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Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob
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Tanner Turk
(IncoherentTraveler) - F

Locale: S.E. Oklahoma
Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob on 10/07/2010 09:21:13 MDT Print View

Hi, I've been lurking for a while and want to venture beyond car camping. I need some helpful suggestions on what a guy can do to get into backpacking with little money.

I wanted to title this thread "Dirt cheap lightweight backpacking" but thought that might be a little difficult to start out with. Maybe "minimalist backpacking" would be more appropriate.

So starting out, what are some good cheap recommendations for gear? I'll pretty much need it all as I don't have anything that can translate to backpacking. I do have some things, like some Coleman cookware, Swiss Army Trekker, and lots of paracord lol!

Basically I'll need pack, tent, sleep system, stove (not opposed to making a cheapie), water container and purification, probably new boots/shoes and some more appropriate attire. I've never used trekking poles but maybe them as well. Thanks and look forward to being a part of the community!

Oh, I guess I should have also stated:

I'll be starting with simple 2 to 4 day hikes, nothing crazy. No climbing or bushwacking or anything. I could also use suggestions for the actual food you guys take along.

Would 40L be enough pack?

Edited by IncoherentTraveler on 10/07/2010 09:30:19 MDT.

Daniel Fosse
(magillagorilla) - F

Locale: Southwest Ohio
Read More on 10/07/2010 10:13:20 MDT Print View

You have a lot of reading to do my friend. Searching this forum is kinda hard but I remember a few threads about light weight backpacking on a budget. If you can find them they are chalk full of ideas.

What are the environmental conditions you will hike in?

There's lots of low budget ideas like beer can pots and stoves, cheep blue tarp from hardware store for a shelter. Cheep poly/nylon clothes from Walmart.

Really the hard things to avoid spending a lot of money on are your sleeping bag and pack. The game changes considering tempature.

There's always good deals on Gear Swap. You can build a cheep kit but it will take you time and research.

Cesar Garcia
(crgowo) - F

Locale: Desert SW
info on 10/07/2010 11:08:49 MDT Print View

If you know backpacking is something you will like to stick with get the best sleeping bag you can afford. A quality sleeping bag will last many years.

You my want to check out second hand stores for backpacks. My sister has found external frame backpacks for around 10$ and one as low as 3$. Not exactly light weight but its an option.

On a budget you can always get a nylon tarp. I used one and some netting just draped over me at nigh till I was able to afford a proper tent. I know nylon will not be as light as silnylon but it will be a lot cheaper. It will also be lighter then those blue tarps you see at stores.
Guidegear tarp is about 30$ and Ive heard its less then 3lbs and HUGE. So you should be plenty protected from the elements.

Search for the supercat stove. Its very lightweight and simple to make. Plus you dont need to carry a potstand but you will need a wide pot. Campmor sells a Ledmark 1l kettle for 8$.

For clothes try and just get some cheap nylon running pants and any synthetic shirt. Shouldn't cost to much.

As for shoes thats totally up to you. I wouldn't skimp on proper fitting shoes.

Here is a link to a gear list on Gossamer gears site. click on Ultralight on a budget.

Hope this helps

Edited by crgowo on 10/07/2010 11:11:52 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob on 10/07/2010 11:09:23 MDT Print View

Cesar Garcia
(crgowo) - F

Locale: Desert SW
avoid spending a lot of money on are your sleeping bag??? on 10/07/2010 11:15:02 MDT Print View

Why would you recommend he not spend a lot of money on a sleeping bag? I would think thats where you should focus most of his money.

Daniel Fosse
(magillagorilla) - F

Locale: Southwest Ohio
cheap sleeping bag on 10/07/2010 12:10:22 MDT Print View

I agree on getting a good sleeping bag. If I added up all the cheep $60 bags I went through I could have just started out with a nice one and still be using it. You can get a really nice bad on Gear Swap for cheap. I'd opt to get a good used down bag for $150-200 rather than a new $60-100 synthetic.

