My first two-person tent (purchased near the end of the Cretaceous Period) set me back about 80 bucks.
It was a bit heavy and bulky for backpacking, and it flapped so loudly in a stiff breeze that I nicknamed it the Wind Sock. But I used it for six summers of car camping and backpacking, and its cost worked out to about 50 cents a night.
Backpacking on a budget is possible. There’s gear out there you can afford — it’s just a matter of knowing where to look and how to evaluate quality.
How to Find (Good) Gear Cheap
Lower your standards and be choosy. Even when you can’t afford expensive gear, read reviews of it to educate yourself on how to distinguish between junk gear and stuff that won’t fall apart on your second trip. The tradeoffs for a lower cost often include heavier gear, mediocre fit and comfort, performance compromises (example: less breathability in a rain jacket) and sometimes durability.
Shop respected brands. Most top name brands offer well-priced gear, like two-person backpacking tents for $150 to $199. Be wary of really cheap gear from an unknown brand on Amazon.com or other retail websites; it might not last long.
Wait for regular sales. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers always offer new-gear sales in spring, clearance sales in early fall and sales around major holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Christmas). Score deals ranging from 20 to 75 percent off gear you might not otherwise be able to afford.
Shop discount online retailers. Try theclymb.com, backcountry.com, sierratradingpost.com, REI.com (REI Outlet) and steepandcheap.com. All of these sites offer deep discounts on products that have been discontinued but were cutting-edge just months earlier.
Check-out Hiker Direct’s Discount Programs. Hiker Direct is a program that offers discount camping and backpacking gear such as tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and other great camping products to members of various scouting organizations in the United States. If you are a member of such an organization, you can register for our program to browse the camping gear that we offer at discounted prices (such as 40% off an Alps Tent) exclusive to scouts. And make sure to look at their Sales and Closeouts section for even more great deals!
Buy used gear. If you can discern good gear from bad and you’re on a general quest for a piece of gear rather than a specific model, buying used stuff on sites like eBay and Craigslist can reap great rewards. Often sellers have used it very little, so the gear might be in like-new condition. Many cities also have gear-consignment stores, where you can find the best bargains on lightly used outdoor gear.