Some of the best moments in my life happened when I had the very least. Whenever I stress about money or work, I remind myself of that. When I was spending a majority of each year backpacking, hitchhiking, or cycling, people would ask me if I was a self-made millionaire or a trust-fund baby. I’d laugh it off and assure them that living like a hobo was dirt cheap.
I used to have a motto back then: “A dollar saved is a mile hiked.” I’d see something I wanted to buy and think, "is it worth 200 miles of trail?” Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things about how to have a great adventure without spending a fortune.
A reader on a budget once asked me how cheaply they could buy a set of gear for their first backpacking trip. I worked out a sample gear list for them, but I kept finding new ways to go even cheaper and lighter.
While waiting for the end of winter, I thought I'd pass the time by compiling everything I’ve learned and come up with a super-ultralight, super-ultracheap gear list for those who think you need to be a trust-fund baby to live a life of adventure.
I’ll be writing all year on this topic, but I’m going to start it off with a simple gear list that can get you out the door and on the trail for just under $100. I'll also disprove the myth that cheap gear means heavy gear, as this gear list weighs just over 5 pounds.
My Goals For This Gear List
- It can't cost a penny over $100.
- It has to have a base weight of about five pounds, which is the weight of the pack not including consumables like food, water, and cooking fuel.
- Any DIY gear had to be easy to make without having any uncommon tools or skills (i.e. by people like me)
- I could use common household items as long as they were so common that any first-time backpacker would already have them.
- I have to maintain my normal level of safety and comfort on 3-5 day stretches in summer temperatures, between 60 and 90° F (16 to 32° C).
An avid backpacker would never limit their budget to $100. Obviously, a budget of $1,000 or more will get you a better set of gear, but I think it would surprise most people to learn just how little they have to spend.
I love shopping for new gear as much as any backpacker, but setting extreme limits is a great way to force yourself to get creative and learn something new. For first-time backpackers, those on a budget or not, this is a great way to start learning about what gear you need, and what you don't, before an outfitter tries to sell you everything including the kitchen sink.
Why 5 Pounds?
There's nothing inherently special about five pounds, except that your enjoyment on a hike generally goes up as your pack weight goes down. You'll have more energy, you’ll hike faster and further, and you'll have less aches and injuries. There's a point, however, when shaving off that last ounce will actually decrease your enjoyment or make you less safe. You may find, for example, that 7 or 8 pounds works better for you.
That being said, challenging yourself to get as low as five pounds will force you to get creative and learn something new. With this knowledge, you'll make better gear choices and you'll know if and when an upgrade is worth the money or carrying the extra weight.
Finally, minimalism on the trail is liberating. Not only will you minimize your impact on the environment, when you head into that green tunnel of trees you’ll find that the less you require, the freer you'll feel. Later, when you're working hard to buy the next thing, you'll remember that the best times in your life were when you had the very least. Discovering that could change a life. And I believe if enough people make this discovery, it could change the world.
The Gear List
Alright, on to my $100 super-ultralight pack. For now, I’ll just give the gear list then I’ll dive into the details in my next posts.
Packing | $20.97 | 11.419 oz.
- Backpack | Ozark Trail Atka 27L, modified | $18.97 | 10.649 oz.
- Bag Liner | DIY, Polycryo Plastic (Window Weatherproofing Shrink Film) | $2.00 | 0.35 oz.
- Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack | DIY, Polycryo Plastic | $0.00 | 0.28 oz.
- Small Stuff Sack | DIY, Polycryo Plastic | $0.00 | 0.14 oz.
Sleeping | $52.44 | 2 lbs. 14.691 oz.
- Hammock | Grand Trunk UL, modified | $13.99 | 11.464 oz.
- Rain Tarp | DIY, Polycryo Plastic | $0.00 | 4.4 oz.
- Ridgeline and Guylines | Mason's Cord and 1 mm Elastic Cord | $5.48 | 0.847 oz.
- Sleeping Bag | Bear Butt, 41-Degree Bag | $32.97 | 29.98 oz.
Cooking | $4.16 | 8.143 oz.
