Cheap Gear – How to Dirt Bag and Deal Shop Like a Professional.
By SGT Rock
Last Updated 9 June 2006
***Note there are a lot of links in this article that are outside of the WhiteBlaze site, I hope to keep them updated**
When planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, the average hiker starts putting together a kit by going to the local outfitters, looking at the Internet, or picking up a catalog and then builds a shopping list. After a few minutes of doing this however, the sticker shock for gear can set in and even put the unwary shopper in the hospital if they are not careful. The fact is the latest high tech gear can be VERY expensive, and even the little things that you may need backpacking can add up if you try and buy everything new. Add to that the fact that there is sometimes a belief (or maybe just an urge) that you need to start out on an adventure by completely outfitting yourself from the ground up (or rather from the boots up) in all new gear and clothing in order to have the “hiker” look and feel in all areas. If you are independently wealthy or have nothing better to do with your money stop reading now and go ahead and go to the nearest outfitter and let them load you up. But if you are looking to save some money for better things, then read on…
To start off with, I will let you in on a few hiker secrets:
1. Your gear doesn’t get you to Katahdin. Of course if you aren’t going to Katahdin, the same rule still applies for wherever you are going. Your motivation and determination get you there. Don’t sweat the gear as much as those two things. Saving some money from gear to have money for good food and hostels might just help your attitude and improve your chance of success.
2. Your gear doesn’t have to be “The Best”. Often hikers will come to the forum and ask what “The Best” rain-gear, or stove, or tent, or sleeping bag, or backpack, or whatever. Earl Schaeffer made it with and old wool blanket to sleep in and a cut up surplus Army pack for his rucksack. Look at Grandma Gatewood who hiked in Keds sneakers with a canvas duffel bag for a pack and a shower curtain for a shelter. If they could make it without Gore-Tex, so can you.
3. Your gear doesn’t have to be new. There are thru-hikers with multiple trips still using the same stuff they used on their first thru-hike. That is a lot of miles on some of that gear and it is still going strong, so the used gear you may already have or can get in a garage sell (with a lot less miles) can make it too.
4. You gear doesn’t even have to be store bought. Flyin’ Brian hiked all three long trails in one season with homemade gear. Ray Jardine makes almost all of his gear himself. Just make it well and take good care of it.
5. Your gear can even be recycled trash. Model T has done three thru-hikes with a stove made from soda cans. Many hikers re-use old soda bottles for their drink containers. If that kind of gear ever wears out or breaks, you can just make another for free. No sense in paying for something you were just going to throw away anyway.
6. Cost is no way to evaluate the value of a piece of equipment. You can spend $300 on a jacket just to have it not work the way you want or you can spend $15 on a jacket and be perfectly happy with it. The $150 stove is often no better than the $50 stove, you often pay for name brands in backpacking gear. A $5 pot at Wal-Mart can hold food just as good as a $50 pot at REI.
So now you know the secrets about gear no outfitter will tell you. Armed with that knowledge, you can now start looking for what you need to carry. To get an idea of a base packing list, check out this series of articles: http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?p=132311.
After you develop a base list of what you think you might need, look around at your house to see what you can use that you already have for those items you need. After you do that, you can start “Dirt Bagging” it! Dirt Bagging is a term I picked up from a hiker named Nigel who used this term to define the use of re-cycled gear like soda cans for stoves and soda bottles for fuel or water; or using cheap gear like plastic sheets for tarps and grease savers for cooking pots. Dirt Bagging can actually be fun when you see what you can get away with. After dirt bagging, see if you can make anything you need using normal items generally found around the house. Finally, after doing all that, then go check out some discount retail outlets to see what you can find to make up shortages or “move up” from your dirt bag gear to something a little more professional.
Step 1 - Starting with your home and what you already have that you may not have considered. Let’s look around your house before going to the outfitters and see what you already have. You may find things you can use for backpacking before even spending a dime. Here are some ideas:
Chances are you probably already have some clothing you can use to hike with. Hiker clothing from the outfitters can sometimes be more of a “hiker fashion statement” than an actual improvement in clothing design to help make hiking more comfortable. Things to look for in hiking clothing: weight, material, and function. Weigh is always a concern, so look for the lightest you can get away with that still works. Materials are important because most of your normal clothing is probably made from cotton which is a bad choice for hiking clothing on the Appalachian Trail since it is normally very wet; you want nylon or wool since they don’t hold water like cotton fibers. And finally function; each piece must do a specific job and compliment the other pieces. If you understand all that, you can start to look at clothing in relationship to its function and see what you have that might make it.
