Congratulations! You've decided to take the plunge into the world of backpacking. Whether you're an experienced day-hiker looking for more of a challenge, a more secluded nature experience, or maybe your other hiking friends talked you into giving it a try, one of the first things that probably crossed your mind was, “How much is this going to cost me?”
As with most things in life, there is no simple, cut-and-dry answer to this question. That being said, we will go over a) the main gear you will need b) the price ranges you can expect to find for each of these items and c) give you a general idea of how much you can expect to pay for a decent backpacking set-up, one that has a nice mix of less expensive, but decent, items as well as some higher-quality items that you won't want to skimp on. Let's dig in!
What Do I Need?
To keep things simple, we'll work from the items listed in our comprehensive Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List.
This is likely going to be one of your most expensive purchases. However, cheap packs start around $40 on Amazon. While this may be tempting when you're first getting started and it still may be an acceptable option if you're on the fence about whether you'll enjoy backpacking or not, these packs are one of those items in life that “you get what you pay for”. Sure, they'll get the job done, but, in general, they are not very comfortable. The less expensive ones usually don't have much padding on the waist belt or even shoulder straps, which can negatively affect the enjoyability of your trip more than you might think.
You will be better off purchasing a good pack in the $130-$200 range, such as this one from Osprey. If you're still concerned about the price, take solace in the fact that many quality backpacks will have good resale value. Or, depending on the company's policies from which you buy, you may be able to return it and receive a refund if it's not the right fit for you.
If you're an experienced hiker and know you're likely to enjoy backpacking, you might even want to go ahead and invest in a “primo” backpack from a company you're already familiar with and trust. These usually start around $200 and climb up to the $700-range.
Also keep in mind that many packs already have a rain cover built-in, but if not, you will need to invest in one of those as well. Many of these can be found in the $5-$15 range. Or, if you're looking to save some money, you can use a garbage bag instead.
What tent you purchase is just as important a decision as your backpack, if not more so. Cheap backpacking tents start around $50 on Amazon. The Ozark Trail brand through Walmart is also inexpensive and you may have some luck with them. Unlike backpacks, some less expensive tents can actually be pretty decent. At the very least, they should last you through a few trips to see whether you want to invest more money in a higher-quality tent. Keep in mind that most cheap backpacking tents tend to be much heavier than more expensive tents, so you may decrease your comfort and enjoyment on the trail if you have to lug a heavy tent around.
Much better quality, longer-lasting tents start around $150 and go up from there. You can expect to pay $400-$500+ for really top-notch tents. Tents are especially important to research and read reviews on because oftentimes you don't need to sell a kidney to afford a quality tent.
Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Sleeping Pads
Being comfortable (and warm!) at night can also make or break a backcountry trip. Believe it or not, you can find cheap mummy-style sleeping bags for as little as $35 on Amazon. While this price point may be tempting and will probably get you through at least one season, don't count on these bags to last for the rest of your camping days, or even over a year or two, at that. Also, many of these are not compressible and will end up taking up a lot of space in your backpack.
You can find much better quality bags starting around $150. If you don't mind dropping some bucks for one of the more well-known and widely recommended brands, expect to pay between $250 and $350. As with the other “big purchases” on our list, some sleeping bags can even be found in the $400 and $500 range. Just keep in mind there are plenty of respectable outdoor gear companies that sell durable sleeping bags at prices that are actually affordable.
The Thermodown 30 Backpacking Quilt is rated for 30 degrees, which makes it a great option for warm-weather backpacking.
Quilts are all the rage now too due to their versatility and tend to be lighter weight than traditional bags. They work just as well as sleeping bags and are easier to use between multiple seasons as opposed to having different sleeping bags for different climates/times of year. Quilts are a great option if you prefer sleeping in a hammock too. If you're thinking about a quilt simply to cut costs, don't. They tend to run in the same price ranges as sleeping bags: Mid-$100's for decent, but economical ones, to $300+ for ultralight options.
Not all sleeping pads are created equal and are even more diverse in style and comfort than air mattresses. Again, in general, you get what you pay for with sleeping pads. At the lower end of the price range, inflatable ones on Amazon start around $40. (Foam ones start between $25-$30 each, but personally, we find the inflatable ones much more comfortable.) You can expect to pay $70 to $150 for mid-range ones. Most well-known name brand ones run between $150 and $200. Be sure to look into R-values before purchasing as well to make sure that the pad will be warm enough.
