Camping is a fairly new endeavor for me since moving here in November of 2016, although Micheal has been doing it casually for quite a few years. Initially, I relied solely on him for all things camping, until one day we met a man by the name of Michael Waterford at Next Adventure, a local outfitter here in Portland, Oregon (Click here to listen to our podcast with Micheal Waterford where he talks about his up-coming expedition to attempt a world-record breaking attempt at source-to-sea kayaking of the Mississippi river).
Having Micheal W help us at the shop opened me up to a whole new world of camping paraphernalia, further fueling my new obsession for all things outdoorsy. Everything excited me – from “ultralight” cookware to the amazing breakthroughs the sleeping bag industry has made since the time of my 10lb Disney themed bag that I used for sleepovers as a kid. But of all the new and exciting things, the one that I enjoyed shopping for the most was our new tent. I hadn’t realized how much I had suppressed the love of those childhood couch pillow forts until they helped us setup our new 3-person Big Agnes Seedhouse 3 tent right there in the store. There’s just something about being contained in a cozy little structure that makes me feel all warm inside.
The new gear definitely came with some sticker shock though. I have never actually done a backpacking and overnight camping trip, so I didn’t fully grasp why you would want to pay an extra $100 for a two or three fewer ounces of stuff until our first backpacking trip. It’s difficult to understand the value of spending that extra money for a little bit less weight until you’ve snowshoed up what seems like a vertical cliff for what seems like an eternity. The main things to consider when gearing up are price, weight, and comfort. Generally speaking (very generally), the price of the gear increases as the weight of the gear decreases. This isn’t a problem if you’re car camping or if you like to be in more established areas where there’s only a short walk from your car to your camp site.
When you’re car camping, comfort and convenience tend to take priority over weight and even quality. Things like thicker, softer sleeping pads and better, fancier camp stoves make sense when you’re car camping. Even cheaper, heavier sleeping bags and roomier tents are easily carried from your car to a nearby spot, but if you try to backpack or hike into sites with a pack full of big, heavy gear, you need to be much more cognizant of weight.
A personal example of this is my sleeping bags (yep, plural). I am a horrible decision maker; I typically agonize for weeks over big purchases, and in the end I choose something that was not even in the initial running, thus ending up with buyer’s remorse. But thankfully, with my sleeping bag purchase, I ended up with some great guidance again from Michael W. I had already spent $60 on a Teton Sports winter bag that I found on Amazon, but which wasn’t warm enough for true winter/snow camping, and I needed a new one. There were two main options I was looking at: the Next Adventure brand and a Mountain Hardware brand. Both were rated for the same sleeping temp with the same R values, but Mountain Hardware was about $200 more expensive than the Next adventure brand. Why? Simply because the quality of Mountain Hardware was tested and tried, a bit more comfortable, and more zippers and secret hidden pockets. Now here is where you need to weigh your priorities. Price? Comfort? More secret hidden pockets? I ended up trying out the Next Adventure brand telling myself that if it worked well, then I wouldn’t actually have buyers remorse, and in the end it could always be returned in exchange for the Mountain Hardware brand if I hated it. Et Voila! The Next Adventure brand has served me quite faithfully through 3 snow camping adventures thus far and a few springtime adventures, too! All without frozen tootsies.
Moral of the story: Have fun gearing up! Listen to our podcast episode with Andrew Sullivan, who talks about the right questions to ask when you’re shopping for new gear. If possible, get to an outdoors retailer; in my experience, their employees are typically a great resource, most places have pretty good return/exchange programs (less of a risk of hating a $500 purchase), and you are able to get your hands on your equipment to touch and feel and try out before you purchase.
Have an idea of what kind of adventures you are going to be going on, set a budget! Amazon reviews are certainly helpful, but nothing beats the real-life experience of a professional outfitter. On Amazon, there are so many different people with so many different goals that it can render reviews useless. The perfect camp stove for your car camping may be the same camp stove that the guy on Amazon rated 1 star because it was too heavy for backpacking. Again, get into a store, get your hands on the product, and speak with someone who actually gets out there and uses it and can help guide you.