Choosing Equipment for the Outdoors

This article was originally on the Emmie Oddie website

Updated in June 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists


Hiking or Walking Boots

Good footwear is a must in the outdoors to keep your feet warm and dry and for protection from stumps, rocks and other projecting objects. Running shoes or walking shoes with good support are appropriate for walks on well-marked paths and level ground in relatively good weather. Work boots, hiking boots or walking boots are better for rough terrain, more inclines and slippery slopes.

Considerations in selecting hiking or walking boots include:

  • Fit – allow for enough room for two pairs of socks (one light pair and one heavier pair to absorb perspiration and prevent blisters). Length, width, height, boot shape and arch will all be important in the fit and comfort of your hiking boot.
  • Height of the boot (above or below the ankle)
  • Materials from which the boots are made (leather will require different care than canvas, nylon or Cordura) and how well the materials breathes for comfort purposes. Boot linings made from GORE-TEX will help make boots waterproof.
  • Traction or grip on the sole (good traction is particularly important for steep inclines and slippery surfaces) and the thickness of the sole (for shock absorption)
  • Weight of the boot (heavier boots, will, of course, require more effort to lift than lighter ones) and the flexibility of the boot (less flexible boots may result in blisters).
  • Quality of construction – a minimum of seams, even, strong stitching and an overlapping closure. Make sure you try on several different types with fairly heavy socks.

It’s always best to shop for footwear at the end of the day when your feet are generally most swollen. Also, don’t expect your boots to be extremely comfortable right away – they may take a bit of time to be broken in. Wear them for shorter walks until they begin to feel more comfortable.

Outdoor Clothing

Generally, in cooler weather, three layers of clothing are recommended:

  • an inner layer of absorbent cotton clothing worn next to the skin (comfort is important),
  • an insulating layer – should be warm; materials such as wool, down, Quallofil orThinsulate are excellent insulators
  • a protective outer layer which protects the insulating layer from the wind, rain or snow. Wind-proof and waterproof/water resistant materials, such as nylon orGORE-TEX, are recommended for your outer layer.

In terms of colours, think light – moquitoes and black flies are less attracted to lighter colours than they are to dark ones. And remember – dress for comfort! Opt for loose, comfortable clothing and forget fashions that cling and bind.


There are various types, sizes and styles of backpacks.

A simple frameless daypack will be adequate for a day hike whereas you will require something larger and more substantial for a three-day trek. Larger backpacks, meant for longer hikes and carrying more gear, can have an outer frame or an inner frame. The frame is generally made from lightweight aluminum and is strong and rigid.

When buying a backpack, comfort and fit are extremely important. The pack should be adjustable to fit your back length and should sit squarely on the hips. All backpacks should have a support strap that fits snugly on the waist or hips to take the weight off your shoulders and back. A padded hip belt is important for carrying heavy loads.

Look for materials that are strong and durable; packs often come with a bottom that is reinforced with leather, or reinforced nylon for durability. Check to make sure that seams are securely sewn and won’t fray. Nylon and Cordura are strong and popular backpack materials. Options on backpacks include additional pockets and compartments which can come in handy.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags come in a variety of lengths and sizes, from mummy bags to double-size and may be insulated with a varying amount of material, generally either synthetic filling (such as PolarguardThinsulateHollofil or Quallofil) or down. Bags are often rated for temperature and weight. Some sleeping bags will be warm enough for 0°C, while others are suitable for -20°C. Some bags are very lightweight and compact (important for hiking); others are bulky and heavier, depending on the materials from which they are constructed.

Bags can be made entirely of nylon, lined with cotton, or have a cotton or Gore-Tex shell. A nylon sleeping bag will help resist water absorption in wet conditions (as will a bag with a GORE-TEX shell) and dries quickly, though nylon next to the skin is not as comfortable in warm, humid weather. Both synthetic fill and down are good insulators; Thinsulate is particularly warm, yet lightweight. Down tends to compact and lose its insulating abilities as it ages. It can also be difficult to dry in wet weather. Options on sleeping bags include mosquito nets and hoods for cooler weather camping.

When buying a sleeping bag, make sure that you select one that is long enough for you. How fitted you want your bag will often be a matter of personal preference (mummy bags, for instance, are cut quite close-fitting). Consider the time of year you’ll be using your bag (just in summer or in cooler seasons as well?). Look for even, small stitches and strong, but lightweight zippers (metal zippers are bulkier and heavier than synthetic).

