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When asked what keeps them from having adventures, money is one of the most often cited examples. And I get it, outdoor gear can get expensive… But it doesn’t have to. When you’re starting out, you don’t need the best of the best — you just need gear that is safe and reliable. That’s why I’ve put together this kit made up of budget camping gear that will get you out in the wilderness for around $200.
Is this the best gear around? Nope. But it does it’s job and will survive long enough for you to develop your skills and start saving up for a better kit. When you’re ready to upgrade, check out discount sites like REI Outlet, The Clymb, Sierra Trading Post, and Steep & Cheap. There’s no reason to pay more if you don’t have to.
If you’re car-camping, you won’t need some of this stuff, and you can pretty much bring anything you want — your car will be right there. When looked at as a full package however, this kit will allow you to take short backpacking trips and start getting a feel for outdoor recreation outside of designated campsites.
You should also keep in mind that you don’t need to buy every single thing on this list either — check with friends to see if you can borrow stuff, or rent some gear from a local outfitter or college, REI, or OutdoorsGeek.
If you want to spend time outdoors, don’t let a small budget stop you. Start small and work your way up. Believe me, once you’re out having wilderness experiences, you’ll be grateful for the gear you have, no matter if it’s not the best on the market.
Here’s the Budget Camping Gear Kit
To date, my favorite backpack I’ve used is my Cotopaxi Taboche. It’s awesome, but it does cost $190. It’s worth every penny, but when you’re just starting out, you probably aren’t ready to commit that much. That’s okay, you don’t have to buy an expensive pack right away, but you do want to make sure you’re hauling something reliable.
I’ve used a lot of really bad cheap packs before, but there are some good budget selections available. Out of the ones I’ve tested, the seenlast 50L has probably been the best option for those with a limited budget. If you start getting super interested in backpacking you’ll want to upgrade, but this is a solid pack to get you — and your budget camping gear — out in the field.
If you’re packing into the wilderness, you’re going to need some kind of shelter. You could opt for using a tarp, but for beginners a simple tent will be the easiest way to sleep safely. The Stansport Scout is a good choice if you’re on a tight budget. It’s an improved version of the tents I started camping in as a young Boy Scout. It’s small, but it will protect your from the weather and the bugs. Plus, it weighs in under 4 pounds — that’s not incredibly light in the world of backpacking gear, but it’s an easily manageable weight.
When you’re car-camping, you can just toss a bunch of blankets in the back seat and pull them into the tent. When packing into the wilderness however, you’re going to need a sleeping bag. Coleman makes excellent entry level products that last, so they’re a reliable company for your starter gear. This 0°F bag might be overkill for the summer, but you’ll want it for any colder temps. If you plan accordingly, you could get by with something much lighter in the summer, such as this fleece sleeping bag. But remember, summer nights can get colder than you’d expect, and that temperature rating refers to survival, not comfort.
At about 5 pounds, it’s a little on the heavier side, but is still manageable. Down is a lot lighter, but much more expensive, and it won’t insulate when wet, which the synthetic materials in this bag will. At this price point, this is a good bag to start with.
It’s not enough to have a good sleeping bag, you need a good sleeping pad too. The ground will suck the heat right out of your body, no matter how warm your sleeping bag is. The pad insulates you from the ground, and makes it a lot softer to sleep on. There are a lot of ultralite, super-compactable, expensive options on the market, but this Coleman pad is a good place to start.
It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and will keep you warm and comfortable through the night. You can probably find a version of this pad at every and any big box store or outfitter. It won’t fit in your pack, but you can strap it to the top or bottom with no issue.
If you only add one tool to your kit, it should be a fixed blade knife. It’s the most versatile tool you can carry on you in the woods. The Morakniv Companion (often just referred to as a Mora) isn’t just an inexpensive knife — it’s a damn good one. I’ve sung its praises for awhile, and if you’re interested in knowing why it’s as popular as it is, you can read my full Mora review. I carry one every time I’m in the bush.
There are a lot of knives with extra tools, saw backs, and other things that look cool but aren’t that useful. The Mora is the best investment you can make for a really low price.
If you’re in an area where you can safely and legally light a campfire you may not need a stove. You can use that option for meal prep. I explore a lot of places where campfires are prohibited, so if I’m going to eat dehydrated meals or make coffee, a backpacking stove is the way to go. I’ve backpacked without one, but on some nights a hot meal can make a real difference.
The cheapest option I’ve ever used is the $1 Cat Food Can Stove. It’s exactly what it sounds like… A stove made from a cat food can. I much prefer an actual backpacking stove — but you don’t have to start with a $150 stove. Most inexpensive backpacking stoves are pretty similar, but I’ve had good experiences with this one from Icetek Sports and it has pretty great reviews on Amazon. Plus, it’s incredibly easy on the budget.
You’re gonna need fuel for your stove, and you want to make sure you get the right stuff. Pretty much any Isobutane/Propane mix will work. You don’t want straight propane, so make sure that’s not what you’re getting. Pretty much every outfitter will have this, so you can probably buy it locally. In some places sell it really cheaply — I’ve picked up a canister for $3 bucks at a shop near a trailhead. I’ve also bought a Coleman Isobutane/Propane Mix at Wal-Mart for about $6.
Don’t expect to get it for that price at all times, but you can snag a small can for about $10 online. More if you buy a name brand like Jet Boil. Wal-Mart carries it for about $5. Unless you’re taking a longer trip, one small canister should do all the boiling you need to prep dehydrated meals.
You need some cookware to use with your backpacking stove, but you don’t need an incredibly complicated mess kit. You don’t need tons of pots and pans, titanium sporks, or anything like that. Twelve bucks will get you this pot and pan set, which is the only thing you need. You probably don’t even need the pan, but the two pieces together make a canister you can store stuff in. That’s not bad.
Don’t buy fancy silverware. Go to a fast food place and ask for a fork or spoon. With that and your Mora, you have all the utensils that you need. If you plan to boil water on a campfire, I wouldn’t use these — in those instances, just pack a cheap enamel mug, and set it on the coals.
In the wilderness, you need to carry all your water or treat water along the way. Even in a budget camping gear kit, you need a safe way to treat your water. Unless it’s a life or death situation, don’t drink untreated water. It can make you dangerously, painfully, pants-shittingly sick. Not fun. You can boil water on your campfire or stove, or use water purification tablets to render water safe.
I prefer to filter my water though. I’ve had good luck using the Sawyer Mini. Skip using the bag that comes with it, and instead get a tall Smart Water bottle and use it to run water through the filter. Make sure you don’t use this bottle for drinking afterwards. I use a Nalgene bottle for my drinking water, but you can carry any plastic water bottle for that as well. Sometimes treated water will have a slightly odd taste, but if it’s particularly bad I add Nuun Electrolyte Tabs.
Budget Camping Gear Will Get You Started
So many people think that they need the best kit to get started. But if you have a limited budget, don’t let it stop you from getting out and doing the stuff. If you really want to start experience outdoor adventure, you can’t wait until the timing is perfect or you have tons of money.
This budget camping gear kit will enable you to hit the trail and enjoy yourself in the woods, without going broke. I know that you might prefer carrying a lighter sleeping bag or a roomier tent — I understand! But there’s no better time than now to take the first step of a new adventure, even if that means budget gear instead of the latest and greatest.
In the end, it’s the experience that matters. Not the possessions.