Budgeting for Gear – The Frugal Hiker
I’ve been called many things, but not cheap. OK, I will admit I am very frugal, but I appreciate quality gear and never go cheap on gear I need to rely on. We all know outfitting a hike can be a huge expense. I personally saved some serious coin and I hope I can help you too. This is how I did it.
I was working part time at Bass Pro Shops and learned about a computer training program that lets you gain product knowledge through training videos, and once you certify by testing your knowledge, you earned some sweet discounts. The program is ExpertVoice (formerly known as Experticity). Working as little as one four-hour shift makes you eligible; many retailers use this tool. There are tons of brands, so just work on the ones that interest you. I would recommend working in an outdoor type store as they will have more access to outdoor brands, but that can change depending on who you are working for. At the Pro, they encouraged you to do this—but on your own time, that wasn’t a big deal, because most products only take you 15 minutes at most, per brand. Some just offer discounts without the work too.
Here are some brands I bought gear from: Big Agnes, Kelty, Superfeet, Anker, Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry, Salomon, Altra, Brooks, Crocs, Outdoor Research, Black Diamond, Nemo, Smartwool, Ice Breakers, Under Armour, Honey Stinger, Nuun, Clif, Sawyer, etc. My only advice is that brands contract for what appears different time periods, so they can come and go. If I saw it, I bought it and didn’t procrastinate. Discounts varied from brands—the least was 35% and most were 45-50%. I would often cross reference with Amazon to make sure I was getting a deal.
Sometimes it was just perfect timing. I had a year to plan and had a shopping list so I would be disciplined and buy only what I needed. The timing example was although I outfitted a lot from the internet, I still love to buy local and from the smaller outfitters as long as I can get a deal. So, all of the other items I purchased at smaller outfitters and though they are a little bigger—REI! REI has some killer sales. I recommend becoming a member so you can receive a dividend and be involved with some great activities and sales too—like their garage sales. They also have great staff that know their products and generally have wonderful experience that they will share too. I meet my first thru-hiker there and then attended a how-to class on the AT that she did. Great job, Curry (Winter Park, FL).
Don’t overlook swip—swap on Facebook based on your area and also a number of gear and equipment sites on Facebook like Backpacking, Hiking and Camping Gear Deals. These places and members cover a lot of ground and are easy to interact with if you are looking for something specific.
I read on The Trek about a couple that told everyone attending their wedding to give them gift cards to an outfitter and that financed all their gear for their AT hike. It was a great idea. If you don’t mind writing letters, write a letter of intent to the product you want, tell them who you are, what you’re planning, and invite vendors to partner in your journey. I was very fortunate to get about $600 worth of free gear just by asking. Bass Pro in Daytona Beach graciously geared me up with my Jet Boil, Therm-a-Rest Neo Air, Sea to Summit dry sacks, sleeping bag liner, and pillow. The old adage is that it never hurts to ask. As a freelance writer, I am never deterred by a refusal but encouraged to ask again—persistence and determination, the same traits that will get me to Kathadin.
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