It doesn’t take long to accumulate enough gear to overflow a closet (or garage), but figuring out where to begin can be intimidating—and expensive. John Weir, the floor manager at Golden’s Bentgate Mountaineering, says beginners should think about building their collections in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Start with things that keep you stable and secure, and then work up to more indulgent wants.

Even if you’re only embarking on a two-mile loop, you’ll want water—preferably in a sturdy bottle like one of Boulder-based EcoVessel’s insulated steel canteens—and edible provisions (try energy chews from Boulder’s Skratch Labs and Fourpoints’ Denver-made, plant-based bars).

Having protection from the elements (a tent and sleeping bag and pad) and animals­ (bear spray) is important, but Weir says it’s also critical to be able to move quickly and comfortably if you need to. Hardy, lightweight footwear such as TX Guide approach shoes from La Sportiva (with U.S. headquarters in Boulder) are great for hiking, climbing approaches, or hoofing it back to your car.

Instant Coffee
Instant joe. Photo courtesy of First Ascent Coffee Roasters

For dayhikes, any old backpack will do, Weir says. When you’re ready to spring for something specialized, though, Cortez’s Osprey packs are favorites (i.e., you’ll fit right in on the Colorado Trail). Fancy dishware is also not necessary. Instead, invest in an all-in-one stove, since even in the wilderness, hot fare—add boiling water to Boulder’s Backpacker’s Pantry’s freeze-dried meals or First Ascent Coffee Roasters’ instant joe made in Crested Butte—brings people together.

Once you’ve satiated your more pressing needs, splurge on items that just make you feel cool, like a coveted Micro Grid hoodie (known by cult followers as a “Melly”) from Leadville’s Melanzana.

No amount of money (or gear) can equal the satisfaction of bagging a fourteener or sending your first 5.9 climbing route.

3 Local Outfitters to Buy Gear

For one-stop shoppers: Yes, we know you know aboutREI. But we’d be remiss not to mention its showpiece, flagship Denver location—and its thousands of products, from tent stakes to snow pants to kayaks. Pro tip: Become a lifetime member of the Seattle-born co-op for just $20 and receive 10 percent of your purchases back each year (in the form of REI credit or cash) plus an invite to the annual garage sale.

For penny pinchers: Since 2000, LoHi’s Wilderness Exchange has prevented explorers on a budget from going broke. Whether they’re after biking accessories or skis, shoppers will often get 50 percent or more off used and new products’ original prices, thanks to the staff’s ability to buy close-out items and factory seconds. When you’re done with your gear, sell it back to Wilderness’ consignment program and get credit toward future purchases.

For locavores: Locally owned FERAL in Berkeley not only has a huge selection of new apparel, accessories, and camping and climbing gear (from top brands such as Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond, and NEMO), but it also sells a vast array of used items like tents, sleeping bags, and hiking boots.