How to Make the Most of Your Backpacking Gear before You Go

Figuring out what to bring on a backpacking trip can be incredibly daunting. There are a huge number of conditions to consider, including climate, trip length, difficulty of excursions and size of your pack.

Here are some important general things to consider when shopping and putting together your gear:

  • Think multi-purpose. Bring things that do more, allowing you to pack less. Your brain and back will thank you.
  • Bring clothing that’s both practical and things you like. Items should be quick-dry, well-fitting, comfortable and easy to clean. Since you’re going to be seen and photographed a zillion times in these pieces, you might as well be wearing things that also make you look and feel good, especially if you aren’t bringing much.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A lot of the gear I wanted or needed for my trip I purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-Op (similar to REI). It was a little more expensive, but their amazing return policy and great service allowed me to figure out what I needed without worrying about being stuck with the wrong stuff.
  • Shop discount. CostcoWinners and TJ Maxx are great places to find stuff like athletic tops and winter base-layers. I also went to seasonal sales at Atmosphere and Patagonia, border-shopped in Buffalo and look at season-appropriate clothing I already had, like base layers for snowboarding.
  • Talk to friends and family. In addition to advice, they can also lend or give you gear, helping you save time and money.
  • Be extra prepared for rain. I started my trip during Peru’s rainy season, so it was extra important I have a waterproof rain-jacket, pack-covers, water-proof stuff sacks, a poncho, Gore-Tex hiking shoes and lots of Ziplock and regular plastic bags. Even in dry season this is all incredibly handy and doesn’t take up a lot of extra room.
  • Photograph all of it. This helps you pack, track items when outsourcing laundry and provides additional information to insurers if anything gets stolen. Send extra copies of the photos to yourself by email, along with scans/copies of all your IDs and passport.
  • Nothing should be too precious. At the end of the day, things will get lost, stolen, robbed, dropped, damaged and suffer other strange accidents. Check with your travel insurance for coverage of big-ticket items like cameras, but be prepared to find things missing at any time. Keep an eye on key items or look out for fun, inexpensive replacements for the stuff you already own.
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