Every backpacker's needs are different - we don't try to rent with a one-size-fits-all mentality like you'll find with most local stores. Your size, experience, intended destination, and the time of year of your trip can all affect your gear selection, whether renting or buying at our retail store or here online. But that one of the good things about renting - no need to buy gear for every possible scenario. Look below to see which of these situations best fits you and then consider our suggestions.
I'm a beginner backpacker
I am tall
I am woman
I am young, or I'm taking a youth with me
I am cold-natured
I am hot-natured
What's this about my "torso"?
I'm going on a weekend trip
I'm going on a long trip
I'm interested in your lightweight gear
I may be out in bad weather
I will be hiking at high elevations
I want to be ready for any wilderness dangers
My drinking water resources will be limited
I'll be out on poorly marked trails
What kind/how much food should I take?
I'm a beginner.
Then don't start here with us; instead start by finding the best pair of shoes - arguably the most important piece of gear for a pleasant hike. "Best for you" doesn't mean the most expensive, but the best fit and most useful for the type of hiking you'll do most of the time. We suggest light- or medium-weight, waterproof hiking boots as the most functional for a variety of hikes. We offer some shoes for sale here online, but if you are local you can come into our retail store for a fitting, or go to a good outdoor store in your area and discuss it with an experienced shoe fit/use expert. Forget the discount stores for something this important.
Ok, now that you're shoed, break them in a bit with short walks in the neighborhood, or even just wear them around the house as much as possible. Then start out with some day hikes before your first backpacking trip. The idea is to get your feet used to wearing this style shoe in rough terrain, and to get your shoes used to your feet. This will all help reduce the chance of blisters when you're out on a more extended trip.
Make your first backpacking trip 1-3 nights out at most. Go with someone who's been out before if possible. Pack as little and as light as you can, but make sure you have enough to be comfortable and to deal with the elements. See our suggestions on what all to take. And see below for further information that might be helpful for your size, personality, or for your type of planned hike.
I am tall.
This potentially affects the type of sleeping bag and pack you carry, and to a lesser degree, your tent. We carry packs for a wide range of torso lengths, which may or may not equate to your height. See below for more on torso length, but know that most of our packs these days are a one-size-fits-most (adjustable shoulder harness). Check out the length and other specs on all of our tents first before placing your order - make sure your feet won't be sticking out there into the night for critters to nibble on . . . .
I am woman.
Most camping gear is of course unisex, but, there are a couple of pieces of gear where a tweak here and there to account for the differences between men and women's shapes and curves is helpful. Before selecting gear based on the gender issue, however, make sure it is otherwise the right size for you, right for the expected weather, and in the case of packs, has the appropriate capacity. We carry a few backpacks especially designed for women. This doesn't mean that the other packs we carry aren't suitable for women; just that if these particular sizes and other features are otherwise suitable for your trip, you should consider renting these models with such tweaks already built in. Make your request at check-out time, or give us a call.
I am, or I'm taking a youth.
Note of interest: Despite their otherwise seemingly unbounded energy, backpacking tends to wear out the young - even younger adults - faster than older adults. Check out any hiking club - almost always the average age is a lot older than you'd expect for what can be a very physical activity. We carry gear designed for toddlers thru teens, and we encourage camping and backpacking as something the entire family can enjoy. Just make sure the first trips are as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
I am cold-natured.
While you're hiking, you'll usually be warm from the body heat you're generating from your efforts regardless of the outside temperature - especially if the sun is out. Watch out though when you stop for a break or to camp for the night; that's when you can get real cold in a hurry, especially if you've been sweating. Dress in layers, wearing synthetic materials instead of cotton whenever possible. You may want the "cold weather" sleeping bag or "really cold weather bag" for sleeping. Consider taking a few of these Hand Warmers to throw in the bottom of your sleeping bag at night if you get chilly.
I am hot-natured.
You're lucky. If you can sleep without a lot of insulation, you can travel lighter with a higher temperature rated sleeping bag and a thinner mattress, pack fewer clothes and not use as much food for fuel just to stay warm. See some of our sleeping gear for rent.
What's this about my "torso"?
Many of our packs have a highly adjustable shoulder harness which almost makes them one-size-fits-all. Even if sized, (Medium, long, small, etc) they will best fit backpackers within a two-inch range or so. The fit has to do mostly with the length of your torso. This is the length along your spine, starting at the top at the C7 vertebrae, which is the bone at the base of your neck that sticks out when you bend your neck forward, down to your lower back even with those hip bones that stick out and support your spare tire - the iliac crest is what that's called. It's tricky to measure yourself, so get a friend with a measuring tape to help you figure it out. For a picture/diagram of how to measure your torso, see here. Once you know your torso length, then select the backpack within a series that best matches it. For example, most "Mediums" will fit torsos from about 17" to 19"; the packs have various adjustments to narrow that down. Don't assume just because you're tall or short that your torso length is that way too; always measure to be sure. See our complete line of backpacks. and watch our video on selecting and fitting a backpack.
I'm going on a weekend trip.