Footwear. Most people own some sneakers and they can work for you if you keep your pack weight reasonable. Running shoes are designed to take abusive miles from runners everyday. If you already own a pair of broken in running shoes, then you already have some shoes for hiking. One thing to be aware of are these new air cushion sole shoes which could pop and loose air or even get filled with water - they probably shouldn't be your first choice for hiking shoes.
Socks. Life is too short for cotton socks, so leave them at home or be miserable. But if you have some nylon socks like nylon dress socks, then you have something to use. Those fancy “sock liners” that some places carry for a layering system: they are basically the same dang thing. For warmer winter socks you may have some wool winter socks that are just as good as many of the special hiking socks. If you have some fleece house socks you could use those as your camp socks for cold weather.
Shorts. Most folks want to hike in shorts for obvious reasons. If you have some nylon swimming trunks already, then you have the same thing that most hikers wear anyway. For longer pants, see if you have some nylon sweat pants. Avoid blue jeans since they are made from cotton and will take forever to dry once they get wet.
Shirt. Most folks have lots of cotton t-shirts, but don’t use those. But if you have a nylon shirt like a short sleeve button dress shirt, then you have a usable hiking shirt. The buttons up ones are really good because you can open up the front in hot weather to get better air flow.
Hat. You probably own at least one ball cap style hat. It seems like a lot of places of business give those away as advertising so if you don’t already have one, see if you can get one from a friend who has too many or a business giving them away.
Long underwear. If you don’t own any, then see if you have a nylon sweat suit. This can work just as well.
Fleece top. These are now a fashion anyway, so you may already have one. If not, then see if you have a wool or nylon sweater to so the same thing. A wool sweater and a good rain jacket or windbreaker is just as warm as any of the new high tech fleece. Another thing to consider: apparently some fleece these days is made from cotton - avoid the cotton type for AT hiking.
Warm hat. A fleece hat isn’t any warmer than one of those nylon or wool watch caps. If you already have one, then use it.
Warm gloves. You may already own a pair of these too. Just make sure you avoid cotton.
Rain gear. You probably already have a rain jacket of some sort or even a cheap poncho in your glove box and may even want to try using an umbrella on the trail; some folks swear by them.
Bandanna. You may already have one of these somewhere. If not, take one of your old cotton t-shirts and cut a square out of it to make your own.
Blankets or Quilts. Something made from wool or nylon is good. You may even have a down comforter with micro-fiber shell like I do. This is one area though I would probably look at upgrading to a more backpacking specific piece as soon as you can afford it.
Moving from the closet to the kitchen we can look at what the normal kitchen may have to meet our needs:
Spoon. Unless you want a plastic spoon, the average tablespoon weighs about the same as a backpacking one you can buy at the outfitters. If you want to go plastic, check out some of the chain food stores for good ideas. Wendy's Frosty spoon has a good reputation. You could also get a box of the higher end plastic spoons at a grocery store. Avoid cheap, thin, plastic spoons because they can melt on you.
Fire. You may already have a lighter or some matches. Bring some sort of fire and some back up. You could even get some canning wax and make your own waterproof matches.
Cup. Many of us have those plastic mugs with lids for drinking coffee on your way to work. These work great for drinks on the trail as well.
Pot. Maybe you already have a cheap, light, aluminum one quart pot. I know I had one in my single days.
Zip lock bags. Small ones like a sandwich bag size are good for small things and by the end of this you will probably use a few of them. One gallon and two gallon freezer zip-lock bags are good substitutes for stuff sacks.
Garbage bags. These can make pack liners and good ones will stand up to a lot of wear. Trash compactor bags are especially good for this.
Dish-washing soap. You can get a small bottle (about one ounce) and carry some of this stuff for washing body parts, pots, etc. No need in buying a special liquid soap – it is basically the same thing anyway.
