Backpackers without extensive experience on long trails, which may take weeks to navigate, tend to also lack an extensive stockpile of gear. As they develop their packing list, it quickly becomes clear that they are going to need to supplement their current inventory, and perhaps even replace an item or two that may work great for a three-day trip, but not so well for a three-week one.
I have tons of suggestions regarding what works and what doesn’t on this blog, but before you start narrowing in on a particular sleeping bag or tent, I think it would be useful to familiarize yourself with what I call the gear triangle.
As you can see, the three sides of this triangle are: low-weight, high-comfort, and low-price. Here is what you need to remember: you can pick any two sides you’d like, but you’ll suffer from the penalty described in the corner where they meet (although there are a few exceptions).
If you want gear that is light and inexpensive, count on some uncomfortable nights and some unpalatable meals. If you want gear comfortable and inexpensive, count on a heavy packweight. (This can quickly get out of hand; if you want a lot of comfort and you’re only willing to buy your gear at a big-box, discount store, you could very quickly end up with a pack weight so heavy that it will sabotage your hike from the beginning.)
True joy is found on the third corner of the triangle: gear that is light and comfortable! The only thing it takes to achieve that is money.
Note also that there is a green, amber and a red zone within the triangle. Try your best to stay out of the red zone. A light pack full of light gear and a reasonable amount of comfort will greatly improve your chances of success. A too heavy pack will lead to foot or joint problems, and nothing will end a hike quicker.
Not every item needs to be the lightest and best available. My plastic spork is probably twice the weight of a titanium one, and there are certainly cheaper and lighter alternatives to my dehydrated meals if you want to cook on the trail. The cost/benefit analysis for each item is calculated differently by each hiker. One guideline: try to make sure your tent, sleeping system, and backpack are well into the green part of the triangle, and you will be a long way towards success.
One last note: if you are a MacGyver-type you can make your own gear. There is lots of great info on the internet to get you started.
Good hiking, Ray