No, I Can’t Tell You What Sleeping Bag You Need
Recently, Allison Nadler over at Trail to Summit published an excellent article with 10 tips for anyone taking part in an online hiking community. For the most part, I agree with almost every point she makes, and as someone who regularly visits these communities, it was nice to see someone voice some of the thoughts that I’ve also had.
While I love the internet (hence that I can write things on here and you can read it from anywhere, how neat is that), I absolutely have a love/hate relationship with the various online hiking communities that I take part in. As a pretty experienced outdoors-woman, I still find that I’m constantly learning new things from the internet forums, groups, and boards I skim on a daily basis. A little rusty on lightening safety? Someone is likely to share an interesting article at some point on this very topic. Didn’t know there was a fire closure on a popular trail? Well, now you do. However, it’s hard to miss that these groups are often full of repetition, especially as related to gear and logistics. In one group, it’s not uncommon for individuals to ask the same question multiple times a day (i.e “what sleeping bag should I get”, “where do I get permits”). Inevitably, there are an overwhelming number of answers, some of which may or may not be helpful for that specific person in his or her situation (after all, can I reasonably tell a 6’5″ man who sleeps warm what he needs without knowing more information?).
Of particular interest is tip #7, Avoid Asking for Gear Advice. Allison says:
“Keep your sanity and ask a trusted friend, mentor, your aunt that doesn’t hike- really anyone- for gear advice. It may go over better than asking a group of 4,000 individuals which filter/tent/snowshoes you should buy. The reason? Often there isn’t enough context (i.e. your experience, budget, frequency of planned use) for people to really give you good advice. If you do include that information, most will ignore it and tell you to buy the one item that worked for them no matter if you are a brand new hiker or an elite super ultralight robot who sleeps standing up. You will also receive dozen of responses with little to no explanation as to why and folks even start to argue with each other online. The thread will also never end. Ever. Good luck with that, you brave soul. Asking a reliable person who is experienced will prove more useful as they will likely take into account your needs and can explain what they’ve used and why they liked/didn’t like certain products to help you make your decision.”
She included this excellent example:
I get it, when you’re new to something as big and exciting as hiking and backpacking, there’s a lot to learn. Added to this is the fact that living in the age of google and the internet means we have access to a staggering amount of information at all times. That being said, a determined person in search of the perfect water filter or the application for a trailhead permit, with the power of google, can certainly start with a basic search. Not only do you get to avoid the mass confusion of having 60 people tell you what they like (which trust me, isn’t always helpful), but you’re likely to find the answers you may be looking for, leaving the community airwaves open for questions that might be a bit more tricky and REALLY benefit from the crowdsourcing of knowledge. Still can’t find that answer, ask away! There’s also numerous beginner guides a click away, such as this one from REI.
Here’s another way to think about it: Open Facebook (or Twitter, or Yahoo groups, New York Times, anything), spend a few minutes reading through the page. Think about all the information your brain was just bombarded with. There’s only so much time we can spend and brain power we can devote to reading, absorbing, and answering questions related to the outdoors on a daily basis, so why not make the most of that time? When faced with these questions enough in the groups I frequent, I eventually begin to ignore them altogether, and eventually I’ll have to take a break from to keep my sanity.
Finally, to the point I’ve been leading up to: GEAR and how to figure out what’s right for you. It’s fun to look at, talk about, and test. One mistake I continually made for an unfathomable number of years was to assume that gear is gear, and that once you bought a sleeping pad, that was just the thing you used (even if it was horribly uncomfortable and made your arm go numb). Luckily though, this is 2015, when we have options, so many options, for finding the right sleeping pad for our specific needs (for example). On the other end of that spectrum is what I regularly encounter in the online world, the new backpacker who, totally overwhelmed by the choices, asks a group of 5,000 people what sleeping pad they need. If there’s ONE thing I’ve learned about gear over the years it’s this: What works for one person might be totally wrong for the next. Almost everything I know about backpacking and wilderness travel is from experience (and alot of mistakes). I think perhaps some of the best advice we can give others, even in the online world, is the acknowledgment that it’s OKAY to get out there, make a few mistakes, and learn that you do in fact need a thicker sleeping pad.
So climb a mountain, get a horrible blister, and eventually you’ll find that perfect setup for YOU (and hopefully the right shoes too).