I guess what I'm recomending is to buy your bag and pack used. That way you get decent gear at a decent price. Don't get a poor quality bag and pack, you will regret it quickly.

Once you have spent $200ish on a used bag and pack you can skimp on all other gear like a blue foam mat, nylon tarp, cat stove, beercan pot, Wallyworld clothes, and clothes hanger wire stakes.

I bet you could get a full starter kit in the lightweight range for $300.

But if you are going to hike in 70-90 degree weather, all you may need is a fleece blanket instead of a bag.

Edited by magillagorilla on 10/07/2010 12:12:49 MDT.

Jeffrey McConnell
(Catalyst) - F
budget backpacking is definitely doable on 10/07/2010 13:07:47 MDT Print View

You'll definitely be able to grab a good setup for cheap. Backpacking doesn't have to be expensive.

Pack - buy this last!!! You won't know what size you need until you have all your other gear. Plenty of good deals on packs.

Sleeping pad - you can get a low cost foam pad for dirt cheap.

Sleeping bag - you'll want to get quality as mentioned, but it doesn't mean you'll have to spend a lot. There are great deals on bags. I'd recommend a good 30 degree down bag.

Tent - are you brave enough/comfortable using a tarp? If, not, you can find a decent tent second hand.

Stove - make your own alcohol stove - super low cost. Or, if you're not handy, plenty of members on here have multiple stoves. You could post a WTB ad in gear trade and get one for a great price.

Shoes/Boots - the most important thing here is to find something that fits well. Fit trumps all. Try to determine whether you want/need a boot. Maybe you would prefer trail runners?

Trekking poles - Some people use them, others don't. I find them extremely helpful on the downhills. I have an old soccer knee injury that becomes inflamed on downhills and the poles help a lot.

Most of all, don't feel bad asking questions. That and reading all of the great info on this site will help you a lot.

Edited by Catalyst on 10/07/2010 13:10:16 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
yeah you can on 10/07/2010 13:35:04 MDT Print View

just dont get swayed by the need for the neatest, most lightweight, expensive gear ...

tarp ... $5 tarp they use for the farms/painting ... great way to learn technique ... they are fairly light

sleeping bag .. spend a bit of money here as a good down bag will last you for year ... with that said if you look around you should be able to find a deal with 30-50% off easily ... dont worry about getting the latest WM or nunatuk ... the "big box" brand names usually have quality bags on sale/overstock

stove ... pepsi can ... or get a cheap canister ... no need to spend a lot to get the latest titanium model

pots ... aluminum enuff said ...

pack ... spend some money here as you want what fits ... NEVER buy a pack without trying it on or a great return policy ... that said you dont need the latest cuben fibre or cottage pack ... just walk into yr local store and try what fits ... if they are willing to give you a deal you can likely find the same pack online for a good price

sleeping mat ... cheap foam at walmart ... enuff said

trekking poles ... 15$ at walmart

shoes ...try what fits ... same as packs ... spend if you have to .. but get them on sale ... you can usually find it cheaper online

warm clothes ... you dont need the latest montbell, patagucci, FF, etc ... you can get good cheap down clothes from big box retailers on closeouts ... fleece also works well and is hella cheap ... dont let the snob factor get to you

base layers/socks ... dont bother with smartwool, icebreaker ... just got to wallymart or costco and start trying on the stuff ... a lot of times they are almost or just as good .... costco here had made in canada merino tops for 15$ ... lol

honestly you dont need to spend more than $300-$400 TOTAL ... if you shop wisely

and dont have the snobbish elitist "hey my gear is lighter (read more expensive) than yours, just ignore the pounds on my big belly" attitude


carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
budget on 10/07/2010 14:05:38 MDT Print View

