The Frugal Backpacker – The $300 Gear Challenge

A doc for getting backpacking gear on the cheap; If you are new to backpacking and/or on a budget this is a complete gear list for less than $300.

You can also read more about Dirt Bagging here and more info on getting quality gear on the cheap here   Updated Dec 2012.


$300 Gear Challenge

This doc is the result of a discussion on AT-L. How to make a gear list for a beginners that is reasonably light and not too expensive. The inspiration for this list was from on discussion on led by Sgt. Rock, recently retired 1st Sgt in the Army and an experienced backpacker. This list is my own contribution. You should check out the link on Whiteblaze. Some great ideas as well. My list is more focused for Colorado. (more sun exposure, colder nights at elevation, less rain)

I wrote the original version back in 2005-ish. Thought it was time to update it a bit for 2012. Gear changes and some items are no longer available.   If anything, the gear has become correspondingly better for the price. Lighter, too.  I also tried to get items that aren’t one off and can reasonably be found in the next year or two at least.


Pack and Accessories Jack Wolfskin Alpine Trail 50L Backpack $65 55.000 E-Bay Jack Wolfskin is a company very well known in Europe. The rough equivalent of EMS. Think decent, solid, basic gear. The E-Bay  link clearly shows a Jack Wolfskin logo. Some Google-fu shows this to be an Alpine Trail 50 L pack.  I think 300ci/50 l is a good size for weekend backpacking trip for beginners…and most people. :)
Trash Bag for pack liner Free .625 In House Normal household item



Sub-Total $65 55.625
Shelter 8′ x 10′ Blue Poly  Tarp $5 40.000 Hardware Store
6 Aluminum Stakes


$6 3.000 Outfitter
12′ Para Cord $4 1.000 Outfitter Most outfitters or hardware stores will cut down webbing and rope to size.
3 mil Painters Drop Cloth $4 6.000 Hardware Store
Cologans Mosquito Netting $7 4.000 Outfitter
Sub-total $26 54.000
Sleeping Bue Foam Pad  $10 10.000 XYZMart Camping section
Pureland 23F Sleeping Bag $41 42.000 E-Bay Synthetic bag. Would not want to use it in early summer or late Fall, but good enough to use w/o breaking the budget. I used a similar bag from Campmor back in the day!
Garbage Bag Free .625  In Kitchen
Sub-total $51 52.625
Cooking Stanco Grease Pot $8 3.700 End 2 End Trail Supply Basic cook pot for one person
Cat Food Can Stove .50 .300 Pet Store Easy to make. Light. Works as a pot stand.
Aluminum Foil Windscreen Free 1.000 Kitchen Fold over some foil to make a basic wind screen
Ziplock Bag Free .375 oz Kitchen For spoon, lighter, toothbush and tooth paste
20 oz Mtn Dew Bottle $1.50 .125 oz Quicky Mart For fuel. I like Mountain Dew bottles as the green color sticks out.
Lexan Spoon $1.00 .375 Outfitter
Lighter $1.00 .500 Quicky Mart
Toothbrush Free .250  Bathroom At least I hope you have one!  ;)
Sub Total $12 6.625
Hydration (2) 1 qt. Sport Drink Bottles $2 2.250 Grocery Store Comes with a drink!
Potable Aqua $7 .800 Outfitter I still use these. Don’t mind the taste. :)
Sub Total 3.150 
Clothing M-65 Liner jacket $10 12.000 Surplus Store Light, warm and cheap. Wear it under a rain jacket.
Dri Ducks Rain Suit $20 12.000 Sports Authority or similar Good for on-trail backpacking, not so much for off-trail. The jacket works suprisingly well. The pants need some TLC otherwise you mau accidentally rip them
Cool Max Running Socks $8 1.5 oz  Target Three per package. Good bargain! I love C9 clothing.
Polypro top and bottoms (irregulars) $20 10.000 The Underwear Guys Cheap and effective.
Fleece Beanie $7 1.125 The Underwear Guys Your standard warm hat. Nothing fancy.
Fleece Gloves $10 3.000 Quicky Marts or Grocery Stores Basic gloves for warmth. Often found near the checkout aisle during winter.  
Garbage Bag Free .375 Kitchen A waterproof stuff sack for your clothing!
Subtotal $75 40.000
First Aid Kit Ibuprofen Free 1.00 Bathroom Just a basic kit for moderate emergencies, aches and pains
(4) 4×4 Gauze Pads Free .375  Bathroom Duct tape,  bandannas, etc. works as first aid items as well
Ziplock Free <.125 Bathroom
(5) Band-aids Free <.125 Bathroom
Subtotal Free 1.375
Misc Energizer Head  Lamp $5 3.000 Target Basic headlamp. Nothing fancy. Works well enough! 
Bandanna $2 .375  Any outfitter Basic, all-purpose piece of clothing. It does it all!
T/P Free 2.000  Bathroom
Purrell $3 2.250  Drugstore Buy the trial size
Ziplock Free .250  Free Use a larger sized one for all the misc items
Sub Total $10 10.875
Total Base Packweight and Cost $239 224.275 oz/ 14lbs
Equipment on Self  65/35 Poly-Cotton Dress Shirt Free 6.125 Closet A little cotton is OK esp if you have the appropriate warm layers. Honest. :)  I like long sleeves for sun and bug protection
Nylon Running shorts Free 3.750  Closet Most people have some sort of work out shorts
C9 Running socks Already bought 1.500
Boonie Hat $12 3.500 Surplus Store Basic sun and rain protection
Swiss Army Knife Classic $12 .625 Outfitter All you really need…
Used ski poles with duct tape around handle $10 16.000 Thrift store or used sport goods store Duct tape is for EVERYTHING! Ski poles help with hiking and tarp set up.
Running Shoes Free 30.000 Closet Assuming most people have a pair for workouts
Compass $10 1.00 Outfitter A basic compass is fine. Silva 1-2-3 or similar works well.
Sunglasses Free 1.00 Probably on the dash of your car right now!
Total weight and cost “on self” $44 63.500 / 3.970 lbs