Several different types of water filtration systems are on the market now, including gravity, “life straws”, water bottles, and manual pumps. Regardless of type, water filters range between $20 and $80, most quality ones being in the $50-$60 range. The smaller the filter, the cheaper it's going to be, in general. (You can find a LifeStraw for a reasonable $15 and many people swear by them.)
Don't let the price be your only deciding factor, though. Think about the convenience and your preferences (or what you think your preferences will be) and how much water you plan on drinking according to the type of terrain you'll be covering, climate, season, etc.
If you choose to go the water bladder route as opposed to individual water bottles, you can find them as low as $11 all the way up to $40. These are also one of those things that you get what you pay for. Stay away from very cheap bladders which will be more prone to leaks.
If you're not familiar with them, backpacking stoves are surprisingly inexpensive, light, and compact. Cheap ones start around $15, good mid-range ones around $40, all the way up to $145 for one of the popular Jetboil systems. To be honest, though, a less expensive stove will get the job done just as well as a high-end one and fuel is more likely to be standardized, not brand-specific.
Funnily enough, as far as the fuel goes, it costs about as much as the cheaper stoves themselves; around $12 per can.
Most cooking utensil prices are dependent on what type of material they're made of. Generally, titanium products are going to cost more and for good reason. They last much longer, are rust-resistant, and lighter weight than stainless steel.
For cooking pots, expect to pay around $15 for a cheap one that isn't likely to last long before rusting and $20-$40 for better quality ones, both in stainless steel and titanium.
Titanium cooking pots cost a bit more than aluminum pots, but are often worth it. They're ultralight, but durable enough to last a lifetime.
Most decent coffee mugs run between $15 and $25 for stainless steel and ceramic models. Again, a long-lasting, nice titanium one will run you about $35-$40.
Sporks can be found for as low as $4 on Amazon. More durable, titanium ones are about $12.
If you are sharing a meal with fellow backpackers, an economical, collapsible bowl might be just the thing you need. Many can be found on Amazon for $6 to $13.
Multi-Tool and Backpacking Shovel
Carrying a multi-tool or even knife is somewhat of a personal choice, but we feel it's one of those things that's better to have it and not need it than the other way around. Leatherman comes highly recommended when it comes to backpacking multi-tools, though they might be pricier than you are willing to spend starting out or aren't completely sold on wanting/needing one. Smaller, less expensive options start around $20.
A backcountry trowel is necessary for properly disposing of your waste when nature calls. There are folding ones, titanium ones, and even ultralight ones. Which one you choose depends on personal preference. These shovels range from the mid-teens to about $40.
- Rope: Aside from hanging a tarp or setting up a makeshift clothesline, you'll need some in bear country to hang your bear bag. A decent bundle of rope can be found for a few bucks at Walmart. A quality bear bag will run around $90.
- Emergency Whistle: A 2-pack on Amazon is $8.
- Duct Tape: $3 from Walmart
- Mini First-Aid Kit: $9 on Amazon
- Headlamp: Cheap ones start around $9, but we recommend getting a better quality one, which start around $17 for a decent rechargeable one.
Items You Likely Already Have or Will Obtain as Needed
- Appropriate hiking clothing (If you don't already have some, you may want to invest in some under layers. Check out our article on layering and backpacking clothing.)
- Hiking shoes or boots
- Bug spray and sunscreen (Don't forget to stock up on permethrin as well to pre-treat your clothing ahead of time.)
- Toilet paper
- Water bottles
- Matches or a lighter
- Ear plugs (for sleeping)
- Water purification tablets (Although really, you should always keep these with you in case your filter happens to fail.)
- Trekking poles
- Rechargeable battery pack (for cell phones, GPS devices, etc)
- Bear spray
- Baby wipes for “field showers”
What is the Base Cost for Essential Items?
Let's say you splurge a bit on the “big 3” items; Shelter, pack, and sleep system. For these items alone at prices around the mid-100s for economical, but dependable items, you can expect to pay about $500. Add all of the other items listed above and you can expect to pay around $750 to $800 altogether.
Again, there is no set price we can give you, of course, but we hope this article has helped with budget concerns and given you some helpful things to consider in your backpacking gear research. Our team is always happy to answer any questions that you may have about our own gear or backpacking in general! Shoot us an email or contact us through one of our social media outlets.