I would get as good a bag as your budget will allow. My last bag was 20 years old before I purchased a new 30 degree 20 ounce bag. This one may last the rest of my life. Tarps can be cheap and light, practice in the backyard and on overnighters not to far from the car incase something goes wrong. If you can sew then you can make some items like a tarptent. I had a bit of a hard time finding a back and shoes that where comfortable. Find a good fitting pair of shoes. A cheap poncho can work until you have funds for rain gear. I use my rain jacket around the house and to work or walking the dog. Wear your current clothing. Cotton will not be good if you get wet either from sweat or rain. Get a pack last that will fit your gear. The gear swap has many good items at reduced price. Wait for sales then purchase what you have researched. You can use a soda or water bottle - no cost.
Actually if you want my old North Face Chrysalis L sleeping bag for the cost of shipping let me know. Not heavily used, no rips or problems but probably use a wash.

Edited by carlbecker on 10/07/2010 14:10:38 MDT.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE; Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob on 10/07/2010 14:29:05 MDT Print View

For the ultimate in cheapness, make your own gear!

Fabrics can be found on sale really cheap. Kits are available as well (e.g. RayWay products). And using your own hand-made gear is VERY satisfying.

Of course making your own gear takes time and you'll have to learn to use a sewing machine (not difficult at all). There's a MYOG section in the BPl forums and a great many people willing to help.

You don't have to make super fancy stuff. Basic tarps, quilts, wind suits, etc. are very easy to make. And if you take care they can be quite durable and extremely reliable.

And did I say cheap?

Joe L
(heyyou) - MLife

Locale: Cutting brush off of the Arizona Tr
Patience on 10/07/2010 16:59:41 MDT Print View

Learn more before buying much.
Being patient will get you more gear for the same amount of money. I buy used summer gear now, and used winter gear in April. Thrift stores have clothing and day packs, sometimes other packs. Check often there and on Craigslist. Try not to buy new because you will upgrade your initial gear when you can.

The site suggested above is excellent with its inexpensive, light weight gear list. Post on the Gear Swap saying what function you need and what price you are willing to pay i.e. WTB (want to buy) 40 degree sleeping bag. Often people have upgraded so you can get their used gear cheap.

Practice with your gear before going on a trip. Cook outdoors with your just-made alcohol stove. Sleep in the yard to see if you are warm enough wearing your camp clothes inside your sleeping bag. Much of going light is knowledge gained from experience. You learn how to get by with what you have, instead of needing more or heavier gear. Often the initial impression is that it is the gear, but it is really how the backpacker uses the gear.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob on 10/07/2010 18:10:22 MDT Print View

What helps is to find an active outdoor group. In some parts of the country, this is the Sierra Club, the Mountaineers, or the AMC. The people there will know more about what you need for your location. Unfortunately, I don't know what there is in Oklahoma.

I started my UL backpacking almost thirty years ago. Back then, we did not have a lot of fancy gear. Instead, we mostly learned to do without. I did a number of summer trips where the only shelter I had was a $1 plastic painter's tarp and a piece of cord. A small wood fire was for cooking, and a 2-ounce aluminum water ladle was my only cook gear.


Edited by --B.G.-- on 10/07/2010 18:30:40 MDT.

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Patience on 10/07/2010 20:40:37 MDT Print View

Joe is right on. Patience is important. Do plenty of research before buying. Look for used gear on the various lists suggested. Slowly accumulate 3-season gear throughout the winter and you should have a fairly inexpensive gear list ready to go in the spring. Look into spending the most money on a really good 3-season quilt. These tend to pop up on gear swap occasionally as well.

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Cheap packs on 10/08/2010 20:43:25 MDT Print View

It's absolutely worth it to make sure you get the right pack, but don't overlook a pack just because it's cheap. I've owned a couple nice packs and they worked well enough but a few months ago I was in our local walmart and I tried on their $30 Outdoor Products "skyline" pack and to my shock it was a perfect fit. Seeing as I liked the features, it's well-made with good fabrics, it's not too heavy, and it's actually pretty light, I went ahead and bought one. It's great for any trip where I don't need more than ~2000

Inspired by that, I pulled my old Outdoor Products Pinnacle (campmor, $40) out of the closet. It was my first pack, and had been collecting dust ever since I first got a "decent" pack. Surprise, the suspension also fit incredibly well so I grabbed a razor blade and stripped it down to just the frame and packbag. Handles a load quite well. I was impressed. I think the fact that it was a $40 no-name pack caused me to perceive it as inferior.

