Want to try backpacking? Don’t want to spend a lot of money before you even know if you like it? A full complement of hiking equipment is expensive, if purchased all at once, but there’s no reason to do that. Most beginning backpackers can find some ways to try before they buy, which gives them a chance to see not only how much they like backpacking, but how well they like certain types of gear.
Budgeting and Buying Tips for Hiking Equipment
- Buy used equipment. Start at a local hiking club. Check the newsletter, which will frequently have a “for sale” section, or put in a notice. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s newsletter frequently has listings of used and not-so-used gear for sale. Craig’s List, eBay, and local garage sales are also possibilities. Or post a request on Facebook.
- Borrow: Friends and relatives may have a stash of old gear available for borrowing, especially if they don’t use it often. This is a good way to check out various brands and models, although much of what’s sitting around in a friend’s garage is likely to be out of date.
- Rent: Some outfitting stores such as R.E.I. in the United States rent major pieces of gear, including tents, sleeping bags, and packs. Backpackers traveling with an organized trip may get the use of gear included in the price they pay, or may be able to rent certain items from their outfitters.
- Check end-of-season sales: The selection might not be enormous, but the prices are right. Last year’s stuff is out of fashion this year — but not out of function.
- Ask about sales of returned items. Some outfitters have very generous return policies, and you can sometimes score a barely used piece of gear for a fraction of its original cost.
- Hiker events (fairs, conferences, “rucks” (or gatherings) on the A.T. and other long trails) are good places to check out new designs in ultralight gear, often at good prices.
- Check to see if local hiking clubs have a gear swap or sale day.
- Make do. There’s no need to spend $200 on hiking boots for an overnight: Use a pair of running shoes. Old workout clothes make good hiking clothes (although it’s best to avoid cotton, as it absorbs moisture). A couple of soda bottles can be used for water (take a spare in case one cracks).
With a little bit of creativity and planning, it should be possible to assemble enough equipment for a night in the woods without having to take out a second mortgage. Of course, after a hiker gets hooked, that’s when “G.A.S.” (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) kicks in, and if you really get into backpacking, you’ll want to carefully assemble equipment you can count on for longer trips. But it’s best to get some experience under your belt first, and learn from that experience just exactly what you do need — and, as importantly, what you don’t need.