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The Big Three of Hiking

The Big Three of Hiking

This gear guide covers ‘the big three’ of hiking; shelter, a sleep system and pack. You can find a guide on all the other bits and pieces you need for hiking here. 

When setting up your hiking kit remember that investing in high-quality outdoor equipment ensures a safe, enjoyable experience that's memorable for the right reasons. High-performing, durable, and lightweight gear is also a sustainable and eco-friendly approach, rather than replacing cheap, worn-out items every year.

Unrolling an Exped sleeping mat in to a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2

The big three are important to nail down as they typically contribute the most weight to your pack, and are also the most vital to staying well-rested and comfortable where possible. A poor shelter will leave you exposed to the elements, an unorganised sleeping system will have you tossing and turning or waking through the night. A poor choice of pack will leave you with raw shoulders and potentially back pain which is the last thing you need when hiking all day.

A good rule of thumb when packing the big three is to keep the total weight around 4kg or less. If your pack, shelter and sleep system weighs 5kgs or more, your legs and back may be in for a hard time on the trail. Keep your big three below 4kgs and you’re setting yourself up for success.

Choosing the Right Pack

Finding the right hiking pack can prove to be a daunting task, that is if you don't know what you're looking for. There are so many different kinds, sizes, features, and brands that leave you lost before you've even begun.

When choosing a pack the first thing you'll need to know is what size will suit your needs and cater to the trails that you plan to hike. A good guide is to choose a pack between 15 and 24 Litres for day hiking, and 40L to 75L for multi-day hiking. The right sized pack for a multi-day trip depends on how frequent your resupply points are (if any), how efficiently you can pack, how packable your gear is and personal preference. Multi-day hikers usually opt for a pack in the 50L to 65L range. A pack this size will allow you to find the balance between travelling for days without resupplying and carrying too much. 

Fjallraven Keb 52 Litre Backpack

The most common error first-time hikers make is overpacking, it’s better to stick to the smaller size and keep it simple, your back and legs will thank you for packing light. Alternatively, if you are disciplined, opting for a larger pack will give you the freedom to hike even longer. Shop for trusted, reliable brands such as Osprey, Fjallraven, Lowe Alpine and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. These are popular choices and for good reason. Each brand has different strengths to offer, with their own pros and cons. Ultimately the pack you decide on will be the result of a number of factors such as weight, price, durability and comfort.

Osprey Packs are best-selling worldwide, particularly the Atmos AG 65 which is the preferred option for thru-hikers looking for a great all-round pack that won’t break the bank. These packs boast some of the best back panels and harness systems. For the ultralight hikers, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 3400 Junction and 3400 Southwest packs are some of the lightest and most durable packs on the market.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Junction Pack

Shelter - Tents vs Tarps

A shelter should be the next item on your packing list in preparation for an overnight hike. A shelter is absolutely vital on an overnight trip. It is your safe place, offering protection from wind, rain, snow and sun. It'll keep the creepy crawlies away and provide a cosy, comfortable place to hang the boots up and the end of a long day on the trail.

The shelter you use will come down to personal preference after considering weight, protection and what you're comfortable hiking with.

A good old tent is the most favoured shelter among outdoors men and women. Tent's offer an enclosed space, typically with a floor to keep you off damp or dirty ground, an inner to keep the bugs and snakes out and a fly/outer to keep out the rain. Tents are very reliable and quick to set-up after a few practice runs. The only tradeoff is that they aren't always the lightest shelter.

Mont Moondance 2 Tent - 2 Person 3-season tent

Next in line we've got tarps which have taken off in recent years. Tarps offer a minimalist, lightweight approach, providing basic shelter from the elements. Note that some tarps will require trees to tie off, while others can be erected with trekking poles.

Sleeping Systems

Every good sleep system is made up of three components - a sleeping bag/quilt, mattress/insulation and pillow, each serving their own purpose. A sleeping bag or quilt is vital in keeping you warm at night.

The sleeping bag has been a hiking staple for decades. It consists of down, synthetic, or other insulation in a bag shape that acts as a little cocoon. A sleeping bag will provide the most warmth and protection.

Sea to Summit Sleeping bag and exped sleeping mat

Quilts are loved among ultralight hikers and suit certain sleepers, particularly those who prefer freedom of movement rather than being wrapped up in a bag. As with everything, there are pros and cons with each. Sleeping bags typically weigh more, but you'll be glad you brought one if the weather takes a turn for the worst. Quilts are much simpler, offering warmth but leaving you free to have half the covers off on hot nights, they are more packable as well.

Hammocks are also a great option for hiking in rough, uneven terrain where finding flat ground proves to be a challenge, provided there are trees to hang your hammock from. Some people swear by the hammock as being the most comfortable sleeping system.

Once your warmth is sorted (e.g., sleeping bag), you’ll need an insulated mat. From closed-cell foam mats to ultralight inflatable mats, sleeping mats come in all different shapes and sizes. A quality sleeping mat will keep you comfortable, supported and warm as it prevents heat loss from your back. Your choice of sleeping mat depends on whether you are a side, back or front sleeper and what time of year you hike.

If you have any questions at all, or are not sure what products are best for your  hiking kit please do send us an email through our contact form. We also love a chat, so you are more than welcome to give us a call (during business hours) on (02) 6947 4062.

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