Best tent, backpack, sleeping bag for moderate weather?
June 25, 2015 7:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm hiking out into the wild with a friend this autumn, and it's been decades since I last bought gear. I need a two-man tent, sleeping bag, backpack and other stuff. This won't be extreme camping, around 35-55°F at night, 3-4 days max. I'm looking for lightweight, durable, comfortable. Suggestions?
posted by mono blanco to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I love the tents that REI makes - in fact their sleeping bags are pretty terrific too. If you are going in the fall, then maybe see when their next big sale is and get a bunch of stuff. Backpacks are a little different, because it is really about fit and personal preferences. Definitely try on a bunch of options and find something that fits well.
posted by Toddles at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent. I also really like the NeoAir series of sleeping pads from Therm-A-Rest. I have the NeoAir Trekker (lightweight and durable) and the NeoAir XLite (less durable but even lighter).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:06 PM on June 25, 2015

Best answer: Outdoor Gear Lab! They're the best review website for outdoor gear on the web. I feel like I'm always hawking them here, but, seriously, they're the first place to stop to get good gear reviews, and the pros and cons they list are good for figuring out the features you care about and the features you don't. Follow that up by going to an REI in-person if you live near one, and feeling out the backpack - that really needs to be sized to your frame and figure, so try out a few different brands and models.

Not strictly necessary, but I love love love this solar powered lantern I received for Christmas this year, and every backpacker I've met has loved it as well.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:13 PM on June 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

Unless you plan to do more trips soon, borrowing or renting a tent might make more sense. I know MEC rents gear like that in Canada, so there must be some U.S. equivalent.
posted by zadcat at 11:07 PM on June 25, 2015

I loved my Big Agnes tent until it fell apart on a mountain right when I needed it to not fail. Even before then – and I had used it three of four times – buckles kept breaking and zippers would get mangled. I treat my possessions well, so this was completely unacceptable. Anyway, their lightweight ones (Copper Spur, Fly Creek) will not stand in the wind or any inclement weather, and condensation tends to be pretty bad. Fly Creek is also not truly freestanding, even though they advertise it as such. I'd recommend looking at Nemo tents. I use a Nemo Obi now for anything from backpacking to car camping to mountaineering trips and sleeping on glaciers.

Big Agnes does make an amazingly comfortable sleeping pad though. I love my superlight (SL?) insulated Q-core and it is so, so much better than my previous NeoAir. The NeoAir XLite in particular sounds like popping popcorn every time you move, and you'll be sliding all over the place on it. In my experience, a good sleeping pad matters much more than your tent or sleeping bag.

Backpacks: go and try them on. Everyone is different. For 3-4 days (I assume no climbing gear and water sources where you can pump and filter water along the way), expect to carry at least 40 lbs of weight. Go to REI, tell the salespeople what you need, then load up backpacks with 40+ lbs of sandbags (every store that sells backpacks has them) and walk around, in your hiking boots, for at least 15-20 minutes before you make a decision.

As far as sleeping bags, what's your budget? You specified that you are looking for "lightweight, durable, comfortable", so I'm assuming that affordable is not an issue. If you can afford to spend big cash on a sleeping bag, you can't go wrong with Montbell. Their Down Hugger bags are lightyears ahead of other manufacturers' sleeping bags. I could go on and on about it (I don't even own one, I love my Feathered Friends sleeping bag yet it will never be the same after I spent the night in a Down Hugger, sigh).
posted by halogen at 11:36 PM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tents are rentable, perhaps even sleeping bags, but I'd buy a pack. Like boots, for something you wear for 8 hours a day, top priority is that it fit you and be comfortable, and allow you to move without feeling like its pushing you off balance.

Part of that is how you pack the thing, but the suspension system on the pack makes a big difference. Weight should largely sit on your hip bones, with your shoulders providing balance to keep it upright. It needs to fit your back length and shape properly to avoid strains and muscle soreness at the end of the day. There's no alternative to trying them on with weights in them. Budget at least a half hour on a slow night at your favourite outdoor store. Bringing your boots is great advice.

Another consideration for a pack is how you want to do water management. Some come with built in spots for bladders and bite valves. I'm older-school, I just want a place for a 1L bottle.

I'd also consider a waterproof stuff sack essential for food storage (I've had sea to summit bags for decades), and to give you a bag for food (and toiletry) isolation at the end of the day. It's no fun having your pack ripped open by the local wildlife at night. If you're in bear country, you should (and may be required to) carry a bear can. If you need to carry a can, consider that when picking out your pack. They're probably the worst item to have to pack.
posted by bonehead at 6:14 AM on June 26, 2015

Best answer: If you have any sort of used gear shop near you, I would definitely start there, but seconding REI for good basics. They have an excellent house brand and knowledgeable staff (including just the online chat), and if you're buying multiple items, an REI membership will pay for itself and get you deals, especially if you wait for a 20% off member sale. REI also has an "outlet" section of their website and Sierra Trading Post is another great place to find marked-down gear.

