Whether you are just getting into backpacking, or looking to improve your experience, choosing from the ever increasing universe of gear options can be daunting. It’s all compromises, as any experienced packer knows. I was reminded recently of the well known thru-hiker wisdom – “Hike your own hike.” The same applies to gear selection – “Pick your own stuff.” In fact someone’s gear list is probably a good clue to their backpacking personality. No gear will hit the sweet spot for all aspects, but some might come close.
This spring, in trying to develop material for an introductory backpacking class, I started a list of things to consider in picking gear. The list matured during discussions and this multi-dimension choice wheel emerged. You can go through all your current or coveted gear and rank each one, from green = great, to red = awful, for each of the 8 categories. Where it works best is trying to decide on upgrades – should I keep my tent or move on to tent A, B or C? Do the ranking for each option and then think about your personal priorities to weigh the result. Maybe cost is the big driver, or weight. There will be stuff in you pack that is there because of the way it works, in spite of how much it weighs or even costs. Insulated air pads are a good example. After a couple of trips trying to make everything fit or having to tie it on the outside of your pack, you might prioritize volume a bit more. If you have given up on a particular stove after some bad experiences, reliability or fussiness could be issues. At one point I parked my plastic cat hole trowel in favor of a tent stake. Weight and multipurpose aspects were important. However with time, performance was more important, and a light weight, well built aluminum trowel made the cut and the tent stake was just a tent stake. The eighth category, “Just in Case”, is a little different. It’s kind of backwards. For me, this includes emergency response gear, like a satellite communicator and maybe a cell phone. They aren’t cheap, or lightweight, but they significantly improve the odds of good endings when bad things happen. Choices here are probably driven by your own risk tolerance and/or exposure.
So this is an interesting exercise to play with your gear list. Do you have anything that comes close to hitting the sweet spot in the middle of “all green”. When I thought about this question for my stuff, two items came to mind. I have owned my long handled, polished Ti spoon for some years. More recently I added a Toaks 750 ml. Ti mug, that pairs with my current Esbit cooking setup. Neither one cost that much. They are both light, and they both work hard and well for me each trip. What’s in your pack?