Budget day hiking kit

The Colorado Sun had a recent and excellent article on the cost of the “free” outdoors, be it gas, permits, and, of course, the gear.

I applaud any article that shows how expensive the outdoors can get, especially when starting out.

But it did give me the idea that I could put together a budget day hike kit. Something for three-season conditions in non-technical, if rocky, conditions in Alpine terrain.

It is not the cheapest list but rather a list of gear that both beginners could theoretically use and still have some use as the person gains more experience and branches into backpacking. It lasts for a few seasons or more, too.

Here’s the original list  at a cost of ~$1650 

  • Camelback 20-liter hydration backpack: $100 (purchased from REI)
  • Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail running shoes: $40.71 (bought on Poshmark, but latest model of the shoes, brand new, cost: $150)
  • Darn Tough micro crew socks: $21 (REI)
  • Smartwool thermal base layer top: $115 (REI)
  • Moisture-wicking tank: $12 (Lululemon brand purchased from Goodwill)
  • Smartwool gloves: $24 (REI)
  • Puffer jacket (down sweater): $279 (Patagonia)
  • GORE-TEX rain jacket: $100 (Purchased with a pro-deal from Marmot)
  • Sunshirt: $49.95 (REI)
  • Buff: $20 (Mountain Chalet)
  • Sunscreen SPF 30: $10.99 (Target)
  • 5-Panel hat: $15.95 (Gravity Outdoor Company)
  • Trekking poles, Black Diamond FLZ 16 oz: $125.96 (Black Diamond)
  • Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp: $39.95 (REI)
  • First-aid kit for day hikes: $14.95 (REI)
  • Firestarter: homemade
  • Vaseline: $2 (King Soopers)
  • Lighter, matches: $5
  • Thermal leggings: $27 (on sale at Outdoor Research)
  • Hiking pants: $69.95 (REI)
  • Beanie: $26 (Topo Designs)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 with Alltrails map downloaded: $503.57 (refurbished phone purchased from Back Market)
  • Emergency blanket: $5.25 (REI)
  • Sunglasses: $44 (Bought on sale at Sunski)

I look at this list, and I see some less expensive options I can put in, some missing items, and items, realistically, the typical person may already have in their home and can be included as gear already purchased. I also kept the article emphasizing women’s gear and clothing,  with some input from Joan.

Some may see it as a cheat of sorts to include gear from home as “included,” but I also think it is realistic. When I started out backpacking, I had to purchase specialized equipment and clothing, but I also used many everyday household items. I think that is a realistic and practical take.

Also, people may wonder about the effectiveness of the cheaper gear. Budget gear is often better than I found available ten or even five years ago.

Additionally, I find with much outdoor clothing that it’s often a variation of the 80/20 rule – You get 80% or more of the performance for 20% or less of the price.  

I’ve used some budget items over the years and prefer them often. Perhaps this list can give some ideas for that as well.

In any case, here’s my stab at a budget hiking list –

Jog Bra and underwear May already have for workouts

or Under Armour 3 for $15 and Hanes sports bra for $15

Wicking and quick drying.
TSLA Women’s sun hoodie $25 TSLA makes some layers I’ve used effectively for a few years now. Sun hoodies work well for cool to warm conditions, I find, vs hotter conditions.
Nylon “golf” pants $34 Similar in composition and style to more expensive hiking pants.
32 Degree running socks $7 It is similar in thickness and composition to many lightweight running socks.

The 32 Degree brand makes some decent to good budget options and is often found at Costco.

Surplus wool liners and kitchen gloves  $20 It’s a combo that works surprisingly well for cold and wet conditions. A favorite of Joan’s. 
32 Degree women’s synthetic puffy $25 Another 32-degree special. For budget puffies, the cut may be bulkier, not as light, and not quite the quality of a Patagonia, but still warm, packable, and light.

I use the corporate schwag version for camping and the occasional day hike.