Since you've been out of the loop for a while, I do recommend taking a look at the principles of ultralight backpacking, which has been really influential in general over the last 10-20 years, even for mainstream gear. Even if you are a casual hiker, it's very worthwhile to take a hard look at where you can cut weight. One very basic rule is that a bag marketed as "overnight" or "weekend" at a place like REI is typically all anyone really needs for a trip of any size.

In particular, I'd see how light of a bag you can afford (even the 800 fill down bags have dropped in price quite a bit in recent years). You'll also find that options for pads have exploded. The air-filled thermarest type are plentiful and cheap these days (and many swear by them for comfort), and some are even lighter than foam pads -- though personally I prefer a basic Ridgerest, which provides more insulation in cold weather. You also definitely want a headlamp, and you may want a camelbak/water bladder, which allows you to drink water hands-free while on the move.

Note that true ultralight gear (for example, a tent that is staked with hiking poles) tends to be made by specialty companies, and will generally be less rugged than regular gear while being at least the same price, so it is a tradeoff.
posted by veery at 6:38 AM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You don't mention where you're going but a few thoughts. I'm a big fan of both Marmot and Sierra Designs for tents - we have several and they have held up well. Marmot in particular has really impressed me with their aftermarket service - re-shock-cording a tent at no charge, giving me wholesale pricing on a replacement (20 year old!) sleeping bag when a dryer ate it. My current Marmot tent held up while being blown essentially inside out in a huge storm.

As others have said - go to REI and try stuff out. I recommend setting up and taking down a tent in the store - and lying in it to see how it works for you -unless you opt to rent. Renting isn't a bad option if you don't expect to use it much. Backpacks have changed a lot and for the better over the years. I'm very happy with my Osprey but you need to get fitted and find a pack that works well for your body.

Depending on where you are hiking you might need a bear can as mentioned above. Another option in the animal proof food storage is a rat sack if you're hiking somewhere where rodents and other smaller than bear animals are the problem. Some parks will require either a bear canister or a rat sack depending so do your homework. You can often rent those at the park hq if they are required.

Strongly recommend a therm-a-rest . They come in lots of different sizes and weights but make a huge difference in how well you'll sleep. That's one place where my experience has been that the REI house brand doesn't hold up as well but it's been a few years so that may have changed.
posted by leslies at 6:56 AM on June 26, 2015

I'm very happy with my gear.

REI Quarter Dome Tent
REI Radiant Sleeping bag (Pro tip: if you're a man under 5'11" or so, women's bags are better-insulated than men's so long as the manufacturer sticks to the eurpoean temperature rating system, and REI does).
There are lots of good sleeping pads. I have an exped down mat -- it's a little warmer than other pads, but it might be overkill for you. I'd definitely recommend a mat with parallel chambers (looks like a pool floaty toy) rather than just a flat mat.

Alternatively, bigger people tend to like Big Agnes bags. Most (all?) of their bags are uninsulated in part of the back, and they're setup so that their sleeping pads slide into a sleeve in the bag. It keeps your back warm while preventing you from rolling off your pad. I haven't used the system, but I know a lot of people who like it.

Finally, what do you mean by "other stuff?"
posted by craven_morhead at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "other stuff" = sleeping pad, simple cooking gear or lightweight prepared-food , water purifier. I guess that's about it. Shoes, hiking clothes and outerwear I already know...I do a lot of day hikes. Our hike/camp will be in central or north Georgia early Oct in some well-marked to-be-determined low mountainous area.
Thanks for the great answers so far. I'm reviewing carefully and will be checking out all the above links.
posted by mono blanco at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2015

Are you flying at all? If so, know that stoves and fuel canisters can't go on planes. In theory they might take a new, never used stove, but every airline I've known has refused to carry them on a passenger plane.
posted by bonehead at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2015

Best answer: For a short duration hike, for a stove, I'd go with a couple butane canisters and one of the cheap and cheerful stoves which all seem to be about equivalent. Here's a few examples [1] [2] [3]. You could spend a bunch more on a MSR or a JetBoil, but these should all do just fine. For shorter trips, liquid fuels just aren't worth the hassle any more. A wind shield is nice if you are exposed, but in woods isn't a huge concern.

If it's just you and someone else, you probably don't need more than a single 1.5L/qt pot, maybe a frypan and a couple of bowls with sporks. You can get by with just that, but you'll probably also want cups and a cooking scoupula. Personally, I'd (rather) die without morning coffee, so a driperlator or French press or filter is essential. Coffee at camp is a deep rabbit hole. Deep.

