Backpacking is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. From getting to see areas of wilderness that are impossible to access by car to breathing in the fresh mountain air and sleeping under a light pollution-free sky — what is not to like? Well, the answer to that question for any backpacker on a budget is the expense. While setting off into the wilderness may sound cheap, it usually is not. Everything from choosing the correct type of tent to buying the best gear that suits your needs can add up to a lot of money. This may be prohibitive for backpackers on a budget. Fortunately, this budget guide to backpacking will give you 10 tips to make sure you’ll be the modern savvy backpacker all the while experiencing opportunities to the fullest.
1. Ask Around To See If Your Friends Have Backpacking Gear You Can Borrow
Hiking is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, so chances are you will have a family member or friend who already has a lot of the gear you need to complete your adventure in the wilderness successfully and safely. Whether you are looking for a three-season tent, a pair of hiking boots, or a camping stove, borrowing these items from your friends and family will save you a ton of money.
Alone, each of these items can cost upwards of $100 with ease. Even if none of your close friends have gear you can borrow, why not cast your net a bit wider by posting on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see if you have any more luck. Just remember, that borrowed gear is not your own so make sure to always treat it with respect and return it in the same condition as you received it.
2. Rent Or Buy Used Backpacking Gear From An Outdoors Store
If you cannot find any gear to borrow, then why not head to your local outdoors store? It will more often than not offer backpackers the option to buy second-hand gear or the ability to rent gear. For used gear, the best option is to become a REI Co-Op member. This membership gives you exclusive access to their garage sale events. At these events, returned gear is sold at massive discount prices. Indeed, everything from hiking boots to hardshell jackets and tents go for up to 80% off its market value at garage sale events, making them the perfect place to score a bargain. These events happen every month in REI stores across America.
If you don’t live in the United States, another option to look on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Depop for used hiking gear. These are often even cheaper than REI garage sales!
Most outdoors stores across North America and Europe, especially those located near national parks or popular backpacking locations, offer the option to rent gear. For example, REI stores offer ultra-light bundles for $320. These include everything a beginner backpacker would need for less than the price of a good quality tent. Across Europe, Tiso and Intersport offer a similar service. Moreover, if you are a university student, check in with your university hiking club. They will often let you rent gear for a small fee.
3. Get Your Backpacking Gear During Sales
Okay, we get it — wearing used hiking boots and clothing may save money but for some people, it is also a little bit gross. One of the best ways to buy brand new backpacking gear at a low price is to wait for sales. These sales are often during times of stock changeover in spring and autumn. For example, the best time to snap up a bargain price winter hiking jacket would be at the spring stock clearance. This is because outdoor stores will be getting rid of most of their winter gear in favor of lightweight summer outfits.
4. Purchase All Your Backpacking Gear As A Bundle
Another way to grab quality backpacking gear at a decent price is by buying it all as part of a backpacking bundle. This is something that is offered by outdoors stores across the globe from REI to Intersport and Cotswolds. These bundles can offer serious savings with the REI bundle coming in at a total of $275 for a good tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. You would have saved $65 in comparison if you purchased all the items individually!
5. Do Not Worry About Getting Gear That Is A Little On The Heavy Side
No one wants a heavy pack, as that extra weight can seriously impede your progress on the trail. However, for savvy backpackers, a few extra kilos on the trail should not be too much of a worry. More often than not, ultralight backpacking gear is more expensive. Also, the amount of weight you are saving does not match the vast price difference between hi-tech gear and slightly heavier models.
Of course, you do not want to weigh yourself down on the trail. But if you are looking for ways to backpack on a budget, this is definitely one of them. For example, an ultra-light tent will easily set you back $400. However, a slightly heavier model such as the REI Co-Op Passage 2, can be as cheap as $150. The same price difference also goes for backpacks and sleeping bags.
6. Opt For Synthetic Materials
While it may be tempting to go for a luxurious Merino wool base layer and a down-filled sleeping bag, these are unnecessary expenses for the savvy backpacker. This is especially considering synthetic materials that have come on leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Of course, down and Merino wool are still many backpackers’ favorite materials but synthetic fibers keep you warmer when wet. They also dry quicker and are far cheaper.
7. Use A Map, Compass, Or Phone App Instead Of A GPS Device
A top quality GPS device can set you back hundreds of dollars. Indeed, for serious backpackers, a GPS can be the single most expensive item of gear in their backpack. However, for a backpacker on a budget, there are a few ways to get around this expense.
For one, if you are sticking to well-trodden trails or are simply going on day hikes, you can probably get away with a manual compass and detailed map. These maps are UK government-owned Ordnance Survey maps or those produced by U.S. National Park Services. These can save you a lot of money, but just remember that before setting off on the trail, it is a good idea to make sure that you can use these. You do not want to get lost in the wilderness.
If you really aren’t confident using a compass and map, there’s another way to navigate through the wilderness on a budget. Your smartphone already has many of the navigational features that make GPS devices useful. Also, apps like Gaia GPS can be downloaded for little cost that can help guide you through the wilderness. Make sure that you bring a battery-operated phone charger, for you don’t want your phone to die when you need it most.
8. Skip The Freeze-Dried Backpacking Foods
Freeze-dried backpacking foods are available in nearly all outdoors stores. While these may be tempting given their nutritional content and space-saving packaging, they are also very expensive. One of the best ways to save money on backpacking food is simply to make your own.
For example, simple pasta or rice dishes and stews can be the perfect energizing foods you need on the trail. Also, they can be made for next to nothing in your home kitchen. What’s more, to save space, do not pack them in plastic containers. Instead, place them in zip-lock bags that can easily be squeezed into your pack.
9. Do Not Waste Your Money On A Pre-Made Medical Kit
Much like backpacking foods, it can be tempting to pick up the first aid kit that can be found in outdoors stores. However, these are very expensive, especially considering you will already have most of the medicine in them in your home.
In a waterproof bag or container, make sure to pack painkillers, anti-inflammatory tablets, insect repellent, plasters for blisters, bandages for more serious injuries, and tourniquets. While putting together your own medical kit may seem like a chore, it is important not to skip this step. No backpacking trip is entirely safe without one.
10. Buy Water Purification Solution
Purifying water is one of the most important aspects of backpacking, as even seemingly clean water can hide unpleasant surprises such as bacteria that will give you sickness. While hi-tech water filtration systems that either use pumps or gravity to filter water may be tempting, they are also expensive pieces of equipment. They can easily be substituted for cheaper options by backpackers on a budget.
The best option for savvy backpackers is a liquid chlorine dioxide solution. It is space-saving, affordable, and effective in killing bacteria and viruses. The only downside of this method is that it gives water a chemical flavor. The taste may be off-putting to some backpackers, but it’s entirely harmless.