Good gear usually equals good performance: it lets you go farther, faster, with less exertion. It also, often, embodies admirable design. And it’s reliable, which matters always and especially in sports where an equipment failure can mean injury or death.
Gear also gives you something to talk about. You have this kind of liner in your jacket, or that kind of alloy in your carabineer, or this dohicky that works this way. For some people, it’s a way to keep score in sports that don’t have a scoreboard.
Sometimes, some people give the impression that they like the gear more than the activity that is made possible by the gear. And I’m not talking just about you, sailors. Bikers are obsessed about gear and the materials science behind the gear. Ditto skiers. And kayakers.
Campers and hikers are also known for being gear-heads, with the hikers somewhat more obsessed with weight and the campers more about creature comforts. They have their deeply held prejudices, and their inspired hacks, and many of them are internet savvy—all of which has led to a genre of Youtube videos in which a backpacker discusses all the components in his or her (often idiosyncratic) system. Some of them also offer spreadsheets with specifics, which can be very handy if you want to copy (and inevitably tweak) someone else’s system.
For an excellent, all-around introduction to hiking gear, check out Andrew Skurka’s presentation at Google. Skurka is the real deal. He’s hiked coast-to-coast along the northern border; he’s done a monster loop around the western states and another big loop around Alaska. He wrote the National Geographic’s Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide. He is at once very clear about what you need to spend money on (footwear) and where you can cut corners (he makes his cook stove out of a cat food can).
(Factoid: Skurka is a big proponent of lightweight trail running shoes because, he says, studies by the military indicate that one pound on your feet equals six pounds on your back.)
Skurka is a pro and his advice is worth your time. But it can also be entertaining and informative to check out what enthusiastic amateurs and semi-pros have to say. Warning: start down this rabbit hole and you risk hours of staring at backpack contents spread over kitchen tables and coffee tables and more kitchen tables. The quality is uneven. But if you haven’t been camping or hiking for a while, they are a great way to get acclimated to the changes and to find little ways to save a buck.
Image: screen grab from Youtube video, Backpacking System, Extended Stay by Nutnfancy, Part 1