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Saving Money on Camping Gear is a Sustainable Win-Win

I bought my very first piece of outdoor gear at a garage sale in my second year of college. It was a gray tent with a burnt orange rainfly, and it was huge, easily sleeping four to five people. I stood in that driveway talking to the seller for an hour while I slowly melted in the Georgia heat like a sad popsicle. He eventually took pity on me, or he possibly just wanted to get rid of me, and gave me the deal of the century: I walked away with my $20 prize. Many people cite expensive gear as one of the main roadblocks keeping them from experiencing our national parks, and I get it. Acquiring tools for camping and adventuring can be a sport in and of itself!

Photo by Michelle Berkes

Since I purchased that tent, I have amassed a small mountain of gear, but I try to adhere to my second rule of outdoor gear: BUY IT USED. It sounds simple, but hear me out! Outdoor gear is built to last, and many people who purchase brand new equipment only use it a few times. Then they drop it onto Facebook marketplace for half the retail price, leading to a win for you! Besides saving you a ton of money, buying used gear is also a great way to practice sustainability, so it’s really a double-win. Besides Facebook marketplace, there are also Facebook groups specifically for hiking/backpacking/outdoor gear sales, which is where most of my collection has come from.

When buying used, it also helps to have an idea far in advance of what you’re looking for, so you have plenty of time to snoop around. For example, I had been on the lookout for a child carrier for about six months before I found the perfect one. They retail around $250. When traveling around Colorado last year, I came across an outfitter that was closing down; they sold me a rental child carrier for $50. The deals are out there if you have the time to look for them!

Photo by Michelle Berkes

If you’ve surfed Craigslist, Ebay, and Facebook marketplace and the gear is still out of your price range, don’t worry! I haven’t told you my #1 rule for outdoor gear yet: USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE. That’s right people, this gear-buying rule isn’t for gear-buying at all! Seriously, don’t let the gearheads get you down—you can go camping and enjoy the outdoors without the latest and greatest things. I started hiking in sneakers and leggings that I pulled out of my closet, an old backpack that I had lying around, and a water bottle I had in the pantry. You don’t need a sleeping bag (you can bring blankets from home, just make sure the nighttime temperatures won’t get too low), and you don’t need a cooler or stove (you can eat shelf-stable foods). I was super lucky to have hand-me-down sleeping bags at the ready when I first got into camping, but you can make do with what you have. Your top gear priorities should be a sleeping pad (my first sleeping pad was $5 at Academy Sports) and some kind of sleep shelter, like a tent or a hammock. 

Photo by Michelle Berkes

You can always borrow gear you’re not ready to purchase, or you can rent from most outfitters, including REI. Online communities are a great place to look for outdoorsy connections if you don’t have them in your friend group already. But like I said, you don’t have to have all the things, or “look” like a hiker in order to hit the trail. The national parks are waiting for you as you are.

Header photo: By Michelle Berkes

Michelle Berkes is an adventurer chronicling her travels on her blog, Head Along with Heart. She started visiting national parks at age 23 on a very limited budget. Since then, she’s been pushing her boundaries as a road tripper and outdoors-woman in order to see all 62 national parks as completely and affordably as possible.

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