Best Gear Fallacy

Which gear is the best? A common question asked on many online forums, websites and during Q&A for a presentation is “What Whatchamahoosey is the best?”  The true answer: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE BEST GEAR ! 🙂


Every year, usually in the winter, an eager backpacker asks “I plan on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. In your opinion, which rain gear is the best?”

Invariably, people respond.  Some champion inexpensive DriDucks. Others suggest a high-end shell.  Some are somewhere in the middle in terms of what is “the best”.

Among all these suggestions, something stands out.

No one knows what is best for the person posing the question.

What is “the best” for one person may not be best for another person.

Without knowing what this person intends for their hike to be like, there is no way to truly express what is the “best” gear.

Here are just a few variables that may help a person find the best gear for them:

  • Is this person tough on gear or do they treat it gently?
  • Tend to hike cool or sweat a lot?
  • Like ponchos?
  • Want more breathability or more waterproofness?
  • What time of the year is the person hiking the AT?
  • Prefer simplicity and lightweight or want extras like pit zips that add weight but perhaps more functionality?
  • Tend to hike more or spend more time in camp?
  • What is the budget?
  • Want one jacket for multiple environments or something more suited for the well marked , defined and maintained Appalachian Trail?

For my own hiking, I tend to use a GoLite Tumalo for an all-around shell for its price, versatility, decent breathability to waterproofness ratio, and durability for off-trail and or non-hiking activities such as climbing.   For on-trail hiking in summer and early fall, the DriDucks wins out.

But that’s just me.   Our theoretical AT backpacker above may have a different set of criteria than I do.

I tend to think of gear as part of a toolkit. Take the right tool for the right job.

Some would argue that “the tool must work for all possible jobs, it’s not one tool for a job.“…  To me, that sounds like someone who never had to work on a project that required a different tool set! 🙂

Apparently, I only need one of these tools for repairs and building things around the house….. from eBay

The best gear fallacy means a person only knows how to use one color in a palette.  

The cold and wet southeast Appalachians uses different gear than the hot and dry desert southwest.  If a person can’t see why different gear may be brought for the desert, alpine, backcountry ski trips, climbing trips and so on then it doesn’t look like “the tool must work for all possible jobs, it’s not one tool for a job“…sounds like the person has a narrow outdoor background.

Different jobs do require different tools.

A trip with a snow cave requires different gear than walking through the Great Divide Basin In August.



There is no best gear.

Solo? My gear list is pretty minimal

Doing a quick overnight alpine climb, guiding, a hut trip with too much food, or schlepping things for someone?  I’ll take a bigger and more durable pack.

Want a real tent for a trip since we are spending more time in camp? I’ll take the Lunar Duo

There is no best gear.

Be it stoves. Or sleeping pads. And so on.

Take the type of gear that works for YOUR style and chosen activity, safety and comfort levels.

Most all? Have fun!

That’s what it’s all about in the end.

To paraphrase something I wrote earlier: “Gear is the least important part of backpacking. No matter which whatchamahoosey you use, the mountain ranges are awesome, the sunsets are grand and those wildflower blooms will be gorgeous. Take what works and enjoy!

We use gear to enjoy the outdoors. Hopefully, we don’t go outdoors to enjoy gear. :)”

Does anyone really care what stove was used here? 🙂

Best gear? There is none.

Only what is best for you.

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Uncle Tom
11 years ago

Well put. I tell people the same thing- Not to obsess about having the exact right thing. Just start with something, and enjoy the walk, however long it lasts for you. If you don’t like what you have, you will encounter opportunities that will come up where you will be able to to see alternatives and to switch out, if it comes to that.

Darren "Bigfoot" Pugh
Darren "Bigfoot" Pugh
9 years ago

Excellent write up Paul. And on all the different trips ive been on i cant remember which stove or tent ive used.

"Messy Butt"
"Messy Butt"
8 years ago

Paul, thank you for all your splendid offerings to the backpacking community – I really appreciate your perspective and experience. I come from more canoe camping background from Northern Ontario, but over the course of this winter I’ve been discovering the world of backpacking, and I’m really itching for the spring melt to get out on some shakedown type jaunts. I currently live in Montreal and am just waking up to the fact that I’m 3 hrs to the Whites in NH, the Greens in VT, and the Adirondacks in NY. (Any recommended multi-day hikes or favourite sports in the area… Read more »