I have basic gear that was meant for camping, but not backpacking (think Academy or Wal-Mart tent, sleeping bag, etc.). I am looking to upgrade for backpacking. I have a decent backpack and footwear. What would be the best use of $500 to upgrade.
I am thinking a light sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a good tent, but I am looking for options I might be missing. What other misc gear might I need?
Actually, Academy gear will work for backpacking - it's heavy and bulky, and it may wear out sooner, but it will work (I used that kind of gear my first couple of years, replacing it as I got some experience and learned what features I really valued in gear. Of course, I also was a bit limited in when I could backpack and how far I could hike in a day - but I still had fun.
You don't mention a stove or cook kit - if you don't already have something, that might be your first investment My own preference is Snow Peak, though I'm toying with the idea of a Toaks alcohol stove and pot set. Depending on the trips you're taking, you might consider a water filter (in my case, a Vecto 2L bag and 1L Vesica bottle, both from CNOC, and a HydroBlu VersaFlow filter.) If you have those, I'd probably upgrade my tent first, then sleeping bag. (A good tent will give you a better shot at keeping you and your sleeping bag dry in bad weather; a wet expensive sleeping bag is just as worthless as a wet cheap bag.
If you're needing to replace several pieces of gear or need some clothing, you might take a look at REI's house brand of clothing, packs, tents, and sleeping bags - a little on the heavy side (but probably lighter and better quality than you've got now), and usually well-made and more affordable.
All good ideas here, but if I wanted to spend money on something to cut my packweight while upgrading the quality of my gear, I think I'd spend it on a tent, where I can probably cut more than a pound of pack weight, and often two or three.
I'm currently delighted with a Henry Shires Rainbow tarptent that would use up a chunk of that money---but would come in well below three pounds, and has full-comfort: bug netting and all.
Good point on the cook kit. I have not done much research there yet. I've seen a few DIY using tuna cans, but I haven't spent enough time on cooking.
I will definitely replace a bit over time. I found a good deal on a discontinued REI sleeping bag so I grabbed that. That will drop several pounds from my pack with just that upgrade. I like the REI stuff that I have seen so far.
On the water filter, I was looking at Sawyers, but am interested in your comment. Any reason that you picked Versa over others on the market? How do you like it?
The tarp tent looks good. I'm not sure I'm ready to forego a kit tent yet, but I will save off the link for when I am ready.
It sounds like a I'm a bit too late to affect much, but in my opinion the best bang for your buck in backpacking equipment is a sleeping bag. A quality down sleeping bag is so much more effective and lightweight than the cheap stuff... and a quality bag is an investment that will last a long time. I still use my parents REI bags they bought in the '70's. In comparison tents wear out. Poles break; zippers break; fabric tears; but mostly the waterproofing just wears out over time. Sleeping pads will obviously pop sooner or later. Get a good bag and don't abuse it; you can use it for a long time.
For a bag recommendation. You probably got a decent one from REI. My personal favorite is Enlightened Equipment. They are a small cottage online only shop out of Minnesota. You save quite a bit of money because they only sell direct and don't have to give a reseller a cut. They save more money and weight by selling quilts. You don't get the backside insulation (that doesn't provide any insulation anyway). For ~$300 you can get a phenomenal piece of kit.
The main reason I went with the VersaFlow was that it came in a bundle with 2 Vecto 2-liter containers on the CNOC website; at the bundled price, one of the containers was essentially free.
Functionally, the VersaFlow is pretty much the same as the Sawyer. However, a few of the design features simply fit my "style" better - i.e., are more convenient to me. (Don't underestimate how much your personal preferences influence "convenience.") I like that both ends of the filter have female threads, so you can attach a container to each end without a "coupler." The input and output holes on each end also have little caps that fit over them when not in use, greatly reducing the chances of cross-contamination of the clean-water outlet and also preventing the filter from draining into the pack pocket and, eventually, down your leg. It also has a little window on the side that helps you visualize how "dirty" the filter has become and prompts you to backflush. (Oh, yeah - you backflush by squeezing a container of clean water, not by using a little syringe with a tenuous connection to the filter.)
But, if you prefer the Sawyer, you're getting a similar filtration system - and the CNOC containers are compatible with it.
The CNOC Vecto and Vesica containers are a whole lot easier to deal with than the Sawyer POS bottles. The Vecto opens at the bottom, so you can "scoop" water easily, then seal and attach the small-neck opening to your filter. (You can't really "scoop" with the Sawyer bottle, and need to find a small falls you can put the bottle under to fill it.) The open bottom also helps dry them after a trip.
Any filter will eventually clog into unusability, so don't forget to take some purification tablets as backup. For some reason, filters only seem to fail during a trip.
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