Besides overall pack sizes, the best packs offer different sizes of hipbelts and shoulder straps.
Walk around carrying the pack, loaded with the full amount of weight you intend to carry on the trail. You'll feel the best pack grab onto your back like a pet monkey, with no discernible hot spots, and the load will feel so perfectly distributed that you'll wonder if you forgot something. You should be able to sashay your hips freely, swing your shoulders fully, and raise your legs without ever feeling drawn off balance.
Hipbelt, Straps & Back Panel
Hipbelt Weight transfer is for naught unless the hipbelt, the receiver of this load, is up to the task. That means one that fits (more about fit later) and has just enough stiffness to support a load without sagging. A soft-foam hipbelt may feel great in the store, but after a few miles down the trail it will begin to bottom out and your hips will feel the pressure of the load. One that is too firm can bruise your hips. The most sophisticated hipbelts are a Dagwood sandwich of different grade foams� cell for tactile comfort, closed-cell for support, compression-molded foam for even firmer support. Some add a layer of HDPE. A good hipbelt will compress progressively, like the shocks on your mountain bike. Look for one that cups over your hipbones, which maximizes the amount of weight-bearing surface area.
Shoulder Straps Here too you want to avoid too-soft foam. Another bad sign: puckers in the foam or in the sheath that covers it. These puckers will turn into hot spots against your skin out on the trail. The best pack makers have mastered the art of bending, curving, and covering foam without these dreaded creases� but, of course, you have to pay for such craftsmanship.
Back Panel A sweaty back is an unavoidable consequence of carrying a load, but a good back panel can mitigate the soggy-back syndrome. Some use firm, compression-molded foam with grooves built in to permit a cooling airflow. Others use a swatch of soft, reticulated foam (it looks highly perforated) that does a decent job of dispersing sweat. Some do away with back padding altogether: Your back stays cool; just pack soft stuff against your back to stay comfortable.
Cared for properly, good boots will last a long time - often five to ten years, depending on how hard you and the terrain are on them.
Knowing boot anatomy and available boot features area big part of the boot buying process.
Full Grain is the outermost part of the cow's hide; it is the stiffest, most waterproof type of leather. It is sometimes turned inside-out (rough-out) so the smooth, outer layer won't get nicked or scratched.
The The Upper part of the boot should have as few seams as possible. A one-piece upper is more water resistant.
A Gusset is a thin piece of flexible leather sewn to both the tongue and the upper. It keeps out water and stones. A "bellows" tongue has wide gussets, allowing it to open further so it is easy to put on. Some boots have two "overlapping" tongues, each connected to one side.
The The Back-Stay is a strip of leather sewn over the back seam. If it gets torn or chafed, it is almost impossible to replace. For that reason, it should be as narrow as possible.
A Welt is the stitch which connects the upper sole. A Norwegian welt is double-stitched, strong and stiff. Other welts are not as strong but allow more flexibility .
A Rand is a wide rubber strip protecting the stitching that holds the upper to the sole.
The Sole has three parts: a padded "footbed" just below your foot, an "insole" below the footbed and an "outsole" on the bottom. The insole can be soft and flexible for light hiking, or it can be stiffened with a half- or full-length "shank" (sheet) of plastic or steel for added support. The sole is made of rubber (Vibram is a type of stiff hard rubber) with a "lug" pattern designed for gripping the path. Deep lugs are best for steep rugged terrain, while shallow lug patterns are lighter and more flexible.
Consider the following when your're in the market for hiking boots:
Leather or Lightweight? Leather is strong, tough, durable and heavy. Great for serious mountaineering. Lightweights are made of plastics, nylon and other synthetics. They literally take a burden off your feet. Sturdy, flexible, and comfortable, they are perfect for hiking and most backpacking.
Soles. The thicker the Vibram rubber sole and the deeper the treads or "lugs," the greater the traction but the heavier the boot. Likewise, the stiffer the "mid-sole" layer above the rubber sole, the stronger but less pliable and comfortable the boot. Day hikers don't need steel/plastic mid-soles; mountaineers do.
