All photos by the author. Not included in the Experience Gear light backpacking kit: crampons; mattress pad in yellow sack and gloves
I am a day hiker. When I backpack, it is not something on which I tend to geek out but rather a means to an end, the most recent end being not having to climb Mt. Whitney in one day. My friends’ invitation to go on their 3-day trip to Whitney coincided with my being contacted by Santa Barbara, CA-based ExperienceGear, a company that rents and delivers outdoor equipment including packages for camping, backpacking and festivals, as well as individual items that can be ordered “a la carte.” I was invited to try their light backpacking kit and write about the process for this site. The current (November 2018) rental charge for the 1-person light backpacking kit is $55 per night. The site claims that the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of all of the items in the package is over $1,000. I did some research and can corroborate that figure (the tent and backpack alone retail for over $200 each; the poles for $80).
As someone who usually prepares poorly for backpacking trips, having the gear selected and delivered was a strong selling point. The package arrived via UPS in a plastic crate, including labels for return shipment. The items included a backpack from Deuter, a sleeping bag, camping pad, a Big Agnes tent, a small isobutane stove, Black Diamond hiking poles, a Sawyer water filter attachable to a 16-ounce bladder, a camp chair, a pillow, a Black Diamond headlamp and a complimentary health/hygiene/safety accessory kit with an emergency whistle, band-aids, a gauze pad, Advil, antibiotic ointment, various sanitary wipes, a few feet of duct tape, tinder, suntan lotion, a multi-toll eating utensil – a “spork” with a serrated edge for cutting, make it more of a “sporkinfe” – and more (my wife, a registered nurse, was impressed by the inclusion of these items and wanted to make sure I commended Experience Gear for including them). As it turned out I didn’t end up using any of the items, other than the sporknife, but it was good to know they were there, adding less than a pound of weight. I also elected not to bring the sleeping pad, using my own ALPS inflatable pad instead and didn’t bring the pillow to save weight, instead stuffing clothes into the pad’s carrying sack.
The gear all worked well – the water filter was the MVP – with one exception: one of the aluminum poles snapped when I came down hard on it after slipping on an icy section of the switchbacks (no injuries fortunately, other than ego). I emailed the company about this. Owner Jamie Nichols said that ExperienceGear tends to experiment with different brands and models and, as this was the second issue reported with Black Diamond trekking poles, the company was likely going to stop including that model in the packages. Jamie generously waived any replacement charges.
Backpacking is a compromise between weight reduction and comfort. I missed my 2-man Camp Valley tent but the Big Agnes, while feeling cramped at times, was lighter and easy to set up. It would have been nice to be able to filter more than 16 ounces of water at a time, but the filter’s minimal weight was an asset. Overall, the items selected for the kit were good choices for a casual backpacker. Experience Gear’s rental model also provides veteran backpackers a chance to “test drive” different gear without a commitment to buying.
Two suggestions that I made were that the company include packages of MREs and other shelf-stable food items to make ExperienceGear a true one-stop shop for campers and backpackers and that they more prominently feature bear canisters on their website – perhaps including them as an add-on option for the kits. When I first checked out the site, I didn’t know that they offered bear canisters and ended up renting one in Lone Pine. Jamie was receptive to these suggestions and said that one of the future goals of the business is to become certified to keep and distribute shelf-stable foods.
I would like to thank ExperienceGear for reaching out to me and providing me with high quality items and good customer service. I am looking forward to seeing them become a strong presence in the outdoor recreational community.
Text and photography copyright 2018 by David Lockeretz.