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 Page, LytW8, Quest Outfitters, Thru-Hiker, Sgt. 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!