Best Budget Lightweight Backpacking Gear For Beginners

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Looking to start backpacking but don’t want to break the bank? Check out our guide to the best budget lightweight backpacking gear for beginners.

We’ll cover everything you need to know to get started, including tips for choosing the right gear, essential items to pack, and our top picks for affordable backpacking gear. Whether you’re planning a weekend trip or a longer adventure, we’ve got you covered with the best gear for your budget.

Here is the list of gear you will need to get started in your outdoor adventures.

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Pillow
  • Trekking Poles
  • Headlamp
  • Stove
  • Fuel Canister
  • Cookware
  • Silverware
  • Coffee Mug
  • Hydration
  • Water Filter
  • Food Storage
  • Footwear
  • Hat
  • Jacket
  • First Aid Kit
  • Toiletries
  • Insect Repellent
  • Sunscreen

So many questions swimming around in your head can make you crazy before you even hit the trail!  A quick search at a store or on the internet makes the decision even harder.

However, having no experience in outdoor adventures creates a problem. Backpacking requires customized equipment that most people don’t own yet. But, you need the best dependable budget-friendly lightweight backpacking gear for your new adventure.

For example, you may own a sleeping bag. However, that sleeping bag is for camping, not backpacking. It cannot be rolled up small enough to fit in a backpack.

In addition, it weighs too much. The same analogy goes with a tent. Do you really want to take your 15-pound camping tent on a backpacking adventure?

Therefore, what must I absolutely have for backpacking? You will quickly find out that quality backpacking equipment is expensive.

You Can Upgrade Your Gear With Experience

Seasoned backpackers tend to have two and three of everything. This is because they continually upgrade their equipment as experience and technological improvements change.

In the same way, beginning backpackers tend to buy the best budget lightweight backpacking gear with the thought of upgrading later. Remember, deciding to upgrade later is easier because you didn’t spend a fortune on your gear to start with.

But, not all backpacking gear is priced out of range. Some cheap items are actually well-made and budget-friendly.

The Geez has been backpacking for 50 years. Some of the items I recommend are not the absolute cheapest ones available. But in my experience, quality matters especially if you are an older hiker.

The following list of the best budget lightweight backpacking gear will serve beginning backpackers well.

Some items may not be the absolute cheapest on the market. However, The Geez selected these items based on:

  • personal experience
  • price
  • comfort
  • weight
  • durability
  • functionality
  • manufacturer’s warranty

1. Backpacking Backpack

Okay, now for the obvious. You can’t go backpacking without a backpack. But not all backpacks are made equally. The inside of a backpack is measured in liters. That lets you know how much stuff you can cram inside.

I have found that 65 liters seem to be the sweet spot for backpacking. On shorter trips, you have extra room left over. But on a weeklong backpack, there is enough room for everything, even if you have to strap your tent or sleeping bag on the outside.

Comfort is the most important aspect of a backpack. If it is not comfortable to carry you will regret your purchase. Osprey addresses hiking comfort as a top priority. Although not the cheapest, their entry line of backpacks fills the bill for backpackers on a budget.

In addition, you can’t beat the Osprey backpack All Mighty Guarantee. Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday.

2. Backpacking Tent

If you don’t want to sleep out under the stars you need some type of shelter. The most common are tents, tarps, and hammocks.

The Geez has only backpacked using a tent or tarp. I don’t like the sway of a hammock or having to find two trees to attach it to. Plus the fact that now that I’m an older hiker I’m afraid I might fall out!

Tarps are extremely lightweight and make an excellent cheap backpacking gear shelter. However, bugs and mosquitos are extremely annoying without a tent’s insect netting. In addition, raindrops can splatter when they hit the ground and get you wet.

Tents are set up using either hiking poles or tent poles. The biggest difference is in the tent’s trail weight.

Tent poles add additional weight. But they also allow the tent to be freestanding.

I like to keep the tent weight to around 3 pounds or less. Also, a two-person tent gives you a little extra room.

If solo hiking, you have room for your gear in the tent. Also, if someone joins you on a hike there is enough room for two people.

3. Backpacking Sleeping Bag

A general rule of thumb is if you are too hot you can always remove clothing. Or in this case, you can climb out of your sleeping bag. But if you are too cold there isn’t much you can do.

Therefore a 20-degree bag should be considered for 3-season backpacking adventures. The bag’s thermal rating means that it will keep you from freezing at 20 degrees. However, it should keep you reasonably warm at 30 degrees.

