Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rocky Mountain Backpacking on a Budget

If you are like me, then you enjoy hiking/camping in the Rocky Mountains but don't have a ten thousand dollar hole burning in your pocket that you can blow at REI.    Over the years, I've done a lot of searching for deals and accumulating equipment for back-country adventures.  These are some suggestions for getting into the game without selling your firstborn child:


There are many things that you can buy cheap and are just as good (or sometimes better) than their more expensive versions.  For example, you can buy a super nice top of the line poncho at Cabela's to keep you dry when it rains for $ can buy a cheap plastic poncho at Wall-mart to keep you dry when it rains for $1.  Both of these Items effectively do the same thing, but one costs almost nothing while the other costs almost a tank of gas!

On the other hand, there are a few items that you must spend some money on to get good quality.  If you go cheap on any of these key pieces of equipment you will soon find that they are not good enough to get the job done, and you will end up spending more money in the long run to get the good stuff.  It's buy nice or buy twice.  

Knowing which items to buy higher quality and which items to buy cheap can help you save money in the long run.  I made two lists to help categorize:

1. Items you can buy cheap:

Water Bottle
Synthetic shirt
Long Johns 
Plastic bags
First aid kit
Cooking pot (for boiling water)
Cooking utensils
Foam sleeping pad
Emergency heat blanket
Poncho/rain gear
Day hiking backpack
Iodine tablets for water sanitation
Pillow (or don't bring one and just use your jacket)
Bug spray
Utility knife/multi-tool
Playing cards/reading material

Yes, I put camera on the cheap list.   For the average person, there is no reason to spend money on a top of the line dslr.  I see so many people on the trails (and everywhere) who have no idea how to use their $1000 cameras.  I'm going to tell you a secret.  Unless you are a professional photographer, you can get equally good (or bad) photos with the cheapest point and shoot out there.  The technology in today's consumer digital cameras can produce very good quality images.  Even the camera on your smartphone is more than sufficient enough to capture great images of the beautiful scenery on your hikes.  Unless you are going to make 4 foot fine art prints and try to sell them, you don't need to spend that kind of money and haul a heavy dslr up a mountain.

 2. Items to spend more money on:

Jackets (you will need 3 in a layering system)
Water filter (or don't use one and boil your water)
Stove (or don't use one and build a fire)
Sleeping bag
Snow/ice climbing equipment
Tent (lightwieght, inexpensive, durable - you can only pick two of these things)
Overnight/multi-day pack

Bargain Hunt

The second list can get quite pricey.  If you are willing to compare prices and wait for the right deals to come along, you can make this last section much easier on your wallet.  Below are the best places I have found to acquire the high quality necessities on our list.  

1. Garage Sales

Good old fashioned yard sales in your neighborhood can hold hidden treasures.  People just want to get rid of their stuff, and sometimes their stuff is valuable camping gear.  Just last week I found a couple nice Thermarest sleeping pads for 10 bucks each!

2. REI Garage Sales

I don't recommend REI if your trying to save money.  But, the REI garage sales usually have like new used equipment that was returned to the store in excellent condition.  I have bought some of my more expensive items at these garage sales for a fraction of the price new.  The only downside to this is that the merchandise is sold as-is.  No returns.  So you need to make sure you know exactly what you're looking at before you buy.

3. Craigslist / Ebay

Same thing here, you usually don't get to return used gear, but there are great bargains.

4. .com Outlets

Some major online retailers have an outlet section on their websites where they are trying to get rid of last season's colors or models at a steep discount.  My favorites are, REI Outlet,, and outlet

Hopefully this is a helpful bit of information to people wanting to start getting into adventures in the Rockies and save some cash.  If you want to view a complete list of my backpacking gear and individual recommendations, click on the link below.

Click here for complete backpacking list

"Soli deo Gloria"

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