Lightweight Backpacking Gear on a Budget

Picking up lightweight backpacking gear on a budget can be tough and if you’re outfitting yourself with lighter gear you’ll soon realise costs add up.

In this post I’m going to give you a bunch of tips to lighten your load without breaking the bank, let’s dive straight in.

Find a Free or “Almost Free” Closed Cell Foam Sleeping Pad

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my favorite sleeping pad is the Thermarest Neoair Xlite. It’s lightweight at 13 ounces, it insulates well and is extremely comfortable.

It’s also pretty expensive.

If you’re just starting out or you’re on a budget then you don’t need to immediately buy an inflatable air pad. Many Thru-hikers crush miles with nothing more than a closed cell foam sleeping pad.


foam mattress for ultralight backpacking

The Thermarest Zlite Sol is a popular option but it still costs 35 dollars. It’s likely someone you know will give you a foam sleeping pad for free. You can also find them at local flea markets or garage sales. Foam sleeping pads such as this will work just as well as the Zlite, if just a little heavier and bulkier.

Picking one up for free or “almost free” makes it a contender for the best lightweight backpacking gear on a budget.

Free is a pretty good deal.


Lightweight Backpacking Clothing from a Thrift Store

Thru-hikers buying clothing from a thrift store started off as a good way to save money. Now it’s turned into who can find the most ridiculous (fashionable?) hipster clothing for the trail. There are many contenders.

lightweight hiking clothing from thrift stores

Trail style aside, second hand backpacking clothes can be bought for next to nothing. Polyester shirts, running shorts, base layers and even rain gear can be found if you look hard enough. As long as you know what clothing you need, lightweight, breathable synthetics or merino wool.

Shopping for second hand clothing is a great way to save some money on your next hike. Plus you want to look good on the trail right?

For a detailed breakdown of all my recommended hiking clothing check out this post.

Trash Compactor Bags

I’ve experimented with many ways of waterproofing my pack over the years. I keep on coming back to the humble trash compactor bag. At 6 dollars for a pack of five it’s a screaming deal, as one trash compactor lasts multiple thru-hikes. Each trash compactor weighs just 2.5 ounces.

Not only are they cheap and lightweight but I believe they’re also the BEST option. Roll top, “dry bag” pack liners are fiddly to work with inside your pack and It’s hard to compress all the air out. This makes your pack bulkier than it needs to be. A trash compactor bag is easier to push down, compress all the air out and twist closed. This removes all the air and compresses your down goodies as much as possible.

“Disposable” Plastic Stuff – Great Lightweight Backpacking Gear on a Budget

I love hiking, nature and scuba diving. I HATE the culture of single use, disposable plastic. However, if you make “disposable” items like a water bottle or plastic spoons last an entire thru-hike then you’ve put it through it’s paces and gotten use from it. Nalgene bottles and similar “heavy duty” bottles have no place on a backpacking trip.

Whilst great as an everyday carry bottle, their chunky design makes them too heavy for the trail. As a replacement you should carry a one litre Gatorade or Smart Water bottle which weighs 1 ounce, 5 ounces less than a Nalgene. My Sawyer water filter screws directly onto the Smart Water and a 500ml Gatorade Bottle is for coffee or drink mixes. These two items can be picked up for cheap in most grocery stores.

Titanium long handle spoons (8 ounces) like this one are the best utensil you can have out on the trail. But, if you’re on a tight budget then they’re one more thing you need to buy. Look around at local restaurants to find more robust plastic utensils and nab one for your next trip.

Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite2 Rain Suit

Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite2 Rain Suit

Nude Dude Frog Toggs is an iconic trail look. Aside from being eye catching, the affordable and functional rain gear from Frogs Toggs is not to be underestimated . The Goretex Jacket that I used on the AT weighs 15 ounces compared to 5.5 ounces for a Frogg Toggs jacket. You can have the jacket AND the pants for less than the weight of the Goretex Jacket. It’s some of the best lightweight backpacking gear on a budget. I used Frogg Toggs on my thru hike of the Continental Divide Trail. I was extremely impressed. They kept me dry in the rain and was an important part of my layering system when the temperatures dropped.

There are a couple of drawbacks to Frogg Toggs. The durability and the oversized, baggy nature of them. Frogg Toggs tear easily on branches and thorns. You have to be gentle with them to avoid punching through the fragile panels. My set lasted an entire thru hike of the Continental Divide Trail, not bad for 12 Dollars . Frogg Toggs only other drawback is their bagginess. They’re designed to fit many body types so you have a lot of excess material in unwanted places. You score trail points for style though.

