad, buy a couple of inexpensive blue foam pads for approximately $15 each. Or, if you feel tough, just get the one.

The point is that for $60 plus a few bucks for food you can rent a pack, buy a bag, and have a good time. Then, if you decide you really enjoy yourself, you can invest in better gear as you see fit. Even that needn’t break the bank. One of the most popular backpacking boots around now, for instance, is Montrail’s Torre GTX—$150 gets you a well-constructed boot that needs little break-in and offers good support for moderate loads. Another $180 buys you a light down bag like REI’s Down Time 15. For $50 you can choose from an array of fine self-inflating sleeping pads. Some bargain hunting will turn up a good buy on a pack, such as the Lowe Alpine Alpamayo pack, normally $280, now just $125 at Sierra Trading Post. You’ll be camping in style, without spending a ton.

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