Backpacking on a budget

I’m not going to lie. Backpacking can get expensive, especially if you become a bit gear addicted like myself. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

What happens when you aren’t willing or able to invest in all that fancy ultra light gear? There are alternatives that will get you out, and get you out cheap. Here are some ways to cut cost and get out there more while staying on a strict budget.

Forget a camping stove and dehydrated foods.

If you’re just doing an overnight trip you really don’t need a camping stove. Camping stoves are handy when you’re packing in dehydrated foods to cut weight, however, if you’re not putting in many miles or if you are just doing a night or two you can easily get away with foods that require no cooking at all. Tuna and tortillas, pop tarts, granola, nuts, \Uncrustables, all these things are cheap and light enough to pack in. Just don’t store your food in your tent at night! This is a great way to cut costs, and sometimes even shave off some weight. An added benefit, no stove means no fuel. Additional cost and weight savings. Have to have that coffee or oatmeal? Carry a light weight cooking cup/mug. Throw it onto the fire (assuming you can have one in your area). It works, and it’s easier than you think. Don’t worry about those expensive titanium cups. They aren’t much lighter, and they actually slow your boiling time.

You don’t need a water bladder.

People are obsessed with these things. They’re totally optional. Instead, pack in a few bottles of Gatorade. If you need to pack more water, find a large gallon of gatorade. It’s cheap, and comes with an impressively sizable, cheap and durable screw on gallong jug. All the water you need! Is it bulky, yes, but a gallon of water takes up the same space no matter how you pack it. You can also find great one liter water bottles filled and ready to go for about a buck. One of those and two Gatorade sip bottle should do an overnighter just fine. Pack in some emergency tablets in case you run out of H2O. Too expensive? A couple drops of bleach works in a pinch (non scented, pure. Look that one up first).

Do you really need a tent?

Tents are really only required when there is foul weather involved. If you plan your trips accordingly, you can get away with no tent at all. Instead, opt for a tarp used as a rain cover, or simply crash out under the stars. You can get away with a budget tarp, some rope and some tent stakes if you have to.  We live near the Appalachian Trail, you can even buddy up in the shelters. Tents are heavy, and costly. Don’t let the world convince you that a tent is a necessity. The ultra light guys out there don’t use them anyway.

Don’t worry about fancy clothing.

Can’t afford that north face shirt? Don’t worry about it. Head over to walmart and pick up a 10 dollar nylon basketball shirt. The effect is the same, quick drying and wicks the moisture. It’s just as light, and it’s significantly cheaper. Ball shorts also work well in the hot weather. You don’t need 20 dollar socks to keep away the blisters either. Head to your local hunting shop and grab some light wool socks. You’re good to go.

Don’t spend 200 dollars on an expensive sleeping bag.

Here you have to make a choice. You can either scour the internet, craigslist or ebay, and grab a light weight cheap bag, or you can search for a light weight fleece bag. Fleece sleeping bags can be had for about 12 bucks, and they are super light. Keep in mind however, the temps really need to stay above 60 or even 70 degrees for most people to stay warm in these things. Pack along an emergency blanket, about 4 bucks, just in case you get cold. Buying used is a great way to get a decent bag for a hefty discount. Just don’t pick up a cheap walmart bag unless you have a ton of room, and a strong back. Those things are heavy, bulky, and not that warm. Chinook also makes some cheap sleeping bags for warmer weather. Check them out.

You don’t need an expensive backpack.

Yeah, they make sick backpacks. I’ll admit it. They also make sick bank when you buy them. Other than looking fancy, they won’t serve much benefit to any but the most serious of backpackers. Check around and look for a nice used bag. Of course you want to stick with a brand name here, nothing is worse than a cheap o bag tearing on a trip, but a lot of alternatives are out there. REI makes good affordable bags if you want to splurge a little here. Amazon and ebay are excellent places to find budget bags, just check reviews first. Also check for outlet discounts, and don’t buy a bigger bag than you need. If you pack light enough, and plan only for the best weather you may even get away with a decent school bag. Just the essentials!

Don’t worry about fancy rain gear.

Most people turn back when the weather gets bad anyway, and I recommend it for most people. You can grab a cheap poncho for 15 bucks, or even a disposable for about 3 if you just want a backup. Those goretex rain suits are sweet, but most people won’t get the use out of them to justify the cost. Instead just plan your trips for good weather, and back off when things get sketchy.

Final tips

Check out your local outfitters. There tends to be a lot of gear junkies in the local shops who are happy to sell off their old stuff to put towards that new tent that will shave off a couple ounces.

You really don’t need that much to backpack. You need a backpack, some form of shelter, a sleeping bag, food, water, a knife and some duck tape.

If you are going to splurge anywhere, make it your boots. Good boots will get you there.

Be careful on Craigslist. Always take company when checking out possible purchases.

Try flea markets and garage sales.

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