My favorite hiking gear & how to grow your gear collection for less

Let’s be real. Gear can be expensive for most all sports and hobbies, and not having the right gear may feel like a hindrance from doing what you love. Just like you, I have bills to pay, and other hobbies that cost money, so even after roughly 3.5 years since I started hiking, I still don’t own all the gear I would like, but that’s ok! There is no need to go wild and put yourself in debt to do what you love. I’ve been collecting my gear over a period of time and finding ways to grow my collection without breaking my bank. Also, by slowly collecting my gear, I’ve really been able to narrow down exactly what I want and need. Below you will find a list of my favorite gear, the actual cost, how much I paid, and some tricks on how I saved money.

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Tip #1: Add gear to your Christmas and birthday wish lists.

Deuter Aircontact Lite 60 + 10 SL Pack – Women’s

Actual Cost: $220

How much I paid: $0

I didn’t get my big pack until after I had been hiking for over a year, one reason being that packs are expensive. When I first started hiking, I bought a $40 Camelbak (normally $100) from Sierra Trading Post. This was great for what I needed at first while I was going in shorter hikes and only needing some water and snacks. It became clear that as I extended my mileage, I needed a new pack to fit my gear. I made-do stuffing that little Camelbak till the seams almost burst until I got my big pack.

This is by far my most expensive piece, but my favorite, and I didn’t have to pay anything for it thanks to my dad. I was very surprised when my dad disappeared after my family had finished exchanging gifts on Christmas Day, then reappeared with a gigantic, awkwardly wrapped package (my dad is known for throwing in surprise Christmas gifts that my mom doesn’t even know about). Inside was a brand new Osprey pack. I was thrilled! I took my pack to REI where he had purchased it to get it fitted for my body. With the help of an REI employee, I tried out a few different packs, and ended up exchanging my Osprey pack for the Deuter Aircontact Lite 60 + 10 SL Pack which fit my long torso and body type perfectly. Since I’ve gotten my Deuter, I almost always use it instead of my other smaller packs because even though it is bigger and heavier, the weight is distributed so nicely that it is more comfortable and feels lighter. 

Tip #2: Share gear.

 Jetboil Flash Cooking System 

Actual cost: $110

How much I paid: $0

If you have a set hiking buddy or two, share certain items. Both of my main hiking buddies (my mom and twin sister) own Jetboils, so there is no need for me to purchase my own. There are other items that I’ve invested in that I share with them, so it all works out in the end.

This thing is fantastic! It is lightweight, compact, easy to use and works like a dream. Although it is on the more expensive side, I recommend it as your cook system. I’ve used a few other methods for cooking, and the Jetboil beats them all. One of my favorite parts of hiking is taking a break and drinking a hot cup of coffee. With the Jetboil, this can be accomplished in just a couple of minutes.

Tip #3: Go digging at your local thrift shop.

Smartwool long sleeve base layer 

Actual cost: $100

How much I paid: $10

No doubt about it, Smartwool is spendy, but I’ve never paid full price. I own two long sleeve base layers, one I found at GoodWill for $10, and one at Sierra Trading post for $60 which both would cost around $100 each brand new. 

It is so, so, SO important to dress appropriately, and I’ve found that Smartwool is the way to go. Smartwool uses merino wool and has a slew of base layers. I almost always wear one of my Smartwools as my core base layer which keeps my body temperature regulated. The merino wool is also great to keep your body odor at bay.

Tip #4: Hit up Sierra Trading Post or your local discount store.

Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Crew Sock

Actual cost: $22

How much I paid: $8

I have worn stupid socks on too many hikes because I didn’t want to spend $20+ on a single pair of hiking socks, resulting in painful blisters. Instead of paying full price at REI, visit Sierra Trading Post. You will have limited options, but you will definitely save a few bucks! 

I’ve gone through a few pairs of hiking socks, but I am currently wearing these Patagonias that I found at Sierra Trading post that have worked wonders. Good socks are worth every penny.

Tip #5: Shop sales at REI.

Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots – Women’s

Actual cost: $165

How much I paid: $125

I recently retired my Keen hiking boots that I’ve worn for over 2 years for a pair of Salomons. I purchased my Keens at an REI garage sale for $40, which would have cost me around $150 brand new. I was starting to notice that my knees and feet were hurting when they normally wouldn’t while I was hiking, so I knew it was time for a new pair.

There are many debates about hiking boots vs. trail runners, but I’m not here to pick sides. I’ve only worn boots because I prefer more ankle support, and more coverage for rain and snow hiking. It is really up to you what you want to wear. I do suggest going to an REI to get your shoes so you can get advice from their staff, and you can return them if they end up not working. Shoes are similar to your pack, and which pair you pick will depend on your foot shape, size, and the type of hiking you do. This is one piece of gear that is worth paying full price for, but you can save a little bit by shopping during a holiday sale, or at an REI garage sale. I purchased my last pair at REI this past Labor Day and ended up saving around $40 on mine. 

Honestly, there are some pieces of gear it is worth spending the money on to make sure you are getting exactly what you need, but there are so many ways to grow your gear collection for less. Go to Sierra Trading Post, dig around at GoodWill, or shop the REI sales and garage sales. I started out hiking with just a 10+ year old pair of Tevas, so that goes to show you don’t need everything to enjoy a hike. Happy gear hunting!