Roasting Bag. These tough plastic bags are made for roasting turkeys in, but they are tough, waterproof, and light.
BathroomOriginally Posted by Erro
You don’t need much of a bathroom on the trail, and many of the things you need you probably already have.
Hand sanitizer. A small bottle (about one ounce) is a good thing to have on the trail. It is even flammable so you can use it for a back up fire starter.
Toothbrush and paste. Use what you already have. You may want to cut down the handle some and switch to travel sized tubes of paste. You can use a zip lock bag for a toothbrush holder to keep dirt off of it.
Toilet paper. Take a roll and “Field Strip” it. By field stripping it, you wrap a layer of tape around the outside, and then pull the cardboard tube from the center. Now the paper will feed from the center and work out, like a pack of baby wipes (the kind in the round containers). Put this in one of the small zip locks from the kitchen and smash it flat.
First aid. Take another small zip lock and look for these things: 12 Aspirin/Tylenol/Motrin; 4 band aids; roll of gauze; roll of medical tape; Neosporin ointment; a small ace bandage. There, now you have a semi-professional first aid kit.
Floss. Sure you can use it on your teeth, but it also makes an excellent thread for repairing gear.
Cotton Balls and Vaseline. Take some cotton balls (about 12) and swab Vaseline all over them, then put them in their own zip-lock to make sure fire campfire starter.
You probably have a drawer full of little odds and ends that you keep around because you just never know when you might need them. Look in there for a few things.
Needles and safety pins. If you have a sewing kit, just take a couple of each and add it to your first aid kit. Take a small piece of cardboard and push the pointy ends into it to prevent them from poking holes in stuff or getting lost. Keep it with the fist aid kit.
Super glue. Another great idea for all around gear repair. Keep this with your first aid kit too.
Pocket Knife. Another thing you may already have. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy.
I say look in the garage for this stuff because a lot of times this stuff ends up out there. For you it may be in the attic or in the storage room.
Backpack. You may have an old book bag somewhere. True, it may be too small, but then again it might actually be big enough if you pack it right. In any case, this may give you an idea of how big a pack you really need before you go out and get the monster 5,500 c.i. pack. You may even have an old frame backpack or some other old piece of gear that will work.
Pack Towel. Synthetic shamy cloths for cleaning the streaks off your car after washing make good pack towels. You only need a piece about the size of a washcloth.Originally Posted by Alligator
Flashlight. Chances are you have some sort of light device. I keep one in the glove box of my car.
Cord. You need something for bear bagging and a tarp, and you may already have some out in that mess somewhere.
Tarp. You may also have one of these nylon tarps for a car or lawn mower, or maybe even just some plastic sheet for some lawn project. You could use this to make a shelter from if you have nothing else.
Sleeping pad. Maybe you have an exercise mat that you can use as a sleeping pad.
Gutter nails. If you own a home, you may have some of these aluminum nails used to hold your rain gutters on your house. They make excellent tent stakes.
Duct Tape. Everyone has some duct tape. Take some and wrap it around your hiking sticks or a plastic bottle (see the Dirt Bagging Section) to carry it.
Denatured Alcohol. Some folks have this solvent in their garage for doing furniture re-finishing. It can be a stove fuel for the right kind of stove.
Old camping gear. You may already have some of the things listed above like an old boy scout cook kit (all you need is the pot), an old tent, and maybe even an old sleeping bag.
YardOriginally Posted by Pennsylvania Rose
Hiking stick. If you have some saplings, you can cut one or two to your preference.
Now that you have cleaned out you house, you have a semi-usable packing system. I know that you may have assembled some stuff and are looking at it thinking it is too heavy or too bulky to use, which is OK, you are at least on the path to getting your kit straight, you are not done yet.
Step 2 - The next thing we are going to look at is dirt bagging it. Some of what you may have already done is dirt bagging, but now we will get in deep. Things you already have done, like getting that clear plastic sheet to use as a tarp or gutter nails to use for tent stakes are dirt bagging, we just need to refine it. Here are some more ideas of what you can dirt bag:
Rain Gear. You can make rain gear out of plastic trash bags. Just cut a head and arm holes.
