How to Hike and Camp on a Budget

I love the outdoors.  I grew up a Girl Scout, my family used to hike in the Smokey Mountains every year and now I’m loving exploring the Southwest via trails and campgrounds.  However, as a grad student and part-time retail worker, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on the latest, fanciest equipment.  Although it can seem super intimidating calculating the costs of tents, hydration packs, camping stoves, etc., enjoying the outdoors can be affordable.  You just have to know where to start.

-This should go without saying, but shop around, look at different stores to find competitive prices and keep your eye out for sales.  My hiking clothes and camping equipment are all different brands and from different stores.  When I walk in to a place like Academy, WalMart or Sports Authority, I typically head straight to the clearance racks.

-Don’t buy your gear a day or two before your trip.  If you buy a little at a time when you find good deals you can save a lot of money.

-Reusable water bottles for short hikes and hydration packs for longer hikes are not only good for the environment, but are also cheaper in the long run than constantly buying plastic water bottles every time.

-Remember that you get what you pay for.  It may be tempting to buy the cheap-o products, but if they keep falling apart and need constant replacing you’ll find that it’s better to spend a little extra for something quality that will last much longer.

-Buy only what you need.  When you go into a sporting goods store, it can be super tempting to buy all the cool shiny gadgets, the massive tent with pop out canopy, the sleeping bag that will survive in minus 50 degrees, etc.  If you’re camping with one other person, you don’t need a 6 person tent.  If you live in the desert like me, don’t spend extra money on a sleeping bag that could survive in the Arctic.  If you only do short day hikes (1-2 hours), buy a 2 liter hydration pack instead of a more expensive 14 liter hydration pack.

-If you only camp once in a blue moon, think about borrowing equipment (tent, camping stove, etc.) from a friend rather than spending money on something you may never use again.

-Hiking clothes don’t have to be designer or fashionable.  Comfort and practicality are key.  Designer clothes mean nothing if you’re miserable the whole time.

-Make sure you bring everything you need with you.  Not all hiking trail-heads/campgrounds have stores nearby, and those that do are major expensive.

-If your heart isn’t set on a specific campground, look at several different ones for a site that is free or at least cheaper per night.

-SAVE, SAVE, SAVE your money.  Every paycheck I get, I set some aside in a savings account and that’s how I can afford to go on some occasional bigger trips further away from home.

Happy trails!

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