How to Save Money on Backpacking Gear

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John Muir, remarking on his minimalist approach to hiking, is quoted to have said, “I rolled up some bread and tea in a pair of blankets with some sugar and a tin cup and set off.” For safety and comfort’s sake you’ll probably want to be better equipped (the famous naturalist was practically starving to death, after all), but that doesn’t mean you have to make your bank account cry in the process. I’m a total gear geek, and love the latest and greatest offerings from backpacking retailers, but I also love finding a deal. True, backpacking gear can cost a pretty penny, but it doesn’t have to. You want to be sweating over that huge elevation gain on the trail, not how much you just spent on a sleeping bag. With that in mind, here are my top five tips for saving money on backpacking gear.

Shop intentionally

“Live life with purpose” may sound like a trite millennial tattoo, but it’s solid gear shopping wisdom. Sure, browsing aimlessly may lead you to deeply discounted gear, but without a goal in mind the temptation to impulse buy can be overwhelming. You may soon discover that solar powered portable tent air conditioner and boom box combo isn’t as vital as you first thought, even if you did get it for $50 off the MSRP. Instead, take an inventory of your current gear. Focus on the Big 3 first (pack, shelter, and sleep system). Prioritize which gear you actually need, and then start searching specifically for those pieces.

Also, just because you have older gear doesn’t mean you need to replace it. It may not have all the bells and whistles of newer models, but it can still be completely usable. Don’t toss gear just because it’s “old”. A simple repair job is all you might need to add several extra years of life to a piece of gear. Using what you have and only buying what you need will help stretch your backpacking budget.

Do your research

Once you’ve identified your necessary piece of gear, it’s time to research the life out of it. Researching helps you insure you’re investing in a piece of gear that will fit your specific needs. This can be done both generally and specifically.

For example, if you’ve determined you need a new daypack you can start by doing a general search for “daypacks” on gear sale sites. Look at different styles and brands. Determine which features are important to you, and which would just be nice but not necessary. Compare prices to get a baseline price.

After you find a few packs that seem to fit your needs and budget, zero in on researching those specific packs. When I found my Columbia Vixen 22L pack on clearance I  thought it looked like the perfect pack for me, but I read many reviews to learn the opinions of women who actually owned it. I did this by looking up reviews on the retail site I was considering purchasing from and by googling “Columbia Vixen pack review”.

Don’t forget to also check if there are any available discount codes or free shipping deals when you go to purchase.

Don’t be picky

Certain aspects of gear like fit, size, features, and weight are vital; while others such as color and brand, are not. Purchasing gear based on its functionality, and not by the frills can save you some serious cash. Both my Patagonia Houdini windbreaker and my Columbia rain jacket cost me less than normal, simply because I bought versions in last season’s colors. Is Kelly green really my fave color? Not particularly, but the bears don’t care and it saved me $50! Or, when I was searching for a new daypack I really wanted to get the Osprey Tempest, partially because I was caught up in the Osprey brand fever. By purchasing my Columbia I snagged a great piece of gear for much less, simply because it didn’t carry the Osprey logo.

Pay more

This may sound completely counter intuitive, but bear with me. Sometimes it’s worth it to make an investment in gear that will last for years, rather than making a quick purchase of cheap gear that dies after one season. The initial purchase price may seem expensive, but consider how long you expect the gear to last. You may turn white at the thought of spending $300 on a tent, but what if that tent lasted 10 years? That would be $30/year, compared to a $150 tent that may only last 3 years ($50/year).

Or perhaps the greater functionality and performance warrants spending more. I purchased my Osprey Ariel pack at full retail price, but I knew I wanted an extremely comfortable pack that wouldn’t leave me sore after a day on the trail. I decided that the perfect fit of the pack didn’t warrant quibbling over a few extra $$.

The key here is to follow Rule #2: do your research! Make sure this investment is a quality piece of gear that will fit your long term needs, and not a purchase you will regret in 6 months.

Don’t shop at backpacking stores

This is one of my favorite sneaky tips for saving cash on backpacking gear. Products marketed to a niche consumer are going to carry prices that reflect the high level of specificity. The trick is to start shopping outside of the niche.

I’ve had the most success with this in purchasing clothing. Companies may try to convince you through clever marketing that you must wear their pair of  specially designed “backpacking pants”, but really all you need is simple, comfortable clothing made from synthetics or wool. So instead of searching specifically for “women’s backpacking clothing” at a backpacking store, I instead search for “athletic wear” at a non backpacking store. Or I’ll even look out of the athletic department at garments made from the appropriate materials. (My favorite store for doing this is actually T.J. Maxx, it’s how my sis and Mom convince me to go shopping with them there 😀 )

You can do this with other pieces of gear as well, such as cooking equipment, food, and personal care items. Simply identify the key components of the piece of gear and then broaden the search area.

 

Through some thoughtful prioritizing, researching, and savvy shopping you can find excellent deals on backpacking gear. Remember, the main objective is not to have the flashiest, most technical gear, but to just get out on the trail!

