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#162977 - 02/28/12 07:22 PM A letter to beginners
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3939
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Hi,
As you consider "gearing up" and ponder the myriad offerings from outdoors manufacturers, and you read other peoples gear lists, you have to ask yourself some basic questions before your money burns a hole in your pocket.

How will you use the gear?
Where will you use the gear?
What season ya gonna be going?
Gonna be in mountainous terrain?

Anyway just an aside: my basic gear is all extreme mountaineering based and can serve me as well at altitude in a storm or backpacking in the summer, but it was way expensive and now most of it is irreplaceable. I do camp in all seasons and at altitude and I ski and I climb and my life can depend on something like a zipper failure on a jacket or a torn jacket or pants (bibs).

You don't get good, light and cheap. You have to choose depending on your own expected usage. Ultralite may be totally adequate for you and your problems may be more based on condensation than of staying warm. The gear that you buy has to be TUNED to your usage. This is really hard to do without a lot of experience, and this is why we say buy your pack last because you won't know at first what you will be needing later.

The boy scouts frown on down because it takes skill to wear down and kep it dry. On the other hand, almost all of my insulated gear is down. Some of you would find down gear totally worthless where you camp. The reason I say this is because if you buy the gear on someone elses list because it seemed cool at the time and later find that it doesn't meet your needs, you will spend a second fortune on new gear.

Don't assume that you need something because "everyone has one". A lot of camping gear is just fad and fashion. Like will you hammock or sleep on the ground? Frankly I have found that hammockers do it largely because they find sleeping on the ground to be icky and animalian. cry They also like to sit in their clean hammocks rather than on good dirty rocks. I'm just not certain about the moral character of hammockers at all wink grin
Or perhaps you are one of the millions of happy ground sleepers. smile People who feal the Earths energy when they lay on the ground in their tents. grin

Avoid "picking up a few items", you will waste your money before you buy the needed items. Do not go out and buy a knife, gun, pack, sleeping bag, or cooking gear as spontaneous purchases. An as far as money goes, thats gonna have a great affect on what you take. I've gone on a couple hundred mile hike with an old flannel sleeping bag and no coat. I had a ground cloth that I got under when it rained and I cooked beans over a campfire. Point being that camping is experience based not gear based. Your gear is just your "tool kit".
Jim smile
***I'm just teasing those poor misguided hammockers, they mean no harm, bless their hearts.*** smile There are places near me where I have to hammock or shred a tent...
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#162981 - 02/28/12 08:40 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Jimshaw]
OregonMouse Offline
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6582
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Just an addition to what Jim has already said:

Please take the time to do your research first! Don't just go to a "backpacking store" and ask for help. Most of the clerks, even at places like REI, have little outdoor experience. You will end up with a maxed out credit card, unnecessary gear and often heavy (but not better) gear that you can hardly lift.

Borrow or rent as much gear as you can for your first few trips. Try to go with someone experienced or with an organized group. Groups are great because you can share a lot of gear (tents, cooking gear) and you can see lots of gear firsthand.

I don't put much stock in the "gear reviews" on retailers' websites (I know that several unfavorable reviews I've sent to REI were never published). There are a number of more impartial review sites, especially backpackgeartest.org. Mark Verber's encyclopedic website has a rundown of the various types of gear and the materials used in them. I don't necessarily agree with many of his recommendations; the key feature is that you will learn about many types of gear and can get a good idea of what is available and what will suit you. The articles on the home page of this site are a great introduction to gear selection.

It's fine to study gear lists, but be sure the author of the list is using the gear in the same environment you will be using. What works in southern California will not necessarily be adequate in northern Washington, nor in the Rockies. Note that the gear lists on the home page of this site are for the Cascade Range--a bit harsher (and wetter) than the Sierra but milder than the Rockies. The environment where you backpack may be quite different.

In addition to gear, there are skills that need to be learned: How to keep yourself and your critical gear dry. How to regulate your body temperature. Navigation. How to research advance information that determines what gear you need to take. How to use your gear--right down to how to pitch that shelter quickly and easily (best practiced in the back yard or while car camping), and how to set up and pack up your camp in pouring rain. That's why we recommend really short trips or back yard camping to start out, so that if everything goes wrong (happens even to the best of us occasionally) you can bail out to your car or your nice warm bedroom.

As Jim says,
Quote:
Gear is just your tool kit.
Learn to use it and enjoy getting out in the wilderness! That's what it's all about!


Edited by OregonMouse (02/28/12 08:42 PM)
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#163003 - 02/29/12 09:30 AM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Jimshaw]
Blue_Ridge_Ninja Offline
member

Registered: 09/09/11
Posts: 98
Loc: North Georgia
A ditto on pretty much everything that's been said. There is no one-size-fits-all gear list. Decide what best fits your needs, your preferences, and your budget.

Sincerely,

A hammocker with questionable morals
cool

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#163006 - 02/29/12 11:01 AM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Jimshaw]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2806
Loc: California
There is a wide range of gear between the WalMart cheap stuff and the high end gear, and it all goes on sale at some time or another. Clothing particularly can be 30% or more off simply because it is last season's color. But no discount is worth it if the gear does not fit you or your needs. Once you figure out what you want to buy, if you wait a bit and watch for sales, you can usually pick that up at a discount. Your shoes, pack and sleeping bag and pad are all very important for a positive first time experience. Go for fit, comfort and quality. Get clothing at GoodWill if need be, in order to afford the more important items.

I think going out with groups is a good way to start. You would be surprised at how many people have extra gear that they would happily lend you for a trip. When I started, I did not own a tent for years- just shared a tent with others. By the time I bought a tent, I had a good idea of what I wanted because I had experienced being inside many brands of tents.

If you are not sure you even will like to backpack, then by all means rent the more expensive items!

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#163016 - 02/29/12 01:27 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: wandering_daisy]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3939
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Daisy
yep, like you, I have so much spare gear I can take 2 people with me and they don't need any of their own gear. I've taken a lot of people on their first backpack trip and the girls are much easier to deal with. Generally I can say "Bring your basic clothes (from the list), and pick up that pack over there, it has everything else you will need." The boys always hafta bring their own pack, commando knife, stove, etc etc. Girls seem more willing to accept help and admit they don't know what they're doing... Sorry for the stereotyping. I enjoy helping people to have a great camping experience.

So beginners, there ARE people out there who want to help you and will even show you and loan you equipment. Respect your teacher.
Jim smile
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#163027 - 02/29/12 03:29 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Jimshaw]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
Another good thread! Don't be so hot to go out and buy equipment. Try to borrow or rent to get a feel as to what you like and are comfortable with. Unless you are rich and want to do your part to help the economy, just take your time with it.

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#163036 - 02/29/12 05:28 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: skcreidc]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1809
Loc: Napa, CA
I am going to take a different view. I think we make a mistake telling beginners of all the things they shouldn't do.

I'd start with: get out on a trail and hike. Have fun and see how really wonderful that is. Imagine what it would be like to stay overnight.

Then practice in the backyard. You don't really need expensive equipment for an overnight---just something to keep you warm, and something to keep you dry. Food doesn't have to be cooked--just take sandwiches.

Once you have a few fun adventures like that, you can start thinking about longer trips, harder trips, and better and more expensive equipment.
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#163037 - 02/29/12 05:36 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: balzaccom]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
It's one thing to answer questions when they are asked, but it's pretty darned condescending to treat adults like they can't come up with the questions.

I'm in a position to do this a lot when people repeatedly show up with jeans on, or really heavy gear, but you know what? I'll discuss it with them when they ask. They usually ask about my gear - I can always explain why I carry what I have and let them draw their own conclusions.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#163041 - 02/29/12 06:32 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Jimshaw]
DoobyDoobyDoo Offline
newbie

Registered: 11/21/11
Posts: 9
I greatly appreciate all the advice I can get as I am certainly no expert myself.

However, recently someone approached me about taking their first hiking trip - just 2 nights. They needed gear and had never done it before.

My advice was - you need water and to keep stuff dry. Those are your two rules. Everything else was suggestion.... I learned most of what I know by going and doing. Yes I had help - but I didnt really understand it until I was out there.

Anyway - my friend wound up buying a propane coleman stove(which I advised against). After the trip he says "You think I can return this?" - We both just laughed, but thats its - you do and you learn... hopefully not the hard way.

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#163043 - 02/29/12 08:19 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: lori]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
I mostly tend to do the same thing, Lori - partly because I don't want to come across as "I'm the boss of you," partly because I don't want to become responsible for their happiness/success, and partly because I realize that my gear and technique are set up to meet my needs, and they might have different needs and goals. A common example is that most carry two-person tents because they want the room (even though they're solo) and like freestanding, while I carry a non-freestanding solo tent that works for me.

