Before getting into this post, I should say something: I know I'm over-thinking this. Luckily, that's kind of part of the fun. I am calling it "Logistical Wankery," after all.
I'm still kinda nervous about the whole prospect of buying equipment. I think the biggest fear is the near-guarantee that problems won't bother showing up until I've hiked 20 miles and tried to make camp in the rain, after which, obviously, I can't really take my stuff back to the store. So what happens if I pay hundreds of dollars for boots or a pack, only to find out far later that they quite literally rub me the wrong way? I guess that's the point of thorough research and getting my stuff early.
I did, thankfully, get some guidance from the General backpacking guides, most reassuringly from Karen Berger's Hiking and Backpacking: A Trailside Series Guide, which is unfortunately out of print (and as far as specific equipment, out of date--every human year is like 7 moisture-wicking-fabric years), but I managed to find a used copy on Amazon. This and Backpacker magazine's Making Camp were both comforting in their insistence that mistakes are universal. I tend to be very competitive and easily embarrassed; I hate feeling like a novice at anything, so permission to make mistakes is welcome.
After switching from the Idiosyncratic Guides and the Gear Guides to these General Guides, another comforting thought became apparent: I'm not doing this trip to prove anything. After reading the Gear Guides, with their emphasis on extreme ruggedness and failure-proof engineering, and the Idiosyncratic Guides, with their arrogance and insistence that they've found the Right Way to do Everything (not to mention the Useless national park guides that offered the other extreme--RV'ing, i.e. "camping in your house), my competitiveness kind of went nuts, and I figured my only strategy was to get the best, most badass, lowest-temperature-rated, highest-end gear that would probably keep an infant safe on Mt. Everest.
But after reading the more casual, introductory guidebooks, it dawned on me that for this trip, camping and backpacking are a means to an end. I want to see spectacular, untouched wilderness. To get there, I'm going to have to hike and carry my shelter with me. But I can't see spectacular wilderness in a blizzard. So if there's a blizzard, I'll probably just get a frikking hotel. I don't need to feel I'm covering a staggering number of miles at a nauseating altitude and at a hellacious pace so I can camp on a 60-degree slope in hurricane-force winds. My emphasis really should be on ease and comfort, keeping in mind that "comfort" also includes "warm and dry."
Unfortunately, this still leaves the original problem of what to get, not knowing how it'll actually perform. Hopefully I can now use the Gear Guides with a more refined eye. (Aside: Product reviews are one of those things I can't imagine living without before the Internet. It's as though you have dozens of friends who've tried out all this stuff and can tell you what they like and don't like about it. Thanks, future!) In that spirit, I've started a new chart to organize my equipment needs. Whee, charts!
I've decided I need to break from obsessing/over-thinking/wankery once in a while, so the guides and blogs are off-limits on weekends, which means I had to rip myself away from the Eastern Mountain Sports storefront, even though they were having a tax-free weekend here in Massachusetts. I still need (and have plenty of!) time before I actually open my wallet and commit myself to some expensive new toy.