What is your best advice for saving money on gear?

Extra tips

Buy an REI membership – For a one-time fee of $20, an REI membership includes bonus coupons, a yearly 10% back member dividend, exclusive access to REI garage sales, and co-op voting rights.

Put gear on your birthday list/ask for giftcards

Look for lightly used gear on gear swaps or eBay

Search for clothing in the athletic wear department of a thrift store

Sign up for a site’s newsletter to learn about sales and get coupons

Websites for snagging clearance items and sales:

REI Garage

Sierra Trading Post

Backcountry

Moosejaw

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Should I Use Trekking Poles?

The Farming Daughter Blog: Should I Use Trekking Poles? (https://thefarmingdaughter.com/2017/02/20/should-i-use-trekking-poles)

Should I use trekking poles?

As I started hiking more frequently I remember asking myself this very question. It seemed like the mark of a thru hiker was a pole in each fist, and if the “professionals” were using them, then I should as well, right?

On the other hand, I’m not a very graceful person so if I couldn’t even walk without tripping over my own feet how would I manage while worrying about two extra sticks? Plus, would the benefits of trekking poles outweigh the hassle of not having my hands free to snack while walking or snap a pic? And I have to admit, I was secretly afraid of projecting a facade of more hiking expertise than I actually possessed.

These concerns, coupled with a reluctance to spend money on something I might end up disliking kept me from buying trekking poles. Thankfully, my sweet mother made the decision for me and bought me a pair for my birthday last year. After using them on almost every hike I’ve gone on since then (including snowshoeing) I’d like to share my reasons I think you should at least give trekking poles a chance.

1. Trekking poles give you stability.

The first 5 minutes of using my trekking poles I doubted I would like them. I seemed to knock them against every root and stone in my path and they felt awkward and cumbersome in my hands. So much for supporting me, I thought. These things trip me up more than they help. Good for me I didn’t quit, because I quickly picked up the rhythm of stepping with my feet and swinging my poles. Once I was in the groove, I soon realized how helpful my poles were at keeping me from stumbling. They provide two extra points of contact with the ground that help to keep my balance. They also work splendidly to help you feel more secure on steep downward descents.

2. Trekking poles put your whole body to work.

Hiking is essentially walking long distances in the woods. It’s great for giving your lower body and cardio a workout, but no so much the rest of your body. That is, unless you use trekking poles. Using trekking poles causes you to engage your arms and upper body, giving you an awesome full body work out.

3. Trekking poles help you to power through challenging parts of the trail.

Because you now have your arms and upper body engaged while hiking it makes it easier hiking through steep or challenging sections of the trail. I have often found my poles are just the extra “boost” I need to assist me up a daunting incline.

4. Trekking poles take stress off your knees and lower joints.

Since your whole body is engaged while using trekking poles the impact is also distributed. Ironically, for being an avid hiker I have problems with feet, leg, and knee pain. Using trekking poles makes my arms and upper body go to work and helps take some of the stress off my knees and lower joints. I really wish I had used trekking poles on my September 2015 backpacking trip when I was hiking on a sprained ankle!

5. Trekking poles are multi-purposed.

Trekking poles aren’t only for helping you to walk! They work great for sounding out the depth of creeks or snow. There are some ultra-light tents that shave weight by using your trekking poles as the poles to hold up your shelter. You can purchase camera mounts that attach and turn your trekking poles into a mono-pod for photography. And lets all admit, who doesn’t feel at least a bit more protected from predators with two sturdy sticks in their hands?

And finally…

6. Trekking poles help you to hike faster.

The combination of stability, a fully engaged body, assistance on precipitous parts of the trail, and decreased hiking pain naturally means you’re going to hike faster. Granted, speed isn’t everything, but sometimes I appreciate being able to maximize my time in the outdoors and cover more ground.

Is there any time when you shouldn’t use trekking poles? If you’re planning on walking at a more leisurely pace trekking poles aren’t always necessary, when you’re going to be doing an activity that requires the use of your hands (such as photography) it might be best to leave them at home, and if you’re in a group walking close together poles might get in the way of others.

If you’re still not fully convinced that you need trekking poles and are hesitant like I was to drop the dough on them, I recommend you start out with a cheaper pair just to give them a try. I was pleasantly surprised with how well my Yukon Charlie’s Trek Lite Anti-Shock Poles worked! So far they’ve proven very durable, it’s relatively easy to adjust the length, and for only $50 they surprisingly still have the high-end feature of cork grips. You can find them here, or search on Amazon.com where certain colors are even cheaper.

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I hope this post has convinced you to at least give trekking poles a chance, but whether you prefer a pole in each hand, your trusty walking stick, or to just let your arms swing free, the important thing is to get out there and go hiking!

What is your experience with trekking poles? Have you ever tried a piece of gear and wondered where it had been all of your previous hiking life?

-Michaela “The Farming Daughter”