I'll sometimes ask some open-ended questions like, "How's everyone's pack riding?" or "How are your feet holding up?" or "Everybody warm enough? Anyone too warm?"

But, usually, when I've got a pack that's a lot smaller than theirs, and nothing hanging on the outside, I find that I don't have to ask questions - people are always ready to ask, particularly if they're new and unsure of themselves.

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#163045 - 02/29/12 08:41 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: balzaccom]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I think it is important to encourage people to get into the game gradually. Do some day hikes to interesting places and work out the gear that works for you for that excursion. Then go for overnights, perhaps more leisurely trips to places you have already visited. Then progress to still longer and more complex outings. That has work just fine for me and for many other people.

On my very first overnight, my room mate and I took a cast iron skillet out on the trail. That sparked a life long interest in light weight hiking gear.

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#163047 - 02/29/12 08:47 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: lori]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1809
Loc: Napa, CA
Originally Posted By lori
It's one thing to answer questions when they are asked, but it's pretty darned condescending to treat adults like they can't come up with the questions.

I'm in a position to do this a lot when people repeatedly show up with jeans on, or really heavy gear, but you know what? I'll discuss it with them when they ask. They usually ask about my gear - I can always explain why I carry what I have and let them draw their own conclusions.


Lovely. Well said. We have people who have asked to hike with us just to "see how you do things." But that's a long way from us telling other folks how they ought to do things--even beginners!
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#163048 - 02/29/12 08:48 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Glenn]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1809
Loc: Napa, CA
Originally Posted By Glenn

But, usually, when I've got a pack that's a lot smaller than theirs, and nothing hanging on the outside, I find that I don't have to ask questions - people are always ready to ask, particularly if they're new and unsure of themselves.


So how do you dry your socks? grin. Good post.
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#163049 - 02/29/12 08:48 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: oldranger]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1809
Loc: Napa, CA
Originally Posted By oldranger

On my very first overnight, my room mate and I took a cast iron skillet out on the trail. That sparked a life long interest in light weight hiking gear.


Ha! Great post!
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#163057 - 02/29/12 10:38 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: balzaccom]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2806
Loc: California
I learned backpacking in a formal setting as a teenager and I look back at that and am glad I had such a good start. I realize that nowadays, there are fewer chances at formal training. But as a poor teen, I would not have been able to even start if it were not for generous folks who donated their time to teach, donated their extra gear so we could go out and mentored us. I think if I had to start using the "trial and error" method, I would probably not stuck with it. I delivered advertising papers for a year to earn enough money to buy my first pair of boots. My mentors helped me select appropriate boots. Had I blindly bought inappropriate boots that would be the end of my trips! I do not think giving beginners information or advise on how to select gear is condensending. It will probably save them a bundle of money and may make the difference of them continuing to backpack or quitting.

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#163058 - 02/29/12 10:41 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: wandering_daisy]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1809
Loc: Napa, CA
My first pair of "boots" was a pair of Converse All-Star tennis shoes...and I put in a lot of miles on those!


Edited by balzaccom (02/29/12 10:41 PM)
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#163070 - 03/01/12 10:17 AM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: wandering_daisy]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
I do not think giving beginners information or advise on how to select gear is condensending. It will probably save them a bundle of money and may make the difference of them continuing to backpack or quitting.


I used to think this way, until I started getting feedback that that was condescending.

People like to think they know what they need to do and frequently need to find out what they don't know on their own. The rest of us, the ones who understand we don't know enough, we read, and search, and research, and take classes, and do that legwork on our own, because we know we need to.

Getting into this on my own without forums or anyone showing me what I wasn't doing right was my path - I started my researching when things weren't working correctly. I'm glad I went that way because now when people ask me questions, I can tell them I already tried the things they are thinking of doing, and give them the results I got.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#163076 - 03/01/12 12:54 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: lori]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Giving someone information or advice is not automatically condescending. It is very much in the manner of presenting and in the tone. Some are better at this than others. I agree that sometimes it is better to let some learn "the hard way" as long as they cannot do serious damage or suffer so much that they are turned off completely.

