Bargain Backpacker’s Buying Guide
Spend Less. Get More.
Before hikers even hit the trail – before they struggle to traverse endless ridges and ranges, fight blistering heat and freezing cold, and walk thousands of miles, they must conquer the greatest thru hiker struggle of all – finances.
It is no secret that a thru-hike costs a whole mountain of money. Taking off months from work and eating your way through prior paychecks can dwindle savings accounts as fast as lightning. To save precious pennies pre-hike, spend less on gear, so you can spend more on trail (and on food).
Since my 2014 AT Thru, I’ve learned to mitigate my lust for new and better gear with smart shopping and an eye for price. This is good for my hiking budget and for the stock of Mars Snackfood Incorporated. Here are a few tips I’ve collected over thru hikes to allow gear heads to get more with less.
Step One: Know Your Gear
You know how it happens – you fall deeply and desperately in love with that brand spanking new piece of gear. But the while the piece takes your breath away, the price tag gives you heart palpitations. Instead of pining away in despair, do a little more research and “spec” (specifications) your gear. Let’s choose an example:
We know that the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer is a lightweight down jacket. We can read that in the product description of the jacket. But exactly what makes it so awesome? There is a small tab with “specs” under the description with the following specific information:
Overall Weight: 6 ounces
Insulation: 800 Fill Treated Down
Fabric: Ripstop Nylon
Okay, we’ve got the “specs” or specifications of the jacket we want. How much it weighs, what type of insulation it uses, what type of fabric it uses, what functions it has. Now we search for similar products using these “specs”. Let’s compare a similar jacket.
Overall Weight: 8 Ounces
Insulation: 800 fill untreated down
Fabric: Pertex Treated Ripstop Nylon
You’ll notice there are a few differences between the two, but overall they are comparable pieces in the same category: lightweight down jackets. By knowing exactly what goes into your gear, you can search for comparable pieces. You’re much more likely to find great bargains if you’re keeping tabs on two or three pieces, instead of just waiting for that one specific piece to go on sale.
If the research that goes into spec-ing gear sounds way too complicated, Appalachian Trials has a cheat sheet for you! I recommend the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List for a host of similar products that are trail tested and thru hiker approved.
Step Two: Know Where to Go
This step is crucial to finding the best gear deals on the planet. Know which websites have the best deals! When I hunting for a piece of gear, I select the website I think will offer the best bargain on that particular product.
For Big Brand Clothing Like…
Patagonia, North Face, Eddie Bauer, REI…
and Shoes like…
Salomon, Brooks, Hoka, New Balance…
…my favorite site is eBay. Why? There is a large buyer’s market that isn’t necessarily geared toward backpackers. Why is this awesome for you? Sellers often see brand names like “Patagonia” and base prices on similar Patagonia items, not taking into account the specific model of the item. My favorite eBay snags from past and present have been:
Ebay: $35.00 Shipped
Ebay: $30.00 Shipped
Ebay: $40.00 Shipped
Ebay is great for popular items and popular brands. But what about specific backpacking and hiking gear? My go to site is the Gear Swap forum at BackpackingLight.com. There a few hoops to jump through before you can post on the forums – it’s a $4.99 charge to join the website. But you can still search the forums for free! I joined BPL after I found a piece of gear I liked by searching the forums, paid the $4.99 membership fee and got my gear.
Here’s my favorite snag for from BPL
BPL Gear Swap: $130.00 + $4.99 Membership Fee = $134.99
Step Three: Make it a Routine
Good bargains on eBay and BPL are often snatched up as fast as they are put up. As a thrifty gear head, it is imperative to stay updated and vigilant about what goes up on these websites.
Think of it – if you checked these websites as much as you check your Facebook you’d never let a deal get away.
Checking regularly doesn’t just apply to online markets though. Especially during the holiday seasons, local gear shops and REI have blowout sales. Keep an eye on the local market too.
Step Four: Don’t Compromise
This is the hardest for me. You’ve found a great deal on the piece of your dreams – but it’s just one size too big. Gear that does not fit, simply does not work. As tempting as it may be, sometimes saving money on the item just isn’t worth it.
Do not compromise on size when purchasing items such as base layers and shoes. With outerwear, make sure you take into account layered sizing.
Lastly, don’t compromise on unique pieces of gear you really want. For example, I’m currently crushing on this Mountain Laurel Designs Poncho Tarp. Since the tarp is expensive and very specialized, I am unlikely to find it second hand. Therefore, I will use all my powers of thrifty shopping and compromise with other pieces in my kit to save enough to afford the specialized, expensive pieces like the Poncho Tarp.
Happy bargain hunting ya’ll!
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Great stuff! Thank you! I hadn’t even thought about eBay…..
Forwarded this to my friend I’m trying to strong arm into hiking to Trail Days with me next year. Yes Kevin…I’m talking about you!