Making the leap from day hiking to backpacking is daunting not only in the physical and mental aspect, but can also be financially daunting. Backpacking gear can get very expensive very quickly, but there are ways to get yourself ready to backpack without breaking the bank.
The type of gear you need will change somewhat, but you will also be able to utilize many of the items you may currently have for your day hikes. Things like a hydration bladder, first aid kit, headlamp or flashlight, multi-tool or knife, compass, and other basics will often suffice for backpacking. The gear you will really want to focus on is your shelter (tent, bivy, hammock, whatever floats your boat), your sleeping bag, and your sleeping pad. A stove is nice to have, but not a necessity as there are tons of options for “no cook” meals while backpacking. You’ll also need a way to filter and/or purify water.
Know the conditions you are most likely to be facing and buy gear rated for those conditions. If you plan on camping in the summer months only, there’s no need to spend a lot of extra money on a 10 degree bag. In fact, during hot weather, a lightweight sleeping bag liner is often more than enough. Sleeping pads come in a million shapes and sizes, but one of the most durable and a long time favorite of ours is the ThermaRest Ridge Rest. You can get one for around $30 and you never have to worry about it deflating in the middle of the night. Because it’s not inflatable, it’s as handy for sitting on around the campfire as it is for sleeping on later at night. It’s also very light (though a little bulky) and comes in a variety of widths.
Water filtration is a whole other animal and there are many options. All are good and all have their pluses and minuses. You can read our extensive write up about the different varieties here.
If you are a solo hiker, you may find opting for a bivy or hammock is the easiest and most economical option. Or if you plan to only camp when the weather is forecast to be dry and warm, cowboy camping (under the stars) might be a great option for you. We often split up the tent and each carry different parts to distribute the weight a bit. We love our REI Passage 2 tent. It’s fairly light, easy to set up, and gives us the perfect amount of room for us plus the 1-3 dogs we often travel with. It also has two doors and vestibules for gear which keeps your tent mate from walking all over you in a mad dash for a middle of the night potty break. During clear, warm weather, we leave the rain fly at home and save some weight while being able to see the stars at night. At $159, it’s got great bang for the buck! There are ultralight tents out there, but they come with an ultra heavy price tag that most people new to backpacking can’t justify (you may be lucky enough to score one used for a great price though!). Some of the newer tents make use of hiking poles instead of tent poles to save weight and take advantage of multiple purposes for gear.
One of the best ways we have found to acquire some of this gear is through sales like the REI members only sales. You never know what you will find there, but we have found Osprey packs for less than 1/2 of retail, tents, hiking poles, and other items. It’s well worth waiting in line and paying the one time membership fee to have access to this sale, especially if you are on a budget. If you aren’t totally versed in gear, take along a knowledgeable friend to help you weed out the good from the bad. Other great options for finding gear at a steal are Ebay and the like, as well as checking your local area for gear swaps or warehouse sales. Another great option is to borrow some gear if you have a generous friend. This will let you test out both backpacking and try their gear to see what works for you. Always keep in mind what type of conditions you plan to backpack in, this will really help you narrow down your needs.
Keep an eye here for our upcoming blog which will go into more detail on gear considerations for the transition to backpacking. As always, we love your feedback and comments!