A Low Cost Outdoor Gear Guide: Hiking, Backpacking and Camping Equipment

Before buying expensive outdoor gear, take time to consider your needs and to consider your alternatives.

| March/April 1984

Before we dive into an outdoor gear guide that can help you to thoroughly (and safely) enjoy your camp­ing, hiking, and backpacking trips, we'd like to offer a few words in rebuttal to what we view as an unfortunate (and spread­ing!) think-warp. This dubious "philoso­phy" would have us believe that only the very best, newest, and most expensive out­door gear is good enough. It's a son of "passing up the Joneses" mind-set: We're supposed to feel shame if we dare to appear on the ski slopes, the hiking trail, or in the hunting camp not decked out in the latest flashy duds and equipped with the highest­-tech accessories that (lots of) money can obtain.

Of course, most of today's miracle fibers and space-age gadgets are everything their proponents claim them to be ... and there's a time and a place for just about all of them, as any camper can testify if he or she has ever spent a miserable night shiver­ing at the edge of hypothermia in a worth­less sleeping bag inside a leaking excuse for a tent. But far too often, many of us allow our fantasies (concerning the kinds of ad­ventures we'd like to have one day) to se­duce us into buying apparel and gear de­signed specifically for the harsh conditions of above timberline winter climbing expedi­tions or months-long backpacking treks through real wilderness . . . and such pur­chases are a form of outfitting overkill for the average weekend outdoors person.

Such over gearing allows us to feel a little closer to realizing our largely unrealizable desires for heroic adventure and greatness. It's human, it's understandable . . . but it can also lead to wasting money that could be better saved for financing a real adven­ture someday.

In short, while owning "state of the art" gear is nice if you can afford the price, it's just not a prerequisite for enjoying the sorts of outdoor activities most of us will actually have the time, money, or inclination to ex­perience. What you do need, though, is equipment that will keep you warm, dry, safe, and comfortable under any circum­stances you can realistically expect to en­counter while enjoying the kinds of outdoor recreation you regularly participate in. 

Avoiding the Retail Trail

With that notion in mind, let's look at a few ways you can save money on your camping equipment and hiking accessories.

Make it: If you're a seamstress or seam­ster of even moderate ability, you can save close to half the cost of top-quality clothing by taking advantage of sew-them-yourself kits (see Sew Your Own Outdoor Gear). And the more advanced sewing­-machine pilot can easily assimilate the few additional skills needed to fabricate such items as tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. By the same token, any good-with­-wood handy person can whip together an Alaskan packboard and packsack in short order, saving the considerable cost of a store-bought load-lugger.

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