As pack weights get lighter and going into the wilderness gets safer, backpacking also is getting more and more expensive. How do you save money without giving up the ultralight equipment and safety gear? Let’s look at a few different ways.
Backpacking in the most remote places has become much safer now that there are personal locator beacons. One I recently saw advertised lets you call for help to 911 and family or friends at the touch of a button. It will even locate you on Google maps so others can see exactly where you are. Of course, at almost $200 for the device plus an annual fee of $100 per year for the service, it isn’t cheap.
My alternative? Just bring your cell phone and GPS unit. If you already own the phone you will only have to buy the GPS, and using it is free. When in trouble you can call for help on your phone and give the coordinates of where you are. They can type them into an online service themselves to see where you are on a map. Since your cell phone probably isn’t satellite based, coverage won’t be quite as good as the expensive locator, but it is a reasonable way to save money. Here are five more.
1. Buy used gear.
I would never buy an old sleeping bag, because the filling gets destroyed with time. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with used aluminum pans or tent stakes. I have seen both in thrift stores for a fraction of what they cost new. You can also find some decent backpacking equipment online at either Ebay or in outdoor forums which allow users to sell their old gear.
2. Stay close to home.
A big part of the expense of backpacking can be the travel expenses to get to the trailhead. But do you really have to go 2,000 miles to backpack somewhere beautiful? If you intend to eventually hike some of the trails closer to home, why not start with them? Inevitably there will be destinations you never get to, so why not have them be the more expensive ones?
3. Buy real foods.
Forget the expensive freeze-dried backpacker’s meals. Bring nuts, granola and other inexpensive real foods. For cooked meals, bring instant brown rice and a fast-cooking legume like red lentils. Noodles with olive oil, parmesan cheese and spices can be more delicious than a freeze-dried dinner and cost only a fourth as much. Many supermarket foods are better than specialty “backpacking meals” in my opinion.
4. Buy regular clothing.
Contrary to the impression given by outdoor clothing manufacturers, you don’t need a new high-tech wardrobe to get out into the wilderness. Instead of a $16 super-wicking t-shirt, try a 50/50 cotton polyester blend t-shirt from Wal-Mart for $4. It will probably be more comfortable, and dry almost as fast if it gets wet. In a warm climate with brief summer showers you can forgo the $120 waterproof/breathable rain jacket in favor of a $20 low-tech one, or even a $2 emergency poncho. There are usually ways to save a lot of money on clothing if you consider where you’ll be going and what is truly necessary.
5. Base camp.
If you just want to get out and hike, you might consider camping in your car or in a cheap tent next to it. You can hike all day with just water, food, and the few other things you need in any cheap day pack (buy it used at a thrift store to save money), and return to the car to sleep. You don’t need a great sleeping bag, backpack, tent or other expensive gear if you don’t plan to spend your nights out there in the woods. This technically isn’t backpacking, but perhaps the point for you is just to see and hike in some beautiful places, and on a budget.