A folding sink is super handy. These can really class up the experience, but packing the necessary liquids can be heavy.

Food is super personal. For up to three, four days, I don't worry about saving weight too much, and I don't really care for much of the dehydrated commercial stuff. It's expensive and very bland, ime.
posted by bonehead at 9:39 AM on June 26, 2015

(sorry for all the MEC links, I just know their stuff a whole lot better than REI's equivalents. They will ship to the US though)
posted by bonehead at 9:43 AM on June 26, 2015

Best answer: Simple cooking gear: If you're only doing short hikes in the US and want something pretty idiot proof, get a Jetboil. Probably with a pan adapter if you want to do some real cooking with it. If you might be doing international backpacking trips, consider a whisperlite international. A little fussier than the Jetboil when it comes to setup, but it'll go forever and you can cook with any liquid you can match-lite. It's also easier to carry fuel for longer trips than the jetboil, since you can store extra (liquid) fuel in spare 20 oz water bottles etc. If you get the whisperlite, get the smallest fuel bottle MSR makes, since you can always carry extras.

A cookset like this would work well. I have a set from MSR that includes two pots and a pan, and I hardly ever use the second pot. Lots of similar sets around; I like the oragami bowls that fold flat, since they're easy to carry and double as cutting boards. Not finding them on REI right now though. And get a set of these cheap sporks.

I also like to get a lot of little containers for things like olive oil, salt, pepper, chili spice, etc. You can get camp kitchen sets but they're usually a lot more expensive than the individual bottles. Makes me a camp cook hero. They also have super cheap plastic flasks that are amazing.

I like the Starbucks via packets for coffee because they allow me to avoid all of the fussiness involved with real coffee, but that makes me a heretic to some.

As for water purification, I carried a filter for a long time, but after traveling internationally for a while I really like my SteriPen, which uses UV light to purify water. Either is fine for the backcountry in the US, but if you're drinking from polluted municipal water supplies, you're worried about viruses as much as you are bacteria, and hardly any filters are fine enough to handle viruses. And it's faster and easier to deal with than a filter.

As for prepared food, the dehydrated food you'll see at any camping store is fine, and it's certainly light, but it's expensive and I hardly ever use it. Cast around for camping recipes, but basically everything that you can cook with water alone works well; ramen, instant mashed potatoes, etc. are good bases. Pasta is generally a good option. Soups too. Foil pouches of tuna or chicken are also handy; you can put together the works for good backpacking meals in your local supermarket without too much work once you think about what you need for a few minutes. My standards are dressed up ramen, pasta, and instant potatoes and sausages. Lunches are bagels, trail mix, dried fruit. Breakfast is oatmeal if I'm going light, or a small waterbottle filled with pre-scrambled eggs and maybe some bacon if I'm not. Generally, if you're using "backpacking" gear (i.e. not some giant heavy tent and sleeping back setup) then you don't have to go ultra light when it comes to food. But don't pack whole fruits/veg unless you really need 'em. (Pro tip: they make dried hashbrowns now and they are good).

As for a pack, as others said above, it's a personal thing that is dictated by your body type. Go get fitted for a pack at a good retailer like REI. And don't scrimp; a good pack can last you decades, and a bad pack is torture after a few hours.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:31 AM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Very helpful. I particularly like the info available at Jacklyn's Outdoor Gear Lab link, veery's ultralight backpacking link, Leslie's therm-a-rest recommendation, and bonehead's cooking/eating ideas including even stackable wine goblets elegant enough for a Game of Thrones orgy. Clearly a man who knows how to camp. And I'm astounded by craven-morhead's SteriPen. Can something so little really emit such awesome beams of death? As for tent, bag, backpack it's clear REI is one definite go-to place, so I will hie hence and will also ponder the reviews at Outdoor Gear Lab.
I've marked some best answers but if you've got further ideas keep 'em coming. I hope to do more camping in the future and want to outfit myself with quality gear that will last.
posted by mono blanco at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh! One other thing that you absolutely, positively need, whether you pack heavy or light. A good headlamp. Buy this one.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty passionate about headlamps. The Black Diamond Spot is good, but for $10 more you can get the Storm, which has all of the features of the Spot but it's waterproof and a little brighter. I'm not going to swim with a headlamp, but the extra brightness is worth the $10 to me. Luurrrve my headlamp.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:18 AM on June 29, 2015

> Strongly recommend a therm-a-rest . They come in lots of different sizes and weights but make a huge difference in how well you'll sleep. That's one place where my experience has been that the REI house brand doesn't hold up as well but it's been a few years so that may have changed

Seconding that. I just had to return two REI sleeping pads because they started leaking after only a few years. I was eyeing ThermaRest, and the REI salesguy nudged me toward them as more durable than the REI equivalent. (Plus they're made in Seattle.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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