So, you want to take that first big backpacking trip. You’ve gotten your body into decent shape, you’ve saved up your vacation days, and maybe you’ve even used some of our strategies to book your travel for free. Way to go! You’re ready! Except, you just need a backpack…and maybe some trekking poles….and most of the other items on our packing list. If you’re like us, you enjoy spending your hard-earned money on experiences, not stuff. Before we embarked on the Tour of Mont Blanc, I didn’t have much gear to my name.  As a Chicago native, I had acquired hiking boots at some point during my decade of living in Colorado, and I had running clothes, but little else. I’d previously gotten by borrowing Ian’s way-too-big, broken-frame backpack for shorter trips, but I knew that wouldn’t cut it for an 11-day trek. Believe it or not, I was able to procure all of the high-quality gear I needed for the trip without stretching my uber-tight budget even a little bit. Here’s how I did it:

Buy Used

If I don’t need something very customized or specific, I try to buy used wherever possible.  For backpacking gear and clothing, I did this in two different ways.

For clothing, I found most of the items I needed from resale shops like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads Trading Co.  We’re lucky enough to live in Boulder, so between the fitness culture and the college students, these resale shops are typically well-stocked with high quality gear.  I was able to find baselayers, leggings, and tech tees at very low prices.  Remember, it’s only gross if you don’t wash it!

For other gear, I frequently checked sites like Amazon, Ebay, and Craigslist for specific items I needed.  I was able to find great trekking poles, a Patagonia down jacket, and a sleeping bag all for more than 50% off! The key here is to plan in advance, so that you can wait patiently (and check frequently) for the right size and style to come along.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards & Use Cash Back Portals

I often buy discounted gift cards through websites that re-sell cards that their original owners did not want. My favorite of these sites is Raise.com. They guarantee every gift card you buy for 1 year and I’ve never had any issues. If you haven’t tried Raise.com before you can use this link to get $5 off your first order.

As a bonus, I always link to anywhere I shop online through Ebates.com, which is a fantastic cash back portal. The process is simple. You login to your Ebates account (or install the plugin to your browser) and then navigate to the website where you’d like to shop. You currently receive between 2%-4% cash back at a variety of outdoor retailers. If you haven’t used Ebates.com before you can sign-up using this link to get $10 off your first qualifying $25 purchase.

Staying happy and dry with trekking poles I scored on Ebay and the pack cover I bought with my REI dividend!

Borrow or Rent

Ask friends, family, and coworkers if they have gear you can borrow. There are several items that do not need to have a custom fit and aren’t totally weird to share, such as cooking stoves and headlamps.

Additionally, stores like REI and several websites often rent tents, sleeping bags, and other essential gear at very reasonable rates.

Find Substitutes

This is a great place to get creative. For example, instead of buying a dry bag for my sleeping bag, I just used a trash bag. Instead of buying fancy freeze-dried meals, we just ate ramen (just as lightweight and delicious, by the way!) Instead of buying hiking pants and shorts, I realized I was just as comfortable in leggings and running shorts. It’s amazing how much money you can save when you make a few simple swaps.

Eliminate What You Don’t Need

What’s better than substituting? Not buying anything at all! If possible, take a few overnight trips before you start the Tour to get a better sense of what you’ll actually use every day and night.  Also, walk through each night of your trip and think about if there is anything in particular you’ll need for that stop. For example, Rifugio Bonatti requires that all guests use a sleep sheet/sleeping bag liner, but by doing a little research I learned I could rent one from the hut for only 2 Euros. Not only was it cheaper, but it made my pack a bit lighter, too.

Prioritize the Important Things

As much as I love saving money, I try not to cut corners on the items that will make or break my experience. Uncomfortable hiking boots, a leaky sleeping pad, or a backpack that doesn’t fit right can result in painful and unfortunate distractions from the beauty and excitement of the hike. You by no means have to buy top-of-the-line gear (check out our amazing and affordable tent!) , but make sure to get quality items that fit right where it matters.

Buy at the End of the Season

Outdoor clothing and gear brands typically come out with new models of their items every year, meaning the previous year’s models need to move off the shelves to make way for the new ones. Keep an eye out for end-of-season sales to score major discounts. My backpack was the previous year’s model, so after trying it on in the store I was able to buy it online at a significantly lower price.

Use Your Dividends

Are you an REI member? If so, you know that every year you get 10% cash back on most items in the store. Make sure you take advantage!

These strategies helped me to save hundreds of dollars on the necessary gear for the TMB and future backpacking adventures.  I hope they help you save lots too so you can have less stress and more fun planning your next adventure.