Backpacking gear can get expensive, like crazy-expensive. It doesn’t have to be though! I came up with this idea while discussing buying used gear with some people, and was explaining to them that used gear is actually very easy to find and buy. You can buy a lot of your gear for much less than buying it new, if you’re patient and willing to put in some preliminary work.
When buying used camping/outdoors gear, always inspect it in person before buying it. That really nice high end tent that you just picked up off Ebay from some random person sounded like a great deal, until you received it and the zippers were broken and there was more than one hole in the floor. Because of this, I would recommend Craigslist, or something similar that’s local, so that you can inspect whatever you’re buying in person, before you buy it.
What I have done, is gone through the classifieds section of a local (to Salt Lake City) website that hosts a lot of sellers and Craigslist and gathered up all the gear you would need to go backpacking by yourself, all for less than $300! Now that may sounds like a lot, but if you consider that for backpacking gear, 1 of these items can cost well over $300, it’s actually quite a good deal.
A good backpacking tent needs to be durable and light. Unfortunately, we’re also going for cheap, which usually doesn’t go with the words durable and light. Things to look for when buying a tent are functioning zippers, straight poles (slight bends are ok, nothing more), present and functioning clips for the rainfly, no tears, punctures, or delaminations in the tent body/rainfly. Also make sure everything is there, rainfly, tent body, and poles. It should have a stuff sack or two, but something like the stake bag, isn’t a big deal. Also don’t worry if stakes are missing and/or bent, you can buy better stakes for around $10 from many places.
For all of these items, you should try and find them new on an outdoor retailer like REI.com or Backcountry.com and read the reviews to see how they’ve worked and held up for others. A good weight for a backpacking tent is anything under 5 lbs. Under 3 lbs is considered ultra-lightweight and is even better.
The tent I found is the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1.
Link to new tent ($320): http://www.backcountry.com/big-agnes-fly-creek-ul1-ultra-light-tent-1-person-3-season
The add may be taken down at any time, so here are the details:
- Great condition
- Seller claims it’s been used for 10 nights (condition supports this)
- Everything works, all stakes, poles, and stuff sacks are present160
- 1 person, 3 season tent
- Weight: 2 lb 1 oz (!!!)
- Floor Space: 22 sq ft
- 5/5 Stars Reviewed by 5 people on Backcountry.com
It’s actually one of the best backpacking tents you can buy (in my, and many others, opinion) as it has won multiple “best-of” awards. Really, we’ve found an incredible backpacking tent that will last you a long time.
The Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bags are relatively straight forward. They’re temperature rated, and for a good 3 season bag, you probably want something in the range of 20-30 degrees. Down is lighter and better than synthetic, but also costs more. When looking for a sleeping bag, look for a bag with no significant tears, which will release insulation making the bag less effective, and functioning zippers.
A good weight for a 3 season sleeping bag is anything under 4 lbs. Under 2 lbs is considered ultra lightweight.
The sleeping bag I found is the Big Agnes Gunn Creek Sleeping Bag (also new, which is a nice bonus)
Link to new bag ($160): http://www.rei.com/product/828416/big-agnes-gunn-creek-30-sleeping-bag
- New condition
- Zipper works and no stains
- Weight: 2 lbs 13 oz
- Insulation Type: Synthetic
- Temperature Rating: 30 deg F
- “Square” Shape: gives you room to move around and is less constricting than traditional “mummy-bags”
- Has a sleeping pad pocket on the underside to integrate with sleeping pad (GREAT feature!)
- 4.75/5 stars reviewed by 5 people on REI.com
This is a great synthetic bag for someone starting out backpacking. It’s not down, but it is still pretty light and packs down reasonably small.
The Sleeping Mat
There are three major kinds of sleeping pads; closed-cell foam, self inflating, and inflating. What works best for you really depends on preference. I know some people who love the closed-cell foam type, and I personally enjoy the thick inflating pads the most. When looking for a sleeping mat, any closed-cell foam pad will do for starters, but you’ll likely want to upgrade once you’ve decided backpacking is something you would like to continue doing. If you’re looking into one of the inflating types of pads, when you go to check it out, blow it up and make sure it works and there are no holes.
Because there are different types of sleeping pads, the ideal weight varies, but you should be able to find something under 2 lbs.
The sleeping pad I found is a Thermarest Ridgerest SOlite sleeping pad.
Link to new pad ($30): http://www.rei.com/product/810386/therm-a-rest-ridgerest-solite-sleeping-pad#tab-specs
- Visibly used, but still in good shape with no significant tears
- There’s not much more to a closed-cell sleeping pad
- Closed-Cell Foam
- Weight: 14 oz
This is a good basic sleeping pad that will insulate you from the cold ground and get you by. There are nicer pads available, but foam is the way to go for the price and the weight.
For backpacking, you really want a backpack with a frame (preferably internal) and a padded hipbelt to support the significant weight you will be carrying. There are many options available, so do your research and try to find a pack that fits your body type well. When looking for a pack, make sure none of the straps or buckles are broken, because you’ll need them. Make sure there aren’t any significant tears you can’t deal with, for instance a hole in the bottom of the back would be troublesome. Make sure the zippers work, but most modern packs don’t utilize many zippers, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Don’t worry about weight, focus more on something that will fit well.
The backpack I found is an Osprey Exos.
Link to new Pack ($220): http://www.rei.com/product/864669/osprey-exos-58-pack
- Great condition
- All zippers work
- No holes/tears
- Size: 58 L
- Weight: 2 lb 6 oz
- Frame: Internal Aluminum Frame
- 4.4/5 Stars Reviewed by 31 people
This is a very new pack that will perform extremely well for shorter, between 1 and 3 day, backpacking trips. I personally like Osprey packs, as they fit me very well, and would recommend them to anyone.
Just after a few days of looking for gear online, we were able to get all of the major things we needed for a backpacking trip. There are a few other items you’ll likely need such as a stove, pot, and headlamp, but most can be found or made as a DIY project for very cheap (cat food can stove anyone).
Overall, the gear comes to a total of $290, and weighs only 8 lb 2 oz! This is a great list of gear that should last you many backpacking seasons and is so light it would be getting close to the ultralight category. All this would have cost you $730 new (before tax), for a savings of over 60%.
Buying used gear can be a great alternative for those of us on a budget, and it’s surprisingly easy to find and assess used gear, even if it’s your first time buying some of these items. Have patience finding the right gear for you, and good luck!