Beginner Backpacking on the Cheap

There is a book like "Curtis Creek" its "Lighten Up" by Don Ladigin

Easy to read and lots of illustrations. It will show you how and what to carry without breaking the bank or your back.

A more in depth study could be "Lightweight Backpacking and Camping: A Field Guide to Wilderness Equipment, Technique, and Style"


Well-Known Member

There are backpacking extremes and everything in between. Read "The Complete Walker" by Colin Fletcher. He is old school and doesn't mind carrying a 60 pound pack. Then read something by Ray Jardeen. He hikes the Pacific Crest trail with a 17 pound pack. Most of us find we fall somewhere in between. I've found I really like the ultralight stuff. I have a large pack from North Face that weighs 6 1/2 pounds and could take me up Mt. Everest. But I don't hike or climb up Everest. So I got a pack from Go-Lite that weighs 2 pounds and holds as much stuff as I NEED for a 2 or 3 night hike. The more you hike, the more you learn you don't really need. If it weren't for bugs, I wouldn't carry a tent, but mosquitoes make life and sleep miserable, so I got a 1-man tent at 2 pounds that rolls up almost as small as my tarp. Definitely do 1 pot meals, a Pocket Rocket stove with canister is pretty small and light unless you're gonzo and use a pop can alcohol stove. I haven't quite got the guts to go that light yet. Because the ground has gotten harder over the years, I use an ultra-light 2/3 length thermarest. Ensolite and blue pads are for kids.

Have fun!

i dont mind a closed cell foam pad. u just need to find a soft campsite with them :) like grass. they are very light. I like the foldable style. I use a thermarest though, always have :p


Grad student, in fishing, and in life.
If you are looking to sleep like a king, thermarest has a new inflatable pad out. Its called the neo air, it is much thicker than the older models, and lighter. Unfortunately it is kinda spendy......

Whatever you decide, dont skimp. Get the full length pad. Your feet will thank you.

As for food, I know some people who eat MREs, it really is just up to you. I like the mountain house freeze dried meals. They are about 7 bucks each, but all you have to do is boil water, and then eat it out of the package. NO DISHES! In my experience, the 2 serving ones are usually good for one tired backpacker.


Skunk Happens
I found out I can rent a bag, pack, and tent for $28 for a weekend. My inner gear whore doesn't like that news because it wants more stuff. My inner finance minister says gear purchases will be limited to necessities like food and bourbon. :(
It sounds like the key word in your post is "cheap".

Do you have access to a sewing machine? My wife and daughter taught me how to use the family machine and it's pretty damn easy really. There are several online sources for silicone impregnated nylon and other ultralight materials. Since I learned to sew I have made several lightweight tarps and hammocks, a bivy sack, down filled underquilt for my hammock that doubles as a sleeping quilt, and several lightweight silnylon stuff sacks and pack covers.

A hammock is one of the easiest things to make. You can find ripstop nylon at wallyworld for $2 a yd. Super cheap. Use it to make a hammock and a tarp as well and then use a sponge applicator to brush on a coating of roughly 50/50 mineral spirits and silicone caulking on the tarp for water proofing. You want a thin watery consistency. It works. I've done it and it's lightweight and cheap. I love all the expensive gear and own plenty, but you really don't necessarily need it. And there is a good feeling to be had knowing you made some of your gear yourself. Check out the Thru-hiker web site.

Making an alcohol burning stove out of beer cans is easy and cheap and best of all, it's ultralight and works great. Or make a homemade wood burner. Google and youtube are your friends. There are several online lightweight backpacking forums with DIY gear making sections that have tons of useful info. They also have classified sections with lots of quality used gear. The Whiteblaze site is one of many.

For your hammock bug protection you need a ridge line on your hammock. I just use a piece of parachute cord attached from just above one end of the hammock to the other. I found plenty of cheap netting type material at wallyworld to use or you can buy no-seeum online by the yard. Simply toss it over the ridge line and attach it with a couple of clothes pins. You can roll it up out of the way or simply remove it. A couple of folded over and sewn pockets at the bottom of each side will help. I just throw in a few stones to give each side a little bottom weight and it helps keep the netting material from blowing in the wind.

The tarps, hammocks and quilt are all homemade...........

Ridgeline on hammock with DIY underquilt.......


Skunk Happens
Nice! I never gave any thought to making something. That stuff looks cool. Is it a quilt because it has no zipper? It's hard to tell in the picture... it looks like a sleeping bag...
Nice! I never gave any thought to making something. That stuff looks cool. Is it a quilt because it has no zipper? It's hard to tell in the picture... it looks like a sleeping bag...
There is no zipper. It's actually a rectangle primarily designed as an under quilt for a hammock. But it has a draw cord at the bottom and a half strip of velcro at the lower end to convert it to a quasi sleeping bag. The idea is to make an enclosed foot box and use your sleeping pad as your bottom insulation and cover yourself with the quilt since any down underneath you just gets compressed flat anyway. It has a loft that is comparable to a 20* down bag with a total weight of 1 lb 12 oz.