- Stove | Soda Can Alcohol Stove w/ Windscreen and Pot Stand | $0.00 | 1.411 oz.
- Cook Pot | Steel Coffee Can | $0.00 | 2.36 oz.
- Pot Insulator | DIY, Windshield Sunscreen | $1.00 | 0.282 oz.
- Fuel | 4 oz. Eye Dropper Bottle for HEET | $1.59 | 0.494 oz.
- Lighter | Mini Bic Lighter | $1.00 | 0.388 oz.
- Spoon | Heavy-duty Plastic Spoon from Wal-Mart0 | $0.57 | 0.28 oz.
- Food Bag | DIY, Polycryo Plastic | $0.00 | 0.14 oz.
- Water Treatment | Bleach in "Breath Drops" or Eye Drops Bottle | $0.00 | 0.25 oz.
- Water Storage | Soda Bottle | $0.00 | 0.81 oz.
- Large Water Storage | 2-Liter Soda Bottle | $0.00 | 1.728 oz.
First Aid & Gear Repair | $4.00 | 2.338 oz.
- Gauze Roll | Dollar Store Roll of Gauze | $1.00 | 0.141 oz.
- Duct Tape/Pen | Tape Wrapped Around Pen Ink | $0.00 | Carried
- Antiseptic | Single-use in Fused Drinking Straws | $1.00 | 0.04 oz.
- Medication | Excedrin & Ibuprofen in Mini ZipLoc | $0.00 | 0.07 oz.
- Hand Sanitizer | In Eye Dropper Bottle | $1.00 | 0.76 oz.
- Toilet Paper | Partial Roll, Cardboard Tube Removed | $0.00 | 0.3 oz.
- Toothbrush | Travel-Size from Dollar Store | $0.50 | 0.247 oz.
- Toothpaste | Travel-Size from Dollar Store | $0.50 | 0.71 oz.
- Sewing Kit | Needle and Length of Thread | $0.00 | 0.00 oz.
- Storage Baggie | DIY, Polycryo Plastic | $0.00 | 0.07 oz.
Miscellaneous Gear | $4.99 | 1.97 oz.
- Headlamp | Ozark Trail from Wal-Mart | $1.00 | 0.95 oz.
- Spare Batteries | Batteries from Extra Ozark Trail Headlamp | $1.00 | 0.21 oz.
- Blade | Razor Blade | $0.00 | 0.07 oz.
- Safety Pins | For Hanging Wet Clothing on Pack | $0.00 | 0.04 oz.
- Sit Pad | Back Pad Removed from Atka Backpack | $0.00 | 0.56 oz.
- Waterproof Matches | Wooden with Heads Dipped in Candle Wax | $0.00 | 0.14 oz.
- Bug Repellent (If needed) | DEET Spray, 1 oz | 2.99 | Carried
- Notebook | DIY Waterproof Notebook | $0.00 | Carried
- Map (If Needed) | $0.00 | Carried
Clothing | $12.51 | 13.577 oz.
- Shorts/Pants | Non-Cotton Shorts from Thrift Store | $1.98 | Worn
- Shirt | Non-Cotton T-Shirt from Thrift Store | $1.98 | Worn
- Bandanna | DIY Buff, from Thrift Store Material | $1.98 | Worn
- Socks | Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred | $0.00 | Worn
- Extra Socks | Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred | $0.00 | 1.80 oz.
- Underwear | Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred | $0.00 | Worn
- Extra Underwear | Use What You Have, Non-Cotton Preferred | $0.00 | 2.787 oz.
- Shoes | Start out just using what you have, Trail Runners preferred | $0.00 | Worn
- Rain Poncho (If Needed) | Frogg Togg Poncho | $4.99 | 3.99 oz.
- Thermal Layer (If Needed) | Thrift Store Fleece, Cut Into Vest | $1.98 | 5.00 oz.
Totals, If Packing Everything | $99.47 | 5 lbs 4.1 oz
Check back over the next several weeks for DIY instructions and other tips for super-ultralight, super-ultracheap hiking trips.