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  • Marina Neal

6 Essential Tips to Backpack on a Budget

One of the biggest barriers for me, when I started getting into the outdoors, was managing the cost. A quick look at the REI website showed me backpacks for hundreds of dollars, and countless quick-dry tops that cost almost as much as a week of groceries. The stress of the expense was overwhelming and made me want to quit before I started. But I’m here now to tell you there’s another way.

Women backpacking with camera, alexa romano
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

Unfortunately, there are some expenses you can’t cut, and a lot of outdoor sports don’t have cheap alternatives. Backpacking is a really great way to get moving outside without breaking the bank.

1. Buy used gear

This is one of my biggest tips for backpacking on a budget. New gear is expensive and often unnecessary. I’ve saved so much money buying used, and it’s great for the planet too. You can get used gear at local gear shops, or online shops like Requipper. There’s usually a large variety of clothes, shoes, and gear. The perfect way to start your backpacking on a budget journey!

2. Function > appearance

When I started backpacking, I was so focused on having gear that made me look like a backpacker, that I spent way too much money on cute cooking sets that I quickly lost. Now, when I go backpacking, I use a tupperware container from my kitchen and a spork I bought a few years ago. Think simple!

3. Buy food in bulk

Camping in nepal
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

Buying fancy dehydrated meals may feel like the way to go, but there are some cheaper options out there. I often bring Tasty Bite meals, which are easy to make, and run for about 3 dollars a packet. Lots of food can also be bought in bulk, like pasta and trail mix, and can last for days!

Another tip that will save you money: sit down before you go grocery shopping and write down a meal plan for each day and estimate how much food you will need. This way, when you go into the grocery store, you don’t buy too much. Saves weight in the pack later and money now.

4. Get a topo map and compass, or use your phone

When you begin backpacking, it’s easy to think that you need a fancy navigation device. Items like the Garmin InReach can run for upwards of $500+ dollars. This is a huge investment and can seem like a large barrier.

For shorter trips, a topographic map and compass, or GPS on your phone will work perfectly! Apps like GAIA GPS are made for backcountry navigation, and are totally free. They track your location as you walk and show you where you are on the trail. If you do use an app, don’t forget to bring a way to charge up your phone!

backpackers river crossings nols
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

5. Start close to home

Don’t need to drive hours or travel to the most famous mountain range! Find some public land nearby to get started. Check out our in-depth guide on public lands–they are free and a great place to explore. There is public land covering much of our country and in every single state. So while getting permits and driving to a popular national park may sound appealing, there are affordable other options that are just as beautiful.

6. Don’t sweat the gear.

There are a lot of fancy words thrown around with backpacking gear. It’s hard to know what you really need, especially when everything is so expensive. Once again, simple is better. An old workout tank top works for a shirt for a few days, synthetic filling in a sleeping bag is totally okay, and you don’t need a fancy water pump (Aquamira drops run for about $15!). It’s okay to start out with a heavier pack or tent, as generally this is way cheaper and you can always resell it when you can afford to upgrade!

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite NP
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

All in all, there is no right way to backpack. As long as you are safe, and bring a rain jacket, you should be good to go! Using tupperware for a bowl, or wearing the pair of leggings you’ve had for ten years, or buying everything used, all are great ways to see the outdoors. Check out these common backpacking mistakes to avoid, collect what you need and get out there!

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