A doc for getting backpacking gear on the cheap; If you are new to backpacking and/or on a budget, here is a complete gear list for less than $300. Updated Jan 2015.
$300 Gear Challenge
This doc is the result of a discussion on AT-L way back in 2005: How to make a gear list for a beginners that is reasonably light and not too expensive? The direct inspiration for this list was from on discussion on Whiteblaze.net 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 and then again for 2015. 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. Lucky one-offs aren’t going to be very consistent for the purpose of this article.
As an example, I once found a $5, 300 wt Patagonia fleece in a thrift store..I would have a hard time finding this item again. On the other hand, I can pretty consistently find DriDucks for ~$20 a pair without too much hassle.
This list is not a definitive list, but rather a way for someone to get out backpacking and enjoy themselves. Take what works from the list and apply it for your own use. The point of this little exercise is not to get hung up on gear, but rather to get OUT and ENJOY yourself. It is a misnomer that you need a lot of money to backpack. And the best way to learn about backpacking is not discussing gear online or going to gear sales, but is too actually get out there.
THE SUB-$300 GEAR LIST
|CATEGORY||ITEM||COST||WEIGHT IN OZ||WHERE||NOTES|
|Pack and Accessories||External Frame Pack||$40||56||E-Bay or used sports store||The old warrior still works. A good quality external can be bought used for little money. And they aren’t really all that heavy.|
|Trash Bag for pack liner||Free||0.625||In House||Normal household item|
|Shelter||8′ x 10′ Blue Poly Tarp||$5||40||Hardware Store||Tarps work well if set up correctly. Great link for tarp setup here.|
|6 Aluminum Stakes||$6||3||Outfitter|
|12′ Para Cord||$4||1||Outfitter||Most outfitters or hardware stores will cut down webbing and rope to size.|
|3 mil Painters Drop Cloth||$4||6||Hardware Store|
|Cologans Mosquito Netting||$7||4||Outfitter|
|Sleeping||Blue Foam Pad||$10||10||XYZMart Camping section|
|Pureland Sleeping Bag||$41||42||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||0.625||In Kitchen|
|Cooking||Stanco Grease Pot||$10||3.7||Amazon||Basic cook pot for one person|
|Cat Food Can Stove||0.5||0.3||Pet Store||Easy to make. Light. Works as a pot stand.|
|Aluminum Foil Windscreen||Free||1||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.|
|Toothbrush||Free||0.25||Bathroom||At least I hope you have one! 😉|
|Hydration||(2) 1 qt. Sport Drink Bottles||$2||2.25||Grocery Store||Comes with a drink!|
|Potable Aqua||$7||0.8||Outfitter||I still use these. Don’t mind the taste.|
|Clothing||M-65 Liner jacket||$10||12||Surplus Store||Light, warm and cheap. Wear it under a rain jacket.|
|Dri Ducks Rain Suit||$20||12||Sports Authority or similar||Good for on-trail backpacking, not so much for off-trail. The jacket works surprisingly well. The pants need some TLC otherwise you may 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||The Underwear Guys||Cheap and effective.|
|Fleece Beanie||$3||1.125||Home Depot in season||Your standard warm hat. Nothing fancy.|
|Fleece Gloves||$7||3||Home Depot in Season||Basic gloves for warmth. Often found near the checkout aisle during winter.|
|Garbage Bag||Free||0.375||Kitchen||A waterproof stuff sack for your clothing!|
|First Aid Kit||Ibuprofen||Free||1||Bathroom||Just a basic kit for moderate emergencies, aches and pains|
|(4) 4×4 Gauze Pads||Free||0.375||Bathroom||Duct tape, bandannas, etc. works as first aid items as well|
|Misc||Energizer Head Lamp||$8||3||Amazon||Basic headlamp. Nothing fancy. Works well enough!|
|Bandanna||$2||0.375||Any outfitter||Basic, all-purpose piece of clothing. It does it all!|
|Purrell||$3||2.25||Drugstore||Buy the trial size|
|Ziplock||Free||0.25||Free||Use a larger sized one for all the misc items|
|Total Base Packweight and Cost||$212||225.275 oz/ or ~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||3.75||Closet||Most people have some sort of work out shorts|
|C9 Running socks||Already bought||1.5|
|Boonie Hat||$12||3.5||Surplus Store||Basic sun and rain protection|
|Swiss Army Knife Classic||$12||0.625||Outfitter||All you really need…|
|Used ski poles with duct tape around handle||$10||16||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||Closet||Assuming most people have a pair for workouts|
|Compass||$10||1||Outfitter||A basic compass is fine. Silva 1-2-3 or similar works well.|
|Sunglasses||Free||1||Probably on the dash of your car right now!|
|Total weight and cost “on self”||$44||63.500 / 3.970 lbs|
HAVE A LITTLE MORE MONEY?
- If you have a little more money, I’d invest in a decent sleeping bag. The Kelty Cosmic down can still be found for $130 online. Or get a lighter synthetic bag. The venerable North Face Cat’s Meow is less than $150 and 3lbs. Not bad. There are others, too. Esp if you bargain shop.
- Recently, Costco has started selling Klymit Down Bags for $139. Very similar to the Kelty Cosmic down bag…but more readily avail. 550 fill, 2.6 lbs. Rated to 20F. A good budget bag.
- Want a “real” stove? For ~$5 and 3oz of weight penalty, a decent canister stove can be bought. Long term use seems to be rather good based on reviews.
- Have a Costco membership or a friend who does? Some pretty good carbon fiber trekking poles can be bought for ~$30.
- Like the idea of a tarping? But want something lighter? The Equinox Tarp is only ~$90 and ~14 oz for an 8×10 tarp. I used this model on the PCT and still use it on occasion. There are “better”, but you can’t beat the price for something this light and functional.
- Want a “real” tent? I think tarps are better than most less expensive double-wall tents (space, ventilation, and weathering storms), but does require a bit more practice and skill than most beginners may have. Eureka tents in general, though heavy, are a good “bang for the buck” esp if found on sale. The Eureka Solitaire 1 person tent is compact, often less than $75 and weighs less than 3 lbs, however. Considering the blue tarp setup is $21, but the same weight, it is only an ~$50 difference overall.
- Kelty is also a good “bread and butter” brand for tents esp if found on clearance or in good condition used.
- Though externals are perfectly functional, esp for beginners, you can get OK internal frame packs on E-bay for $65 or less. Personally, I’d use the external to get used to backpacking. After, get an internal frame that is light and better built, vs the budget internal frame, once the gear is dialed and a person has more money. As always, used works, too.
- The FREE designation is for items around a typical household
- The weight and prices does not include consumables like food or fuel.
- Or taxes and S&H (for the most part)
- Maps are obviously something you need but are very much trip dependent. CalTopo is a great website for printing out maps.
- Campmor is an online store with everything for good prices!
- Sierra Trading Post will have name brand gear on clearance
- E-bay will often have bargains on name brand and generic goods
- Amazon has an amazing amount of outdoor goodies and clothing. If you (or a friend), have Amazon Prime, that helps a bit, too.
- Don’t be afraid to buy used! Whiteblaze.com, Backpackinglight.com, Craig’s List etc have some good deals at times
- You may very well have some equipment already (clothing items like hats, gloves, jackets, etc.).
- 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!
- Other places to bargain hunt are www.rei-outlet.com, thrift stores, local stores having sales, yard sales, used sporting goods stores and classified (local or online)
- 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)
- 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.