Backpacking on a budget for the midwestern outdoorsman
buffalo river, northwest Arkansas
Backpacking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors just about anywhere. But, sometimes it seems that the hiking and backpacking options available in the Midwest are shortchanged.
The purpose of this article is to introduce some options you have to get out and enjoy on a tight budget, but in a manner that will get you started the right way. The gear options we suggest here are for someone getting started or on a budget, and with the idea we are talking about getting out on days where weather stays on the plus side of forty degrees.
When you start acquiring light enough gear for cold weather camping, you are going to start spending the bigger bucks on lightweight down sleeping bags, four season tents, etc.
One of the bigger ticket items you will be needing is a lightweight sleeping bag. Every ounce counts when you are putting in miles with your worldly possessions on your back. For warmer months, a sleeping bag should neither weigh much nor take up too much space. A bag under 3 lbs and rated down to 40 degrees will get you through the months we are talking about in this article. One pretty nice option is made by Kelty.
The Coromell is a down bag which gives you compressibility and is lightweight, and this one comes at a pretty good price. At under 3 lbs, this bag might be what you are looking for.
Ok, so the tent selection is going to be really a little pricier than what we have recommended here in the past (as of early July 2021 it's in the low $200's). But, this brand is one you can rely on and the tent is just such an important part of the package that we might need to spend a few extra dollars.
Big Agnes has served our family for a long time. They produce quality gear and think of everything so you don't have to. I will say, that some nice features come at extra cost with BA...one in particular is the footprint. I'd definitely invest in that.
Backpacks need to fit right, plus of course have the size and features that will work for your backpacking needs. At some stage, if you find backpacking enjoyable, you will want to go and spend the money to get fitted and buy a higher end pack.
In the meantime, you want to keep your expenditure very reasonable. But, the pack I am going to suggest for starters may very well get you by for quite awhile. I can tell you from personal experience, that I went quite a long time before I forked out the money necessary to get a higher quality pack, and maybe because I did not know any better, I thought what I was using was just fine.
Anyway, this High Peak: Pacific Crest Trail pack comes in at 90L, which will allow you to pack more than you'd want to carry. It is fitted to accept a hydration bladder, and has nice side pockets, mesh water bottle pocket, and generally will more than get the job done.
I love cooking in the outdoors, but when it comes to backpacking, simple is definitely best. For meals, I go exclusively with freeze dried meals, which I find very appealing. What you need for this type of "cooking" and eating is a small backpacking stove and a lightweight cookset. The little set featured here is about as good as you will do for the quality and for everything you will need. The set will take essentially no room and add no weight. One small fuel cylinder (often available at Wal-Mart or any outdoor store) will get you through at least a couple days worth of meals.
These are the bare essential items you will definitely need. Some other items that I strongly suggest include a pack rain fly, trekking poles, lightweight sleeping pad, water filtration system, and headlamp. Of course you will need a fire-starter suited to your needs and conditions, You may wish to have a GPS and certainly a compass. Maps may be a necessary item as well.