Backpacking is rewarding for so many adults and kids who try it — and, sadly, not easily affordable for too many who would like to try it. What can you do about that?
Backpackers on a tight budget need not despair. The choices in affordable gear are expanding, and the quality continues improving. Here’s the best of it.
For starters, know how to shop for inexpensive gear that won’t fail on its maiden voyage. Follow these tips:
- Know what you’re buying. Can’t afford expensive gear? Look it over to educate yourself on what distinguishes it from the cheaper stuff. Low-cost gear and apparel are often heavier and might compromise on fit and comfort (examples: packs and jackets), performance (example: breathability in rain jackets) and sometimes durability. In other words: Look at tradeoffs you can live with until you can afford better.
- Wait for sales. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers offer new-gear sales in the spring; clearance sales in early fall; and sales around major holidays, such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Christmas. Score deals on gear you might not otherwise be able to afford.
- Shop discount sites. Find deep discounts on discontinued products that were cutting-edge months earlier on websites like Backcountry Outlet, Sierra Trading Post, REI Outlet, Steep & Cheap and The Clymb — and of course, the BSA’s own scoutshop.org
- Shop respected brands. Some brands — like JanSport, Kelty, REI, Columbia, Alps Mountaineering, Marmot and others — offer midrange-priced gear of decent quality. Lithic, a relatively new house brand from outdoors retailer Moosejaw, offers backpacking packs and tents, down and synthetic sleeping bags, and stoves and cook sets priced from $25 to $150. Be wary of exceptionally cheap gear from unknown brands — it might not last.
- Buy used gear. If you’re on a general quest for, say, a tent or backpack rather than a specific model, buying used stuff at a gear-consignment store and online can yield great deals on lightly used gear.
Best Bargain Gear
For less than a C note, the Lithic 65L Expedition Pack ($98) has a design common to many higher-priced packs: a top-loading main compartment with a lid and side zipper access, multiple external pockets, tough 200-denier fabric, an included rain cover and capacity for five days or more in the backcountry. It comes in one size with some adjustability in the lumbar pad, so the fit might be mediocre for some people. It’s a bit heavy at 5 lbs. 10 oz. moosejaw.com
The Kelty Late Start 2 ($160) delivers respectable performance for backpacking at a reasonable price and weight. With a common architecture of two crossing poles, it provides adequate stability in relatively protected campsites. The tent poles slide easily into sleeve-like corners, making setup a breeze. Pre-bent tent poles also provide a larger living space, with almost 30 square feet of floor space and a 40-inch peak height, the living is easy and compares to many freestanding backpacking tents. Drawback: Having just one door reduces convenience, ventilation and vestibule storage space. 4 lbs. 8 oz. kelty.com
You’re counting on a sleeping bag to keep you warm at night, but for many summer backpacking trips with mild nights (above 40 degrees), many people will be perfectly comfortable in a bag rated 25-30 degrees — not only is that cheaper than a warmer bag, but it’s also usually lighter and less bulky. Exhibit A: the Marmot Trestles 30° ($99). Its synthetic SpiraFil LT insulation retains heat even if dampened on a rainy trip. A smart fold-down secondary zipper allows ventilating on milder nights. It’s not as heavy or bulky as other bargain bags, and Marmot builds gear that lasts. 3 lbs. 1 oz. marmot.com
While other gear not performing well might only bring a little discomfort, boots that don’t fit well or provide adequate support can ruin a backpacking trip quickly. Find a good pair, and they may last a few seasons or more. The Oboz Sawtooth II Mid Waterproof boots ($150) vent well from the uppers to keep feet cooler while the waterproof-breathable membrane lets you splash through puddles, mud and shallow streams without getting your feet wet. Support and cushion are outstanding, helped by Oboz’s proprietary insoles, and the nubuck leather and textile uppers armor these boots. 2 lbs. 6 oz. obozfootwear.com.
The Marmot PreCip Eco Jacket ($100) represents the latest incarnation in a line of well-built, affordable rain shells that dates back two decades. At a fraction of the cost of high-end jackets, the PreCip’s NanoPro recycled nylon fabric has proven durability; is waterproof and breathable; and sports features like a stowable, adjustable hood and pit zips. It also stuffs into a pocket. 10.1 oz. marmot.com
All photos courtesy of the manufacturer.