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Gearing up for a camping or backpacking trip on a budget

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Here at Terradrift, we love to head into the great outdoors and spend some time enjoying nature. We love to load up the car, fill up the backpacks, and get out and explore. And while campsite rental and backpacking permits are certainly much cheaper than spending a few nights in a hotel, ensuring you have all necessary gear and equipment to survive the trip can definitely add up. So we recently interviewed Steve Caldwell at Campmor to find out the best way to go about acquiring all the gear you need (and none you don’t) in preparation for a camping or backpacking trip on a budget.

Terradrift: Steve, you’ve been working for Campmor, the recreational equipment retailer, for almost 30 years! What’s so great about the company?

Steve: Campmor employees use the gear and clothing they sell. Because of this a shopper has the opportunity to consult with a seller with over 35 years of experience which lends context to the amazing content an outdoor consumer would want to tap into.

Terradrift: Oh, yeah! Real-world experience and advice is so much better than a page full of reviews on Amazon. How much camping/backpacking do you do throughout the year?

Steve: I would say that I probably go camping and/or backpacking about 30 times a year. Living on a property in the Catskills, NY there is always somewhere new to explore.

Terradrift: Sounds amazing! Where have your outdoor adventures taken you and what has been your favorite trip?

Steve:  Since 1974 I have been exploring. In that time I have:
• Climbed all of the high peaks of the Adirondacks. An all-night hike along the Adirondack Range Trail by moonlight with my dog was a very memorable trip. Mountains have another personality by moon light.
• Sea kayaking the Maine Island trail was also an awesome experience. Kayaking up the coast of Maine, island hopping and eating lobster boiled over a single burner stove and harvesting mussels and rose hips as you go.
• Chasing Aoudads over a mesa in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas pan handle. Stalking up as close as I could and running after these sheep until they came to the edge of the mesa and they go right over the edge. Running up to the edge and watching these amazing animals bounce down 700 feet to the bottom of the canyon and up to the mesa across the canyon in 5 minutes.
• Hiking from Lake of the Clouds hut just below Mount Washington to Crawford’s Notch on a clear morning in July. Love a stroll in the sky.

Terradrift: So fun! But let’s get right down to it. How can those gearing up save money when buying lots of equipment at once?

Steve: First, what do you have in your closet, clothing wise? There may be a lot of stuff in there that may work for your trip.

Terradrift: Sure. Like synthetic workout gear, wool socks, baseball hats. That kinda stuff. Go on.

Steve: Second, always be careful of the need to have the newest, lightest stuff. The newest, lightest stuff can be less durable and more expensive than things you have already been using for previous trips. If you are gearing up from scratch: For tents get one that has aluminum poles, have good coatings over 800 mm with a full coverage fly. This will leave a lot of choices at a reasonable price with good durability. Sleeping bags: You can spend a lot of money on sleeping bags. Look for the style of sleeping bag you will be comfortable in and determine the carry size and weight. If you keep to these requirements when you look for a bag you can bypass the hype and get the bag you want for the price you want. Campmor will price the gear you need to get the most out of your hard earned dollar.

Marmot Trestles 15˚ Mummy Sleeping Bag

Terradrift: So definitely use the things you already have, but for the stuff you don’t, what are some items that you consider absolutely necessary when going camping or backpacking?

Steve: Necessities break down like this:

Where will you sleep to stay dry?
a. Tent
b. Tarp
c. Bivy
d. Shelter

How will you get water to drink?
a. Treat your water with a chemical
b. Filter your water
c. Boil your water

How will you nourish yourself
a. Prepackaged foods
b. Store bought foods
c. Food you put up

How will you navigate?
a. GPS
b. Compass

Will you be warm when you sleep?
a. A good sleeping bag
b. A good sleeping pad
Appropriate clothing for the trip
First Aid
Repair kit

Gregary Wander 50 Internal Frame Backpack

Terradrift: So at least one item from each category. Makes sense. What items do you think beginners can do without?

Steve: People generally over-pack food and clothing. A Camping trip is different than a backpacking trip. Camping trips you can take a lot more luxuries. Survival kits would be an example of a thing that is purchased so as to be prepared, however, a properly packed backpack negates the need for a survival kit, so it becomes redundant. Fixed blade knives are also unneeded. They are heavy and look cool but they do not provide the utility for the weight. A small knife that is very light may not look as fearsome, but is a lot lighter and does the same work. The last would be camp furniture that is very packable. Though there are some well-engineered concepts, generally a foam or air pad will suffice and be lighter and more compact.

Terradrift: Multi-functional items are always a plus for money saving and cost cutting! If beginners need a ton of new gear at once, what items should they not skimp on?

Steve: Don’t skimp on your shelter, your sleeping gear, food, water, appropriate clothing, first aid and navigational gear.

Terradrift: Makes sense. Nobody wants to be exposed, freezing, starving, thirsty, naked, bleeding or lost in the wilderness. So what are things in outdoorsy folk’s gear arsenal that need replaced regularly?

Steve: Good question! Trekking poles bend and snap and need replacement. Water filters if used heavily will need replacement. Tents, tarps and packs need patching and repairing. Skill up on doing repairs and familiarize yourself with the proper maintenance of your gear to get the best life out of it.

Terradrift: Good tip for saving some cash: Repair instead of replace. What’s your favorite item in your gear closet?

Steve: The Sawyer Gravity Flow System. I use this to put up the water I will carry through the day. Very light and effective water filter.

Sawyer Gravity Flow System

Terradrift: We got ourselves a Sawyer last summer. Very handy. Is there a tool or piece of equipment in your gear closet that you bought and never use or that wasn’t a good use of gear dollars?

Steve: I don’t tend to hold onto things I do not use. However, trekking poles are often necessary and I have broken many a pair. This is annoying. I have made a 6’ Red Oak walking staff. It never breaks and if I have the option I use it instead.

Terradrift: Ooh, classy. What are some general ways people shopping for gear can save?

Merrell Chameleon 5 Mid Ventilator Waterproof Hiking Boot

Steve: Seek functionality and durability over brand names. Also, Campmor has everyday low prices.

Terradrift: What are some of the best deals you’ve found on gear at Campmor?


Compass: (You can navigate with a map for a fraction of a GPS)
Silva Explorer Type 3 Compass

Eureka Amari Pass 2 Tent (No longer available)

Sleeping bag:
Marmot Trestles 15 Degree Mummy Sleeping Bag

Gregory Wander 50 Internal Frame Pack

Merrell Chameleon 5 Mid Ventilator Waterproof Hiking Boot -Men’s
Merrell Moab Waterproof Low Hiking Shoes – Women’s

Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Cook set
Century 20,000 BTU Economy 2 Burner Stove

Terradrift: Awesome! Thanks for the tips, Steve. I know Campmor is always the first place we look for good prices on new gear. Now we’ll know just what to look for the next time we’re in the market!

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Heather DeMaio Teles

Friday 28th of August 2015

Just found your site (through MatadorU) and I already like you guys!

Very informative. Bookmarking this one to check out next time I shop for gear.