Backpacking on a Budget

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(Sing to the tune of Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’) I want to hike some hills, only got $20 in my pock-et.

Paying retail price for anything is my nightmare. I typically operate under the assumption that somewhere, somehow the item I’m looking for exists at a gloriously lower price or that there is, at the very least, a cheaper equivalent elsewhere and by damn, I’ma find it. Must. Find. Cheaper.

We all know how expensive hobbies can be except for maybe mall walking, and even that demands a trusty pair of Sketchers. Backpacking is no exception. When you have to carry everything from food to shelter on your back, the battle to keep weight down often means shelling out bigger bucks in the name of gear that is smaller, lighter and more compact (and sick looking, can’t forget the power of looking cool). Add to that the high likelihood that you probably had none of this gear to start with and you my friend are looking at roughly a million little purchases along with a few big ones that all add up to one hell of a bill. But hey, worse comes to worst, if you lose the house on account of having spent all your money on backpacking gear, you’ll be totally set to start establishing Squatter’s Rights in the woods behind someone else’s house.

Is this bumming you out? Don’t let it! I have compiled tried and true methods for avoiding sticker shock and getting the most bang for your proverbial buck.

Tip 1: Don’t Buy the Hype
I’m going to use my gem of a father for this example. Dad loves to play golf. Because of this and his love for the Golf Channel, Dad is very aware of the newest gear the big boys are using. Because of THAT, Dad usually drops sizeable coin on a fancy new putter or driver bi-yearly if not quarterly. Dad’s handicap however, has stayed at a respectable 6 with little movement in either direction. What is the moral here? The “best of the best” is only so until the new coolest thing comes out. The gear shouldn’t make the experience, just facilitate it.

Tip 2: Leave Loyalty at the Door
That’s right, screw over your best friend, sell your mother’s secret recipe to the highest bidder! Okay, so I’m actually talking about retailer loyalty here. Listen, I would love to buy purely Patagonia outfits and get my gear exclusively from REI but the reality is I would be flat broke if I did. Love the brands. Hate the pricetags. In order to find the best deals you’re going to have to be a retail drifter. Shopping online makes it ridiculously easy to compare prices from different retailers, so why wouldn’t you?

***My Pick: One of my absolute favorite online retailers is Campmor. I bought all of my “big three” items at Campmor for $390 (combined retail or $565), which saved me $175! It’s also worth noting that Campmor is based out of New Jersey so they don’t have sales tax on online orders and don’t charge shipping on orders over $50.***

Tip 3: Channel Your Crazy Coupon Lady 
Hot damn I love myself a good coupon code. If you are making an online purchase, from ANY retailer, do yourself a huge favor and just quickly Google coupon codes for that website. Sweet mama, there is a dang treasure trove out there. I was forced to buy a bear canister for an upcoming trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP. While I understand the necessity, I was not stoked about shelling out $70 for a glorified bucket. That was until I found the exact canister I needed at CampSaver for $10 less, quickly did the coupon code search and got an additional 20% off! I ended up saving myself almost $25 with virtually no effort. Coup codes y’all, get into it.

Tip 4: Amazon It Up
This tip doesn’t work for all of your gear but for smaller items, Amazon is a great bet for finding the best price OR a decent equivalent. If you happen to have Prime because you forgot to cancel your free trial like this girl then you’re really in luck because you can eliminate annoying shipping fees. With Amazon you have your pick of tons of different distributors which means the prices are generally pretty competitive. One of my favorite Amazon finds is this Ultra-light Backpacking Stove ($9.99) which is basically just the po’ man’s MSR PocketRocket ($39.95). The difference? Other than one is $30 more expensive than the other, not much.

Tip 5: Research, Research, Research
This one is not a magic, money-erasing fix like the coupon codes but it will be your best bet in finding quality equipment that won’t break the bank but also won’t need constant replacing, saving you big in the long run. Before I bought my tent I agonized over which one I should get. There is a threshold of about 3 lbs. where anything lighter than that launches you into an entire new stratosphere of priciness, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of dollhairs. I spent months trying to find the overlap of best reviews, lowest price and highest quality. I finally landed on the Kelty Salida 1 and I am in love. I only paid $100 for it (much love, Campmor), and even though it’s roughly 1 pound heavier than most UL models, I cannot tell you how much I would rather have an extra couple hundred dollars in the bank than 1 less pound on the trail. My calves and many UL enthusiasts will surely disagree.

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