The best budget backpacking gear for summer adventures, according to experts
There’s nothing quite like pitching a tent at a secluded alpine lake with the wind in your hair, the scent of pine in your nostrils, and a view of the Milky Way twinkling into view. Something about this age-old tradition of carrying your shelter, food, and anything else you might need for the night provides a potent antidote for the modern world, with only the barest essentials in hand.
Unfortunately, the soulful sport of backpacking can feel woefully inaccessible to most, due to the high price tag of necessary items (like a shelter, sleeping bag and large backpack), and that’s a real shame. In an effort to break down barriers and increase access to the outdoors, we asked loads of our favorite wilderness aficionados for their favorite budget-friendly pieces of backpacking gear and things they wished they had known to bring along when they were just starting out.
You’ll likely want to flesh out your kit with the requisite hiking pants, shirts and packable jackets before heading into the woods on your first journey (Steep & Cheap, REI Outlet and Patagonia Worn Wear are all excellent sources for wallet-conscious outdoor lovers), but here is a top-down look at the best affordable backpacking gear on the market today, hand-picked by experts.
Sawyer Mini Water Filter
“You don't have to invest in a huge water filter for your first time or shorter backpacking trips,” says Zazo. Not only is the Sawyer Mini feather-light at only 2 ounces, it’ll last most newbie hikers a couple of years while they dial in their gear setup. “I've used the Sawyer mini on many multi-day backpacking trips and it's super easy and efficient for filtering moving water (streams, rivers, creeks) into your own water bottle along the route,” says Zazo, adding that the Katadyn BeFree 1.0 L and MSR MiniWorks EX are worth the extra scratch when you’re ready to spend more.
A 20% DEET Premium Controlled-Release Lotion will work well against mosquitoes, but Dr. Zimring says he prefers the 20% Picaridin lotion since it also protects against ticks, gnats, chiggers, and flies. (In both instances, he recommends Sawyer brand.)
Part of spending time outside means battling ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. For this, Nelson swears by permethrin.
And out of the products we tested, Dr. Zeichner highly recommends Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent.