Is a family backpacking trip in the works? Or an expedition with the Scouts? A seemingly inexpensive departure can surprisingly cost more than expected. Here are some tips for saving big on backpacking essentials:

Shop last-season's closeouts or overstock items

If comfort, durability and functionality are priorities, strongly consider purchasing name-brand equipment for major essentials (such as backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and footwear). The following websites carry these items (and more!) at overstock and closeout prices. Some of the name brands include Columbia, Deuter, Gregory, KEEN, Kelty, Marmot, Mountain Hardware, Osprey, Patagonia and The North Face. The goal here is to both save money and to get the most out of every dollar spent. Tip: Be ready to buy fast. Inventory turnover is high!

REI Outlet: Save 30% to 60% off list price on name brand equipment and clothing. Live near an REI? Have the ordered shipped to the store for free! Shipping is also free when purchasing $50 or more. REI purchases have several benefits, including a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Become an REI member to receive dividend points that can be used toward a purchase at the end of the year and get 5% back on purchases with an REI Visa. Get an additional 2.5% cash back by shopping through Ebates.

Sierra Trading Post: Save 35% to 70% everyday on brands such as Sorel, The North Face, Patagonia and Dakine. Sign up for DealFlyer emails for valuable coupons, and refer friends as part of their "Give $10, Get $10" promotion. Visit one of their outlet stores or shop online for incredible savings on awesome equipment! Receive an additional 2.5% cash back by shopping through Ebates.

The Clymb: Save up to 70% off retail on premium gear and apparel. Enjoy exclusive member benefits by joining The Clymb, and receive a $25 account credit for every friend you refer who subsequently makes an online purchase.

Backcountry Outlet (aka Department of Goods): Shop name brands such as GoLite, CamelBak and Victorinox at discounted prices of 50% off or more. Free shipping on orders over $50. Receive an additional 2.0% cash back by shopping through Ebates.

Rent or borrow gear

Purchasing isn't always necessary, especially if you are just "testing the waters" or this is a one-time thing. Ensure that the gear you borrow is suitable for your size and needs, otherwise it could be a good trip gone bad. If renting equipment from a store such as REI, rental consultants will help fit you to the proper gear and make recommendations based on your destination, the season, etc. Do some comparison shopping by calling local rental stores.

Purchase used equipment

Buying used gear is a great option, especially if it's in pristine condition. Check out Craigslist or Amazon.

Or visit a used-equipment website like GearTrade, a marketplace where you can buy and sell outdoor gear. Search by category to find backpacking essentials such as tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sleeping pads, water treatment, stoves, cookware, etc. They carry brands such as Columbia, Deuter, Gregory, Kelty, Mountain Hardware, Osprey, Patagonia, REI and The North Face. Price varies depending on the seller and condition of the equipment, but most items are at least 50% off retail. Some sellers even offer free shipping. Like eBay, GearTrade sellers are rated to help buyers make informed choices and risk-free purchases.

Accumulate gear over time

If possible, give yourself plenty of time to build up the gear collection. Not only will this help prevent impulsive shopping behavior, but you can make it a goal to always strike a good deal! Just be patient for those closeout deals and coupons.

Pack budget-friendly food

Backpacking food is a whole different ball game. Think dry. Think lightweight. And think expensive. But who said it HAS to be expensive? A 12 ounce jar of freeze-dried soup mix can cost more than $12, but many packable, easy-to-make options are already stockpiled for many savvy couponers. Here are some frugal tips:

  • Pack dry pasta, rice, lentils, beans, bouillon cubes, etc., along with some seasonings.
  • Dehydrate your own food if possible, or purchase dried fruits/veggies and jerky.
  • Bring oatmeal, dry cereal, and hot chocolate for breakfast.
  • Make your own trail mix using nuts, raisins, etc. This is usually cheaper than buying pre-packaged trail mix.
  • Stock up on protein and granola bars using coupons.
  • Purchase freeze-dried meals (such as Mountain House) in bulk when possible. Most food pouches have a 10-year shelf life, so add any leftover pouches to your emergency kit or food storage (I found a case of Mountain House meals at Costco for a great price!).

Additional tips:

  • Visit your local backpacking store and try on several different packs to find what size and brand(s) work best. Also check out different styles of tents, sleeping bags/pads, clothing, footwear, stoves, trekking poles, etc. Hold off on that purchase until you find a great deal.
  • Not everything sold in stores is an essential as much as it is a convenience. Don't waste money on unnecessary items (especially since you'll be packing them in with you)!
  • Stores like Walmart and Target are great options for certain small backpacking necessities. But remember that neither the store nor their staff are guaranteed experts on backpacking equipment, so don't expect their gear to be comparable to name brands.
  • Consider whether an REI lifetime membership is worthwhile. There is a one-time signup fee of $20 and it provides access to members-only coupons, the annual dividend, "Used Gear Sales" at huge discounts, rental discounts, and more.
  • Use the Google Shopping search engine to find other good deals from creditable sources.
This has been a guest post by Shauna from Salt Lake City, UT
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Make Family Backpacking Affordable