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Rebounding From Sticker Shock
by Matt Johnston
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After you have decided that backpacking is for you and you walk in to the local outfitters, be prepared for a bit of a shock. Outdoor equipment is quite expensive. Everyone who camps pretty much complains about the prices, but as a rule of thumb you get what you pay for. This is not to say that you wonít find a good deal or something on sale, but there is a dramatic difference in comfort between a $100 backpack and a $400 pack.
So I have decided to try to help everyone recover from the sticker shock and discuss a good way that you can ease into your wallet. The best way to get into backpacking is get a little group together. That way you can share gear and have some trail partners. If you were to go out and buy all the equipment needed for a trip at one time you might spend around $1000; sharing and borrowing gear is a wonderful way to keep part of your paycheck. The best thing to do is gradually buy near gear over a long period of time. Backpacking is a sport that is hard to get burnt out of, so take your time.
The first thing that you should invest in is a good pair of boots. You have probably heard this many times, but take care of your feet. Your feet can get you on the trail, but they can also get you off the trail if they get torn up. Be prepared to spend between $120-200 for a new pair of boots. Depending how much you use them they should last a couple years of good use. So you will go through a hand-full of pairs in your hiking life.
Clothing is another important piece of equipment, but for a beginner you can often just use whatever you find lying around your house. You might look at buying some lower priced rain gear. This way you can stay dry but you donít have to spend hundreds of dollars on hi-tech jackets.
The backpack is the next logical step. As it was stated earlier, you will get what you pay for. So you might want to buy a more budget oriented pack now and wait a bit before you spend your whole paycheck on one. By using a lower priced pack for a little while you can see what other people are using and then pick out the pack that is right for you.
Sleeping bags are one item that can get very specialized. If you donít really know what type of backpacking you will be doing, or if you plan to go year round, try to get a 20 degree back. These typically run between $100-200. See if you can borrow one before you buy to see if you prefer synthetic or down.
A water filter is always a handy thing to have around. If you go on day trips then you probably wonít use one, but for longer trips they are essential. Prices for filters range from $35-135.
Stoves really are not expensive, so you cannot really get suckered into throwing away your money. Be prepared to spend around $60 or so. Before you buy a stove ask other backpackers what they think the best one to buy is. This may save you a few headaches; you donít want to buy a stove which is hard to work and breaks down all the time.
Now comes the time when you have to start forking over the money. The last two main areas in my opinion are buying a good waterproof/breathable jacket and a tent. Waterproof/breathable jackets do tend to run from $200 on up, but believe me they are worth it. Tents can run anywhere from $150-500. By the time you buy a tent you should know what types of trips and conditions you usually run into. If you only go camping in the summer then you donít need to get a four season tent. There are a lot of different styles of tents out there, so take your time and choose the one that is right for you. Tents generally donít wear out easily if you take care of them; so pick one that you think can be used for many years into the future.
This is just one way of thinking about how to buy equipment. You may find that you prefer getting them in a different order. While you are still building your collection of gear, try borrowing and renting gear which you do not have. Not only does this save you the money of buying it, but it lets you try out different brands and styles. If your spouse, parents or friends think you are spending too much money, go hike some more to prove that you will use what you buy.
About the AuthorMatt Johnston (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a recovering compulsive buyer trying to always save money for the future.
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