The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Camping Gear

I’m a PhD student and I live on a scholarship. Being on budget is essential to me.

Camping is an expensive hobby to start. Now that we have all the gear, we only pay the camp fee ($30-$50 a night), park entrance fees and food/wood.

When you’re just starting up though, you need a sleeping system (tent/sleeping bag/sleeping pad), a cooking system (stove, cooking pots, utensils), little convenience items (check my list here), maybe even new clothes. That adds up to quite a sum.

Here are my tips and tricks to save some money on beginner camper’s gear:

1. Borrow.

You don’t even know if you’ll get into camping or not. For your first trip, it makes sense to ask around for things like a tent. New to the area or don’t have friends who camp? Check out the Buy Nothing Project in your area, often people are willing to let you borrow things.

2. Cut your shopping list.

I’m sure you’ve seen those “camping essentials” lists. Later on, you’ll need all this stuff – absolutely! But for now, be creative.

On my first few camping trips I used a yoga mat for sleeping pad, took a blanket and a pillow from home to use instead of a sleeping bag, and we cooked all the food on fire (and only bought a stove for our 4th trip).

Be smart about you circumstances, of course. A yoga mat won’t work as a sleeping pad if you’re camping in cold temperatures (it doesn’t insulate you from the cold ground).

You don’t really need a camping stove for your very first trip

3. Buy second hand gear.

Here’s where:

  • Facebook

I joined two Facebook groups: Backpacking Gear Flea Market and Hiking/Camping Gear Yard Sale (both US based). I already got a great rain jacket for $40 and an even better Patagonia fleece for $30 (!). They will go on so many adventures with me.

As a bonus, you get to meet people, and there’s this satisfying feeling of being a responsible and sustainable consumer.

A note I got from the guy whose wife’s gear I bought

A downside is that you have to “hunt” for gear. If it’s a good and cheap piece, many people will be interested, and so you always have to keep an eye on what’s on sale.

Also, I strongly recommend using PayPal’s Goods and Services option to pay, or a similar service where you’re protected from fraud, because you just never know.

I think it’s for members only, but joining is free. They have *everything* with good discounts! That’s where I intend to get my hiking boots from (I understand some people would be iffy about buying used shoes, but I don’t care, while I do care about the 50% discount). They disinfect everything.

Read the reviews carefully.

Patagonia kind of doesn’t advertise this too loudly, but a used section exists on their website. Items still won’t be super cheap, but if your budget is a little bit higher but you’d still like a good discount on premium items, that’s your place.

4. Look for discounts.

This is obvious but I’m sour that I got my bag for $230, and a week later Labor Day sales hit and it got reduced down to $150 😡.

Keep an eye on holiday sales.

Create alerts on Amazon, items go on discount randomly (I saved $70 on my amazing backpacking tent).

5. Protect your gear.

I’d rather spend money on a footprint for my tent and be able to sell it in an excellent condition in a few years than have stones poke holes in it on my second trip.

(A footprint is a piece of materials that’s stronger than your tent’s floor. You put it under your tent to protect its floor from the debris, and also to keep you dry if it rains).

I’d rather buy a sleeping bag liner for my sleeping bag, so I don’t have to wash it frequently and ruin it with washing.

(A liner is a sleeping bag-shaped lightweight material that goes inside your bag to protect it from sweat and grease. It’s basically like sheets for the bag. It also makes your bag warmer, and in hot summers you can get away with sleeping just in the liner).


Do you have any tricks to save money on gear? Please let me know!

2 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Camping Gear”

  1. […] have Salomon Women’s X ultra 3, which I got with a 60% discount. Here is how I save on my […]


  2. […] As usual, being on a budget was important (I’m a PhD student). Don’t forget to check out my Guide on how to buy camping gear cheaper! […]


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