Although many of us go outdoors to leave behind city life and the hustle and bustle of consumerism, it’s hard to deny that getting outside is a gear-intensive pursuit. From sleeping bags to backpacks and tents, there are a whole lot of things you need to ensure that you have an enjoyable – and safe – camping trip in the mountains.
As you can imagine, acquiring all this gear comes with a pretty hefty price tag. While the amount you need to spend to get into backpacking varies from person to person based on variables such as where you live and the kind of trips you have to go on, backpacking gear isn’t cheap.
If you’re new to outdoor pursuits, you might be wondering how much it will cost to get into backpacking and you may have struggled to get a straight answer. Thankfully, we’re here to help. Coming up, we’ll walk you through the basics of backpacking gear and give you an estimate of how much it will cost to get out into the mountains for your next adventure. Here we go!
So, how much does it cost to get into backpacking? The fact of the matter is that it really depends on the kind of gear you buy. These days, there are so many different gear options out there that you can customize your equipment to suit your budget – to a point. On average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $1000 and $5000 to completely outfit yourself with new backpacking gear for your next adventure.
If that sounds like quite a range, well, that’s because it is. If you’re someone that likes to nerd out on gear, you’ll have no problem racking up a big bill, while others who are more economically focused can keep their costs down with a bit of effort. Up next, we’ll discuss what you need to go backpacking and break down the costs so you understand what you’ll be spending your money on.
Backpacking equipment you’ll need
If you’re new to backpacking and take a look at any standard gear list, you might have a minor heart attack. While backpacking, for many, is about getting outside and leaving behind the creature comforts that we’ve become accustomed to, there are quite a few things you need to effectively manage risk and deal with harsh weather when outside. To help you out, let’s break down a typical backpacking gear list so you have a better idea of what you need to get outside:
Sleeping + Shelter
First up, we have our sleeping and shelter systems. These are what protect us from the elements and keeps us warm at night. Here’s what you need:
- Sleeping bag. Your warm, cozy haven at night. You’ll need to get one to match the temperatures you’ll face outside.
- Sleeping pad. Whether it’s foam or inflatable, a sleeping pad insulates you from the cold ground and makes sleeping outside more comfortable.
- Tent. In the mountains, home is where you stake it.
- Tarp. If you camp somewhere with a lot of rain, a kitchen tarp can make cooking dinner much more pleasant.
Cooking + Eating
Food is always a highlight of any backpacking trip, so be sure you have the right cooking and eating equipment before you head into the mountains. Here’s what you need:
- Stove. There’s nothing better than a hot meal or a hot drink outdoors.
- Pots & Pans & Bowls. The right pots, pans, and bowls make cooking a lot easier.
- Mug. What are you going to drink your hot cocoa with?
- Water bottles. Hydration is critical in the mountains.
- Spoon/fork/spork. That mac and cheese isn’t going to eat itself!
Your packing system is what allows you to carry your gear from campsite to campsite. There are many different systems out there, but these are the main components:
- Backpack. Your best friend in the mountains. Choose fit and comfort above all else.
- Stuff sacks. If you like to be extra organized, stuff sacks will come in handy.
- Pack liner/rain cover. No one likes wet gear – that’s where a pack liner/rain cover comes in.
- Baselayers. For wicking sweat and moisture as you hike.
- Midlayers. Light insulating layer for cool temps.
- Puffy jacket. For when the mercury drops.
- Rain jacket. Staying dry is imperative in the backcountry.
- Rain pants. Often forgotten, but fantastically helpful in the rain.
- Hiking pants/shorts. For comfort and mobility in the mountains.
- Hiking boots/shoes. Traction, comfort, and support all come from the right pair of boots.
- Gaiters. For keeping rocks and sticks out of your shoes.
- Gloves. Keep your hands warm in the mountains!
- Sun hat. The sun is harsh at high elevations.
- Warm hat. Got to keep that noggin’ warm!
- Sunglasses. Snowblindness is a real thing.
“Accessories” includes everything else that doesn’t quite fit into the other categories. These small pieces of gear are indispensable in the mountains:
- Map & Compass. Your smartphone sure is fancy, but a good ol’ map and compass is hard to beat.
- GPS. A useful tool for precision navigation.
- Lighter. You’ll need to light your stove somehow!
- First aid kit. Hopefully, you carry this and never have to use it.
- Sunscreen. Sunburn ain’t fun.
- Bug spray. Mosquito bites are a nightmare.
- Mosquito head net. For when the bugs are really bad.
How much you should expect to spend on individual items
As you can imagine, all that gear is going to cost you some money. How much? Well, we’re glad you asked. Here’s how much you can expect to spend on each new piece of backpacking gear:
As you can see, there’s quite a wide price range between the “low end” of our estimates and the “high end.” These days, it’s possible to get some pretty inexpensive backpacking gear, so you don’t necessarily need to spend your life’s savings to get outside.
However, do keep in mind that a lot of the cheapest gear isn’t designed to last, so it might be worth looking at more “mid-range” gear when you’re shopping around.
Alternatively, if you love to nerd out and want only the best of the best, you’ll need to shell out some major dough. Top-of-the-line backpacking gear ain’t cheap, so you’ll want to start saving those pennies.
How to get cheap backpacking equipment
If you took one look at the prices of all that backpacking gear and resigned yourself to a life indoors, we understand. Thankfully, it is possible to get relatively cheap backpacking gear without too much effort. Here are some tips and tricks:
- Take advantage of sales. Every major retailer does a large sale at the end of the summer and winter seasons. Capitalize on these moments by having a gear list at the ready and searching for some awesome savings. Signing up for REI and Backcountry.com’s email lists can help alert you to possible deals.
- Check out discount websites. Both REI and Backcountry.com run discounted gear websites, such as the REI Outlet and Steep and Cheap. Both of these websites offer limited-time deals on select items that can be upwards of 80% off. You might not always get the color you want, but they regularly have some pretty great gear on sale.
- Understand what you can’t compromise on. There are some pieces of gear that aren’t worth compromising on, like your sleeping bag, tent, hiking boots, and backpack. This is the kind of gear where you’ll want to invest in getting exactly what’s right for you as these big-ticket items can have a huge impact on the quality of your trip. Other things, like your bowl, base layers, socks, and the like are better choices for lower-quality gear.
- Consider buying used. If you’re just getting started with your backpacking career, you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy crazy amounts of super fancy gear. In fact, many big-ticket items are worth getting used, especially as you learn what you like and don’t like with your gear. Facebook, eBay, garage sales, Craigslist, and forums are good places to look for used gear, but you can also find solid equipment through Patagonia’s Worn Wear website and specialty outdoor consignment shops.
- Do your research. Backpacking gear is easily overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the activity. Before you go and buy a whole bunch of stuff, read up on some buyer’s guides to get an idea of what you should be looking for in your gear. Keep in mind that your needs and priorities will change as you get more experience so don’t expect to buy all of the perfect gear right off the bat. Backpacking is a learning process, so you’ll be able to fine-tune your gear list as you get more miles under your belt.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.