Last Updated on November 25, 2020
Quality backpacking gear has a reputation for being pricey, but I’m here to show you that it’s entirely possible to put together an affordable ultralight setup on a $500 budget.
That’s right; you can get your hands on a brand-new backpacking gear kit with a 10-pound base weight without having to max out your credit card.
I’ve spent over $3,200 on my current ultralight setup, so I know how expensive backpacking can be. Naturally, many of my readers have seen this setup and asked for more affordable recommendations. I can’t blame them, after all, because the gear on my backpacking list isn’t exactly cheap.
So, I scoured the internet for the best budget gear, tested a bunch of it in the field, and asked fellow backpackers for their favorite affordable recommendations. This article is the result of all my tedious research and gear nerdery.
Every piece of gear I recommend in this post is well-reviewed, widely-used in the backpacking community, and will help get you into the backcountry for a sliver of what you might pay otherwise.
Let’s dive in. It’s time to save some money.
BUDGET BACKPACKING GEAR:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Backpack & Sleeping System
2. Carried Clothing
3. Cooking System
4. Water Filtration & Storage
6. Miscellaneous Items
7. First Aid Kit & Toiletries
8. What About Worn Items/Consumables?
9. Budget Backpacking Advice
10. Final Word: Budget Backpacking Gear
11. More Hiking & Backpacking Resources
Backpack: Granite Gear Virga 2
Granite Gear backpacks are widely respected in the ultralight community, and the Virga 2 is one of their most affordable models. This no-frills pack — made from durable 100D waterproof nylon — is a minimalist hiker’s dream and will do everything you ask of it in the backcountry.
Weight: 20.1 oz | 570 grams
Shelter: River County Products Trekker 1
Most popular ultralight shelters cost an arm and a leg, but the Trekker 1 costs less than $50. This nylon trekking pole tent is similar in design to the widely-used MLD Solomid but for a fraction of the price. Tip: treat the seams with some silicone sealant to ensure that it’s completely waterproof.
Weight: 37.0 oz | 1.05 kg
Sleeping Bag: OneTigris Light Patrol 32°
Quality, ultralight sleeping bags are nearly impossible to find for under $100, so the Light Patrol 32º is a great find for budget backpackers. Stuffed with 90% duck down/10% cotton, this mummy style bag offers three season warmth as temperatures drop towards freezing.
Weight: 38.4 oz | 1.09 kg
Sleeping Pad: Sleepingo
Weighing just a couple of ounces more than the ultra-popular NeoAir Xlite, this cheap, yet comfortable pad comes in at a quarter of the price. The tradeoff? It’s rated at an R-value of 2.1 (the Xlite is 4.2), meaning it’s not as warm as the Xlite and is meant for temperatures of 40ºF and above.
Weight: 14.5 oz | 411 grams
Pack Liner: Trash Bag
While the Virga 2 backpack on this list is waterproof, it’s best to give your gear an inside layer of protection against liquid. To keep it budget-friendly, line your backpack with a cheap black trash bag that you can find in your kitchen closet.
Weight: 1.0 oz | 28 grams
The Trekker 1 tent mentioned earlier comes with nine of these ultralight stakes, making it even more of a bargain. These aren’t going to be the most durable stakes, however, so push or tap them gently into the ground while pitching your tent to avoid bending or breaking them.
Weight: 3.0 oz | 85 grams
Total Backpack and Sleeping System Weight: 114.0 oz | 7.12 lb | 3.23 kg
Packable down jackets are an essential part of any ultralight gear list, and they have a reputation for getting quite pricey. Not this jacket. Made with a water-resistant nylon shell and stuffed with 650-fill down, the 32 Degrees ultralight puffy is comfortable, warm, and easy on the wallet.
Weight: 10.0 oz | 283 grams
Tesla makes outdoor gear and, unlike their electric cars, it’s all quite affordable. Their thermal compression mock is one of my favorite pieces of budget backpacking gear and is also a staple of my ultra-minimalist travel packing list. It’s cozy, warm, and fits like a dream.
Weight: 5.1 oz | 145 grams
The Frog Toggs Ultra-Lite2 rain jacket is not known for its durability, which is why it’s a polarizing piece of gear. It’s cheap, lightweight, and sheds water better than most other ultralight backpacking jackets, though. So, as long as you take care of it, you’ll be glad you brought it along.
Weight: 4.8 oz | 136 grams
Staying warm during early mornings and chilly nights is a must when backpacking, and a solid pair of thermal leggings will help you do just that. Priced at under $10, these cozy 32 Degrees bottoms are about as affordable as you can find on the market.
Weight: 5.8 oz | 164 grams
Gloves: Lethmik Touchscreen-Compatible
Though not essential on warm-weather backpacking trips, these gloves will keep your hands warm during cooler expeditions. They’re snug and comfortable, allow you to use your smartphone, and would make an affordable addition to any budget backpacking gear list.
