I have always enjoyed spending time outside, but the idea of shopping for all the gear I would need to go backpacking felt really overwhelming. Most of the vacations we went on when I was a kid involved staying at a cottage or in a nice hotel, so when Luke and I decided we wanted to go on some outdoor adventures, I didn’t have a whole lot of equipment for us to start out with.
Over the course of a year or so, I hunted for discounted hiking and backpacking gear like nobody’s business. I spent hours researching gear, making note of when stores offered sales, and signing up for rewards programs. Slowly, we began to accumulate the gear we needed in order to take a backpacking trip and go on day hikes while we were visiting Banff. When I finally put everything into a spreadsheet to calculate the cost, savings, and weight of all our gear, I discovered that I had saved more than $1,300 on hiking and backpacking gear for myself, Luke, and Patronus.
Keep reading if you’d like to know how I did it!
Before anything, do your research.
So…you want to go backpacking? Awesome! Before inserting that credit card or clicking that “Submit Order” button, really spend some time researching different gear options to determine which items will best meet your needs and fit your budget. Read product reviews online, watch YouTube videos, talk to friends, join hiking communities online to ask questions, or even check out books or magazines on backpacking from your local library to develop a decent understanding on what you’re looking for.
The one thing I do need to say upfront is that if your primary goal is to save a lot of cash, it is highly likely that you will not end up with the exact list of ultralight, cuben fiber gear that you’ll probably see thru-hikers talking about in their YouTube videos. This does not mean that you can’t find great gear (you totally can), or that you have to sacrifice the gear you really want in order to save money, but it does mean you should have an idea of which items you feel it is important to splurge on (if any) and which ones you feel you can save on before you start shopping. A $600 ultralight cuben fiber tent may weigh less than a regular $200 backpacking tent and perform great, but many of these items are made by smaller companies and are usually not available in larger outdoor stores that can offer sales and coupon deals, so unless you can buy used, you’re less likely to find them at a discounted price. There is nothing wrong with getting the more expensive gear if it fits your budget and your needs, but if $600 will eat up too much of your gear fund there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing the less expensive stuff (especially if you’re planning to use it infrequently and/or for short trips).
While you’re doing your research, also make sure to check out the return policy at the store you’re purchasing from, as well as the details on warranties and repairs from the individual manufacturers. If you’re able to return used merchandise that doesn’t perform well, or send items away for free or low cost repairs or replacement, that’s good information to know!
Shop the sales and use coupons.
Yeah, everybody knows this one, but I can assure you, it’s important. Last spring, while I was taking Patronus on a lot of day hikes to help get him in shape for hiking in Banff, I decided I wanted to get a pair or good hiking boots or trail runners to help protect my feet from getting sore on trails with a lot of rocks and exposed roots. As a runner I definitely understand (and learned the hard way) the importance of wearing the right shoes, and after testing out a few different options in person, I decided to go with a pair of hiking boots, which cost $175 regular price and I have never been able to find on sale. Fortunately, my brother had a 25% off coupon with him that day, so I ended up being able to get my boots and a hydration bladder for the same price as the boots would have been! A 25% discount might not have seemed like much of a big deal in theory, but when you shop this way your money goes so much further, especially when you need a lot of stuff.
Take advantage of store rewards programs.
If an outdoor store offers a rewards program, and it’s a store you like to shop at, sign up!
- Backcountry has a referral program that lets you give your friends a $10 off coupon code. For each friend who makes a purchase using your referral link (and gets $10 off his or her order), you get $10 off a future purchase. (If you want to try them out, you can get $10 off your first order by shopping through my link by clicking here.)
- REI offers an annual dividend on any full price purchases you make there throughout the year for co-op members, so if there is anything you do end up paying full price for, definitely keep that in mind. Generally, the dividend is 10% back. Do note that the 10% does not apply to sale items, though. It does cost a one time fee to join the co-op ($20 at the time of this post being written), but in the past they have occasionally run a promotion allowing you to receive a $20 gift card for signing up. If you plan to purchase a lot of gear, it’s worth it.
- Moosejaw also has a rewards program that lets you earn a percentage back on purchases you make. Generally, you earn 10% back on full priced items and 2.5% back on sale items, but sometimes they also run promotions that let you earn double or even triple the points.
Use cashback rewards and rebates.
It takes a little bit of extra effort, but cashback rewards and rebates are a pretty easy way to get gift cards to your favorite outdoor stores.
- Rebate/Cashback Apps: There are several of these types of apps out there, but my favorite rebate app is Ibotta. They offer rebates on all kinds of everyday grocery items that are constantly changing, mobile shopping offers, and bonuses for referring your friends. Once your account reaches $20 you can cash out and even choose gift cards to your favorite stores. If you’re interested in Ibotta, you can get a few extra bucks just for signing up and redeeming your first rebate using my referral link by clicking here.
