How to Save Over $1000 on Your Next Backpacking Trip

I wish I was writing this post from the standpoint of how I saved money on my most recent backpacking trip, but alas, I cannot. I can only write it from the standpoint of how I could have saved money on my backpacking trip. While this isn't the first year that I've gone backpacking with my buddies, it was the first year that required a bit more planning. We decided that Yellowstone National Park was our destination and that involved buying plane tickets, renting a car and paying extra attention to our pack load. Hopefully, for any of you that are planning on going on a backpacking trip sometime in the near future, you can learn from some of my mistakes and save yourself over $1000.

1. Book your tickets in advance.

We knew approximately what part of the month we were leaving, but hadn't narrowed it down to a specific day. When I first had checked plane tickets, about three weeks in advance, round trip tickets were running approximately $220 from Saint Louis, Missouri to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I checked the flights the very next day, ticket prices had increased from $230 to $260. Initially, I thought it was a typo or there was some mistake, but quickly realized there was no mistake. Airfare rates were increasing that quickly! Within a week of looking at the initial price, tickets were well above $300. By the time the flight was booked, the total round trip ticket cost me $460. I was literally sick to my stomach. Through our procrastination and not being able to pinpoint the exact time and day cost me over $200. I assure you that won't ever happen again.

Could have saved = $200

2. Borrow your gear.

Packing for a backpacking trip is extremely important and will require you to bring "the essentials." Some of the essentials include sleeping bag, hiking shoes, hiking clothes, canteens, water filters, camping stoves, and food. If you've never been on a backpacking trip before and aren't sure if you'll ever go again, I would suggest borrowing some gear to help save a few bucks. A few of the things that I don't own are a sleeping bag, poncho and waterproof bags. Luckily, I have a close friend who's still a member of the National Guard and he had the equipment that I could borrow. He loaned me the items mentioned above and easily saved me another $190 to $250. if you know anyone that's an avid hiker, go to them first and see what you might be able to borrow to save some dough.

Could have saved (and did)= $250

3. Rent gear.

This was the first backpacking trip for one of my buddies and he knew that he probably wouldn't go again, so he didn't feel that he needed to purchase some of the hiking gear. The biggest piece of gear he rented was his backpack from the local REI store. Renting his backpack for seven days only cost him $50, as opposed to $200 for a brand new pack (which I paid). While $200 sounds like a lot to spend on a backpack, having been on a previous backpacking trip, I knew that it was well worth it. But to my friend, the savings of $150 made complete and total sense, and could make sense for you.

Could have saved = $150

4. Buy in advance.

As I mentioned before, paying for the plane ticket in advance could have saved several hundred dollars, but there are also other things that you can buy in advance, too. For example, we purchased Mountain House meals to eat while we were camping. We didn't buy them until we actual got into town, and I noticed that by getting it there, we paid an extra $2 to $3 per meal, as opposed to to buying them cheaper at my local Wal-Mart. We could have purchased other things like beef jerky and nuts at Wal-Mart, too, instead of buying them at a convenience store. These are a few of the items that you can buy in advance to save a buck.

Could have saved = $25

5. Check the clearance racks.

Just like finding a good deal at your local department store, be sure to check the clearance racks at your local sporting goods store as well as the sale section of your favorite online store. I purchased a brand new backpack from REI and spent $200 for the backpack. Having had a miserable experience with a far less superior pack the year before, the purchase was well justified. Although, I did realize that if I bought an older or late model pack off REI's website, I could have saved anywhere from $50 to $100.

One item that I was able to save money on was my backpacking tent. Instead of paying the full price of $300, I did what I should have done with my backpack and checked the clearance section of REI's site. I ended up finding a tent that only cost me $99. I was also able to pick up hiking shirts and pants by checking the clearance racks at the local Dick's Sporting Goods. All in all, I saved about 60% off the retail price for an additional savings.

Could have saved = $100
Did save = $250

6. Use all your resources.

The last night before coming home, we had decided to stay in a hotel because we had an early flight. After many failed attempts of finding cheap hotel rates, it finally dawned on my friend who's a pilot, that there was a hotel that his airline had an agreement with. Initially, the quoted prices that we were getting from all hotels was anywhere from $150 to $200 for one night. Using his employee discount, we were able to book a room at a resort for the low cost of $70. Talk about a huge savings.

Did save = $130

A serious backpacking trip requires the necessary gear to make it a successful one. But that doesn't mean you have to blow the bank to have a good time. Learn from my mistakes and save some serious money and enjoy the outdoors!