4. Lightweight Sleeping Pad 

A sleeping bag is only as good as the underlying sleeping pad. Backpackers generally have more than one sleeping pad. A regular inflatable pad works well in the summer.

However, as temperatures dip in the early and late seasons, a backpacking insulated pad is required.

The similarity in design from most manufacturers makes choosing a cheap sleeping pad easy. However, there are differences. For instance, some pads are 2 inches when inflated while others are 2 ½ inches. If you are a side sleeper you will want to make sure your hips don’t touch the ground with sleeping.

Most inflatable sleeping pads are 21 inches wide. I prefer the extra 2-inch width of the Klymit pads as I sleep on my side and I don’t like falling off my pad.

Related Article: How do You Fix a Hole in a Sleeping Pad

5. Backpacking Pillow

Alright, a pillow is not a hiking necessity. You can always throw extra clothes or a jacket into a stuff sack to use as a pillow. However, a pillow is a luxury item I cannot do without. In addition, I only have to carry a couple of extra ounces for a comfortable night’s sleep.

There are many hiking pillows to choose from. An inflatable pillow does not have the comfort of your down pillow at home. When inflated there is not a lot of “give” to it. Your head will not sink into it like you are used to.

The one featured below has a unique design. The “X” design allows your head to center on the pillow. If sleeping on your back the pillow does not slide away from you.

In addition, when sleeping on your side your head rests against the pillow with your ear centered in the depression. And finally, you can use it as a seat cushion as well as a pillow.

6. Lightweight Hiking Poles

To pole or not to pole, that is the question. Heck, I spent the first 30 years backpacking without using hiking poles. It wasn’t until I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney that I first tried trekking poles.

Having reached old geezer territory, I never hike without them anymore.

There are basically two choices in poles. Those with shafts made out of aircraft-grade aluminum and those made from carbon fiber. The carbon fiber poles weigh less.

But carbon fiber can break when its stress point is reached. Aluminum shafts merely bend. A bent pole can still be used. However, a broken pole is useless.

The most important thing with trekking poles is the locking mechanism. Most hiking poles are adjustable in height. The adjustment is locked in place with a twist-lock or a lever mechanism.

I have found that the twist-lock is prone to failure on cheap hiking poles. It is a safety hazard if a pole collapses on you while hiking. Therefore the following hiking poles have a lever locking mechanism.

7. Headlamp

Have you ever tried to find something in the dark? It is next to impossible without turning on the lights. The same holds true while hiking. You may think you will never be caught in the dark, but hike long enough and you will. Even with bright moonlight, it is extremely hard to follow a hiking trail at night. You will be hard-pressed to not get lost without a headlamp.

A good headlamp is one of the best investments you can make. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it needs to be lightweight, and be bright enough to find your way back to your tent at night.

In addition, the batteries need to last a reasonable amount of time. In fact, it is a good idea to carry an extra set of batteries with you.

8. Backpacking Stove

Backpacking stoves are differentiated based on the type of fuel burned. There are alcohol, wood-burning, liquid fuel, and propane/isobutane canisters stoves. The most popular on the trail is the canister stoves.

An entry-level backpacking stove used to heat water for drinks and freeze-dried meals is quite cheap. Even an integrated cooking system is not cost-prohibitive. The addition of a spark igniter makes having to carry matches around a thing of the past.

9. Canister Stoves

Canister stoves require an all-season fuel mix of propane and butane. The fuel canister shown meets the requirements of canister stoves for 3-season backpacking.

10. Backpacking Cookware

If all you use a backpacking store for is boiling water then you only need a pot. However, if you are like the Geez and enjoy fishing you may want a frying pan as well.

I am partial to titanium cookware because of its weight. It may not be the cheapest but it doesn’t add a lot of weight to my pack.

In addition, you will not need an additional pot if you use the Fire Maple cooking system. An integrated pot is part of that cooking system.

11. Backpacking Silverware

A long-handled spork allows you to eat directly from the freeze-dried meal pouches without getting your fingers dirty and greasy. A utensil set is a great alternative for eating off plates or bowls.

12. Coffee Mug

Versatility is the best aspect of this coffee mug. It is insulated and has a spill-proof lid. The polypropylene cup is removable from the insulated neoprene sleeve.  That allows double duty.

First, as a measuring cup, quantity markings are etched on the cup. And second, as a dish or bowl for morning breakfast or evening meals.

13. Hydration

Backpacking is strenuous exercise. You not only sweat but you lose water through heavy breathing. If you don’t rehydrate frequently you become dehydrated. That can be life-threatening.

