My Hipster Gear List: Hiking on a Budget

When it comes to choosing gear, some folks take the ultralight route while others take the ultra-plush route. If you’re like me you pick whatever comes along, seems like it will work, and allows you to still be able to afford groceries for the month. I have dubbed this the hipster route. So hold onto yer hats, it’s a gear free-for-all!

The Big 3 (aka. most expensive stuff)

Pack: Northface Terra 55

Why? Because it was on sale and I had a gift card. I spent an entire year NOT buying a new pack while using my mom’s hand-me-down external frame Kelty. I’d look at packs, try them on, play with the fancy straps, then check the price tag… and walk away like I just escaped a run-in with a nest of bees. So, when this puppy showed up in Bass Pro on sale, I only needed a moderate amount of cajoling from my reasonable, sane husband to finally take the plunge and buy it. The adjustable length on this pack works awesome for my freaky short spine and the padding is so much nicer than the OG Kelty. The Northface also has pockets galore!



Tent: First Gear Cliffhanger

I bought this tent after much tribulation and internet surfing because I only owned a 2 person tent that wouldn’t fit in/on my pack. It was affordable enough that I figure if it makes it halfway through the Trail I’ll be happy. The reviews were pretty good except that it’s apparently pretty small, but at 5’3” so am I so no worries there. I wish I was hardcore enough to just bring a tarp, but if there’s one thing that will make me go stumbling head-on over a cliff in the night, its bugs in my face holes.

Sleeping Bag: Eureka Women’s Casper 15F

Why? Because it was a gift from my hubby many moons ago. I’ve always been comfy in this mummy bag (as much as you can be when you’re sleeping on the ground) and I’m too cheap to buy a new one when this one works just fine. It also has a pocket I can jam my clothes in to make a pillow-ish thing under my head. Score.

Sleep Pad: Therm-a-rest Trail Pro

I bought this on sale because it was last year’s color (not that us outdoor geeks need to follow trends… right Pata-gucci?). I like that the Thermarests are kind of adjustable, depending how much you inflate them. Sleeping all night without rocks in your hips? Priceless.

Less Expensive Stuff


Stove: Coleman Apex II

They don’t make ‘em like this anymore because, well, they don’t make them anymore. I think Coleman quit producing these stoves in the 1990’s. That aside, this little beauty was lurking in mint condition in my basement with a rebuild kit and 3 fuel bottles. I like white fuel because  those disposable propane containers seem really wasteful, I don’t think I’m gonna want to be hunting for sticks for biofuel, and Esbit stoves remind me of doomsday preppers… yup, smells like teen spirit on simmer…


Poles: Ascend Quick Lock

My dad was super sweet and got these for me for Christmas. He even sprung for carbon fiber which is insanely light! Definitely not something I would have bought myself, but so glad he did.

Boots: Keen Targhee and Durand

I’ve worn Merrells for years and loved them but I’m bumping up the Keens because of the wider toe box. An over-the-ankle boot has saved me from sprains so many times I’d never think of wearing a runner in the woods. The waterproofing and beefy lugs are worth their weight considering how muddy it can get here on the East Coast. I’ll start out in the softer Targhees while my feet adjust to their daily beating, and then switch into the tougher Durands for Pennsylvania.

Water Purification: Katadyn Hiker

Have you ever had a water borne illness? Trust me, it sucks. I’m super funny about the lack of pathogens and bacteria in my H2O, and carrying dirty water that’s filtered as you go sketches me out, so I opted not to go the Sawyer route. Yeah this is bulky and takes time, but why rob myself of an excuse to take a quick meditative break and filter some water?

Least Expensive Stuff

Food bag:  I found an old tent bag on the beach one year and now this is it’s new life. I’ll hang it with some Walmart paracord. Ziploc bags inside add waterproofing and keep the food scent down for my ursine friends.

Socks: I really like my Smartwools, but I only have one pair, so I’ll be supplementing with some Kirkland merinos which are almost as comfy. I’ve also learned that when socks start getting thin you can double up to make a thicker, better super-sock. Hint, hint to anyone sending me packages; new wool socks are good for the sole/soul…

Pants: Carhartt dungarees have leg pockets (hip pockets are pretty useless with a pack buckled on) and are heavy enough to protect my tender hide from rocks and briars. During summer I’ll probably switch to a lighter pant.

Tech: The mighty iPhone 4s and an iPod classic. If it ain’t broke, don’t get a payment plan for a new one! My phone case is a Walmart Survivor (Otterbox knockoff), and is 3 or 4 years old, going strong!


Poncho: Frog Toggs are super cheap at Walmart (I love and hate that place), don’t make a lot of annoying swishy noises, and the poncho also covers my pack when it rains. You should look up Army uses for ponchos, because they are pretty much as useful as duct tape.

Divacup: Ladies; this is the best thing since sliced bread. For reals, get you one!

Cookpot: Something stainless, came with the Apex from the basement. It’s a pot for food, nothing special.

Nalgene: A 1 liter Nalgene, like a poncho, is maybe one of the most versatile things out there. Nalgenes can do at least 10 things a disposable bottle can’t do. Insert your mom joke here.


Camelbak: this 3 L capacity bladder fits in my bag and I may have to carry more than 1L at a time. Also, I feel like an astronaut drinking out of the tube which is pretty sweet.

Fleece: The only other piece of Northface gear I own, I upgraded from a Columbia when my awesome coworker handed me her old fleece. The Columbia would have worked just as well, but the Northface is less bulky and comes with a hood.

Tiger Balm: Because sometimes you just need some ointment carefully crafted by tigers to help you achieve full badassery.


There are other odds and ends like my toothbrush and ibuprofen, but that’s the bulk and the heft of it. It took me over a year to cobble together this gear, but I wanted to let you know it can be done without robbing an armored car, or smashing your piggy bank, or selling your soul. You can’t be choosy, and you might have to wait and hunt for sales or be nice and grateful to people who help you out with gifts, but shouldn’t you be doing all that anyways?


For the gram-weenies out there, my dry pack weight to-date is about 18 lbs. which I feel comfortable with. I’ll no doubt fine tune my rig once I get out there, but you have to start with something!

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Comments 10

  • Miroslav Vanek : Mar 23rd

    Awesome article, it is great to hear that there are still some people who are not obsessed with buying new staff while sitting on the top of mountain formed by older and still good things. Anyway, things get their value not by the price tag, but by the time you spend using them. Good luck with your hike 🙂

    • katie sandage : Mar 23rd

      I think your insights are spot on 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Morgan Meek : Mar 23rd

    That’s a lot lighter than I was expecting. When should we expect to see you coming through VA? I want to take some time off.

    • katie sandage : Mar 24th

      Hard to tell until I get out there and see how it goes, but right now I’m expecting to get into VA around mid May and maybe be up Rte 60 way by early June. I’ll keep ya posted!

      • Maria : Mar 24th

        Good luck with the adventure!
        My husband will be flip flopping. He will hit the trail exactly 1 month from today

        • katie sandage : Mar 25th

          Thank you! So neat, hopefully I’ll cross paths with him this spring/summer!

  • Anne : Mar 24th

    At last a hiker on budget.

    Yé !

    • katie sandage : Mar 25th

      Thanks for reading!

  • Mark Stanavage : Mar 24th

    Spot on about the stoves. Propane/ isopropane hated for same reasons. Got my white gas stove, but love the idea of not carrying fuel, using a SilverFire wood stove. All prep hikes worked like a charm.

    • katie sandage : Mar 25th

      That’s awesome; I hope your SilverFire treats you right! Maybe I’ll see you out there and we can compare notes 🙂


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