Choosing Your Gear

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Don't Get Tied Into "Gear Reviews" and Similar Websites

When you are looking for gear online there will be many websites and results all looking to make a quick buck from you. Sites like Outdoor Gear Lab will tell you this or that gear is a "must have" do to this or that feature.
The vast majority of these reviews are, in fact, totally useless. This is especially true of the websites who use of "best of" and "top 10" lists.
These posts are basically only to influence you to make a purchase and get the website a commission, this isn't entirely bad but it doesn't focus on the reason you should buy a piece of gear which we cover below.

Does This Gear Solve a Current Pain Point or Problem?

This needs to be the primary question that you keep in your head when looking to make gear purchases as it will help you make the right purchase for you. You don't need all the bells and whistles, what you need is the gear that fits a pain point you have.
If you focus on pain points and solving issues with the gear you buy you will find your pack is much better as a whole then you would give it credit for. There will ALWAYS be new gear dropping in the store, thats a rat raced you won't win unless you have lots of disposable income, don't fall for their trap.

Does This Gear Solve a Trail Related Problem?

The only other focus you will want to have is when a trail has specific needs that you must address, like on the Pacific Crest Trail and needing a bear can and microspikes. These types of purchases will need different qualifications as you won't typically carry them the entire trip so deals can be your friend.
Below we are going to go dive into gear overall and just help you get a solid base of knowledge about the gear and start to look at how you could assemble them for your own gear setup, starting with your main gear items, or as we refer to them your big three.

What Comprises the Big Three in Backpacking Gear?

The core of your backpacking gear will be your big three, these are the gear that will influence your overall base weight the most. The big three consist of your backpack, shelter, and sleep system. 
These will typically be your most expensive gear, both due to usefulness and because they typically have the most to do with your overall weight they tend to have a higher overall cost and will use more advanced materials and technology to lighten them.


Your backpack is everything to a thru hiker, it carries everything important to you for the entire journey. This is your key piece of gear and needs to be able to be large enough to hold everything else you plan to carry without being overly empty.
It is a well known fact that if you have too much empty space available a hiker will tend to carry more items to fill the space. This is just down to human nature, no matter if this extra gear only makes your life worse and performs no functionally vital need.

Framed or Frameless

There is two types of backpacks available for the new hiker to understand. These are frameless and framed backpacks and they can feel vastly different based on the way they will sit on your back and the way the weight will sit will mean packing different on occasion.

Type Of Enclosure

There are a few backpack enclosure types also available that may fit your needs, some people like having a brain and drawstring, others will have a roll top enclosure to help ensure the backpack stays closed but also control water seepage.

Clothing and Weather Considerations

Your clothing will be tied to the area you plan to hike in and the time of year when you plan to hike, there is no "one-size fits all" approach here. You will need to tailor your clothing approach to multiple factors that you will identify while in the planning stages for the hike.

Hiking Clothing

The clothes you hike in you will wear for up to around 6 months straight, these clothes will be an interesting mix depending on the hiker, I run very hot so like and prefer less clothing like sleeves and prefer shorts. Whereas my wife is always colder so longer sleeves and leggings are almost a must for all hikes and we are in heat and humidity!
Your hiking clothes will need to be figured out based on the trail you plan to take though, for example, if you are hiking into the Sierra's like on the PCT you need much more warm clothes to handle the colder weather for that section at a minimum.

Sleep Clothing

Most hikers will prefer to have a separate set of cleaner clothes that they will sleep in allowing them to get out of the dirtier hiking clothing. This clothing will typically be merino wool and similar fabrics that can provide sustainable warmth to allow for simple warm sleeping.

Rain Gear

Something that will vital to you no matter what trail you choose to hike will be rain gear, the rain gear is there to keep you from getting totally soaked through as this could lead to safety issues. There is good budget options like Frogg Toggs on Amazon or WalMart to the longer lasting higher quality rain gear from places like Enlightened Equipment, REI, and ZPacks.

To Cook or Not to Cook?

One way or the other you need to have foods that you can eat and both options are very suited to long distance hiking. The foods though and the preparation time will very greatly depending on which you choose to carry forward on the trip.


Many hikers may want to cook as it is provides a sense of "normality" to the hiking days to end the day with a hot meal. The fact stands many of us have had hot dinners our entire lives so wanting to carry this forward to the trail.
Cooking though does have side effects as you need to make sure you bring fuel and a cook pot and that you have enough fuel to make it to the next resupply area. The benefits are that there is a wider array of food options available for anyone who cooks, including beans and other foods that just can't be eaten without cooking.


Often referred to as "cold soaking" going stoveless means that you have foods that will need to sit in water for longer periods of time to be consumable. Basically it is waiting for the water to be absorbed by the food where cooking in boiling water would accelerate the absorption.
The drawbacks to cold soaking and stoveless in general is a lack of variety in the foods that can be prepared in this way, so boredom can set in often. The benefits is no need to carry fuel, burner, or a cooking pot which can drop your pack weight.


For the gram weenies this category of gear may never exist as these are definitely not "need to haves" more just "love to haves". Choosing to bring luxury items with you isn't a bad thing and if it helps you enjoy your thru hike and keeps you motivated to continue it is well worth the added weight.

Personal Locator

Slowly this is moving from the "luxury" section and into the safety and security needs for a thru hiker, these are the devices like the Bivystick and Garmin InReach Mini. Their purpose is to be able to text updates to family when you don't have cell signal and to be able to signal rescue services should a life threatening problem occur.


I thought these were silly for the longest time, but have come to love my pillow more than I would have ever expected as it leads me to much improved sleep. Most are at best a couple ounces and you need to have restful sleep, if you haven't tried on I suggest giving it a try as it can be a blessing.


For some of us older hikers the prospect of sitting on the ground or finding random logs to sit on isn't too pleasant of a thought. Thankfully there are a lot of good lightweight chairs that exist on the market today like the Helios Chair Zero.
While many may balk at carrying an extra pound or so on the trail those same people will be envious at the camp at the end of the day when you can sit in comfort warming up near a fire while not getting dirty on the ground.

Additional Gear Choices

Everyone has some gear items that they personally just feel like carrying, whether they need the to feel safe or just want to bring. I definitely won't tell you to carry useless gear when at all possible as ounces become pounds, but you do you and HYOH.

Next Stop: Choosing a Trail

Now that you have a broad understanding on gear lets move to looking at the trails and help identify what interests you. Then you will know your trail and have a chance to start to identify the gear you will want to have for the trip you want to take.
Continue to Choosing a Trail
Welcome to thru hiker guide, helping those who hunger for travel.
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