I’ve always loved nature. It’s calming, it beautiful, and it’s wild. A few years ago I began to grow increasingly discontent with the way I had been living. The culture here in the United States is really big on consumerism, technology, and activities that keep you inside. A craving started to develop in my soul. A craving to enter into the wilderness; to get into the outdoors; into nature.
I decided I had to do something about it, so I started learning all I could about backpacking, hiking, and the wilderness. I’m still learning. Always learning. Maybe you, like me, have a craving to get outside and into the wilderness. The craving is good, but there are practicalities. Backpacking cost money.
How Much To Spend On Backpacking Gear:
Well, I crunched the numbers and estimate that on the low end you will have to spend between $636 and $1132 of your budget on gear. This is for essential budget gear that you can’t backpack without. For higher-end items, you will need to spend $3395+. See the chart below.
I got my gear for just under $1200 when I first started. I didn't have anything so I had to buy everything.
You’ll need to pack more items than what is listed above. This breakdown assumes you own suitable clothing (made from wool or moisture-wicking material). The cost to start backpacking comes down to your budget, the gear you have, and the gear you need.
Get Essential Items First
You don’t have to go all out and buy everything at once but you do need the essentials. Start with buying the most important things first: a good backpack, a decent tent, good hiking shoes, etc. Also, if you own any camping gear it might do just fine as you are starting out.
Note: camping gear and backpacking gear can overlap at times but they are different. If you have a pair of durable shoes or boots, a camping tent, a normal sleeping bag, you may be able to get away with using them as you start to build your pack list. This won’t apply to everyone as other factors will come into play (like the type of trail you’ll be on, the condition of the gear, the weather, etc.) My point is, don’t think that you have to wait until you have everything you want before you can go on your first multi-day hike. Wait until you have everything you need. Use common sense and wisdom but use what you’ve got.
Finding Backpacking Gear on a Budget
Wait for store sales. Clearance sales are pretty frequent towards the end of summer, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Put together a gear list ion advanced and write down the current retail price. Signing up to REI’s email list may also be helpful. There's also SlickDeals. A forum that alerts users of store's clearance offers; it’s especially helpful on Blackfriday.
Search Facebook for groups that buy and sell items. Some groups buy/sell backpacking gear as well as local groups that buy/sell/swap just about anything (sometimes they are called swap groups or buy/sell). Here are a few groups to get you started:
Search Facebook Marketplace & Craiglist. Both of these platforms have gear listed frequently. Once you have your gear list start checking regularly to see if anyone has listed one of the items.
Get used gear from REI’s CoOp. REI has a 1-year return policy on their new items and they offer returns in any condition. Many people buy something new, use it, and then return it. REI resells the used returns at a discount. It’s a good place to look. The used items are sold as it—so be sure to do your homework before you buy something.
Hunt for your items at garage sales (also called ‘yard’ or ‘rummage’ sales depending on where you are from). There are lots of Yardsales in Spring & Summer. Keep your eye out for used gear that someone might be selling. You never know the type of deals you will be able to get.
Check your local thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc) There are tons of backpackers out there! Many of them looking to upgrade and sell off their old items. You can save a lot of money by buying some things second hand.
eBay is another good place to look. Gear is listed every day. When searching for your gear be sure to filter the results to only show listings that are in ‘used condition.’ This will filter out the resellers and merchants that have new items listed at retail prices.
Invest More Into Items That Matter Most
For certain items Investing in quality is a must. It doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, you can do it on a budget. If you’re a beginner you should understand that there are certain items worth investing more into than others. If you are going to spend more money on something it should be these essentials:
Invest in a backpack that is good for you. Make sure it is comfortable enough and big enough. This will make or break your experience. You want to spend more money on a backpack that fits well. Read the reviews but know that just because a particular backpack is comfortable to one person doesn’t mean it will be for you. It’s important to know your size and get one that fits.
You might want to consider heading down to your local REI to get fitted for one. They will be able to help you decide what the best option is for you and your budget. They usually recommended that you not use an ultralight backpack for your first trip. They don’t have as much padding and it may not be something you are used to.
Spend the money on a sleeping bag & pad that is comfortable enough for you to sleep with. The quality of sleep you get (or don’t get) impact how well the experience is for you. You want to invest your money in a sleeping bag that will keep you warm at night, is comfortable, and doesn’t weigh too much. Choose a temperature rating based on the trail conditions & climate. The same goes for the sleeping pad you choose. Invest in a sleep system that won’t keep you tossing and turning at night. It’s important to get good sleep and recover at night.
Invest in a reliable tent. This is your home and your only shelter in the wilderness. You want to stay warm, dry, and protected from the elements. Choosing the wrong tent for backpacking can ruin your trip. Be sure to buy the right tent for the type of weather you will be in. Will you be in snow or rain? Will you be somewhere that has strong wind gusts? Buy a waterproof, quality tent, from a reliable brand.
Consider Renting The Gear You Don’t Own. Whether you have gear or not you can rent everything you need for a trip. It can get expensive but it might be a cheaper option in certain cases. I’ve never rented hiking or camping gear—so I can’t offer too much here—but it is an option. It can be expensive from what I’ve heard. It’s not something I’d ever do but in some situations, I understand that it might be a good option.
REI offers rentals. Start there if you are interested.
I hope I’ve explained just how much to spend on backpacking gear. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations please feel free to leave a comment.