It can sometimes feel that you need to have all the latest gear to go hiking. There is so much stuff available, windproof, rainproof, feather down jackets, sweat wicking layers, golden hiking boots – you name it, you can probably find it. Don’t get me wrong, we have definitely been tempted (particularly E) to buy all the things. But, we always try to remember that hiking doesn’t actually require the latest clothing and footwear. In fact, hiking on a budget is not only possible, but it actually can be more satisfying. As I like to say, all the gear and no idea. No gear and more money for beer.
- Has the humble hike been ruined?
- Is expensive hiking gear worth it?
- Hiking on a budget: How to do it
- What about cheap hiking gear?
- What other cheap hiking gear do we need?
Has the humble hike been ruined?
One of my favourite articles on this topic, is a satirical piece called 17 ways the middle class have ruined walking holidays. The author pokes fun at middle class Britain’s who now dominate walking holidays and have brought all their trappings with them. The humble walkers’ packed-lunch, a cheese sandwich eaten hastily on the side of a hill, has been swapped for an extravagant tasting menu in a restaurant with 360 views of the piste. The basic mountain hut traded for a luxury hotel with goose down duvets. The torn, tattered but tried and tested map and compass combination replaced by the the snazzy GPS.
“Walking holidays, I’d argue, ain’t what they used to be. Too soft, too popular, too gourmet, too elitist, too luxurious, too… middle class.”Paul Bloomfield for the Telegraph
We’ve all seen it haven’t we? I won’t name names, but we once met a fellow on the Camino walking with quite a basic backpack – nothing to note there. But he felt compelled to reassure us that his real hiking gear, “you know, the expensive stuff” had been lost in transit and he’d been forced to buy a few bits in Decathlon as a stop gap. A sad state of affairs. As if he thought we would shame him for buying budget.
Is expensive hiking gear worth it?
Every time we’ve hiked with a local guide, from Vietnam to Jordan, we discover that our hiking guides, despite being professional walkers, are distinctly unfussy about what they are wearing. Yes, sometimes this comes down to their financial capacity and perhaps they would trade up for expensive gear if they had the choice, but I don’t think that would always be the case.
What seems to be more important, in our opinion, than expensive hiking gear is being able to tolerate a level of discomfort. Walking, especially long distances, isn’t supposed to be pain free, a bit like ski boots, aren’t we just supposed to accept that it’s going to hurt? Ditto, isn’t it more important not to overload your backpack with excessive amounts of hiking gear than to make sure you have each and every gadget? I don’t know for sure, but I’d hazard a guess that more hiking injuries are caused by carrying excessively heavy weight on untrained backs, rather than buying the cheaper hiking boots.
I recently read that the average thru-hiker spends $2000 on hiking kit. This feels over the top to me, indeed it is more than we spent spent in total walking the Camino de Santiago over the course of a month, including accommodation and food and allowing for our expensive wine habits. People say that you should buy quality gear, because cheap stuff won’t make it for the long haul. Yet, this isn’t always the case. Statistically, most running shoes (trainers) will last between 300 and 500 miles, regardless of whether they are a low cost brand or high spec.
Hiking on a budget: How to do it
Don’t burden yourself with possessions. Keep your needs and wants simple and enjoy what you have.Henry David Thoreau
There are a number of ways to hike on a budget. Firstly, opt for cheaper hiking gear. Buy well and check reviews, but don’t assume that expensive is always better. Secondly, pick cheaper hiking destinations (we will be writing about this soon). Finally, stick to a daily budget – choose cheap accommodation, make packed lunches and find good value restaurants with deals for hikers.
Our article on preparing for the Camino de Santiago explains how you can set a budget and stick to it.
What about cheap hiking gear?
Let us look back to what the first pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago were wearing during their walk:
“Sturdy shoes, a leather or woollen clad cloak, broad brimmed hats, staffs, satchels”
No merino wool t-shirts or sweat wicking undies in sight. But is this really all that we need now? Here are some slightly more modern options.
#1 Sturdy shoes
The first pilgrims probably wore flat shoes made of leather, perhaps with a jaunty point at the toe. Of course, hiking boots weren’t around then, or they may have opted for them. Today, we have a little more choice:.
Cheap hiking boots, shoes and sandals
For sandal lovers, these £20.99 mountain warehouse sandals might be just the trick. With over 2000 ratings, there are some fans out there.
For trainers, Nike is always good. I had New Balance for the Camino, but for part of the Jordan Trail I kept it simple with this pair of Nike trainers.
At less than £30, this pair of hiking boots are one of the cheapest on the market.
#2 A leather or woollen clad cloak
Oof, I don’t know about you but a leather or woollen clad cloak sounds less than ideal. I’m not envious of this get up. But, I can see the value of having one warm and weather layer. What’s the modern day alternative?
Cheap hiking poncho
Let’s here it for the humble poncho. A staple for any budget hiking trip.
#3 Broad brimmed hats
Broad brimmed hats are actually pretty practical, even now. Whether you feather your cap or not, there are a few options to choose from.
Cheap hiking hat
A basic baseball cap, such as this one is perfect for hiking. We are big fans of the explorer Ed Stafford and love how he recycles the same simple trail cap. If it’s good enough for Ed…
#4 Staffs (walking sticks)
The debate about walking sticks on the Camino reigns supreme. Personally, we don’t tend to walk with walking poles – the number of people we’ve met on trails who spend hours retracing their steps to find the walking poles that they’ve accidentally discarded. Bit of a hindrance.
But, we had a chance when we were recently hiking in Vietnam to try out the local brand of “sturdy stick,” a large bamboo to be exact. We rather enjoyed it. Not least because without it we would have definitely been found rolling down the hill from Sapa to the next valley.
Cheap walking poles
In the absence of bamboo, why not try something like this:
This pair of walking poles is £27.99, cheaper than some of the expensive brands that retail at around £60, plus they have over 40,000 product reviews.
If you’d rather a backpack than a knapsack or a satchel, there are plenty out there that won’t break the bank. Here are a few options:
Cheap hiking backpack
What other cheap hiking gear do we need?
The first pilgrims had it pretty sorted, but today, we can probably allow ourselves a few more luxuries. Here’s what we always take on multi-day hikes, in addition to our cloaks, satchels and such-like:
- Socks and pop socks – to prevent blisters
- A battery pack to charge your phone on the go
- Shampoo and conditioner all in one soap bars
- A solid sunscreen for the face
- A few different layers – t-shirts, shorts, leggings etc
- A pack of cards for entertainment
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