“Which tent and sleeping bag should I get?”
This is probably the most asked question I receive when talking about gear. I chalk that up to the overwhelming variety of sleep systems on the market, and the fear that your choice on the matter will define you for the rest of your camping days.
This column isn’t designed to tell you exactly what you should get — years in retail tell me that’s your decision ultimately. This column is designed to mitigate stress, point you in the right direction, and make you start asking yourself the right questions so you can make a decision yourself.
I will be throwing out some broad, intentionally satirical generalizations; it’s important to recognize that there are many types of outdoor recreationists, all with varying levels of enthusiasm and drive. Next, it’s important to understand that you:
- Don’t have to be all of them.
- Aren’t confined to only one.
- Will have a lot easier time determining your needs if first you identify your goals.
Essentially, don’t lock yourself into any one of these categories.
However, you may find these humorous guidelines useful in figuring out what kind of recreationist you are. It’s very likely you know some of these people; in fact, you probably know all of them and it’s very likely you are one yourself.
Perhaps you’re obsessed with gear: Everything is a necessity.
You can’t walk into an REI without coming out with four carabiners, two freeze dried meals, another set of offset nuts (sure they’re hard to find, but you have a double rack already) and a half dozen trinkets that will all become your next “new favorite piece of gear.”
Need a backcountry whisk and spatula? There’s a multi-tool for that. How about a trowel? You’ve got aluminum and titanium. You’ve got big stakes, small stakes, plastic stakes, steel stakes — you even have specialty backcountry seasoning for your 100-percent grass-fed beef steaks.
What you don’t have (typically) is room for all of this. But you tell your roommate not to worry about the avalanche of gear tumbling out of the closet because you’ve got a beacon, shovel and probe to dig him out.
Or it’s possible you’re a dedicated alpinist: The mountains are calling and you must go!
Well up and at ‘em tiger, you know the drill — always be prepared for the worst weather in the high country; you may hunker down a few days waiting out the storm. Your gear is bombproof; if a hurricane sweeps through your city, they can find you waiting it out in your tent, dry as can be.
If you’re an alpinist, weight is crucial, but so is security.
Three-seasons don’t make a whole on the mountain; you’ll want to check all the boxes with a four-season fortress for when the weather turns. Know the difference between your single-walled expedition tent that fits two like Tenshi™ and your roomier basecamp beast you’ll return to after the summit, like NEMO’s Chogori™.
If you’re seeking winter and high-altitude summits, you might need to drop in on a serious winter bag like Canon™; if summer summits in the Sierras are your end goal, Sonic™ will save you the weight and do just fine.
3. Minimalists and Ultralights
Or maybe you’re a minimalist, of which there are two kinds: the dirtbag and the ultralight backpacker.
Both believe less is more; gear should have multiple functionalities. However, while the dirtbagging minimalist has been using an old tarp instead of a sub-two pound tent and claims that his fleece from the early 90s is the only insulation he ever needs, the ultralight backpacker has discovered the benefits of breathable Gore-Tex and hits the trails with a shell and 850 FP down puffy that together pack down to the size of a grapefruit; nothing but the best, but nothing more.
Or, as is more common, maybe you’re somewhere in-between.
You’ve got your mid-range three-season tent you bought on sale. You understand layering, but also don’t think spending $800 on a new shell is more valuable than paying your rent.
You’re a weekend warrior; you love the outdoors but not in the way that you want to spend three weeks in a shiver bivvy on the side of an 8000-meter peak. Car camping is cool. So is backpacking, even if you’ll never take five months off to complete the PCT. Even camping in your backyard is cool because, you know, sometimes you just need a little more space to breathe.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are (unless you’re that roommate buried beneath a pile of gear, then you might want to call for help). We all have varying interests in the outdoors and varying degrees of reliance on gear. What’s important is recognizing how these factors affect the way you curate your kit.
If you’re truly ultralight, wear that badge with honor: you know your base weight down to the gram.
You probably pre-measured your oatmeal rations at the last resupply. If that’s your goal, you need nothing but the finest equipment in its weight class. Ideally, you’re crushing 30 milers with a Hornet™ Elite Ultralight and a Siren™ quilt because ounces are your most valued currency.
If big walls and thru-hiking aren’t your jam, don’t sweat it. You’re with the vast majority of outdoor enthusiasts in the world. And lucky for you, it also means you have the most options!
Don’t cram yourself into the smallest, lightest tent or shell out next month’s rent on a four-season alpine bivvy. It’s not practical, and it won’t serve you as well in your adventures. If hiking a few miles into the backcountry to find a secluded camp spot by the lake sounds idyllic, maybe Galaxi™ is the tent for you — lightweight, breathes well, practical and well-priced.
If you’re taking the whole family out to your local state park to do some car camping, get your “glamp” on with the Wagontop™ tent and Nomad™ pad because luxury and camping don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
But lastly, if you just love gear for the sake of gear, own it!
That’s way better than owning too many cats or collecting “things” with no practical usage… You clearly recognize that every situation deserves a unique approach, so your kits should be separated and dialed for each situation.
Maybe you have ALL the systems above, each nestled in their own specially labeled bin, ready for whatever the next adventure may be… No? It’s all just crammed in the closet? Well, as long as you tell your roommate, that’s fine too. Speaking of which, has anyone seen him lately? Hmm…
Matt Tufts is a Vermonter exploring the West from his truck with a true passion for being outdoors, living simply, and sharing good stories.