August 27, 2012 Leave a comment
I recently went on a short overnight trip with some friends of mine, two of which had not been backpacking in a while and one of which had never been backpacking at all. As is the case with many trips outdoors, we had a conversation about how expensive it can be to get geared up for an outdoor excursion. Having started building up my own arsenal of outdoor gear while in university, I know how expensive it can be, so I felt compelled to write a post about how to amass quality gear without breaking the bank. For the sake of brevity, I have organized this into a list of tips.
- Mountain Equipment Co-op is your friend. MEC, or its American analogue (and inspiration) REI, is a cooperative, so it is not hell-bent on milking every last dollar out of you. They sell good gear at reasonable prices, and they even have a house brand of clothing and gear that can get you quality approaching that of premium brands like Mountain Hardwear or Arc’teryx, but at half the price. (There is a difference, and the premium exists for a reason, but if you can afford North Face, you probably should not be reading this post.) Common trade-offs are weight, packability, specialization of design. Quality and durability can be issues too, but rarely. Still, if you are going to Everest, chances are you can either afford the fancy brand names or you are sponsored. Surprisingly, even things you can get at a department store are cheaper at MEC (like fuel).
- End-of-season sales are your friend. My two-person backpacking tent cost me less than $150 because I bought it in September. It is not a department store special, but a Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2. Had I bought it in summer, I would have paid over $200. I do shop at Atmosphere, but I refuse to pay full price because whatever I want to buy will usually go on sale at some point.
- “Cheapest now” is not always “cheapest in the long run.” Case-in-point: I have a friend who bought cheap hiking boots that literally fell apart on the first trip he took them out on. Tents are another example–I know people who have bought cheap tents that either leaked or did not breathe, leading to a miserable night and an inevitable upgrade, or worse yet, giving up on camping.
- Sometimes, cheap is good. I have a pair of $20 hiking poles from Army and Navy that are still kicking around. They are not the lightest things pair and the twist lock is not as convenient as a flip lock, but they cost a quarter of the price of brand-name poles.
- The used market is a great source for deals. I bought my Scarpa mountaineering boots through Kijiji for $100, or a third of what the list price would have been. The MEC Online Gear Swap is another great place to look. There are also community gear swap sales. MEC holds one of these annually, and I picked up my crampons for $70, or about half off. While you do have to be careful with some used gear, you can find good stuff for cheap if you look and bring someone along to screen your selected items before you fork over cash.
- Shop online. I recently discovered Department of Goods, which is an online clearance outlet for outdoor gear that sells for 30-70% off retail price on brand-name gear. (I normally like to support my local stores, but even I could not turn down a deal like 50% off a gore-tex shell, much less a student on a budget.
- Prioritize purchases. You do not need to own everything right away. Chances are someone you know has gear that they can share with you (like a tent or stove) during a trip. If you have a group of friends you regularly go with, purchasing group gear can be spread out. Finally, you can also rent expensive items, which allows you to try-before-you-buy or to have a stop-gap measure to deal with a specialized situation (like a one-time winter camping trip; really, when is the next time you would need a -20C sleeping bag?).
- Find other creative ways to save money. I switched to white gas from propane for car camping and some backpacking trips. I am outdoors enough that the long-term savings from using white gas offsets the increased cost of a white gas stove. Making your own dehydrated meals is cheaper than buying expensive freeze-dried ones. (And no, I do not mean buying a dehydrator. Think more along the lines of ramen, minute rice, and egg powder. I have even heard of uber-minimalists who just eat boiled quinoa, but that is too much even for me.) A couple of granola bars is cheaper than a Clif Bar, and, honestly, probably tastes better too.
Being outdoors should not have to break the bank–in fact, the consumerism that has infected outdoor pursuits is rather antithetical to the whole point of experiencing the simplicity of nature. That, however, is another post.
I hope you have found this list helpful. Please feel free to share your comments or your own tips about backpacking (or camping, hiking, etc.) on a budget!