The best inexpensive camping and hiking gear for your next backcountry adventure

Here’s a wallet-friendly list to launch your first backpacking adventure.

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All humans, rich or poor, benefit from the outdoors. But let’s face it: quality outdoor equipment isn’t cheap, and assembling all the gear you need to go on an overnight backpacking trip can cost thousands of dollars if you purchase only top-end gear. So when my editor and I were discussing these issues, we decided to take on the challenge of assembling a list of the cheapest, minimally viable equipment needed for an overnight backpacking trip, and when it comes to low-cost value, Walmart comes to mind.

One of the reasons outdoor equipment can be so expensive is that a lot of research and development has gone into making gear lighter, more capable, and more compact. Essentially, better, more expensive equipment enables you to carry less weight on your back (and have a more enjoyable time), do more tasks with fewer items, and put more things in less space in your pack. So we had the idea to see what we could find at our local Walmart to drive down economic barriers to entry so the cost-conscious could also enjoy the outdoors. 

To accomplish this challenge, we assembled a list of 10 essential items you should take with you every time you enter the backcountry, and a few more items you’ll want to take for overnight camping. Our 10 essentials list includes: 1) a pocket knife, 2) a first aid kit, 3) a water resistant/waterproof jacket, 4) water bottles, 5) a water purification or filtration device, 6) a light source, 7) shelter, 8) a fire starter, 9) sun protection, and 10) a map and compass. Beyond the 10 essentials, you’ll need: hiking boots or shoes, a backpack, a sleeping bag, and a camp stove and fuel. Oh, and you’ll also want to bring some food. (Please note, this is not an inclusive list.)

To evaluate our selections, I’m going with the following criteria. For my top pick, I’m listing the best quality product at the lowest price point. And for my alternate, I’m selecting the minimally viable option that will get you by at the cheapest cost. We’ve found a way to get you kitted out with most of the essentials (except a backpack), for just under $200. Now, manage expectations: this is a bare bones list.

Knife

Top pick

CRKT M16-01S EDC Folding Pocket Knife

See It

Alternate

Victorinox Red Classic Es Clam

See It

First Aid Kit

Top pick

Hiking Buddy First Aid Kit

See It

Alternate

No Spoof, Waterproof First Aid Kit

See It

Waterproof Jacket

Top pick

Port Authority Men's Torrent Waterproof Jacket

See It

Alternate

Ozark Trail Eva Adult Rainwear Poncho

See It

Water Bottles

Top pick

Nalgene Wide Mouth 32 oz Water Bottle

See It

Alternate

Glaceau Smartwater ($1.58)

See It

Water Filter

Top pick

Sawyer MINI Filter

See It

Alternate

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with Pa Plus

See It

Light Source

Top pick

Energizer Vision HD+ 350 Lumen LED Headlamp

See It

Alternate

Ozark Trail Single Mini Handheld LED Flashlight

See It

Shelter

Top pick

Coleman Hooligan 2-Person Dome Tent

See It

Alternate

Equip Lightweight Portable Nylon Camping Travel Hammock

See It

Firestarter

Top pick

Outdoor Windproof and Waterproof Matches

See It

Alternate

BIC Classic Pocket Lighter

See It

Sun Protection

Top pick

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 100 Sunscreen

See It

Alternate

Banana Boat Ultra Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 100

See It

Navigation: Map and Compass

Top pick

Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

See It

Alternate

Ultimate Survival Technologies Deluxe Map Compass

See It

Hiking Boots

Top pick

Altra Superior 4.5 Trail Running Shoe

See It

Alternate

ASICS GEL-Scram 5 Trail Running Shoe

See It

Sleeping Bag

Top pick

Coleman 25F Mummy Sleeping Bag

See It

Alternate

Coleman 50 F Rectangle Adult Sleeping Bag

See It

Camp Stove

Top pick

Coleman Peak One Single Burner Stove

See It

Alternate

Royal Plush Portable Folding Outdoor Stove

See It

Cook Set

Top pick

TOAKS Ultralight Portable Titanium Camping Mug

See It

Alternate

Stanley Adventure Nesting Two Cup Camp Cook Set

 Stanley Adventure Nesting Two Cup Camp Cook Set

How you should choose backcountry gear

Selecting backcountry equipment generally comes down to capability, weight, and cost. The greater the capability and the lighter the weight, the more you’re going to pay. Like all things in life, it’s a decision about tradeoffs. If you are just getting into backpacking, the items in the list above will carry you through your first overnighter at a low price point. They won’t be the best or most comfortable items, but they will work acceptably.

FAQs about backcountry gear

Q: How did you get started in backpacking?

A: My dad got me into Boy Scouts and camping and we used a lot of Coleman products like sleeping bags, coolers, and tents.

Q: Why is high-end backpacking gear so expensive?

A: High-end gear is expensive due to the research and development that goes into developing the lightest and strongest materials for the task. Let’s face it, carrying a heavy pack sucks. So, typically, the lighter the gear, the more it costs.

Q: Do you know of any good video resources to help me decide what gear to buy and how to use it? 

A: I’m a huge fan of Jessica Mills and her Homemade Wonderlist YouTube channel. She’s an amazing woman who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail on a budget, and later the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails. She’s a wealth of knowledge.  

Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors

We’re here to be expert operators in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, tell us we’ve gone full FUBAR. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram.

This post was sponsored by Walmart.

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Joe Plenzler

Contributor

Joe Plenzler is a communication consultant, leadership coach, and backcountry expert. He writes about leadership, communication, and also reviews outdoor equipment. When he’s not running his company, he is often found climbing mountains or hiking the Appalachian Trail. He is an Eagle Scout, 20 year combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Infantry Officers Course, Expeditionary Warfare School, Defense Information School, Command and Staff College, and Allied Officers Winter Warfare Course in Elverum, Norway. He does volunteer work in reinforcing democracy and reducing gun violence.