Cutting the cost of camping out

6 Ways to Save on Backpacking

by Steve Gillman


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Whether you are a devoted backpacker or just hit the trail every couple years, backpacking can get expensive, but there are ways to hike and backpack for a fraction of what most people spend. Based on my frugal habits and thirty years of wilderness travel, here are six of the best ways to do it for less.

1. Find No-Fee Places

There are many wilderness areas around the country that do not require a fee for hiking and camping. Some even offer free parking. When searching for them, you'll get good results if you google "no fee trailhead" plus the name of the state where you plan to backpack. You can also go to the National Forest Service list of forests to locate places that do not charge. Find the state you want, click on a forest, and then click the link that says "Passes & Permits" to see if there are trails and areas that do not have a fee.

2. Bring Inexpensive Foods

You do not need fancy freeze-dried foods to backpack. They're expensive and over-packaged (and you have to carry all that packaging out with you). Instead take cheap and healthy high-calorie snacks like peanuts and whole-grain pretzels. If you prefer cooked food, bring cheap noodles that just need boiling water poured over them. You can add a few greens if you know your wild edible plants, which brings us to the next suggestion.

3. Learn to Identify Wild Edibles

If they look and taste like strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, you can safely assume you have found the wild versions of these. Dandelion leaves and flowers are edible as well if they are not too bitter. Beyond that, you'll probably have to study edible wild plants a bit to safely supplement the food you bring, but it can save you money while providing fresh food.

4. Share the Expense

If you are going backpacking or hiking with others, check to see who has what equipment before you buy more. Your group only needs one stove and one set of cookware, and not everyone needs a knife. If you avoid unnecessarily duplicating supplies and equipment, you'll each carry less weight and spend less too.

5. Use Cheaper Alternatives

Proper clothing and gear is important, but you can find cheaper alternatives to expensive name brands. In the summer months, for example, the quality of a sleeping bag is less important, so why not go cheap? There are savings to be had in other areas as well. I hiked with backpacking socks for 15 years before going to nylon dress socks for the next 15 years. The latter were cooler, cheaper, and didn't give me blisters. Test clothing you already have on short hikes and set aside the best pieces for the next wilderness trip, instead of buying more.

6. Stay Close to Home

You may have your dream trips, but perhaps sometimes you just want to get out there in the woods. One of the biggest expenses can be your travel expenses for getting to the trailhead, including gasoline, plane tickets, hotels, and meals on the road. First consider the wilderness areas close to home, and if you find a suitable trail or two, you will save most of those costs.

Use even a few of these tips and you can hike and backpack for less.

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