The following post has been written by Emily Bruns.
Although I consider myself to be a novice backpacker, I am a veteran bargain hunter. My deal-finding talents were extremely helpful when preparing for my first backpacking trip ever to Isle Royale National Park in 2009. Isle Royale is an island in Lake Superior off the North Shore of Minnesota. It is the least visited national park in the Lower 48 and is only accessible by boat or seaplane.
My high school had a wilderness education program that allowed students to go a trip backpacking, canoeing, etc. The summer before my senior year in high school, they were scheduled to go to Isle Royale National Park. With money from my summer babysitting jobs in my bank account and a desire to challenge myself, I waltzed into my science teacher’s office, filled out an application, wrote out a check, and unknowingly signed up for the most incredible experience of my life.
Lesson Number 1
Even though I had enough money to pay for the trip, I was still concerned about having enough money to buy my gear. Luckily, gear such as tents, backpacks, water filters, stoves, etc. was provided by the school, so I didn’t have to purchase any of that. I did, however, end up using my own backpack. My dad bought me my own Gregory backpack for Christmas that year. Lesson Number 1: Gifts are great! Don’t be afraid to ask for travel gear for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions.
Lesson Number 2
Despite the fact that much of the actual backpacking gear was provided to us, I still had to buy backpacking clothes, hiking boots, rain gear, and more. Here’s where my super-awesome bargain shopping skills came in to play. My family and I were in Minnesota doing some Christmas shopping at an outlet mall. I hadn’t intended to buy any backpacking gear until I walked into the Columbia Outlet store. Lesson Number 2: Outlets are your friend! The store had hiking shorts and shirts for around five to eight dollars each. I bought a pair of Columbia hiking boots for around thirty dollars, and I bought a light rain jacket for right around fifteen bucks. I walked out with tons of clothes, and it was only later I realized I only needed about half of what I bought.
I will be the first to admit, however, that shopping at outlets is pretty hit-or-miss. My best advice for shopping at outlets is to shop in the opposite season of what you are looking to buy. My backpacking trip was going to be in June. When I visited the store in December, they had all of their summer gear ridiculously marked down. Also, think outside the box. The Columbia store might have clothes geared towards the outdoors, but other outlets, such as Nike, Adidas, GH Bass and Co, etc. have a lot of useful gear too.
Lesson Number 3
My last lesson for bargain shopping for travel gear is this: Lesson Number 3: Browse your closets! This should probably be the first step in determining what you need to purchase for your trip. Depending on where you are traveling, the workout clothes you have work just as well for backpacking and/or traveling. I wore my dry-fit practice jersey from my high school soccer team on my trip, as well as bringing my warm-up sweatpants to wear at night.
When all my gear was purchased, the only thing left to do was embark on my journey. Myself, five other students, and three adult chaperones spent eight days backpacking Isle Royale. We took a ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota to the island. We first arrived in Windigo on the west side of the island to let passengers off, and then we took the ferry around the island to Rock Harbor, on the east side. Windigo and Rock Harbor are the only points on the island with running water and electricity. In between them lay 45 miles of wilderness.
Although at first I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive for eight days carrying 45 pounds of gear (too much gear, in retrospect), I quickly got over my aching feet and started appreciating the park. Isle Royale is rugged, and the mosquitos were awful, but there is a beauty there unlike anything I have ever experienced. If you haven’t already, put it on your bucket list. You won’t regret it.
About the author: Emily Bruns is a student at the University of Northern Iowa studying to become a social studies teacher. She enjoys traveling and loves the outdoors, particularly backpacking, hiking, fishing, and riding horses. She has a life goal to visit every national park, and she is looking forward to traveling to Europe for the first time in May 2014.
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Some more bargain travel gear hunting tips from Her Packing List:
Shop for secondhand gear online! Check Ebay, Amazon, Gumtree, Craigslist and the like for slightly used bits and pieces. Backpacks and tents are both good options here, and deals on those items can save you a pretty penny. Garage sales and moving sales can also lead to a jackpot, if you’re lucky.
Borrow from friends! Know someone that just got back from a big backpacking trip? Maybe they now have no soon need for their gear and can loan it to a trustworthy friend. Doesn’t hurt to ask!
Make it yourself! Are you a master behind a sewing machine? You just might be able to make your own gear, like sleep sheets and money belts, with fabric you already have lying around.
Do you have any budget travel gear tips to share? Do it below!
>> You might also like this post on unlikely sources of where to buy travel gear.
Great post. Gotta second the editors note about second hand gear. My partner and I have been traveling in Asia since November and we snatched both of our bags from eBay for less than $150 total (including shipping). Both of our bags retail for at least $300–mine’s a Gregory Deva 60. We ended up with about $500 in savings we could put to our trip. The trick is to be patient and do your research. I have a pretty short torso, so needed an XS and had no trouble finding a few different packs to bid on. Also, I made sure to read online reviews of the packs at retailers to make sure I was getting something durable.
Awesome, Erin! My first backpack was an Osprey Ariel that I got secondhand on Ebay for half price. Such a deal!
I like to shop online at places like ebay for gear off season- I got a brand new pair of skis with bindings, off season for half of their normal price. I also look for gear swap meets, usually they are sponsored by an outdoor chains like REI or Pelican Ski. Or even places that rent gear will have periodic sales of their old rental gear at a discount when they decide to replace their old inventory. Its not always the best gear but you can find a few winners in there. Our local outdoors store recently put in a consignment section where you can sell and buy used gear all year round. I am not sure how common that is in other places though. This is the first one I have seen.
For clothes I tend to prefer places like http://www.sierratradingpost.com/ sort of an online outlet. I got half my winter outdoors clothing there. LIke an outlet though you may have to hunt the site for several weeks if you are looking for something specific.
And my new favorite online site is theclymb.com. Its one of those limited time discount deal sites, like ruelala, but for outdoors stuff. Everything from technical climbing gear to travel/lifestyle clothing. I have a few good scores from there too. Warning though- returning is mildly annoying as you can’t exchange and they give you store credit not a refund. Luckily, there is enough stuff on there that eventually I find something I need or like to get with said credit.
Another place I’ve seen some used gear is REI stores. They usually have a members-only “rummage sale” twice a year. You can bring in your stuff to sell, or browse other people’s stuff. I haven’t found anything I need there yet, but I have found things I could easily have bought!
We also like to browse through other people’s closets! It seems we have a lot of people who bought gear figuring they would use it, never did, and are willing to give it to us, or let us borrow it.
I LOVE browsing Steep and Cheap. I found my backpack (the newest Gregory Jade 38) there for $80 with shipping whereas the retail cost is about $160. It’s very hit or miss and you have to keep an eye out for great deals and snatch them up as soon as you see them but I’ve gotten some incredible deals on gear and clothing from them!