Broke People Like Backpacking Too!!

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little frustrated by something.  It’s an idea that seems to be all over the place, I can’t get away from it.  It’s the idea that people who backpack are inevitably are members of the middle class economy, that 100 bucks is not a burden on the wallet.  It’s an idea that I run into constantly on forums and other areas of the net, and frankly it’s getting annoying.  It’s being told that if I can’t afford the $25 that a Backpacking Light membership cost than I have no business backpacking (yeah someone actually said that!).  Or someone thinking they are giving me good advice by saying I should look at a certain brand of quilt, I should be able to get one pretty cheap at $200.  Some of it is well meaning, some not so much, but all the same it constantly reminds me that people assume because I like backpacking, I also must be a member of the middle class.  It’s not true, in fact I’ve been below middle class since I left home for college.  I’m not looking for any sympathy about it.  I’m by no means the only person in my age group that tried to enter the work force in 2008 and has been struggling ever since with high student loans and low yearly income.

I have no regrets, but I’ll let you guys in on a little secret, broke people like backpacking too.  In fact it’s in part because of how broke we are that we got into backpacking in the first place!  If you break down the numbers and look at the hard figures, vacations on the trail make way more economic sense in the long term than any other type of vacation in the world.  On top of that, the health and mental benefits and the ease in which kids can join in, makes backpacking one of the best family hobbies you’ll find.  And while it is true ultralight backpacking saves you money by teaching you how to go with less gear and therefore purchase less gear, the gear you do buy can cost more, a lot more.  So what is a broke gal who doesn’t want to carry 30lbs worth of gear down the trail to do?  Fortunately there is hope!  There are so many ways to go light cheaply and anyone can do it.  It may not be as easy as just buying stuff, but it is more than doable for those willing to try to put the effort into going light cheap.

My favorite three things that you can do to go light and on a budget are:

1. Do It Yourself

This is probably my favorite way to go cheap because not only is it a great way to go cheap, but it is a great way to make gear that has what you need/want and nothing you don’t!  I also tend to trust my gear more if I know exactly what went into it.  But a lot of people think that they can’t do it, that they don’t have the skill or ability, that it’s too hard.  I promise you it’s not!  There are so many websites out there to help and some of the projects are so easy you can do it with a pair of scissors and some stuff from the trash.  Just Jeff’s Hiking PageLytW8Quest OutfittersThru-HikerSgt. Rock’s Hiking H.Q., D.I.Y. Gear Supply, and Zen Stoves are just a handful of great sites to get step by step instructions to help you get started and Quest Outfitters, Thru-Hiker, D.I.Y. Gear Supply, are great places to get materials at some really great prices as well!  You don’t need a lot of experience sewing either.  Just a basic machine will do you, in face this Singer Simple 23-Stitch Sewing Machine 2263 is the machine all of my gear has been made on.  I know there is nothing I can say to make you believe you too can make your own gear.  I know because when I get it into my head that a project is too big for me, no one can convince me otherwise either.  Usually when that happens I go out looking for ways to purchase what I want, but am usually forced to come back to making it myself because the reason I was going to make it myself in the first place still stands; I just can’t afford to buy it.  Usually it’s this moment that I find I really can do it and you can too!

2. Scour the Sales

Sometimes there is that point in which you really can’t make something yourself or it’s not economical.  It’s at those times, that I got to my trusted outlet gear stores.  Altrec, Mountain Gear, Moosejaw, Backcountry, Sierra Trading Post, and REI Outlet are just some of the amazing deal sites out there and I know there are more.  Backpacking gear makers have done something wonderful for us penny pinchers that I just love.  See every year, gear companies revamp their inventory, little tweaks here and there.  Sometimes this means something like rebuilding an item from the ground up, sometimes it’s little things like using a lighter material or a better zipper, but most of the time it’s nothing more than introducing new colors and discontinuing old ones.  So when the new stock comes in stores like REI, and Dicks put last year’s stuff on steep sales or they will sell them to one of the discount online stores.  What does this mean for us?  It means we can get the exact same gear for unheard of prices, and the only thing we have to deal with is last year’s color.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s not a beauty contest and most of the serious backpackers I know don’t care whether it’s this year’s color or the color from 1975!  The best sales usually happen between November to February and some of the big stores like Mont Bell have a special page under each section with last year’s stuff on steep sale until it’s gone.  That’s how Richard got my Alpine Light Down Jacket for $140 instead of $175 for Christmas and some colors for that jacket are even down to $122.50 right now!  The sales are out there you just gotta look.

3. Save Up

Sometimes, you can’t make it and there are cottage companies that don’t fall under the sales category.  So what can you do?  Well as much as I hate it, sometimes you just have to save your dollars and wait until you can afford to buy it.  I only resort to this in a last ditch effort and don’t do it very often.  I did it for my Te Wa Underquilt.  It was one of those times where I wasn’t really comfortable trying to make it and Te Wa doesn’t exactly go on sale, so I saved my money and paid full price.  In this situation, it was definitely worth it!  If I need another underquilt, I know where I’m going to get it too.  It’s not easy to wait.  On my budget, something like the fabulous Cuben Hammock Tarp with doors from Zpacks at $315.00 woud take me 7 months to save up for and that would max out my monthly budget.  But for such a lightweight year round tarp, it would be worth it, especially since at 6.5oz it very well could be the only tarp I’d need all year long.  It’s something that has more cons than the other options but depending on what it is can also have more pros.  That is something every person has to figure out for themselves.