Start by checking out our suggestions on what to take on any trip. Any of our medium capacity packs should work for most weekend trips. Read the tent, sleeping bag and mattress pad descriptions to find the best one for you. Round out with cooking and hydration gear, and see what accessories you need for this trip. Browse through our videos for more information. Or learn more about tent size.
I'm going on a long trip.
Mostly the same as a shorter trip. The biggest difference between a short and long trip will be in the amount of food and fuel you take. Start by checking out our suggestions on what to take on any trip. For backpacks, a medium capacity will usually work OK, but if you need more space, review our high-capacity or even our expedition (call us) packs. Read the tent, sleeping bag and mattress pad descriptions to find the best one for you. Round out with cooking and hydration gear, and see what accessories you need for this trip. Browse through our videos for more information.
I'm interested in your lightweight gear.
Since our gear for backpacking is all top-quality equipment from the best and most innovative resources, you can be assured it is lightweight compared to most of the industry's offerings. But if you're only interested in the lightest of the light, see some of our premium light selections here. The lighter the gear, often the more expensive it is, so if you're going car or base camping, don't worry about the weight and save a few bucks.
I may be out in bad weather.
Better to be safe than sorry, and go prepared. Pay as much attention as possible to weather reports, but be advised regional TV and radio reports rarely pertain to the remote areas you might be headed, particularly at higher elevations. Make sure you have clothing you can wear in layers to accommodate different temperature ranges, and make sure it is synthetic material, not cotton. Carry a waterproof jacket. And now wouldn't be the time for a cheap tent, either. Our InReach devices can access weather reports via satellite.
I will be hiking at high elevations.
Take plenty of sunscreen; it's amazing how much easier it is to burn up high. Be prepared for occasional ice or snow on trails, even in the warmer months. Expect to huff and puff more as you get above a few thousand feet where the oxygen levels start to drop some, and at 10,000 feet and above, consider the threat of altitude sickness if you are not adequately acclimated. If in bear country, and you get above treeline, you'll need a bear canister or take other precautions since you'll have no place to hang your food. And of course, weather can turn bad in a hurry up high; see here for safety gear.
I want to be ready for wilderness dangers.
The best hiking safety precaution can be found in numbers. There's a lot more that can go wrong when by yourself than when you have at least one partner - just ask the now-famous guy who amputated his own arm when he got it stuck under a boulder while out hiking by himself. After that, the next precaution is simply always being aware of your surroundings - what's coming up ahead; where you're taking your next step. The bravest, studliest hiker out there can be reduced to whimpers with one errant step that takes out an ankle. Little bugs - both the crawly, biting types and the ones that get your gut inside out - are more of a danger than big critters like bears, but we carry gear and accessories to protect you from both. Watch our video on bear canisters. And finally, there's usually a lot less danger of any sort when you stay on the trail, know where you are, and know which way help could be found. Having maps, compass and maybe a GPS unit and knowing how to use them all is the answer. Watch our video on our GPS units.
My drinking water resources will be limited.
Sometimes it's hard to find water anywhere - in the summer sometimes; out West in a lot of places anytime – or it's water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink - unless you have something to treat it with. So carry plenty of water with you at the start - we offer a 3-liter bladder to carry as a good option - plus a filter to treat your additional water needs. Also consider carrying chlorine tablets or solution to use in addition to the filter for even more protection. For a more detailed discussion of water treatment options, see here or watch our video on the subject.
I'll be out on poorly marked trails.
We'll state the obvious - make sure you have the best maps available for the area you'll be hiking in, and then carry and know how to use a compass. We have about 8000 maps at our retail store, but a handy thing these days for "lost-avoidance" is the GPS unit. While subject to the occasional fits of any electronic device, they are amazingly accurate and are most helpful in keeping you on track. But you cannot rely on GPS alone; they don't pick up well in areas with heavy tree canopy, and are worthless if the batteries run out on you without backups. Also consider a SPOT Messenger satellite device. And if you're with a large team, or race event, note that the SPOT is also a great "tracking" tool for race organizers to keep up with the positioning and safety of each participant. To learn more, review our informational page on using a SPOT for tracking outdoor team and race events.
What kind/how much food should I take?
We have a full article on food and energy issues while hiking, including suggestions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can burn thru several thousand calories a day while hiking. If you're going to be out just a few days, don't worry too much about any calorie deficiency and just take enough food to replace maybe 50 - 75% of what you're burning. Unless you're already at 10% body fat or something like that, you've got plenty of reserves to carry you thru. It becomes more of a problem the more days that you're out - what you don't want to happen is to start burning off muscle because you're not getting enough replacement calories to fuel yourself. Expect to need at least 1.5 pounds of food a day as a starting point and experiment from there; more for bigger guys and longer daily hiking.
We offer a few choices in freeze-dried food for sale to round out our selection, or visit our retail store or your local outdoor retailer for a wider choice. Just add boiling water from a pot on one of our stoves and enjoy a fairly tasty meal. Watch our video on backpacking stoves. You'll have to experiment with some of the different ones to see which you like best - there are dozens to choose from - and be aware some are just not very good. Sorta like something your sister cooked instead of your Mom; edible, but just not the same.