Backpacking on a Budget
Backpacking gear is expensive. The more lightweight gear you have, the more pleasurable your backpacking experience will be. However, that high quality gear is not cheap! When I committed to hiking the Appalachian Trail, I had just graduated college and had zero dollars. Fortunately, I was able to live at home and spend one year working and saving while I gradually accumulated my backpacking gear. Here are my tips for getting discounted gear:
1. Plan Ahead and Tell People
I had an entire year to plan and prepare for the AT. That year was key for planning and spreading the news about my big adventure. I’ll be honest, it was helpful to have a Christmas and a birthday before I started hiking. My family and close friends gifted me with hiking-themed things. For example, one family I nanny for gave me a Steripen— I brought it on the AT to purify water and still use it to this day. My brother gave me a cool knife. My Uncle gave me a gift card I used to buy hiking clothes.
2. Wait for Sales
I bought most of my clothes, socks, and gear for hugely discounted prices. It was sometimes frustrating to wait, but saving money on an item you aren’t going to use til the Spring is a small sacrifice.
Join the email lists for your favorite brands: For example, Patagonia has a 50% off sale 2x a year and if you’re on the email list, you won’t miss it!
Black Friday: I got a great headlamp and some merino wool socks for absurdly cheap form REI on Black Friday.
3. Craig’s List
I’m a big fan of Craig’s List. For months, I searched “Osprey” in my area and there was usually a selection of backpacks to choose from. One day, I found the exact pack I needed for almost $100 less than retail price. I drove an hour to meet a woman selling her Osprey Aura 65L and pack cover for $160. The pack was good as new! Deals like this come along, you just have to be persistent and check every few days.
If you’ve never shopped at 6pm.com, you are seriously missing out! The website sells clothes and shoes from previous seasons for 20-80% off. I got a North Face rain jacket here and buy all my running shoes from here.
Pros: They have all the brand names you might be looking for, it’s inexpensive
Cons: They don’t always have a good selection of sizes or colors
Poshmark is a place for people to buy and sell each other’s clothes. The app is very easy to use.
Selling: Before hiking, I was hustling to save as much money as possible. I actually made about $500 selling my lightly worn clothing on this app. It was a lot of work to take good pictures of all the items I wanted to sell, but it was worth it to get them off my hands and get paid.
Buying: I love hiking in Lululemon material, but I don’t love spending that much money on clothes. On Poshmark, I have bought Lulu shirts for $10-$20, Lulu leggings for $40-55, a Patagonia retro-x vest for $35 — I could go on. At first I was weirded out wearing someone’s hand-me-downs, but the clothing is in great condition, I saved money, and I helped save the planet by recycling clothing!
6. Apply for Sponsorships
Danielle and I applied to the Badger Sponsorship and won a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, trail runners, and tons of other awesome gear. A good sleeping bag is very expensive, so this was HUGE for me. I also emailed tons of companies telling them I was hiking the AT and shamelessly asked for their product. Most didn’t get back to me, but a few did! In my experience, smaller companies are more likely to respond. It is important to have tried the product and actually love it. Danielle is much better at this than I am, so I’ll let her elaborate in another post— stay tuned!
7. Food Drop Donors
Food isn’t gear, but it’s easily the biggest expense on the AT. Heres’s how we saved a ton of money on food:
Whenever we told people we were hiking the AT, they’d say, “Can I send you something?!”. Being the planner I am, I created a spreadsheet for family members and friends to sign up to send Danielle and I a re-supply box. We were so blessed to have over 20 families send us 3-4 days of food! People sent us AWESOME food— it was healthier and higher quality than the food Danielle and I would’ve bought for ourselves on the trail.
Logistics: 1-2 weeks before the anticipated re-supply date, I would send an email to the donor with food requests (ex: 1 box of Poptarts, 6 Probars, 2 bags of candy, 3 dehydrated dinners, etc.). The donor would drop the food off at my parents house and my mom would strategically stuff a large priority mail box with the food. I would text her the post office address of the town three days before I needed to reach it. Priority mail takes two days IF we mailed directly to the post office and avoided the “out for delivery” disaster upon arrival. Plans change often while backpacking, so planning too far ahead doesn’t always work. I’m thankful my mom was so enthusiastic help us and flexible when she needed to get our last minute re-supply to the post office before it closed!