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Cheap Backpacking – a How to Guide

Cheap backpacking is accomplished in two basic ways? The first is to cut the cost of the trip. The second way is to spend less on the gear you buy. Here are some tips for doing both of these.

Cheap Backpacking Gear

Don’t bother with high-tech gear. Is it really important to have a super wicking poly-fiber t-shirt for when you’re hiking? Probably not, especially if it is the middle of July. Any regular t-shirt bought on sale for a few dollars will work. For that matter, a cheap plastic emergency poncho can replace that $200 breathable/waterproof rain suit if rain is unlikely and it’s warm out there. You might want to spend the money for better gear if you want lighter versions. In that case, you can still save money by putting the next two tips to use.


Look for the deals. An obvious tip, but easy to forget when you get excited about that shiny new equipment. Shoes and hiking boots in particular can be bought inexpensively if you watch for the sales. Apparently some people won’t buy last year’s styles, so those $90 shoes go on sale for $40. Look for the closeouts from online vendors and local shoe stores. Thought outdoor clothing is most likely to go on sale, tents, sleeping bags are sometimes half-priced when newer models come out.

Look for used gear. Though I would never buy used shoes, I’ve found that thrift stores have plenty of used jackets that are in great condition. I’ve even found decent lightweight hiking pants at times, as well as aluminum pans that are really light and some other backpacking equipment.

Make your own gear. I know of backpackers who sew their own backpacks and sleeping bags. That seems like too much work to me, and I’m not sure the savings would amount to much. But I have modified cheap pans for backpacking, made hats from old thermal shirt sleeves, and bivy sacks from plastic and duct tape. And now that I think about it, I did make a backpack once from an old aluminum frame and a duffel bag. It weighed less than any commercial frame pack for sale at the time.

Skip the expensive foods. You don’t need freeze-dried meals to enjoy backpacking. Snacks are a good way to go, and if you really need those cooked meals, bring simple foods like instant rice.

Cheap Backpacking Trips

Plan your own backpacking excursions. Although guided hiking trips can be nice, they are expensive. Just plan your own. Choose a location, do your research online, and start looking for the cheapest plane tickets that will get you there.

Go to free places. Many people automatically think of national parks or other places that have fees when they think of a wilderness experience. But there are many places that are just as beautiful and don’t charge anything. Try national forests with hiking trails, for example, or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, or state forests. One advantage of this approach – apart from the money savings – is that you’ll likely find such area less crowded.

Find a location nearby. For many backpacking trips the cost of getting to the trailhead is the biggest expense. Isn’t there someplace interesting to see within an hour or two of where you are? Visit those areas and you might save a lot of travel money.

Now put it all together. Plan your own trip to a free place close to home and outfit yourself with basic clothing bought at thrift stores and equipment bought on sale. That’s cheap backpacking.

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July 2019
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