When I sit and think of gear for a trip, or when I’m asked about a piece of gear, my first question is, what is it for? That helps think about how it fits with the rest of the gear in category and so we can see if that item “works” or not. What do I mean by that? Let’s say you are after a rain jacket – what is it for? To protect you from rain, simple really. But do you have waterproof pants? Will you get any? Will it even rain during the trip you are going on? If the purpose is to keep you dry, but it isn’t going to rain, don’t get it. Get better shoes, or just invest in an Index fund. Outdoor gear is meant to answer a need, and therefore fall under “need” categories. If you don’t need it, don’t get it – just go out.
We have discussed in the past about what you need outdoors and we went over what you can do outdoors. Those two (and the must have – fun) will determine what we will be doing and what we will need for it.
The categories go under what we “do” when outdoors:
- Activity-specific gear (walking/climbing/bird watching/etc etc)
- Protection (mostly clothing)
- Comfort (I find this very important to me)
I know that you have probably read somewhere about all kind of breakdowns of gear categories, but this is how I see things. If I can see the goal it is easier for me to see if I’m missing anything to get to it. Lets go over each category:
We all do it and we all like it, to one degree or another. What do you need to sleep? Warmth (vital), some level of comfort, protection for the elements and feeling secure. So what do you need for that? This is up to you but for most a tent, sleeping bag and pad, dry clothes, full belly (with food) and knowing there are no predators (using bear cans if needed) is enough. For some, even this is too much, but you need to find your sleeping outdoors “sweet spot”.
We went over the energy idea and with food it is where we start to really go into the details. Food is energy and we need a lot of it when active outdoors. Here we have many variables and tastes – maybe you don’t like freeze dried powder meals, but want to create gourmet meals every evening – fine. Just make sure you clean up after yourself. But really, food is so personal; the important part is making sure you have enough calories. On a regular day it is around 2000 calories for women and 2500 for men (around that!) but when active that jumps up. If it is cold, it is even more! Make sure you take into account all the variables and pack enough food. It might be things that don’t require cooking (bars, trail mix of fruit and nuts, fresh foods) or you might want to cook, but then a gear list becomes relevant. For cooking you need a heat source and a cooking vessel. You will probably need a utensil, or a whole folding kitchen for the gourmet backcountry pancakes….
Activity specific gear
This is the biggest variable, but the most fun – what are you planning on doing? Most activities require specific gear and you should know what it is first as it influences everything. Walking? Get great footwear. Rock climbing? It is an amazing rack you are after. Cross Country? Great skis and boots. And the list continues. For activity specific gear it is best to find the specific site or community to learn from. I will try and go over all kinds of sports, but I’m mainly focused on the basics of being outdoors (and the gear and skills needed for that).
This is protection as in personal physical protection – clothing and hygiene! Whether it is protection from the sun, wind, cold temperature, or it is protection from health dangers such as blisters and sweat burns, we need to be able to protect ourselves in the most efficient way as to get the results we want without over doing it. This gear category tends to be where people get stuck the most as they over think the layers or think they can’t go out without the best of jackets (but what is best?), but I will go over those options in more detail. The best way is to think: what do I need to protect my self from losing energy (on one hand) and protecting my health (on the other) – simple.
Here is the “must have to make it through anything”. Theoretically, outdoors, everything is true for this category as it is all needed to help you live and survive – but this really means what are the bare essentials you need to live and to allow rescuing if worst comes to worst. You need to be able to light a fire in all conditions, have simple shelter, some way to treat and carry water, a knife and ways to attract attention from rescuers. All of this needs to be light and well packed so you can have it with you at all times.
This is the most controversial aspect of outdoor activities as it is a matter of “non-essential” items, so should you carry them? A flask on a skiing day with a hot beverage is a great spoil. A comfy camp chair (my ultimate spoil), an extra warm belay jacket on a climbing day and so on. I think for a lot of people this can be the tipping point of whether you will enjoy your time outdoors or not, and I recommend finding one or two things that make all the difference for you to make it a great day outdoors.
Those are the basics in order to start thinking about your outdoor gear list for your next adventure. To each of those categories, conditions must be added: weather, terrain, food and water availability, facilities and amenities and skills needed. We will go over the various groups in depth and how to build each group. Some of them will stay constant (like your emergency kit) and some will vary dramatically (like protection).
Do you have any other ways on approaching gear for going outdoors? How are you planning?