Make sure you take plenty of water with you. Any of the following hydration solutions will work. I prefer the Platypus Hoser hydration system that allows me to drink on the go without having to take my pack off.

14. Water Filter

Although you may think you have enough water, occasionally you don’t. A water filter allows you to filter water from streams and lakes if you run out.

Sawyer makes a budget-friendly water filter. It takes up very little room in your pack and is always good to have with you.

15. Food Storage

Most backpacking camp locations do not have food storage lockers. Therefore you have to protect your backpacking food from not only the elements but animals as well.

Bears and rodents can ruin a wilderness backpacking experience. You may be left with no food for the rest of the trip.

Yosemite, parts of Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and other wilderness areas in California require approved bear food-storage containers when backpacking. Also, rodents and small mammals are a problem in many areas.

16. Footwear

Think comfort! Blisters and sore feet are no fun when backpacking. I stepped on a pointed rock while crossing a steam a couple of years back and bruised the ball of my foot. I could hardly walk for 2 weeks afterward.

The hike back to the trailhead was miserable. I quickly bought a new pair of hiking boots to replace my worn-out ones.

Shoes are such an individual item. Everyone has their favorites. I am recommending the Merrell line of lower-cost hiking shoes and boots because of their quality and value.

These hiking shoes and boots perform well on the trail. Coupled with a good pair of wool socks, there is hardly any break-in required.

17. Hat

The sun can be brutal while hiking. Not only does it beat down on you relentlessly, but the UV rays can sunburn your face and neck. A wide-brimmed hat that blocks harmful UV rays is a necessity. In addition, it keeps your head cooler.

18. Jacket 

A down jacket is unbeatable for warmth on cold nights while backpacking. Down jackets weigh less than jackets with synthetic insulation. They also compress and take up less room in one’s backpack.

In addition, down jackets can add to your sleep system. If temperatures drop below the comfort rating of your sleeping bag you can increase the bag’s warmth by wearing your jacket to bed.

19. First Aid Kit

You may think you will never get hurt on the trail. Think again! Most hikers and backpackers get an occasional blister while hiking. In addition, hiking trails are full of hazards. Rocks, tree roots, and wet trails cause even the most experienced hikers to fall and skin their arms and legs.

A quality first aid kit addresses minor conditions such as blisters, scrapes, sprains, allergies, headaches, and muscle aches while hiking. While you don’t need to carry everything needed for emergencies, a one or two-day supply of basics is often needed.

20. Toiletries

Every backpacker has a responsibility to protect nature and leave no trace behind. Today, many high-use areas are impacted by the sheer number of backpackers.

Wilderness regulations require burying your poop at least 200 feet away from trails and water sources. Also, you must dig a cat hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep for burying human waste.

21. Insect Repellent

Just one time the Geez would like to go backpacking with no mosquitos, ticks, or annoying bugs. Fat chance of that ever happening!

I used to use DEET insect repellent but hated the smell and what it did to my clothes. I have found that 20% Picaridin insect repellents not only smell good but are just as effective.

22. Sunscreen

Getting sunburnt while backpacking is no joke! Sunburns hurt. They can affect your hiking ability. You can actually get sick from sunburns. I know because I had 2nd-degree burns on my legs when I hiked Mt. Whitney. I wore shorts and didn’t put on sunscreen.

Because you are out in the sun for hours on end, you must protect sensitive skin areas. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are more of a problem while backpacking.

Along the ocean, the sun’s rays reflect off the water. The same holds true reflecting off the snow. In addition, the atmosphere is less dense at higher elevations. That allows UV rays to penetrate unobstructed.

Clothing and a hat are one option to protect yourself. Sunscreen is the other. However, since backpacking is typically strenuous you sweat more than normal.

A good sunscreen must be water-resistant. In addition, it must be non-greasy so your hands don’t slip on trekking pole hand grips.


Every recreational activity has equipment specific to the sport. Backpacking is no different. Beginners must outfit themselves with backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and a myriad of other gear.

The challenge in undertaking a new outdoor activity centers on the cost of outfitting yourself. Beginners don’t want to spend a fortune on an activity that they may or may not continue with. In addition, they don’t want to buy gear that lacks quality.

Beginner backpackers need the best budget lightweight backpacking gear that doesn’t fall apart after the first outdoor adventure. Cheap doesn’t have to equate to poor quality.

The items listed above for your consideration have one or more of the essential elements required. To review, they are price, comfort, weight, durability, functionality, and manufacturer’s warranty.


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