Weight: 2.0 oz | 57 grams
Stuff Sack: Outdoor Products Dry Sack
Stuff sacks are essential for stashing clothes while backpacking, and these are some of the cheapest and most well-reviewed options on the market. They’re waterproof, and I use mine for backcountry laundry and shower sessions as well. Grab a set and bring along the size that fits your needs.
Weight: 1.2 oz | 34 grams
Total Carried Clothing Weight: 28.9 oz | 1.81 lb | 819 grams
The BRS-3000T is one of the most popular pieces of budget backpacking gear and has found a place in the packs of countless ultralight enthusiasts (including mine). It’s as lightweight as backpacking stoves come, cranks out a powerful flame, and can boil water in just a couple of minutes.
Weight: .9 oz | 26 grams
When preparing freeze-dried backcountry cuisine, all you need is a simple pot to boil water, and this affordable option will get the job done. At 450ml, it holds enough water for most dehydrated meals and works great as a coffee mug or scoop for hard-to-collect water sources.
Weight: 3.1 oz | 88 grams
Spork: Tito Titanium
If you paid $15 for a spork, you paid too much. This Tito titanium spork is durable, lightweight, and will get your food into your mouth for under five bucks. Looking for an even cheaper option? Grab a plastic to-go spoon from your favorite restaurant or fast food joint.
Weight: .5 oz | 14 grams
Total Cooking System Weight: 4.5 oz | .28 lb | 128 grams
Water Filter Kit: Sawyer Mini + Water Pouch
Water purification is essential in the backcountry, and the Sawyer Mini is one of the lightest and most affordable filters on the market. Simply fill your water bottle or pouch with dirty water, screw this filter on, and squeeze the water through to filter it flawlessly.
Weight: 2.5 oz | 71 grams
Smartwater Bottle (One Liter):
If you’ve spent much time backpacking, you’ve likely seen the Smartwater bottle in numerous ultralight backpacks. Why? Because it’s cheap, durable, and compatible with the Sawyer Mini water filter. So, head to the nearest gas station, grab a Smartwater, and you’re all set.
Weight: 1.6 oz | 45 grams
Total Water Filtration and Storage Weight: 4.1 oz | .26 lb | 116 grams
Battery Bank: GETIHU 5,200 mAh
This power bank can recharge your smartphone up to two times on your next trek, which will allow you to access digital maps, take photos, and message loved ones for days on end. Coming in at $10, this battery bank is an inexpensive piece of gear that should be on any budget backpacker’s list.
Weight: 4.4 oz | 125 grams
USB Cable: Startech 6″
Packing your unnecessarily long charging cable from home is inefficient. Instead, bring a mini USB cord that weighs nothing and won’t get tangled in your bag. Ultralight backpacking is about shedding unnecessary weight at every turn, and this six-inch cable will help you do just that.
Weight: .35 oz | 10 grams
Headlamp: Hatori Pocket Torch
This mini LED pocket torch will illuminate the night for ultralight backpackers with ease. Putting out a respectable 150 lumens on a single AAA battery, this versatile and portable little light can clip onto the bill of a hat for hands-free use.
Weight: 1.2 oz | 34 grams
Total Electronics Weight: 6.0 oz | .38 lb | 170 grams
Compass/Thermometer: Coghlan’s Four Function
Costing a mere $4 and weighing an ounce, this handy tool is a no-brainer for any backpacker searching for affordable gear. It works as a powerful whistle, two-scale thermometer, minimalist compass, and magnifier, which can bail you out in numerous ways in the wilderness.
Weight: 1.0 oz | 28 grams
Micro Scissors: Tacony Super Shears
Knives aren’t essential pieces of backpacking gear, which is why I pack these cheap, lightweight mini scissors instead. They’re ultra-sharp and precise, making them the perfect tool for repairing gear, trimming fingernails, and cutting paracord.
Weight: .17 oz | 5 grams
Lighter: Bic Mini
The BRS-3000T stove I recommended earlier doesn’t have an ignitor, which is why it’s essential to bring a lighter and/or matches to get it started. The Bic Mini is the lighter of choice for ultralight backpackers because it’s small, cheap, reliable, and efficient.
Weight: .4 oz | 11 grams
Mini-Towel: Lightload Microfiber
I carry a Lightload Microfiber mini-towel on my backpacking trips to wipe down condensation inside my tent and dry out my cooking pot. It also can be used as a fire-starter, gauze, or mask filter if things go sideways in the unpredictable backcountry.
Weight: .5 oz | 14 grams
Total Miscellaneous Weight: 2.1 oz | .13 lb | 60 grams
Putting together an affordable backpacking first aid and toiletries kit shouldn’t be too difficult. Just poke around your medicine cabinet, scavenge the items that fit your needs, and put everything into a Ziploc bag.
Resist the urge to overpack your first-aid kit and think realistically about what you’ll actually need to stay safe in the backcountry. Keep it light and compact to save weight and space.