- Credit Card Cashback: If you typically shop online or prefer not to pay in cash, definitely use a card that offers cashback or other rewards if you can. If you shop at a particular outdoor store often and can be responsible with a credit card, it may be helpful to choose that particular store’s credit card for making purchases so you can earn more rewards. If not, there are some credit cards not related to a particular store that offer cashback options and also referral credits. If you are not responsible with credit cards though, do not do this. DO NOT.
Don’t forget consumables!
The best way to save money on consumable items such as food, drink mixes, toiletries, first aid, and medical supplies is to buy them before you need them. Rather than rushing around at the last minute to make sure our emergency kit is stocked, I like to keep an eye out for sales, rebates, and coupons. I don’t run out and buy a bunch of random stuff and hoard it every time I see a coupon, but when I do find an opportunity to get items I know we’ll need super cheap or free, I definitely take advantage of it.
One of my favorite ways to save money on food for camping and hiking is to take advantage of 10 for $10 sales at the grocery store, especially when the 11th item is free. Often times snack foods and instant potato packets, rice sides, and pastas will be part of the sale!
If you have it downloaded to your phone, also be sure to check the Ibotta app when you grocery shop to earn rebates on items you’re already planning on buying, as well as potential hiking or backpacking snacks. The rebate offers available on Ibotta change all the time, so even if you don’t see anything you like or need at a given time, definitely make sure to check back at a later date.
Take your time.
Don’t assume you have to buy all your gear at once. If you find a sale on and/or have a coupon for a percentage off one particular item, you’re only saving money on the discounted item. Unless you encounter some kind of magical sale where everything on your wish list can be purchased at a HUGE discount, only buy what you can get on sale, with a coupon, or with rewards unless you absolutely need it immediately or may not be able to find it later.
There is, however, one exception. If you are shopping online and your order total comes to just under the amount needed to qualify for free shipping, do the math. In many cases, it’s actually the same price (or cheaper!) to order the extra item than it would be to pay for shipping.
When possible, combine all of these methods to get the best deals.
Here’s the thing. If you really want to save money, you have to be at least a little bit organized. Here’s the method I used to help maximize my savings on gear items.
- Sales: Check for sales and markdowns on seasonal-type items at the end of each season, as well as store sales around Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Christmas. Key items to look for during sales are tents, sleeping bags, packs, socks, underwear, and seasonal items, as stores will often discount them in an effort to make room for newer versions.
- Coupons: Use coupons for items that don’t often go on sale, are harder to find, or if you specifically want a newer version of an item. I used coupons for our hiking boots, hydration bladder, stove, and bear canister.
- Dividend/Rewards: If you must pay full price for something, definitely make sure you are signed up to be earning store rewards, especially if you are buying a more expensive item. If two stores offer an item for the same price, go for the one that will give you more back in rewards, since the rewards you’ve earned can then be applied towards future purchases. We ended up using most of our rewards to buy gear for Patronus.
- Coupons for Sales: Yep, sometimes there are actually coupons for discounted items! REI, for example, will occasionally offer an extra 20% off of outlet items to co-op members. While the selection of clearance items may be limited, especially during times when coupons are concurrently being issued, this is a great opportunity to stock up on things like socks, underwear, sports bras, backpacking meals, and accessories.
More Budget-Friendly Backpacking Tips
Buy secondhand gear. It might not be as glamorous to check out a garage sale, eBay, or even Craigslist for secondhand gear, but it’s a great way to find the gear you want at a less burdensome price point.
Borrow gear. If you’re new to backpacking, or only plan to use an item once or twice, consider borrowing gear from a friend or family member. Not only can this help you to determine what you like (and more importantly, don’t like), you won’t have to spend money on things that you might not actually use.
Buy in bulk. Some stores offer discounts of around 10% for buying certain items in bulk. While it probably doesn’t make sense to buy in bulk when it comes to items you may not use or will expire quickly, emergency items such as hand and foot warmers or dehydrated meals might be useful to keep on hand, or consider splitting bulk items with a friend.
Get creative. This tip isn’t for everyone, but sometimes DIY-ing it is the way to go. In our case, most of the first aid and emergency kits that Luke and I found were either overkill, super expensive, or missing specific items that we were looking for, so I decided to make our own. Since it was cheaper to buy emergency blankets in bulk than it was to just buy a couple of them like I had originally planned, I also used some of the extras to DIY a lightweight floor to put down in our tent, protecting it from Patronus’ giant wampa claws.
Create a wish list or gift registry. If there are specific gear items you are looking for, consider creating a wish list online (or adding them to an already existing one). If you plan on getting married soon and you and your significant other like to do outdoor activities together, think about adding a few gear items to your registry. Even if you don’t end up receiving all the gear, some stores will offer you a coupon to use towards any remaining items.
I hope these shopping tips will help you to find the camping, hiking, and backpacking gear you need in order to get outside. Happy adventuring!
Do you have any money saving gear tips? Let me know in the comments!