My Granite Gear now sits in the closet.

If a pack fits you well and seems decently made, don't be shy just because its pricetag seems "cheap" or is from a no-name brand or even from walmart. :D

Blue foam pads are great, and you can make a folding version if you add a little duct tape.

An 8x10 blue tarp can do the job nicely (I used one for a while) though you can probably get a lighter version for not much more with the aforementioned painters tarps and etc.

I find a mylar space blanket makes a pretty good groundsheet.

A cheap nylon or PVC poncho isn't all that inferior to more expensive silnylon ponchos, at the end of the day.

Watch Land's End's overstock "outerwear" section for good deals on down clothing, if you want any. I just got a decent 700-fill down jacket for $50 and they've got similar down vests going for $15.

As many have mentioned, a good bag is probably where you should invest the most. But I've heard a lot of good things about the Campmor 20 degree down bag, which costs $120 last I checked. I almost bought one but got a last minute deal on a Golite quilt for not much more. If you can't spend more than $150, the campmor bag is probably a good bet. It's not up to the standards of the $250+ superbags of today, perhaps, but it's probably similar in performance to what would have been a $250 cutting-edge bag 5 or 10 years ago.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Dirt Cheap Backpacking... on 10/08/2010 22:38:10 MDT Print View

Ah, yes, ultralight backpacking on the cheap. [Homer Simpson voice] Yummmmmm!

Know what you need, then you can pounce on the deal.

Some things are easy. Recycled water bottles and Aquamira or MicroPur for purification. Stanco grease pots for cooking, alcohol or Esbit stoves. Simple little first aid kits, A Swiss Army knife or just a paring knife from the kitchen drawer, a whistle, an LED flashlight. Buy a decent compass, but you don't need to spend $100-- you can get a baseplate rig for $25 or so. Like others said, foam pads are cheap and light and easy to find.

Shelters. Tarps are it. A simple flat tarp is light and inexpensive. It is a good starter sewing project, along with a bivy-- lets call it a sleeping bag cover.

UL packs are actually cheap compared to many of the heavier ones. You'll find production packs like GoLite on eBay and the discount web stores.

Like others said, the shoes gotta fit. But if you are going UL, that means trail runners and they aren't hard to find and there are lots of sales.

Rain gear... ponchos and DriDucks, wait for sales on the good stuff. I don't think expensive rain pants are worth it and you'll tear them up. Red Ledge and Sierra Designs will do the trick with a poncho.

Wicking polyester tees are easy enough to find at discounters and thrift stores. Fleece is cheap and abundant. Zip off pants are on sale all the time and they are an easy find in thrift stores. Running shorts and nylon running pants are easy to find cheap and make very good hiking gear. Socks are pretty cut and dried, but not easy to find good ones cheap. You can use a simple athletic windbreaker until you get The Deal on an UL windshirt.

I've said it before, that UL insulation is the most expensive part of the game. Note how we all went wild when Eddie Bauer has a clearance on their down gear. Insulation is one of the major items to pounce on when the deal comes up.

Good sleeping bags *are* spendy. You'll find a few here on the forums and there will be sales. It depends on the temperature range you need and the climate. You can usually find decent synthetic bags for less than down. Making your own quilt can save you a ton.