32 Degree fleece top $11 It is more versatile than a separate thermal top if packing a sun hoodie for warmth with some breathability. It is an excellent and proven all-around layer.
32 Degree lightweight baselayer leggings $7 A suitable thickness for three-season conditions
32 Degree Fleece Beanie $4 A simple fleece beanie
Lightweight neck gaiter $7 A versatile piece of clothing – light beanie, ear warmer, face/neck warmer, etc.
Red Ledge Thunderlight jacket $55 There are lighter, less expensive, or fancier (more expensive) options, but the Red Ledge brand makes a proven and long-standing combo of weight, performance, durability, functionality, and price.
 Generic rain pants $22 Any generic and packable rainpants work well enough for most purposes.
Women’s running cap $15 It wicks sweat and pairs well with a sun hoodie.
Amazon packable pack $15 A day pack need not be fancy; you can use an old book or laptop bag, something from the thrift store, or this basic pack.  I used a glorified bookbag for many seasons of constant use in Colorado.
Sports drink bottle and 1.5-liter water bottle $3 It’s my hydration strategy of choice. You can reuse the bottle easily, and they come with a drink.
Outdoor Products Trekking poles $23 Aluminum poles with flick locks. It’s better than the typical budget poles with twist locks.
Hoxida headlamp $17 A budget headlamp that’s bright, water resistant, and light.
First aid kit, sunscreen, repair kit $5 You can quickly assemble a first aid kit from your home with a Ziploc and place in the bag some bandaids, gauze pad, OTC pain meds, and duct tape (wrapped around your lighter.)

Adding safety pins, about 5 feet of light cordage, and a needle with dental floss makes a handy repair kit for quick field repairs to your pack, clothing, or even a broken lace.

I’d get the travel-size sunscreen and have it live in your pack.

Finally, pack some salty Fritos or similar for a great trail snack your body will crave, AND a fire starter.

Phone with The Hiking Project app Included 85% of Americans own a smart device. Under 50? It’s 95% as of 2021.  I think it’s fair to call this item “included.”

Use the free Hiking Project to download tracks and maps from many popular areas. An app is available for iOS and Android.

Compass $9 A compass, and its knowledge, is not only good for when a phone fails, but it is often quicker to use at times, too.

CalTopo lets you print out free USGS and USFS maps as well. Your local library probably has a printer for use.

Swiss Army Knife Classic $22 A small and inexpensive Swiss Army Knife Classic also has tweezers and scissors for first aid use.
Sunglasses Included I’d be surprised if someone does not have a pair.

If you don’t, or even if you do, I find contractor safety glasses fantastic for outdoor use as they are inexpensive, effective, and excellent quality at a reasonable price.

Christmas tree disposal bag $6 It is a large bivvy sack, essentially. I keep one in my ski touring pack for emergencies.
Nortiv8 women’s hiking shoes Included or $44 Honestly, even on the non-technical 14er routes referenced in the original article, running shoes with a decent tread you use for a workout do fine for initial hiking.

If you want something more robust, I’ve been impressed with the Nortiv8 brand as a maker of solid, budget-minded shoes.

For a bit over $400, this kit will serve a person well for day hiking. 

If you swap in shoes, underwear, and perhaps some running shorts you already own, you can easily get the kit under $300 as well.

This kit is not a definitive list but rather a way to look at gear and realize buying only at REI or similar is not the only way to purchase equipment. Discount stores, hardware stores, thrift stores, and other places all have items that can be re-purposed for outdoor use without melting the credit card.

Sometimes, these budget choices make the superior choices (I prefer my inexpensive safety sunglasses as one example.)

I have many budget lists and gear items that may give some ideas.

The other thing about this list? It can serve as the nucleus of a budget backpacking list, too. The gear is not cheap but budget gear that will work well outdoors in various conditions.

Get out how you can; costly gear need not become the bottleneck to your outdoor enjoyment vs. other factors.

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Colorado Jones
Colorado Jones
6 months ago

I’m a big fan of Costco’s inexpensive hiking gear.

Colorado Jones
Colorado Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul Mags


Colorado Jones
Colorado Jones
6 months ago

For those currently in process of putting together a hiking kit, JC Penny (as of 12/16/23) is running a clearance sale on their St. John’s Bay lightweight water-resistant packable puffer jackets. $25/jacket, marked down from $100/jacket. My wife and I each picked one up this afternoon to expand our “quiver of puffies.”