When buying budget backpacking gear, there are items that you don’t want to skimp on because they’ll make a significant difference in your comfort and safety.
Let’s start with items on your budget backpacking gear list you should invest in to keep you having a good time out there!
What you can't do without
A good backpack evenly distributes the weight of your gear. A bad pack, no matter how cheap, will have you feeling the weight of all that gear in your back and hips. The wrong pack can quickly turn what should be a fun adventure into a chiropractor’s problem.
Your feet have a big job when you head into the backcountry. They’re going to do most of the work carrying you from start to finish. Make it easier on them by getting footwear meant for the terrain you’re in.
While I love wearing my Vibram barefoot shoes in flat dry terrain, they're burdensome once the trail gets rocky or wet. Hiking boots aren't always the best solution either. They can be too warm or create too much friction, resulting in blisters. Sometimes it might be best to go for your trail running shoes instead. Make your best assessment of what shoes you’ll need for your trip.
Break-in any new footwear before you hit the trail so the trail doesn't break you in.
A good tent or shelter is important for dealing with the elements. Even on a short trek, an emergency bivy (temporary shelter) is great to bring along in case you run into inclement weather.
You don't want shelter that’s too thin or not waterproof. Quality can make the difference in whether you wake up soaked or dry.
Quality backpacking gear can be expensive, but there are plenty of other items you can replace with affordable alternatives.
Let's get to the pro tips on finding affordable backpacking gear.
1. Rethink your necessities
When planning what to bring, try to eliminate items in your pack that are unnecessary. The uncertainty of what to expect will make you want to pack even unexpected items. Resist the urge and only bring the essentials.
Still unsure of what to bring?
We’ve got you covered! Take a look at our Backpacking Gear List to prepare for your next adventure.
Remember: anything you pack in has to be packed out...
So drop the extra weight and avoid dropping the extra cash.
2. Consider used gear
REI has a “Used Gear” section on their website that offers pre-loved gear for up to 80% off. You also get the added benefit of having it already broken in!
Have gear and need an upgrade?
You can trade in your lightly worn gear in exchange for a store gift card to use towards your next purchase.
3. Find a trashbag pack liner
You don’t need to spend extra money on a pack liner.
A contractor trash bag can work just as well, and you might even have some around the house already! The downside is that trash bags don’t have a great seal to protect from excess rain.
A moderate solution is to use duct tape to create a seal by taping down the opening. Duct tape is affordable and can also handle a variety of other temporary fixes on the trail too.
4. Make a camp stove from a can
It’s a common practice to use soda cans as a lightweight alternative to a camp stove. If there are burn restrictions in your area, you won't be able to use this. It’s best to check the conditions and restrictions ahead of your trip.
While canstoves can allow you control over the flame, they can also be a hazard if not used properly. Before you use your DIY camp stove, please read through these helpful safety tips to keep us all safe from forest fires.
5. Bring your own food
Speaking of cooking, some backpackers and survivalists see MREs or Meals Ready to Eat as a good alternative to bringing regular food. The truth is, MREs can actually add extra weight to your pack. To make matters worse, they can be costly, don’t taste as great as home cooking and sometimes can create more trash.
Don’t get me wrong, MREs do well in a pinch, but if you have the ability to eat fresh food while bonding with your hiking partners, that beats MREs every time.
That's why LAAF Travels centers around creating great meals on each of their outdoor adventures.
You get to connect with your fellow hikers and indulge in delicious food that is ten times better than warmed over dehydrated mush.
After hiking all day with weight on your back, you’ll want food that’s fulfilling, tasty, and made by someone who loves to cook!
6. Use plastic bags as your dry bags
You probably have some reusable plastic bags in your house for snacks and leftovers. You can use these instead of dry bags for your smaller items.
For slightly bigger things, try using freezer bags. Those are usually thicker and can store a wide range of items that you don’t want to get wet.
7. Navigate with paper
There are fantastic GPS devices out there, but they can cost over $120 dollars on the low end and upwards of $1000 for top of the line models. It pays to be able to read and use a topographic paper map (preferably laminated). They never run out of battery and will only cost a few dollars at most.
If you’re not confident in your map reading skills, be sure to use the GPS on your phone and bring a portable charger so you don’t run out of juice.
8. Scour second-hand sites
Craigslist, Offer Up and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find discount backpacking gear. You can find the brands you depend on at a steep price cut.
Be sure to check the quality of items thoroughly before you agree to the sale. In some cases you might even be able to negotiate a lower price.
You can also take your search offline and find gear in local thrift shops!
9. Rent your gear
It's hard to justify spending a ton of money on gear especially if you’re just getting started as a backpacker. Save some cash by renting the gear you’ll need.
LAAF has a great partnership with Arrive Outdoors where you can save 10% off of your gear rental. Save money and time by getting all your essentials shipped to your front door!
Just be sure to reserve your gear in advance.
10. Seek out backpacking bundles
At outdoor stores like Bass Pro Shops or Dick’s Sporting Goods, you can find backpacking bundles that include most of the big ticket items you’ll need for a grouped price. It’s often much cheaper than if you purchased each item individually.
You could even scope out a bundle you like and wait for it to go on sale for extra savings.
This isn’t a comprehensive list on all the ways you can save money on your outdoor gear, but it’s a great starting point for new backpackers!
Comment below for any other tips you have to do with saving money as a backpacker!
Seychelle (she/her) is an African American writer based in Maryland. She specializes in copywriting for personal finance, equality, and lifestyle topics. When she's not writing, she's an avid hiker, cat mom, and reader of comic books.