If you’re new to backpacking and are getting ready for your first trip, to find the right gear you have a couple of options.
Option A: Walk in to REI with a packing list in hand and nod solemnly as they outfit you from head to toe in shiny new gear (picture in your mind a splendid makeover movie montage with color-coordinated singing sales clerks).
This method does work, but it might result in you eventually realizing that half of the stuff you just bought is unnecessary.
Option B: Take some time to plan out your gear on a budget and avoid buying brand-new everything (Upside: save money. Downside: no singing sales clerks).
You don’t need to give up your keen sense of fashion in order to spend time in the wilderness. It doesn't require a lot of money to stay warm, dry, and comfortable during an expedition. What it does take are time, skills, and resources.
To help you with that, here are a few principles to guide your gear search:
The Ethics of Cheap:
Public lands belong to all of us, and we pay for them every year with our taxes. Whether or not you consider yourself wealthy shouldn’t limit your access to the beautiful wild places that have been set aside from civilization. Use your resources wisely, get a great deal, and in a small way, rebel against the consumer system (no, you do not need to buy a new backpack each year when they release a new model).
There is a huge secondary benefit to spending less on your gear: buying used items helps save the planet. You're keeping stuff out of landfills, and you are lessening the amount of new raw material that has to be cut out of the earth and the energy it takes to refine raw materials into fabrics.
Take the time to examine needs versus wants. This is a huge tenet in lightweight backpacking theory. You don't need to bring a folding camp chair, or a pair of binoculars, or a waterproof digital camera. Find a perfectly sloping rock for your backrest, learn to move quietly so the birds will come closer, and use colored pencils in your journal to record memorable sights.
Spend that money on a nicer sleeping bag and relish the fact that your pack is light, your back less sore, your quality of sleep is better, and you have fewer items to pack up in the morning—more time for quality coffee making.
Where to Start
- Grocery stores: for the little items like candy bars, small journals, hand sanitizer, toiletries, bandanas, and lighters
- Thrift stores
- Garage sales
- Online: plenty of websites offer steep deals on gear, including Steep and Cheap, Massdrop, Sierra Trading Post, and minimus.biz
With these principles, you can figure out the gear you need and the gear you don't, and feel good about it, too!
Allie Maloney is a backcountry chef and enjoys road trips and mountain town thrift stores.