  1. The FREE designation is for items around a typical household
  2. The weight and prices  does not include consumeables like food or fuel
  3. Or taxes and S&H (for the most part)
  4. Campmor is an online store with everything for good prices!
  5.   Sierra Trading Post will have name brand gear on clearance
  6.   E-bay will often have bargains on name brand and generic goods
  7.  This list  does not have lightest or best gear, but will get the beginner outdoors fairly comfortably in prime summer weather. Biased towards Colorado hiking. Other areas can get away with a  lighter bag (for example)
  8.  If the beginner has more money, they can probably splurge on a decent down bag (the Ketly Cosmic Down has received good reviews for an ~$100 bag) a tent and maybe some better hiking shoes. These choices may add more weight and definitely more money.
  9.  You may very well have some equipment already (clothing items like hats, gloves, jackets, etc.).
  10.  This list will require some leg work on your part: buying the gear and clothing on sale. The winter type clothing is often sold cheaply during hunting season in XYZMart  stores. Many ski stores and big box sporting good stores (e.g Dick’s) will see the stuff cheap at the end of the winter. Same goes with XYZMarts as well when they are bringing  in their Spring clothing.    Don’t be afraid to bargain shop!
  11.  Other places to bargain hunt are, thrift stores, local stores having sales, yard sales, used sporting goods stores and classified (local or online)
  12.  This gear will let a beginner be fairly comfortable on their first trips. As the beginners gains more experience (or money), they will want to go out for longer trips.  A beginner should buy and adjust their gear accordingly as experience, comfort levels and preferences dictate.

You can also read more about Dirt Bagging here and more info on getting quality gear on the cheap here


5 thoughts on “The Frugal Backpacker – The $300 Gear Challenge

  1. The fleece? Not so much. I had a similar size pack and used a fleece for the Long Trail. The sleeping bag? Strap it outside. Think outside the box (pack) and don’t be a slave to the outdoor magazines! :) It is a compromise,m granted..but one that works.

  2. Man, my Feathered Friends Swallow sleeping bag cost 1.5-times the amount of everything on this list. However, SO WORTH IT!

    Thanks for posting though. It’s good to read about gear ideas that don’t cost an arm and a leg, like my down bag.


    • THx! The down bags ARE worth it for sure. But, esp just starting out, not everyone has the cash to buy the high-end stuff. Though, I must confess, I’d try to scrape an extra $60 and buy a Kelty Cosmic Down. It would be a pretty good bag for not much more money. It would be ~$350 vs $300 but for a better bag that is compact and light.

      Still, for under $300, I’d have no problem advocating this kit for a beginner.

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