I've done a lot of backpacking. One of my best experiences was in WA before I ever moved to WA. We were hiking in the North Cascades National Park. We met like minded individuals in the backcountry (typically 7 miles+ to weed out the wiennies). In conversation, they asked why someone from Cinci would come all the way to NCNP....Please?.. nothing like this area in OH. They said people from Seattle dont use the park because it was more than 2 hrs away. I hope to never take for granted the outdoors we have here.

I had my first real job and backpacking was my big luxury, ie pataguching it. We met a pair on the PCT that were hiking the length in WA in the NCNP. They were old school. External packs, old disco polyester shirts instead of the latest state of the art "wicking" fabrics. Frankly their gear enabled them to do more than most wannabe's.

There is going hard core and then there is going "cadillac'ing". My luxuries a la "cadillac'ing" were a thermarest pad and chair sling, and a minnie espresso thingy. Never forget sitting, looking at an incredible vista at the snowy lakes when the PCTer's came and asked what those chair thingies were. We invited them to try them out. Audible groan could be heard through the Cascades. Couldnt imagine weeks of backpacking without that luxury. The back support is to die for.

Here are my budget thoughts
1) cheap closed cell sleeping pad will work. Any ground pad is worth the weight in gold. As mentioned, I love my thermarest pad and chair sling
2) With a pad you don't need a high end sleeping bag. A synthetic fiber comforter will do all you need for 3 season hiking. Heck, I unzip my ancient (practically dead down bag) and use it like a blanket anyway. Synthetic gives you a margin of error if you get really wet.
3) Love the Whisperlite. Light and will work forever, albeit only having two settings (on and off) so build you backpacking menu on "add boiled water and eat" Enjoy the best meal after the backpack trip and take advantage of the contrast. Beer and cheeseburgers never taste any better.
4) Screw Nalgene water bottles (what ever bottles). Take a soda pop bottle and recycle at the end of the trip. Never face moldy water bottles again and it is lighter.
5) Think about packing an old tent tarp or any old small tarp. nothing more luxurious than sitting under a tarp for a rain free cup of coffee or dinner. This lesson learned the hard way in Glacier when I tried to use the hood of may jacket to shield my food pouch after passing two backpackers smiling and drinking hot coffee under a smaller tarp stretched across a few trees. Heck, Ray Jardine who has written about hiking the PCT would promote a simple tarp over a tent.
6) I use to use the cheapest pair of flip flops I could find on my pack to cross rivers and get out of my boots at the end of the day.
7) We use to use old Gatorade containers with the screw top as our bowls, or old food containers and plastic forks and spoons. Bottomline, most of your eating stuff can come from fast food.
8) Plastic insulated coffee mug is better than any shit from REI. Nothing like maintaining temperature of hot coffee or coccoa. Plastic is lighter than any of that metal camping cups that can't hold heat for shit.
9) I often adopted Ray Jardine's recommendation of using an umbrella. I still feel the most expensive "breathable" rain jackets still don't meet what is needed. When hiking at a good clip, you'll perspire enough that you might as well be wet. You can use an old fold up umbrella when there isnt much wind and have all the breathability you ever need.
10) Layering of clothes can be done with cheap clothes. Just remember "cotton kills". Stick with synthetics that dry quick. You can learn to adopt your clothes set. When you rinse and tie on the pack, you can get away with less clothes than you think.
11) Potable water is precious. We would drink the rinse water from the cooking gear. Takes time to pump water.

After getting everyone's advice, remember a character ( I think described in Ray Jardine's book) Grandma Atwood who hiked the Appalachian Trail repeatedly, in Ked sneakers, a douffle bag slung over a shoulder, and a shower curtain for a tent. When asked about her accomplishments compared to others. She said she knew hard work from an early age and most people are a bunch of panty wastes anyway.


Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Personally I use a Deuter 65+10 pack for anything longer than a day or two. Cost me less than 100 bucks at REI and has a really nice adjustable set of straps. In my opinion the fit on a pack is extremely important, especially if you are hiking 10+ miles a day for a few days. I'd also suggested trying on a bunch of different brands of backpacks at REI and see what feels good after they load it with weight. Then if you are surfing craigslist you'll know what brands/models you can work with.

If you want to get serious and can sew there are awesome DIY guides on how to make a ultralight tent ( You can buy all the necessary fabric (I usually go to Seattle Fabrics off Aurora). Craigslist is also a good source (as mentioned above).

On MREs - I only carry them for emergencies and never as my main source of food. Usually if I'm looking to go light I'll plan on something close to 2000 calories a day using a mixture of cliff bars, trail mix, and dehydrated food.

Uhh, you are actually suggesting that someone go into a retail outlet, try on their gear for size, touch it, feel it, play around with it, and also ask the staff to go to the trouble to help fit you to the gear, as well as answering your questions....and then go buy the item online for a cheaper price, or search for the same item on craigslist?

WOW! You have that backwards, friend. You might want to do online comparison shopping and research to learn about a product. I always do so.
However, when a fair and reasonable person goes into a retail outlet and wants and receives all that good service, information, and help in getting fitted for an item, I would hope that they would more or less feel obligated to make their purchase there... or else be ready to be called a lowlife cheapskate.