Stoves. There are a plethora of stove designs on the net that use soda cans for alcohol stoves, coffee cans for wood stoves, or simple wire stove stands to use heat tabs over. Here are some good links for stove plans:
Bottles. You can use old soda bottles for lightweight and rugged fuel bottles, water bottles, olive oil carriers, etc. You can store duct tape by wrapping it around the bottles. One recommendation though is to segregate the contents in different shaped or sized bottles so you don’t drink stove fuel or pour olive oil into your stove. Gatorade bottles make great drink bottles since their bigger mouths are easier to fill. You can even take some cord and one of those key-chain sized carabineers to make it a clip on water bottle - instant Dirt Bag Nalgen bottle!Originally Posted by Hog On Ice
Pots. Instead of using the pot from the kitchen there are other ways to make a pot out of something else. One idea is a grease saver pot http://zenstoves.net/Pots.htm . Another good idea is to use a sturdy aluminum can like a Heineken beer can as a pot http://zenstoves.net/CanPots.htm or even an old coffee can as a pot.
Coffee cup/Bowl. If you want to get lighter for your coffee cup and also have a multi use item that can be a bowl, re-hydration chamber, etc, then get an old drink mix container http://hikinghq.net/gear/lemonade_bowl.html .
Pot Cozy. This little bit of gear is used to keep food warm longer while you have it in the pot and can even save you some simmer time (and fuel). You can use a warm hat like a watch cap or fleece, or you can make your own http://zenstoves.net/PotAccessories.htm#BuildaPotCozy .
Ditty Bag. Need a light bag to keep your cook kit or something in? Make a sack from an old mesh bag http://www.thru-hiker.com/workshop.asp?subcat=12&cid=10 . You can even use this bag as a scrubby for cleaning pots or your body.
Guidebook. Don’t want to pay for one? Don’t like the lay out of the ones that are available? Well you can go without, or you can check out this new site and print your own: http://www.hikerbox.net/
The philosophy of dirt bagging can go quite for quite a few areas. The idea is to think outside of the box. Think of the need and what can do it without thinking of what is actually made for the task – like using a soap dish for a waterproof camera case instead of buying a specialized case or plastic lawn spikes for 0.1 ounce plastic stakes.
Step 3 – make your own gear. You can make some good stuff with some effort and expense, or you can make some simple stuff for almost nothing. It just depends on how much effort you want to put into any one project. Here are some links for some good gear idea:
http://www.thru-hiker.com/workshop.asp?subcat=8 – A good pack idea and also a store to sell the material to build it.
http://www.backpacking.net/makegear.html - About seven different ideas for packs.
http://hikinghq.net/gear/rock_ruck.html - cheap ruck idea from yours truly.
http://hikinghq.net/gear/tarp.html - not really how to make a shelter, but how to use a tarp.
http://www.backpacking.net/makegear.html - ten different shelter ideas.
http://www.thru-hiker.com/workshop.asp?subcat=3 – A good homemade version of the Henry Shires tarp-tent and even a kit with the materials to make your own.
http://www.speerhammocks.com/Products/PRODUCTLINK2.htm - want to make your own camping hammock, here is the man with the plans and kits
Sleeping bags and quilts:
http://www.backpacking.net/makegear.html - ten different designs to choose from.
http://www.thru-hiker.com/workshop.asp?subcat=5 – Quilts and under quilts for hammocks. They even have a kit to make the down quilt.
http://www.thru-hiker.com/workshop.asp?subcat=4 – just the plans for a couple of items.
http://www.thru-hiker.com/materialsS...2&txtCatName=2 – kits including plans and materials.
Miscellaneous other stuff – other “fiddly bits” to round out your backpack. There are lots of good ideas out there.
Like I said, some of this stuff is cheap, some isn’t so cheap. While one backpack idea takes about an hour to make and costs about $15, another may cost you as much as buying a new one yourself. You must decide how much time and effort you are willing to spend making gear. Making gear does give you an intimate knowledge of how well it is put together and what it can put up with, and how to repair it in the field if it breaks. It also gives you a satisfaction that simply buying a new widget at the outfitters cannot.Originally Posted by Krewzer
Step 4 – go shopping. I listed this as 4th, but it really happens with step #3 if you are on your game. You may not want to take your old wool blanket, and decide to make your own down quilt; but while shopping around you find a great deal on last year’s +750 down bag for less than $100 (I have seen it happen) and decide that is a mo’ better idea than sewing. On the other hand you may want to buy a Henry Shires Tarp Tent until you find yourself on a waiting list because they are on back order, so you jump into a kit and build it yourself.