Along with your sleeping bag, an insulation mat of some sort may be a consideration, for comfort reasons (sleeping directly on the ground can be uncomfortable) and as a barrier between you and the cold ground. Mattresses, air beds and sleeping pads are all options. If you’re concerned about carrying extra bulk and weight; however, a lightweight sleeping pad that can be rolled up tightly is best.


Recently, tents have become increasingly lightweight and portable, with fewer and lighter weight poles, simpler construction and lightweight and waterproof or water-resistant materials. Tents which are compact and easily and quickly assembled have become very popular. Gone are the days of heavy canvas, metal support poles, complicated set-up instructions and hours of set-up time!

There are various types of tents available on the market:

  • Dome or Modified Dome – Free-standing and igloo-shaped. Provide lots of living space.
  • Hoop – Also called tunnel tents, these tents get their support from hoops the way covered wagons used to
  • A-frame or Modified A-frame – The familiar A-shaped tent with angled walls. Gives plenty of head space.

Besides tent type and your budget, when choosing a tent consider:

  • Durability (nylon is very durable and is water resistant; look for small, even stitching with no loose ends, lapped seams, reinforcements on stress points and strong zippers)
  • Stability (will it stand up to a strong wind?)
  • The tent fly or covering that goes over the tent to keep rain and moisture outside – a fly that covers the entire tent will be best. (Note: the fly should not touch the tent or moisture may pass through.)
  • Meshed windows and vents – Will they allow for good air circulation and is the mesh tight enough to keep out mosquitoes, gnats and flies?
  • Weight (especially important to backpackers).
  • Size – For one person, two or more? Is it important for you to be able to stand up in the tent? When do you plan to do your camping? Only in the summer or in other seasons as well?

Remember . . . a tent is a big investment and should last a long time. Do your homework: shop around and ask other people about tents that they have. It will be worth it!

Axes and Hatchets

A long-handled axe is recommended for the outdoors rather than a hatchet. A hatchet is more likely to cause injury because the head is much closer to you, although it is lighter and more convenient to pack.

When buying an axe, consider the weight of the head. A 1 kg axe with a 70 cm handle is a good camper’s axe. Be sure to keep your axe sharp – a dull blade is apt to glance from a log or bounce from a clock instead of biting into the wood.


Camping or pocket knives range from two-blade models to the multiblade-and-tool Swiss Army knives. A Swiss Army knife will last you for life and, besides the basic blades, come with such options as scissors, a toothpick, can opener, saw, nail file and corkscrew.

There are also knives with blades for special needs: skinning knives with a fat or wide lade, bird knives are short and narrow with a thicker type of blade and filleting knives which are extremely narrow and pointed. If you wish to choose a larger knife, a folding lock knife is safer than the fixed blade type.

Lightweight Stoves

There are four main fuels used in lightweight camp stoves: white gas, kerosene, butane and propane. The most popular is white gas because it is readily available and burns well under most conditions. Kerosene is also readily available, but it is sometimes difficult to ignite in cold weather. Butane and propane are usually sold in disposable cartridges and tend to be more expensive than either white gas or kerosene. Butane is the best fuel for low temperatures. Both white gas and kerosene stoves require priming and in cold weather conditions; priming can become virtually impossible if the stove becomes depressurized. Stoves also vary in terms of size of burner area, size of fuel tank, priming methods, weight, rate of fuel use and performance.

Hand-Held Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

A hand-held GPS unit is an alternative to a compass. A hand-held GPS is a receiver, measuring distances to available satellites, completing the mathematical calculations and displaying the positioning information in latitude and longitude. Because of the number and altitude of the satellites in the system, you can get a GPS reading from virtually anywhere in the world, at any time of day, in any weather. Besides telling you where you are, the GPS unit can tell you where in relation to your position any other chose location is.

There are various brands of hand-held GPS navigational units available with vary in features. Most units offer your position not only in degrees of latitude and longitude, but also in UTM and Military Grid Coordinates, which are most useful when working with detailed topographical maps.

Standard features on most models also include distance to go (in both metric and imperial measurements), speed over ground, time to go (based on your ground speed), your bearing (both magnetic and true) and your cross-track error (how far off a straight line course to your intended target you are). Some even offer a plotter display or map showing where you are along a programmed route. Accuracy will be determined by the quality of model – some are very accurate and others are accurate up to +(-) 100 m.

Most models fit easily into a pocket or daypack, weight only a pound or two, run on AA batteries and will operate continuously for 6-10 hours. Like any new technology, hand-held GPS units are expensive (anywhere from about $600 – $1,200, depending on features). Consider the features you require and look through the various instruction manuals to see how easy the directions are to follow.

Source: Saskatchewan 4-H Council