Watch the swap forum here and on White Blaze, eBay and, Campmor, Sierra Trading Post,, and most of the major outdoor web stores have regular sales. The REI outlet can have a zinger now and then, and the REI gear garage in some of their stores can have great deals. If you don't see what you need on the Swap forum, ask-- you never know what people are ready to part with. I am fortunate to live in an area with lots of outdoor activities and the yard sales and thrift stores can be a treasure trove. There are stores that have used gear and take used stuff in trade. Needless to say, I enjoy the hunt :)

Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
Some cheapy ideas.... on 10/09/2010 04:50:57 MDT Print View

A lot of the ideas above are right on, and have been the same way I have picked up ideas and gear as well...

Definitely take advantage of the Gear Swap thread here. Awesome awesome spot to get great deals on great items, even if they are somewhat used. Well...except for the used underwear. But hey, ymmv.

Sleeping bag: I would not skimp here. Your bag could save your life. I would go syntehtic if you are starting out. As you get more experience, you could go down. If you try down (usually more expensive anyway) and it gets wet, it's a liability. Synthetic fill bags will keep you warmer when wet and often dry out faster with less hassle. Look on the gear swap, get a good used one, and then start testing to find yoru preferences. Some people prefer quilts over bags...Jacks'R' Better make great quilts. But don't skimp too much on the bag.

Tent...I've seen some outrageous tent deals in the gear swap as well, but if you wanted super cheap: homemade Tyvek tarp is about as cheap as you could go. Tarping it takes practice and isn't for everybody, but tarps are often less expensive.

Shoes: you've probably read a ton on boots vs. running shoes....I say get a good pair of trail runners, and buy a pair of super feet to go in them, and rotate those out with the original insoles. Inov-8 and New balance both make great trail runners, and both can be found on off-site shoe dealers for very inexpensive, especially models from the last 2-4 years. I've found Inov-8 Roclite 315's, which I love for $59.95, normally $120, on a website.

Wal-Mart will have great synthetic and fleece items to wear for very cheap.

Stove: cat food can stove. Google it, I bought a can of cat food (wasn't my favorite flavor, I prefer giblets & gravy, but hey...) basically poke some holes in it (watch the videos) and then use an ounce or so of denatured alcohol to boil your water to dehydrate your food.

Food: Stay away from pre=packaged meals like Mountain House, etc. EXPENSIVE. also filled with sodium up the yang. Try making your own food dehydrator (super cheap, google that too...) and make your own dehydrated meals. "Trail Food" is a great book to start with, and has some great recipes and even a plan to build your own dehydrator. Grab a copy dirt cheap on Amazon.

And keep reading...This site...gear reviews...



Jamie Shortt
(jshortt) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
re: Dirt Cheap Backpacking... Help a noob on 10/09/2010 09:37:42 MDT Print View

I put together a cheap ultralight gear list. The final came in at under 9 pounds base weight for $350. I tried to include everything I normally carry. It uses a 30 degree down REI sleeping bag (from REI outlet) and granite gear Virga pack. The only assumption I made was that you have a 20% coupon for the pack (this is pretty common).


I included carried items and full skin out weight. The total costs including carried items/clothes and food is just under $500. I'm still tweeking so let me know if you see any mistakes.


Note: a couple of weight were estimated, but most shield be dead on.


Tanner, I went back and read your original post again. Just a word of caution that the list I have provided does require some skills that you would want to aquire before going deep into the woods. For example you will want to be comfortable with pitching a tarp and sleeping without a tent; using an alcohol stove; and packing a frameless pack. Just practice in the yard then hike short distance and do an overnighter and all will be good.

Edited by jshortt on 10/09/2010 11:59:26 MDT.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Start off slowly on 10/09/2010 10:02:29 MDT Print View

I agree with most of the comments here, but it's difficult to choose till you know what YOU need.
I would try to borrow gear till you find out how warm YOU run whilst hiking, how warm a sleeping bag/quilt YOU need at night, and how much shelter YOU need at night. A pack to carry gear that someone recommends might not be comfortable for YOU. :)

Don't spend too much cash to start with. You'll probably change the set-up you use as your experience grows.
If possible, join in with other experienced folk. It can be an expensive business getting a set-up that works for you.