OK, so the first thing is where to go shopping. You don’t go to Eddie Bauer if you are trying to save money, but there are some good places out there that can meet your needs. Starting close to home…
Yard sales are a great place to look. Sometimes there are families that get motivated to go backpacking and do the whole outfitting thing only to find out that backpacking is hard work. They then go and buy the famiyl a new RV and need to unload all that useless backpacking stuff. Especially good places could be the ritzier neighborhoods where families have more disposable income for the good stuff. You could clean up by shopping around.
Originally Posted by Just JeffConstruction sites. You can find scrap stuff that you can use as a part of your kit. Things like leftover gutter nails for tent pegs, Tyvek for ground sheets, insulation for some models of stoves, aluminum roof flashing for windscreens, etc.Originally Posted by Mags
Army surplus stores. There are some items like military issue polypropylene long underwear, military fleece jackets and hats, field jacket liners and field pants liners, sleeping mats, etc. that are just as good as the stuff costing a lot more at REI. Shop around and see what is available.
Goodwill and the Salvation Army. These sorts of second hand stores can be full of secret treasure in the clothing isles or around some of the miscellaneous item stacks. I have seen perfectly good Kelty backpacks (older versions) going for $10 at one of these stores. Keep your eyes open for bargains. A backpack that was popular back in 1980 probably still a good pack for hiking today even though it isn’t being sold new anymore. It would work fine for someone equipping on a budget. Again, look for these stores in upper income areas where the people have more disposable income for the good stuff.
Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, and other stores. These places often have the odd gear items you need like a compass, water treatment, pocket knife, small flashlights, etc. at reasonable prices. You can also find things by looking around like the parts needed to make my rucksack or the grease saver pot which can be modified to meet your backpacking needs even though it was not originally designed for that purpose. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Good things to look out for are low prices on wicking shirts and clothing - even fleece. They also have fabric sections at some of these stores that sell material at $1 a yard which is great for stuff sacks and some prototyping of new equipment ideas. You can even find serviceable light rain gear (you may want to cut out the liner) at a low price.Originally Posted by Skidsteer
Originally Posted by Just JeffLocal outfitters. You may or may not have one, but if you do, keep an eye on them. Gear is like fashion, there is last year's gear and there is this year's gear. Sometimes you can pick up last year's gear (which is just as good) at reduced rates, especially off season. It isn’t unusual in my local outfitters to find last year’s winter clothing at 40% off during this summer’s sale.Originally Posted by Mags
On-line stores. There are some on-line retailers that specialize in getting you low prices. Here are some I use regularly:
http://www.sierratradingpost.com/ - this place makes a living selling bargain equipment. Watch clothing, often it is only in the irregular sizes.
http://www.campmor.com/webapp/wcs/st...0226&langId=-1 not always the cheapest, but they usually have good prices and close out sales.
http://www.rei.com/outlet/index.html - REI’s clearance sale site. REI even has "Member Sales" which you can participate in if you are an REI member. It costs $15 a year and can save you a lot of money if you watch for the good deals.
Web Board “For Sale” items. Sometimes you can get a great deal on web board that feature gear for sale (typically used gear) such as WhiteBlaze’s Buy/Sell used gear forum:Originally Posted by just jeff
The Challenge: Putting it all together.
After you put all that together, you can have a good working kit for backpacking the Appalachian Trail. Some folks have done a little research on this subject and posted their cheap packing list ideas on the thread “The $300 Challenge” where the idea is to make a packing list that costs less than $300 and has a base weight under 15 pounds (6.8 KG) http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/show...4300+challenge this would be a good place to research before starting just to see how other people have come up with solutions to the issue of going cheap. If you are brave enough to go through the process, maybe you can have an entry on the thread too.
Originally Posted by Spock
Attached Files Cheapo.zip (14.8 KB, 0 views)