Gear / How to find backpacking gear for free (or cheap)

Before you decide to go buy a bunch of gear without having much backpacking experience, please take a moment to pause.


[Take a deep breath and relax. Feel the excitement in your body and let go of any anxiety you have about acquiring gear. Seriously, take one big deep breath now.


An alternative way of approaching your first backpacking trip.
We are bombarded with messages to buy buy buy. Our pervasive consumer culture permeates every aspect of the outdoors industry too. No surprise, just ironic. (I mean I even have ads and affiliate links on my lil ole site.) 

When you want to get into backpacking, it can feel particularly overwhelming to figure out what to buy. A visit to REI might leave you feeling depleted because of all of the options and the lack of knowledge to make the best decision. (I mean your life is on the line, isn't it? We're talking about your survival in the woods!) Naturally, each purchasing decision feels big. A sleeping bag suddenly isn't just about a sleeping bag, it's about your survival, your life. 

[Is it time for another deep breath?]

I want to offer another framework. Instead of thinking of your first backpacking trip as "a big survival adventure that requires a huge financial cost where you suddenly acquire a whole crap-ton of gear you may never use," consider it as an invitation to invest in one backpacking experience. Just one.

You will be okay. 
I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of fear around going backpacking. The thing that people will attest to being one of the most empowering experiences ("Wow, I can't believe I carried everything I need to survive on my back") can be the thing that causes the most concern ("What if I don't bring what I need to survive, or it's not enough?"). 

Those fears are normal. They lessen with experience, but they are very real. Be smart, listen to your gut, don't take foolish risks in the wilderness and study up before you head out. You will be okay. And trust me, you're thinking will change rather quickly. 

Buying gear is scary because it asks you to commit to something you don't know if you even like.
Even with generous return policies by many of the major companies, it still feels like a big commitment to buy a $300 tent, doesn't it? What if you don't even like backpacking after all? Or what if you do like backpacking, but the tent was difficult to set up and the zippers were loud (don't worry, all zippers are strangely loud!). Ugh, now you have to go return the used tent and worse, if the sales rep asks you if there was anything wrong with it, you have to come up with something to say. Well skip it. Get it out of your head and go straight to the next point. 

Don't buy any of the major pieces of gear. Borrowing from friends or renting is the way to go.
Ask your coworkers, your family, your friends if they've gone backpacking before. Do they have a backpack, sleeping bag, pad, and tent you can borrow? Ideally, find a backpack from another woman so it's sized a smidge better for you. If you can go light, try to seek out lighter backpacking gear too. You'll thank yourself for it later. 

If you don't know anyone at all, try renting gear. Here are some places to consider to rent gear for your first backpacking experience. 

When you borrow/rent, the gear won't feel just right or as comfortable and light as you'd like. That's normal since you won't even know what you like the first time around. Just pick one and go for it. It doesn't have to be the "right one." You'll learn what you like and don't like on the trip and those lessons are valuable. It's a 100% learning trip, so keep that in mind.

Go on your first trip, enjoy it, learn, and then decide if you want to go again. You might catch the backpacking bug (no pun intended). If you're not sure if it was your thing, borrow gear again and try it out a second time. Apply what you learned. You'll know when it's time to start purchasing gear when you find yourself wanting to go back again and again. (And how to purchase gear is a whole other blog post!)

Any questions? Know any other gear rental resources you'd recommend?