W00t! I went back to Hilton's Tent City today, and I got myself nearly the total package of major items. I purchased boots, a tent, a sleeping bag, and there's a backpack on order for me (it's a popular model, and they were out of the size frame I needed). I'm confident in my choices, considering all my anxiety before buying. I especially feel good about the boots, which can be a worrisome item given how hard you'll use them and how hellishly they can go wrong. I bought a pair of heavier ones, all leather, made in Italy. These babies are going to last FOREVER. I tried them on as soon as I got there and wore them all around the store while we did tent-, bag-, and backpack testing, and they were amazingly comfortable, considering they're the kind that require major breaking in. No problem spots in the hour plus I was there.
I did get a 2-person tent. It's a very lightweight model, and is even lighter if you leave off the vestibule in favor of a nifty convertible door--which I could probably do, since with just one person, I can stash my gear inside the tent rather than in the vestibule. No doing such a thing with a 1-person tent. Plus I like the color. Derp.
And even better news! I've taken care of most of the major backpacking/camping items for under a grand! This even counts the backpack, which I haven't actually purchased yet. I think this is some very good work considering how crazy one can go with high-tech gear.
The only big thing I have yet to purchase is a sleeping pad. While sleeping pads do provide some insulation, they're really more of a comfort need rather than a safety/survival need. Given that, there is just too wide a range of levels and options to know want I want. For our Island camping trips, most of which lasted a full seven days, I slept on a thin yoga mat. It wasn't the softest thing, but the lumpy ground never once kept me up at night, and the tacky surface was actually quite nice to prevent the nylon-on-nylon sliding around that is a constant annoyance of camping. My friends and relatives have a selection of sleeping pads, so I think I'll borrow and test before bothering to buy. Or who knows. Maybe yoga mats will be the way to go.
Phew! I think now is the first time I haven't planned what steps come next. There will be test camping, of course, and clothing buying and boot in-breaking, map consulting and food dehydrating. But all these things feel a lot less urgent than anything I've done so far. I guess I'll play it by ear for a while.