Total potential savings = $1105

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How to Save Over $1000 on Your Next Backpacking Trip

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Guest's picture

Borrow or rent gear is a HUGE way to save the money. It's gonna get dirty anyway, so no big deal, costs nothing to clean it up before you return it. If you buy it, it may sit in the basement for a year before you use it again, just like losing the money!

John DeFlumeri Jr.

Guest's picture

Some good tips here. I find car pooling to the mountains to be the biggest saving of all.

Financial Samurai's picture

Every time I think of backpacking, I think of month+ long excursions.

How does anybody ironically "afford" to go backpacking anymore though? This economy is rebounding hard ,and it's our chance to make up for anything lost!

Dried foods is also a good way to save money.


Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

You can find so many great deals checking clearance racks. I've even seen good packs in places like Marshall's; you just have to get lucky. Also buying at the end of the season can net you great deals!

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the tips Jeff. My son is in Scouts now and we are starting to look at and accumulate gear -- you definitely want to have the right things when you are in the wilderness but that can get expensive. Renting and borrowing are great ways to get started, esp. when you aren't sure how often you'll be taking trips.

Guest's picture

We used to camp a lot. Then we had a kid. For 2-3 years our tent mostly got used by other people. Now we get to go camping again (mostly car camping this summer, but we're going backpacking with him next summer I think.

But if you borrow a tent, don't roll it up wet and give it back - make sure it's dry! We lost a tent to mildew because we lent it out to an inexperienced friend.

Guest's picture

These are good tips. Another money (and weight-) saving strategy is to parcel out responsibility for different items to different members of the group (how well this works does depend some on the group members). Plan ahead in order to be able to share (e.g.) one tent, one set of cooking gear, etc.

Guest's picture

Stop buying the Mountain Home food. Your supermarket has tons of freeze dried meals that are a lot cheaper. Look in the prepared meals isle. I like the Lipton noodles and sauce meals with some canned tuna or chicken. Quick, easy and filling.

Guest's picture

Mountain Home food from Amazon for cheaper than they were at REI. Of course they were for our earthquake kit but it's good to know.
I think backpacking is a great vacation idea! Once you have all your gear you can just load up the car and go.

I would say you do need to make sure you have comfortable broken-in boots and a pack that fits well or your trip will be misery.

Guest's picture

You know, sometimes if you empty the cache or delete your cookies in your internet browser, the price will change. This might also happen if you use your computer at a different ISP address. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I do know that I've looked up prices for plane tickets before and after deleting my cookies, and the prices were 30-50$ cheaper. Might be something to keep in mind for planning future trips.

Jeff Rose's picture
Jeff Rose

That's funny, but somebody told me the exact same thing.  Unfortunately, it was after the fact but good to know for future trips.


Jeff Rose is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and the co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He also authors the blog Good Financial Cents.

Guest's picture

Definitly buy your airfare in advance. You can save hundreds of dollars if you're not a last minute traveler like me. I also find that you can get cheaper flights if you look at specific airlines websites under their deals. For example: Virgin Atlantic has great summer fares. I've flown from Miami to London for $400 just by looking at their fare deals. Another tip: there are certain times and days when air fare is cheaper. I want to say midnight on Mondays or Wednesdays but I'm not sure. That's just something you'll have to research if you're motivated enough.

Guest's picture

I have hiked the GA section of the Appalachian trail several times. Something I always find is that people leave gear (and food) at hostels. It is a case of inexperienced hikers bringing way too much. Just something about carrying unnecessary weight for a few days makes people prioritize what is important. Of course it is hit or miss with gear. Dry food is almost always to be had. However, this may just be characteristic of trails in the "early" miles (<80-90miles).

Also, do research on hostels. If you are hiking any kind of distance you will want to treat yourself every 7-14 days depending on your finances. For instance, if you get a chance to hike the AT I highly recommend the The Blueberry Patch in Hiawassee, GA. I am not affiliated with them in any way. Just an awesome inexpensive place to stop. The owners are amazing.

Guest's picture

Just for the food portion of backpacking trip, I can tell you I use Backpackers Pantry, they are cheap and delicious. I served in the Army for 4 years and was quickly burnt out on MRE's. I am an outdoorsman and love to camp and hike. I've tried tons of different MRE's and none compare to the Camping Food & Backpacking Food at Backpacker's Pantry. I suggest you give it a try!