The days are growing longer and the snow is melting. Fledgling buds colonize the trees outside your apartment and your allergies are going insane. Summer is on your doorstep, which means planning a whole gaggle of adventures in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, your bank account is looking trimmer than that summer beach body you want. No fear—I’m here to help you figure out the best way to outfit your summer adventures on a budget. The point of the outdoors is to be inclusive, and the outside is free, so your monetary class should not dictate your ability to experience something natural and free.
It’s true you get what you pay for, but it’s also true you don’t need to shell out your future child’s college fund for name-brand gear to keep you safe and comfortable out there. In this post, I’ll focus mainly on hiking and backpacking gear because I have the most experience buying and using it. So let’s dive into the wide world of cheap outdoor gear for all your adventures.
Tips for Deals
I’m a big proponent of checking out an item in the store, then shopping around online for the best possible price. Online outdoor retailers like backcountry.com, steepandcheap.com, evo.com, theclymb.com, REI Garage and many more offer discounts on outdoor gear. Some of this gear would be considered “last season”, but for those on a budget who don’t really give a chipmunk’s arse, these sites are a goldmine for deals! Be sure to check in at the end of each season for seasonal deals. October is a great time to buy camping gear for the next season, as March/April is a good time to buy last season’s discounted ski and snowboard gear.
You may be a broke adventurer on a canned beans diet with a taste for filet mignon. In that case, it’s time to lower your standards. Most people can get by without the most technical gear for their outdoor adventures. Don’t sweat it if you can’t afford the top brands in the industry. There are tons of affordable companies who still make excellent gear. I absolutely love Alps Mountaineering and their gear is affordable, durable and looks great! I bought a tent from them about 3 years ago for $116 and it’s weathered two snow storms, sand storms, nearby lightning strikes and endless rain.
Do keep in mind that buying $30 hiking shoes might mean they aren’t completely waterproof or that a $60 camping tent might not withstand extreme wind and rain and it’s probably going to add a few pounds to your backpacking load. It’s important to know your gear’s limitations and work with it, instead of scrapping the whole adventure.
Borrow or Rent
Seriously, you know someone with a warmer sleeping bag, a bigger tent, a waterproof rain jacket, snowshoes or a camp grill you can borrow. Don’t buy a sub-zero sleeping bag just because you’re going to Iceland on vacation, unless it’s something you’ll regularly use (in your home in northern Canada..). And if you don’t have a friend with something you need, chances are there’s a nearby gear shop that will rent it to you for a small fraction of the cost. This is a great way to try out gear before you buy—some shops will even put the rental price you paid towards the cost of the item if you decide to purchase it!
Military Surplus Stores
Budget hikers and backpackers can find military-grade outdoor gear for next to nothing at military surplus stores. Take it from the true “pros”– this stuff works! It might not be the lightest or best-looking gear, but it’s affordable and does its job in the wilderness. Andrew loved his military internal frame backpack and just upgraded this winter after two seasons!
Many people are opting to purchase used gear for their outdoor expeditions, including me! Keep in mind some things are better bought new, like sleeping pads, hiking shoes, camp stoves…and underwear. If you’re looking to purchase used gear, be sure to inspect the gear closely and assess whether you think the lower cost is worth any wear and tear it may have sustained.
- Does it fit?
- Do you intend to carry more than 30 lbs.? If so, does this pack offer support for that load?
- Does it have the features you need?
- Does it have a waterproof cover? Hint: you can make one yourself out of a trash bag.
With a tent:
- Are there holes in the interior canopy or exterior rain fly?
- Does rain fly extend nearly to the ground to keep rain out of the tent?
- Do the poles assemble easily? Do the zippers work?
- Does the tent sit strong when assembled and staked into the ground?
- If backpacking, is the tent small and light enough to easily carry?
With a sleeping bag:
- What’s the insulation material? Synthetic or down?
- Does it include a stuff sack and will it easily fit inside your pack?
- For car camping, is it warm enough to sustain cooler nights and easily portable?
- Does the zipper move well or catch easily?
- Does the hood close smoothly around your head and face?
Things to Spend Less On
Let’s be real, you don’t need an $80 hiking shirt and $100 dry-wick pants to hike into the mountains. Hiking in your $5 Hanes t-shirt, Levis and Nike skate shoes doesn’t make you any less of a hiker (lookin’ at you, babe!). I regularly grab mittens, hats, pants, etc. on the fly at a nearby Wal-Mart and I can honestly say, not one of those items has ever prevented me from a good camping trip or reaching the summit of a hike. Evaluate clothes you already have for your trip or head into your local thrift store where you can find name brands on the cheap.
A cheap poncho set will do just as well as an Arcteryx jacket. Seriously though, I lived in Thailand during monsoon season and drove a scooter to work in torrential downpour wearing a $10 men’s rain jacket and stayed dry (most days). Frogg Toggs—yes those hideous poncho-pant combinations—are the choice rain gear option for many serious thru-hikers because they’re cheap and they keep you dry!
You don’t need a Jetboil to have a cook stove. There are cheaper options out there, and you can even DIY your own! You can also find a cheap cooking pot rather than shelling out the cash for a titanium one. We bought an aluminum pot at Goodwill, and it’s done its job ten times over. And, for the true camping experience, there’s always hot dogs on a stick over an open fire. Mmmm—charred “meat”.
Expensive Water Bottles
I’m a big fan of using an environmentally friendly water bottle, but if you already have a disposable water bottle like a Smart Water bottle lying around, you can definitely use that on your hike.
Seriously, unless you’re planning on going swimming with your cell phone, you don’t need an ultra-durable dry bag. In fact, regular ole Ziploc bags will do just fine most of the time.
Remember, your gear doesn’t get you to the summit, you do. Your gear doesn’t dictate if you have a fun camping trip with your friends, you do. And while better gear can make things a bit easier, extra preparation can always make up for choosing more affordable options!