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What equipment do I need to start hiking and camping?

October 2023

You have decided to embark on the adventure of multi-day hiking! You are motivated, you have bought a pair of shoes, some clothes, and found a trail that excites you – everything is ready to begin. A crucial question to address early in your planning is: “What gear should I buy first?”. The answer lies in three categories that American hikers refer to as the Big 3: the shelter (tents or hammocks), the backpack, and the sleeping system (mattress + sleeping bag).

Shelter: Tent or Hammock/Tarp Combo for Beginners?

Let's start with the shelter. Its size and bulk will determine the capacity of your backpack. Will you choose the comfort and privacy of a tent or the closeness to nature offered by a tarp and hammock?

If you choose a tent, you will need a model that suits the environment and climate you will encounter. A 4-season tent can withstand elements such as cold, rain, and wind, while a 2-season tent offers a lighter but more fragile solution in case of strong gusts. Do not skimp on the quality of your tent, especially for mountainous areas. It would be unfortunate to have to shorten your adventure or even put yourself in danger because of a poor shelter choice.

There are many types of tents available. They come in all shapes, with different pitching methods and varying interior spaces. Consider your needs: do you want a minimalist shelter that you leave at dawn, or a larger space where you can use your stove (never inside the tent!) and have a vestibule to store your backpack and shoes? Depending on your choices, your budget can range from 300 to 1000 euros.

The second option is to go for a hammock and a tarp, a sort of sheet that you stretch between two trees, just like the hammock. This can be an interesting alternative for bivouacs in forested areas or along hiking trails with trees. This type of shelter requires some knot-tying knowledge but offers a closeness to nature that hikers find appealing. The weight of the various elements remains very reasonable, and there are ultralight versions for the more demanding. Prices range from 35 to 100 euros for a hammock, depending on its weight and options (size, mosquito net, double layer for a mattress, etc.), and from 80 to 500 euros for a tarp.

Our Recommendations:

The Sleeping System: Sleeping Bag and Mattress

Gone are the days of heading out with just a sleeping bag and the promise of sleeping on unwelcoming ground and waking up sore! Sleeping comfortably will allow you to enjoy your hike much more, and especially if you're a beginner, not to be put off by this activity forever. At a minimum, a sleeping system consists of a mattress and a sleeping bag (not necessarily down). You can also add a pillow, though it's not essential, a sleeping bag liner to protect the bag, or even a bivy sack for extreme conditions.

The choice of elements will again depend on the climatic conditions of your hike. If you know you'll be facing cold weather, you'll need an appropriate sleeping bag. Most of the time, you'll see three possible temperature ratings (in degrees): comfort temperature, limit temperature, and extreme temperature. These are just indications that do not necessarily reflect reality in the field, as everyone has different sensitivity to cold.

For mattresses, the insulation classification method is the R-Value, an index ranging from 0.5 to 4.5+. The higher it is, the more insulated you will be from the ground's cold. You should use your sleeping bag's temperature rating and the R-Value wisely: having a -10°C sleeping bag and a mattress with an R-Value of 2 will not protect you optimally from the cold.

I would tend to recommend buying a mattress with an R-Value of 4.5 in any case. The insulating filling of sleeping bags comes in two categories with their advantages and disadvantages, down or feather (lighter and more packable) and synthetic (cheaper and more water-resistant). They come in several shapes: mummy with hood, rectangular, and the quilt, which must be combined with a mattress since the back of the quilt is open to reduce weight. This last option is often chosen by hikers looking to lighten their load.

Mattresses also come in different shapes (mummy, rectangular) with length and width options to fit all body types. If you have the opportunity, try testing different mattresses within your budget. Comfort is subjective, and some can be noisy, especially if you tend to move around at night and have light sleep.

Our Sleeping Bag Recommendations:

Our Sleeping Pad Recommendations:

Choosing the Right Backpack to Start Hiking

This is certainly the most personal choice. Firstly, its capacity will depend on the gear you want to carry and your carrying capacity. We always tend to bring too much gear that ultimately won't be used, thus overestimating the backpack's capacity when purchasing. A common adage in the hiking community is that to lighten your load, don't bring your fears, so no "just in case" gear... It will rarely be necessary to have an 80L backpack unless you're on a mountain expedition.

Everyone will have their preferences for the number of pockets and compartments, access to gear from the top and bottom of the pack, whether or not to have a hydration reservoir compartment, etc. But in the end, the most important criterion for a backpack is carrying comfort, especially if you're heading out on a long-distance hike. Again, if you have the opportunity, borrow a friend's hiking backpack and try walking with it, carrying the gear you have selected. Do a day test and see if it suits you. Don't necessarily worry about the pack's waterproofness and use an internal waterproof bag to protect your water-sensitive items (a garbage bag works well and costs nothing). Nowadays, many manufacturers offer systems that allow for optimal carrying while avoiding full contact between the pack and your back, providing better ventilation and less sweating, adding undeniable comfort for the wearer.

Our Recommendations:

You're now ready to start shopping!

Yves Jean