Carry your toiletries in mini containers to save weight and space inside your pack.
I consider some of the above items — Advil, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, contact solution, soap — to be ‘consumables’ since their weight isn’t fixed. Because of this, the weight listed below doesn’t account for them.
Total First Aid Kit & Toiletries Weight: 3.0 oz | .19 lb | 85 grams
Total Base Weight: 162.6 oz | 10.17 lb | 4.60 kg
This article aims to help readers achieve a 10-pound backpacking base weight for under $500. Base weight accounts for everything you carry in your backpack with a fixed weight that can’t be reduced.
So, what’s not included in a backpacker’s base weight?
- Worn clothing (shoes, pants, underwear, watch, etc.)
- Carried items (trekking poles)
- Food (2,000-4,000 calories a day)
- Water (one liter = two pounds)
- Fuel (iso-propane, denatured alcohol, Esbit tablets, etc.)
- Other Consumables (toothpaste, sunscreen, Advil, etc.)
Since the above gear, food, fuel, and supplies aren’t counted as base weight, I didn’t include any of these items earlier in this post. Don’t worry, though, as I’ve compiled a list of my favorite budget backpacking clothes, gear, and food options below:
- Hiking Shoes: Columbia Ivo Trail Breeze
- Athletic Hoodie: 32 Degrees Cool Long Sleeve Pullover
- Athletic Shorts: Little Donkey Andy
- Hiking Socks: Sunew Bamboo
- Trekking Poles: Bafx Products Aluminum
- Hat: Flexfit Athletic Fitted
- Sunglasses: Merry’s Vintage Aluminum
- DIY Backpacking Food: The Dehydrator Cookbook for Outdoor Adventurers
Are some of the pieces of gear or clothing on my list just not doing it for you? No worries. Here are some tips and tricks to help you put together an affordable backpacking kit of your own.
Do Your Research
When searching for that perfect piece of affordable backpacking gear, put in enough time to ensure that you make the right decision. Scour through reviews, ask fellow backpackers for recommendations, compare prices religiously, and be open to trying products from lesser-known brands.
Websites like Gear Trade, Craigslist, LetGo, and eBay make it very easy to find used backpacking gear for a fraction of the original price. Patience and persistence is the name of the game when buying online, as good deals are usually scooped up quickly and quality second-hand gear is always in high demand.
Finding used backpacking gear in person is possible as well, but it’s more of a shot in the dark. Dig deep in your local thrift shops, garage sales, second-hand gear stores, and REI garage sales, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that highly discounted piece of gear you’ve been searching for.
Wait for Great Deals
If you’re a savvy gear hunter, you’ll likely be able to find some great deals during shopping holidays or seasonal sales. REI has frequent clearance sales that offer heavy discounts on last season’s gear and discontinued items. Black Friday and Cyber Monday, though chaotic and sometimes ridiculous, can offer up great deals as well.
Outdoor gear companies often designate a section of their website to sell imperfect, lightly used, or outdated gear as well. Keep your eyes peeled while surfing your favorite gear companies’ websites for ‘bargain bin’ or ‘clearance’ sections.
If my previous tips aren’t helping you get your hands on cheap backpacking gear, then it might just be time to get creative.
Reach out to friends who have a surplus of gear and ask if they own any extra items they’d be willing to sell you. If they’re not ready to part with any of their beloved gear, ask if they’d feel comfortable loaning you some for your upcoming trip. A good friend should be more than willing to help you get on the trail.
Still no luck? Contact an outdoor gear company and offer an unbiased review in exchange for gear. Many companies are happy to give away gear in exchange for the exposure your review might bring. Keep in mind, those with a strong online presence are more likely to succeed with this option.
Backpacking doesn’t have to be expensive. Just be proactive, flexible, and creative, and you’ll eventually get your hands on some affordable gear.
Ultralight backpacking revolves around trimming the fat, lightening your load, and surviving with the bare essentials. There’s no reason it has to be expensive.
It’s entirely possible to hit the trail with a brand-new set of ultralight backpacking gear on a budget. Hell, I’ve just shown you exactly how to do so for $500 or less.
Now that you have a list of the most affordable backpacking gear at your fingertips, what’s stopping you from hitting the trail, exploring the backcountry, and sleeping under the stars?
- My 8.8 lb Ultralight Backpacking Gear List
- What to Bring on a Day Hike: 10 Essentials + Packing List
- Backpacking Food: Meal Plan Tips & Ideas for Your Next Hike
- Get Paid to Hike: 10 Jobs to Make Money on the Trail
- Best Gifts for Hikers: Unique Hiking Gifts for Any Budget
What’s your favorite piece of cheap backpacking gear that you own? Do you have any affordable gear suggestions that would work well on this list? How much did your ultralight backpacking setup cost? Let me know by leaving some feedback in the comments below!