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In contrast to the early days (1995-2005) of the modern ultralight backpacking movement, today we have access to myriad lightweight gear options. As a result, our closets are stuffed, our pocketbooks are lighter, and our decisions about what new gear to buy (or not) or what gear from our closet we take on a particular trip are more involved.

a tent set up in the middle of a field
Simple living in Montana’s Hyalite Range, ca. 2016.

Reducing the time and energy required to shop for new gear, or choose gear for a trip has become an interesting area of study for me over the past several years. I like to think about these decision-making frameworks philosophically, and then figure out how to put them into practical action. So, in this article, I’ll walk you through the process of how I think about shopping for and choosing gear, and how I use that framework to make decisions about what gear to keep and what gear needs to go.

Product Context

This article is not a gear review, but I discuss the performance attributes of five tarp shelters that I have used extensively over the past few years:

Slingfin NFT
WEIGHT: 12.3 oz (0.35 kg)
See it at Slingfin

This category (floorless tarps and shelters) is used here to illustrate the framework I use to make decisions about what gear to take on a particular trip, which gear to dispose of when my closet gets too full, and to give some insight into how I shop for gear.

The five key attributes of backpacking gear

I’ve discussed several decision-making frameworks for choosing backpacking gear in the past. Most recently, I talked about benefits vs. features vs. design attributes in the context of selecting a shelter. We’ll talk about shelters again in this article, this time focusing on the subcategory of tarp shelters.

In this article, I’ll present options for gear based on five key attributes of backpacking gear:

  1. Weight
  2. Cost
  3. Durability
  4. Versatility
  5. Performance (Comfort)

I’ve chosen these attributes because they are widely applicable to virtually all categories of gear. In addition, I’ve chosen them because I’m always trying to optimize at least one of these attributes for each piece of gear I buy.

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