Of course these are just a few ideas.  Two books that are must reads for anyone wanting to backpack on a budget are Lighten Up! by Don Ladigan, illustrated by Mike Clelland and Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping by Mike Clelland.  Both are available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel in paperback as well as for e-readers.  So yes, I love to go backpacking, and yes I love to go light, but I don’t have to break my bank and neither do you!


About Joslyn

My name is Joslyn and I primarily hike with my husband Richard. We live in Northern Arizona with our dog, Jäger and love camping and hiking. We are continuing our adventure in backpacking inn this our second year and as always, striving towards going Ultra Light.

Posted on 08/05/2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Wow, that comment about BPL’s fee, that’s pretty hard, and sad.

    A good post with good tips, Joslyn.

    • I know, people can say the dumbest things! It’s easy, especially when you’re just starting out, to let it get to you. There has been more than one time that I almost put everything up for sale and hang up my trail runners for good because of a snarky comment, but the thing that keeps me coming back is my love for the awesome places I get to see and the truly amazing people I do meet. I know there are other people out there that are like I was and I feel like it is our job to be welcoming mentors to those people, not judgmental that they didn’t spend an $100 to save 3 ounces. Some of the people out there just have no idea what this is all about. Fortunately I think there are more people who feel like I do than not.

  2. Joslyn,

    I agree with you…BPL is more of an elite society that I will never fit into. I too have received some less than helpful, and IMO, just simply rude comments when I joined up over there. Of course, by joined up, I mean the free join…I will never be a paying member at BPL, and I have tried to discourage others from doing so as well. If I want someone else’s opinions, I will ask questions on the boards at BPL, or at the few other forums that I frequent rather than pay to read opinions. Or better yet, I will visit the blogs that I keep up with for the information.

    Anyway, those are great tips on going light on a budget. I tell ya, I really want to hit up one of those REI garage sales, or attic sales, one day, but I am about 3 hours away from the closest one so I don’t see it happening anytime soon… the gas alone would eat away the savings… 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Me too! And the sad thing is when you point out that they could be nicer and not scare off the noobs, they get really defensive and insist that they weren’t rude at all. I’ve gotten way better info from Mike C’s books than anywhere else! He really knows how to go on a budget. But I just love our little blogging community. There is just a wealth of info to be had from the blogs.

      See now I’m sad for you. I live 45 minutes from 3 REI’s and there is another one on the other side of town. I hit those sales 6 times a year! I got my headlamp from one for $6. It wasn’t labeled but my best guess is it’s a Black Diamond Gizmo and only weighs 2oz with batteries.

  3. You are so right! I have learned so much from the blogging community and appreciate the open mindedness and polite debate. A year ago my pack was over 40lb for a weekend trek. Last week I weighed in at 24 including a couple of pounds I wouldn’t have carried if rain hadn’t been the only forecast. The only things I’ve spent money on have been a sleeping bag (one of those huge sales you talked about) and a gossamer gear pack. All other improvements have been tips from people like you and other bloggers that have co at mlst a couple of bucks.

  4. $25 membership to a site that contains nothing I couldn’t find for free with some digging? Seriously? I would never pay that. Egads! That’s a few ounces of 900 fill down or a few yards of cuben.

    I consider myself a member of the Ultralight Elite. In the summer I make it into the SUL category. I’m by no means poor, but I’m true to my heritage – C.H.E.A.P.

    I make almost all of my own gear. My shoes were probably the most expensive piece of equipment I own… at $100. Most true ultralight backpackers belong to the MYOG group because no commercial product matches each persons specific style. I (make|modify) all my gear myself because I camp with my system.

    If anything I tend to laugh at someone that would spend $300 on something I could make for $50. Plus it comes with the added benefit that I am intimately familiar with all my equipment – very important when it comes to ultra-light since I have little redundancy.

    I remember coming across someone on a desert trail and he disparaged upon the appearance of my gear. He was equiped with all his name brand gear, espousing all of the merits of his gear and how he was a true ultralight backpacker. I asked him, “Why do you need ice-pick loops in the desert?”

    I’m not much for community involvement so I’ve never ran into or payed attention to the culture of the forums. I mostly google for information, cherry pick what I want and do it myself. Maybe I’m just good at filtering out the bad, but if you go deep enough you’ll find the real elite who follow the DIY mantra and love to share their knowledge (for free).

    • I couldn’t agree more! I love knowing exactly what is in all my gear and how much abuse it can take, which is only achievable when you make it yourself. All the truly experienced and knowledgeable backpackers I know are happy to share the things they’ve learned, which is why I’ve really begun to enjoy the blogging community; free advice and reviews from people who ask nothing in return!

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