Checkout this post for the best backpacking rain jackets.

Cheap Sil-Nylon Tarps

sil-nylon tarps for budget backpacking

The more time I spend backpacking the less gear I need. At this point in my “hiking career” I’m moving away from using tents and starting to use a tarp as my shelter. I’ve had good experiences with the Gossamer Gear Twinn Tarp, it’s design and quality is superb. If you want to experiment with tarps, there are some excellent lightweight, affordable options. On a trail like the PCT that see’s very little rain for the majority of the trail you can cowboy camp most of the time. Carrying an ultralight tarp for rare, rainy nights means you’re carrying as little weight as possible but still have a solid shelter. Picking up one of these budget tarps is a really great option.

Avoid Expensive Electronics and Camera Gear

Spending less on electronics is a sure fire way of reducing your budget when planning a hiking trip. I carry a big, expensive camera on my trips because I want the capability to shoot high quality video and photography. With that I also carry a decent amount of electronics with me. My advice to someone that’s planning a hike on a budget is to keep it simple on the electronics. Chances are you already have a phone with a capable camera built in. When shopping for other electronics be aware you don’t always need the most flash, bang, whizz new gear. Amazon has some great affordable electronics that will handle the job without breaking the bank. You can always upgrade later.

Tyvek and Polycro

tyvek and polycro great lightweight backpacking gear on a budget

Tyvek and Polycro is some of the best lightweight backpacking gear on a budget. They were created for use in construction. But their water resistance, low weight and affordability make them great options for a groundsheet. They work well as a groundsheet to lay your sleep system on. Keeping your gear dry from the ground and protecting delicate sleeping pads. They’re both durable and can be replaced easily.

Cheap Food

Spending less on hiking food is one of THE BEST ways to save money when backpacking. Although not strictly “gear” it’s important to mention. You have to effectively budget on food if you want to save money when hiking. I love food and on trail I try to eat nutritious food that keeps me energised and happy. Yet, I’ve checked out at the grocery store when resupplying and been stung with a hefty total. If you want to save money on food you should stick to the cheap thru hiker staples, ramen, mash potatoes and oatmeal. These items are some of the cheapest you can buy and will keep you fed.

Try to avoid buying lots of extras to include with your food like tuna packets, drink mixes and trail mix. The cost of these “add ons” can mount up fast and are not essential parts of a trail diet. It can be boring to eat this way but if you’re on a tight budget you can save a lot of money. To learn more about food for the trail, checkout my comprehensive video series on Backpacking food for Beginners.


Make Your Own Gear

There’s no cheaper gear than free gear and there’s a lot of gear you can make at home for lightweight backpacking. This can include:

Denatured Alcohol Stoves

Alcohol stoves made from recycled cat food cans have been around for a while. Many ultralight backpackers favour them. They can be made for zero moneys by following tutorials on youtube. I’ve experimented with them and I prefer a butane stove as I find them less fussy and faster to boil. However, if you want to save money then you can’t do better than free. You can also make other accessories for your cook gear such as a wind shields, pot cozies and lids for your pot.

Soft Goods

If you’re talented with a sewing machine you can also make your own soft goods. Many people have made their own lightweight quilts, tents, tarps and backpacks. There’s great resources for materials online such as ripstopbyttheroll.com. They stock a wide variety of UL backpacking fabrics and materials for your next DIY Project.

Knowledge is Free

The final item I’m going to talk about isn’t an item at all. It doesn’t weigh anything and you can never misplace it. It’s the knowledge you carry between your ears. There’s a misconception that ultralight backpackers go out unprepared with the gear we carry and the knowledge we posses. I couldn’t disagree more. One of the main reasons carrying a UL Backpack is feasible is because people have appropriate knowledge and skills.

The ability to tackle the task without needing anything “extra”. Reading blogs and watching videos on Ultralight Backpacking will set you down a path of information that can be fickle at times. It will generally leave you a more complete backpacker though.

So those are my tips for lightweight backpacking gear on a budget. Hopefully you found this information useful to drop some weight in your pack without spending a bunch of money. If I can help in any way then please leave me a comment below.

Check out some of my backpacking gear guides here

Disclaimer – This post contains affiliate links. By clicking through and purchasing something you help support the work I do with pieonthetrail and it costs you nothing extra. Cheers


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