Welts. Welts are stitching systems that join boot to sole. The better the welts, the stronger the join. Hence welts make shoes that are more water-tight, more durable, though perhaps less flexible. Lighter shoes use bonding-cement joins.
Aside from the appropriateness of the boot (you don't want technical mountaineering boots, unless of course you are a technical mountaineer) and the cost, the all-important consideration is size. Get it right. You and your hiking mates will regret it if you don't. Seek out a reputable store and an experienced salesperson to find the best fit. Wear the same socks (or inner and outer socks) you'll be wearing on the trail.
Civilians call them life jackets; the Coast Guard calls them Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs. However you refer to them, they should be worn at all times while on the water, and should probably be the first piece of equipment you buy as you start to get serious about paddle sports.
Things to Consider
Types PFDs receive their classifications from the Coast Guard. Most paddlers wear Type III, which is a catch-all category for hybrid vests created for a particular activity; they provide good flotation and offer freedom of movement. For the record, Type I and II vests are generic--those big, bulky orange horse collars they give you when you rent a Sunfish; Type IV and V include life rings, buoyant cushions, work vests, and other important personal flotation items.
Sizes Most PFDs come in infant, youth, and adult sizes. Within the adult category, some manufacturers offer sizes from XXS to XXL, while others size their vests based on weight. Most PFDs have adjustable straps for a customized fit.
Fit How your PFD fits could make the difference between a good and bad paddling experience. A properly fitted PFD shouldn�t slip off when a rapid or a person pulls on it, but it also shouldn�t restrict your movements. When trying on PFDs, wear appropriate clothes and pretend to stroke--a few minutes of embarrassment is worth many weekends of comfort.
Buoyancy Ratings The Coast Guard rates PFDs by a technical measurement called "pounds of flotation." Type III PFDs offer at least 15 pounds of flotation, which is more than adequate. The average adult can feel safe with between seven and 12 pounds of flotation, depending on body fat and other personal factors. Higher flotation PFDs are also available.
Options PFDs used for paddling should have lash tabs that can accommodate safety knives, emergency lights, and other hand-held equipment. Small mesh pockets are also useful for whistles or lip balms. Choose a bright color, which will make you easy to spot in the event of an emergency.
Consider your activity menu. If you're going to be climbing, remember that you need a coat that won't interfere with your harness. Select one with a high waist, or one that rides low on the hips. Bring your harness along when you are shopping, just to make sure they work together. Second, you'll need articulated sleeves that are cut to accommodate a bent-arm position. If the coat is built correctly, the bottom hem stays down around your hips when your arms are raised, and your wrists stay covered, no matter how you position your arms.
Things to Consider
Hood The weak link of most jackets is hood design. Look for a model that will tuck away when not needed, so you don't always have it flapping in the breeze. Zip-off hoods are an option, especially if you don't plan on using the feature.
A well-designed hood should swivel when you turn your head and allow for adequate breathing space when zipped. Check the adjustment straps on the hood. Will your hair get caught in the toggle cords? Can you see out of the face hole when the hood is up, or do you resemble a shaggy dog who can't see because of the hair that covers his eyes?
Ventilation Anyone who has walked uphill knows how fast you can work up a sweat. The most common ventilation systems are underarm zips that can be opened to allow airflow when you are in danger of overheating. "Pit zips" are a priority feature on waterproof/breathable jackets, and less important on shells designed merely to thwart wind. Some jacket designs come with chest zips and mesh-lined pockets, both of which add ventilation. The advantage of chest zips is that they are convenient to open and allow quick access to the breast pockets of your second layer of clothes. The downside is that they can be mistaken for pockets themselves, which can lead to lost car keys and wallets.
Every day, there seems to be a new miracle fabric available to keep you warmer, dryer, cooler, or just more comfortable. Here are some of the ones you are likely to see while shopping for backcountry clothing.
Sympatex: A windproof, waterproof, breathable fabric made out of nonporous polyester. Also produced as a nonporous membrane of hydrophilic film that can be laminated onto another fabric. Sympatex comes as three-ply laminates, linings, and inserts for outerwear, footwear, gloves, and other accessories.
