On The Trail On The Cheap

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We used several of these on the PCT.

Thru hiking can get very expensive and your gear just gets beat to hell. The dirt, the use…If you can find a cheaper alternative, then go for it. We lined our backpacks with a trash compactor bag, we “cooked” in an empty plastic peanut butter jar, we didn’t shave, we made up our own food mixes instead of dehydrated meals. Too bad we hiked in a ‘no open fires’ area,  we never got to try our homemade (from a cat food can) alcohol stove.

You may find an idea or two here! Let us know what you did to go cheap on your thru-hikes. See you on the trails!

11 Cheap Gear Alternatives Thru-hikers Love

It sounds silly, but you can lighten your pack a lot by trading out heavy gear for garbage. Here are 11 cheap accessories thru-hikers swear by.

1SmartWaterDisposable bottles weigh 1/4 as much as Nalgenes, cost about 1/18th as much, and come with a free drink. A lot of hikers also prefer SmartWater bottles because they fit on a Sawyer filter (arguably the most popular water filter), and because their tall, skinny design makes them more packable.

2. A Homemade alcohol stove (instead of a canister stove)

cheap gear thru-hikers

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Many thru-hikers can be seen pulling out an old can of cat food and a bottle of Heet at dinnertime.  In fact, these homemade alcohol stoves are pretty efficient, work with any kind of white gas, and often weigh less than an ounce.  Although they can be a safe alternative, there is a steep learning curve for alcohol stoves.   There is also a fire risk with any open flame stove—California, for instance, bans these in the desert areas during droughts.

3. Plastic bags (instead of dry bags)


A new zip-top bag is one of the most essential pieces of gear a thru-hiker has in their backpack. It separates and keeps gear dry, weighs .5 ounce, and is virtually free. Just don’t expect it to mask the odor of your food when you’re in bear country.

4. An $8 Wal-Mart bathing suit (instead of hiking pants)


Thru-hikers wear whatever is comfortable, and that is often a simple synthetic bottom that wicks away moisture and doesn’t hinder mobility—like a Wal-Mart bathing suit.

5. Ski poles (instead of trekking poles)

ski poles cheap gear

Image via Wikimedia Commons

A light, top-of-the line set of trekking poles can cost up to $200 dollars, but used ski poles are everywhere—lurking in your parents’ garage, at a neighbor’s yard sale, not to mention Craigslist and Amazon. They aren’t as durable but they cost less, they often weigh less, and like the Gatorade bottle, they’re easily replaceable.

6. A sad, beat-to-hell aluminum pot (instead of a titanium pot or JetBoil)



Aluminum is not that much heavier than titanium and with a homemade pot cozy, it’s almost as efficient as an expensive coil-lined pot.  A word to the wise, though: Aluminum is not nonstick.


7. A $20 pair of Frog Toggs (instead of name brand rain pants)

Image by rklopfer / Flikr

Image by rklopfer / Flikr

Frog Toggs DriDucks  (yes, the ones at Wal-Mart) are the rain gear of choice for many thru-hikers. Even though they aren’t particularly comfortable, durable, or fashionable, they do lighten your pack without lightening your wallet, and generally keep you dry.

8. Tyvek ‘journal’ (instead of a tent footprint)

Image by Joseph / Flickr

Rather than buying a separate tent footprint, many thru-hikers carry a piece of Tyvek house wrap. It’s cheaper and lighter than most commercial footprints, and can be cut to any size. You can write on the durable material like paper, which means that it can double as a hitchhiking sign or journal.

9. Duct tape (instead of real patch kits, band-aids, sporks, and everything in between)

duct tape cheap gear

image via Wikimedia Commons

Just like in real life, duct tape is the fix-all of the backpacking world. Don’t have a patch kit for your tent? Try duct tape. Stood too close to the fire with your down jacket? Put some duct tape on it. Lost your spork? Just make one out of duct-tape. [Author’s note: this works, almost.] Wrapped around water bottles, trekking poles, and every available surface, duct tape is always on hand as a hiker’s first option or last resort.

10. A foam sleeping pad (instead of an inflatable pad)

z-rest cheap gear

Image by Mitch Barrie / Flickr

The floppy yellow pad strapped to many hikers’ backpacks is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the cheapest options for sleeping pads. Therm-a-Rest Zlite costs $35 brand-new, and can last for many years. The Zlite is one of those magical pieces of gear that actually does exactly what it’s supposed to do—it insulates you from the ground, even when it’s worn thin.

11. Plastic cutlery from a take-out place (instead of a spork)


How cheap can you get? If you were hoping to re-capture your youth by thru-hiking, you’re in luck —it will make you feel about 19 years old again.

  Thanks to Maggie “Chuckles” Wallace and backpacker.com for this article;   http://www.backpacker.com/skills/ultralight/11-cheap-gear-alternatives-thru-hiker-loves/
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