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#163077 - 03/01/12 01:15 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: oldranger]
OregonMouse Offline
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6582
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
The big difference is that beginners who come to this forum ARE looking for advice, especially if they go to Backcountry Beginners! If they weren't looking for it, they wouldn't be here!
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#163090 - 03/01/12 05:52 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: balzaccom]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2806
Loc: California
One of my first trips, after my formal "mountain school" was to climb Mt. Rainier. I doubt I could have done that on my own, trial and error, in Converse tennis shoes!

I came into backpacking via mountaineering in the PNWA and Canada, so my experiences probably are different than most on this forum.

And yes, I have found that adults, especially older adults, often feel advise is condensending, even when it was not meant to be so. Nevertheless, when a newbie goes with me, part of the deal is that I give advise and they need to be open to at least listen to the advise. I have myself received a bucketload of condensending advise from strangers I meet on the trail (probably because I am small, a woman, and older). It strikes me as humorous, since I usually have been out for weeks, mostly off trail, and they are fresh, clean and first day out on the trial and obviously not that experienced. I just smile and say thank you. They usually just are trying to be helpful and show enthusiasm. I am open to all advise- who knows, I may just learn something new. Gems of wisdom come fro the oddest places sometimes.

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#163091 - 03/01/12 06:28 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: oldranger]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By oldranger
Giving someone information or advice is not automatically condescending. It is very much in the manner of presenting and in the tone. Some are better at this than others. I agree that sometimes it is better to let some learn "the hard way" as long as they cannot do serious damage or suffer so much that they are turned off completely.


It depends on the setting, too; I have to operate differently when taking hikers from my hiking group somewhere than I do when taking a friend who thinks they are ready for backpacking. It's much easier to be direct with a friend.

And, there are always people who will be upset with any hint that they are doing something "wrong." So no matter how nicely I have suggested something I someimes get a glare. How dare you suggest that nice fellow at REI was wrong? And of course, the budding gear freak is going to be absolutely in love with his wonderful nice new 4 season ten pound tent! It does everything and anything he wants it to! How could you even hint....

Currently I am reading Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpacking Book, which is a great short read for a newbie - but I disagree with a number of things they say. Despite that, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to newbies because it really introduces them to the process of collecting gear in a humorous and informative way, without loading the newbie down with endless details. The underlying message is that backpacking is a set of skills more than anything else - navigation, site selection, clothing selection, etc. all get a basic but good summary to get them going.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#163092 - 03/01/12 06:30 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: OregonMouse]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By OregonMouse
The big difference is that beginners who come to this forum ARE looking for advice, especially if they go to Backcountry Beginners! If they weren't looking for it, they wouldn't be here!


And if this thread is not a sticky, they will be asking questions anyway, since the search function on forums is rarely so useful as to pull up such things - plus they will be searching for more specific terms.

_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#163093 - 03/01/12 06:36 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: wandering_daisy]
BrianLe Offline
member

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
Quote:
"I just smile and say thank you. They usually just are trying to be helpful and show enthusiasm. I am open to all advise- who knows, I may just learn something new. Gems of wisdom come fro the oddest places sometimes."

What a wonderful way to approach this!
I agree, the best way to deal with even the most patronizing unsolicited trail advice --- often from folks in a questionable position to proffer such --- is to just see (but not show) the humor in the situation and avoid any sort of competition or demonstration of your knowledge or anything like that.

I too find that if I end up in conversation in such a situation, most often the person is great, just enthusiastic and wanting to share, or seeing a hiking style mismatch with mine that causes them to have (what to me are unwarranted) concerns.


Edited by BrianLe (03/01/12 06:37 PM)
_________________________
Brian Lewis
http://postholer.com/brianle

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#163096 - 03/01/12 07:34 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: wandering_daisy]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
You may have hit the distinction that, I think, Lori was trying to make: solicited versus unsolicited advice. If someone signs up for a class, or a beginner's trip, or buys a book, they are implicity soliciting the advice - from the designeated "leader" or "expert."

Asking a question, of course, invites advice.

However, if they've just signed up for a trip, or have an encounter on the trail, and the other person starts giving unsolicited advice, particularly in a "You know you must..." or "You can't do it that way" tone, that it becomes condescending. That's the type I try to avoid.

Being open to all advice, on the chance that it might be useful, is a great attitude to cultivate. Like you, I've learned a bit that way, too.

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#163105 - 03/01/12 11:47 PM Re: A letter to beginners [Re: Glenn]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3939
Loc: Bend, Oregon
solicited or unsolicited everybody is different and some people are gonna get their dander raised by just about anything, and others just let it flow.

_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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