Fleece: Polyester fabric, sometimes constructed with nylon, lycra, cotton, or ceramic blend, that is generally lightweight and breathable with a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Some fleeces may also have wicking properties.
Polartec Windbloc: Polyester fabric with windproof, breathable membrane designed to protect from weather, wind, water, and abrasion.
Gore-Tex: Nylon or polyester fabric that's laminated to Gore-Tex membrane. Designed to be waterproof, windproof, breathable, and durable.
Gore-Tex Windstopper: Polyester fleece laminated to Gore Windstopper membrane that is windproof and somewhat breathable.
Gore-Tex Activent: Membrane laminated to various fabrics for windproofing breathability. Generally very lightweight as well.
Getting cold in the middle of the night, or so hot and sweaty that you can't sleep, doesn't necessarily mean you didn't buy a good sleeping bag. More likely, you just bought the wrong sleeping bag. Since there are literally hundreds of models of sleeping bags available, perhaps even thousands, this happens more often than you would think.
While it is always important to consider how you plan to use equipment, sleeping bags tend to be more of a general-purpose general purchase. However, if you are planning on serious winter camping (in very cold weather) or mountaineering, you may well want to invest in a winter bag that is rated to twenty or thirty degrees below zero, in addition to a lighter bag for three-season use. Alternatively, some bags offer zip-out linings, so you have a double bag for cold weather, and your choice of the lining or outer bag for warmer conditions.
In general, three-season bags are rated to about 20 degrees above zero, which will work for warm conditions and usually be sufficient for brisk spring and fall nights. However, remember that there is no universal standard for bag rating. Also, people sleep at different temperatures, so while a 20-degree bag might keep your companion warm on a cold night, you might freeze in the same bag.
When you buy a bag, a good rule of thumb is to think about the coldest condition you might experience, and then drop down ten or twenty degrees. Keep in mind that it is more difficult to stay warm in an insufficiently insulated bag than it is to vent a bag designed for cooler temperatures. A bag rated to zero is usually a good choice, since it will keep you warm on unexpectedly cold nights, but can be zipped open for venting.
Wet Bags. Wet bags aren't as warm as dry bags. A simple means of keeping your sleeping bag dry is to place it inside a plastic garbage bag. (You can then use the bag for garbage on your hike out). If you have a down bag, always allow the bag to dry before you place it in your stuff sack. If possible, hang any bag outside of your tent in the morning, until you are sure the moisture has wicked away. The caveat here is to avoid excessive sunlight, so either find a shady place or pack up your bag before the day gets hot. Most shell fabrics are treated with a DWR (durable water repellency coating). Check the bag's care manual for when to reapply a waterproof booster.
Eating and Drinking also affect sleeping. Remember to eat and drink before going to bed. The warmer the food, the warmer you'll start out. If you go to bed cold, it is more difficult to warm up your bag. A brisk walk before bed, or a few stretches in the tent, can help to boost your body temperature. If you find you get cold sleeping at home, you'll probably have the same difficulties on the trail, so invest in a warm bag.
Tent or Bivy Sack. A tent or bivy sack will add at least 10 degrees F to the warmth of your bag. You can also invest in an outer bag or bag liner to boost your bag's capabilities for those frigid occasions.
Sleeping Pad. Always use a sleeping pad. It will help prevent conductive heat loss between you and the ground, as well as providing a more comfortable berth.
Extra Clothing. Bring along a light hat, gloves, and a pair of warm socks, even for summer camping. They can add crucial warmth on cold nights. Don't sleep in the clothes you wore hiking during the day, since they may be wet with sweat. Bring along a layer of warm, comfortable clothes to wear inside your bag, but none so bulky that they restrict circulation.
Tent Placement. Consider the placement of your tent or sleeping pad. Low areas may become pockets for cold air. High elevations, especially when exposed to wind, can also present a chilly problem. If possible, select a sleeping spot that is protected from the wind and weather.
Bag Handling. Shake and fluff your bag several times before jumping in. This is especially important for down bags, which may need time to fully loft. Some manufacturers recommend placing your bag (synthetic or down) in a warm dryer before embarking on a camping trip. The tumbling will help to fluff the bag, and will rid it of any residual moisture.
