Before you dig into any specific gear categories, there is some basic information you need to know.
- Know your budget. Avoid impulse buying--it rarely gets you the gear that best suits your needs.That said, don't be miserly. Good gear often costs a chunk of change, but it usually pays you back with years of dependable performance. But make sure you're paying only for the features you need.
- Prioritize. Decide which styles and features mean the most to you. Rank them and use the top three or four features to select products within your price range.
- Visit Backpacker's online GearFinder at www.gearfinder.com. It's the quick and easy way to check out backpacking equipment. Just type in the styles and special features-you're looking for, plus your price range, and GearFinder will flash you the models that meet your criteria.
- Research, research, research. Contact manufacturers for catalogs,information on sizes or specifications, and addresses of nearby dealers. After the catalogs arrive, study them closely, talk to friends and outdoors experts, and watch Backpacker for field-tested evaluations.
- Take a test drive. After narrowing your list to your top picks, visit dealers to inspect the gear. Walk around the store in the boots or stretch out in the tent. Ask questions. If possible, rent the gear or borrow it from a friend.
- Don't be afraid of mail order. If you're keen on a pack but there's no dealer in your area, consider buying directly from the manufacturer. Most will refund your money if a pack or pair of boots doesn't fit.
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