Stuffing your Bag decreases the life of the loft. Don't store your bag in a stuff sack, rather hang it in a cool dry place. When you do stuff your bag for travel, do it gently, and avoid leaving the stuffed bag in a hot car.
Selecting a tent can be confusing. Get the right tent, and you can expect years of leakless shelter from any storm you might encounter. Get a tent that isn't durable enough for your needs, or one that is so overbuilt you could use it on K2, and you'd probably be financially better off if you had opted for expensive hotels instead of camping.
The tent you buy depends on where, when, and with how many people you'll camp.
Convertible Tents are built for four-season use. they have windows, vestibules, and rain flies. Extra poles, zip-down windows, and extended rain flies adjust to provide added ventilation for summer conditions, and greater warmth and stability in winter weather.
Three-Season Tents are the most common on the market. Basically, they are designed for use in the summer, spring, and fall. Many three-season tents have weathered cold winter storms. However, if you are planning on a great deal of winter camping, you might want to consider a four-season or mountaineering-specific model. Three-season tents generally feature a rain fly, mesh inserts for hot summer nights, and a vestibule (small sheltered areas outside the main living space) sufficient for stashing a couple of medium-size packs.
Summer Tents are lightweight and highly ventilated. A nice option for hot nights, they aren't very versatile when temperatures drop or rain hits.
Mountaineering Tents are designed to withstand the worst of winter storms. If you are planning on spending a lot of time in the mountains or doing foul-weather camping, by all means, check out mountaineering designs. However, they tend to be more expensive and slightly heavier than your three-season alternative.
Additional accessories that can make camp living more comfortable are built-in gear pockets where you can stash glasses, watches, and other paraphernalia. Also, check the tent's ventilation system. Mesh windows allow air in, keep out bugs, and provide views, but make sure they seal up tight to prevent the seepage of chilly air on cold nights. Check the floor for durability and waterproofness.
Always get in a tent and stretch out before you buy. Your best bet is actually to set up a tent and crawl around inside it before making any buying decision. When setting up the tent, check to make sure the pole sleeves are easy to thread (continuous sleeves are the easiest). Some manufacturers make all their tent poles the same length, a real boon when you are setting up in the dark. Clip-type tents are faster than sleeved poles to set up but sacrifice strength in bad weather.
Consider the gear you'll need to store in the tent at night. Assemble your own, or if you are buying in a shop, make use of their other camping accessories. If you are planning on sleeping two or three campers in a single structure, grab the appropriately sized sleeping bags and foam pads and lay them out inside the tent. Bring along packs (stuffed full, of course), and check to ensure that they fit in the vestibule. If you plan on using a hanging lantern, also check the suitability of the overhead pole configuration.
Check the stitching and reinforced patches on the corners, stake-out loops, and other stress points. Plastic buckles are easier for stay lines than metal sliders, but if they are awkwardly positioned, they could break underfoot. In order to shed water, a single-walled tent or a rain fly needs to be seam-taped and sealed. Fully taped seams are more waterproof than those that are partially taped. Find out if you need to add a liquid sealant after you buy the tent, and how often it needs to be applied.
Stuff the tent and poles in the supplied sack, and see how it fits into your pack. Remember: Unless you have already set a tent up, it's not a good idea to bring it on a camping trip. Even if you can read the directions by headlamp, there's always a chance that you got the package with a missing pole.
Caring for Your Tent
Never store a tent if it is wet. This will cause the fabric to delaminate and coatings to peel. Always dry out your tent before you pack it up for storage. Damp tents also mildew, which destroys the nylon and smells bad. If possible, let your tent dry in the morning before packing it up. If all else fails, pitch it when you return home. Sweep out all the dirt and leaves, sponge off dirt with a damp cloth, and hang it up to dry.
The sun too will eventually cause a tent to deteriorate. If possible, camp in the shade to avoid harmful UV rays. You might consider simply leaving your rain fly on during the day. They are easier to replace after a few seasons of abuse than the entire tent.
Tent floors can wear out, so use a ground tarp when possible. Thin polyethylene sheeting from a hardware store is a lightweight, inexpensive option to go under your tent.