Preparing for a thru-hike or backpacking trip can be extremely expensive. Before even beginning to calculate the cost of food and time off work, hikers often look at the latest gear designs made from seemingly SciFi materials and become overwhelmed at the cost of basic items.
But, actually, innovation could be your answer to a more affordable thru-hike. There are several ultralight cottage companies that cater to budget-conscious hikers. These small brands keep price in mind at every step of the design process — cutting frills, but not corners. Together, they can kit you out with a complete lightweight backpacking setup, while keeping the dent on your pocket book equally light. Here are 7 to check out!
Ultralight backpacks tend to range from $200 to $350 in cost. But they’re also one of the most used pieces of equipment during a hike. Alien Outdoor Gear is a small company based out of Wisconsin. They’re dedicated to producing high-quality, ultralight backpacks, allowing hikers to snag a premium pack for almost half the cost of some big-name brands.
My Recommendation: The Novum 40
Weight: 18.3 to 19.7 ounces
The Novum 40 is an exceptionally well designed ultralight backpack. Made of 100% recycled Ecopak EPX200, this lightweight pack doesn’t compromise on load capacity. While many packs of the same size allow users to carry about 20 pounds of weight, the Novum comfortably supports a 30 pound load with the help of its padded vest-style straps and 1” hip belt.
Superior Wilderness Designs offers “made-to-order” backpacks, giving hikers the power to customize their product. With lead times that run several weeks, make sure to get your custom pack order placed well in advance of your thru-hike. Based out of Michigan, SWD is dedicated to detail, durability, and dependability.
My Recommendation: The Superior Frameless Backpack
Weight: 21.2 ounces
The Superior Frameless Backpack is a great pick for anyone who has a developed ultralight backpacking system. This backpack gives you plenty of storage capacity, and you can also add accessories like chest pockets. Available in five colors, the recommended weight load for this pack is between 18 and 20 pounds. The Ultralight Superior Frameless Backpack is a good alternative product with a slightly larger carrying capacity.
Hammock Gear was established in Ohio in 2009 with the goal of creating high-quality lightweight gear for backpackers. The Hammock Gear team prides itself on its ample outdoor experience, which translates into the manufacturing process. This brand offers warm sleeping products for both hammock and ground sleepers.
My Recommendation: Economy Burrow Custom Top Quilt
Temperature Rating: 20 degrees (also available in 0, 10, 30, or 40 degree options)
Weight: 23.95 ounces
Ultralight backpackers can easily expect a quality 3-season sleeping bag or quilt to cost between $300 and $600. But the Hammock Gear Economy Burrow Custom Top Quilt cuts that cost in a major way without compromising quality. This top quilt is known for its longevity, allowing hikers to travel thousands of miles with the same sleep system.
Tarps & Tents
Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) was created by Ron Bell in 2002. Bell has a 40-year background in ultralight backpacking. He worked as a Search and Rescue climber in Yosemite. And he’s been dedicated to the continuous prototyping of lightweight equipment ever since.
My Recommendation: MLD Grace Tarp
Size: Solo or Duo
Weight: 5-11 ounces
The MLD Grace Tarp is a classic A-Frame tarp that utilizes trekking poles and three tie outs for stabilization. Backpackers who tend to spend a lot of time in arid climates but who still want a layer of protection may benefit from a shelter like this one. Many thru-hikers opt for the Duo version of this product because it offers extra room and protection. This tarp is made with a strong SilNylon material, or it can be purchased in Dyneema(R).
A good alternative pick is the Cricket Pyramid Tarp, which costs an extra $45 and weighs 7.5-13 ounces, but gives users extra coverage.
Tarptent has been a leading manufacturer in the ultralight tent market for many years. Originally developed by Henry Shrines in 1999, and aiming to create lighter, more efficient shelters, Tarptent is known for innovative A-Frame tents.
My Recommendation: ProTrail 1P
Size: 1 person
Weight: 24.3 ounces
Tarptent’s most popular solo shelter is the ProTrail 1P. This product weighs about ¾ the amount of a standard freestanding tent. It’s commonly used by thru-hikers and casual backpackers because of its quick and easy setup process. Users can set this product up with the help of their trekking poles. And the incorporated bathtub floor provides extra rain protection, keeping you prepared for anything. Those who are looking for a little bit of extra room might also appreciate the Double Rainbow 2P tent, which weighs 30.6 ounces and costs $319.
Ron ‘Fallingwater’ Moak founded Six Moon Designs in 2002 after recognizing the importance of lightweight gear during his numerous thru-hikes — including in 1977, when Ron and his wife, Linda, claimed their place in the history books as the first couple to ever hike the Appalachian Trail southbound. What began as ultralight gear prototypes for himself has turned into the vision seen today for Six Moon Designs: provide lightweight, high-quality, affordable equipment.
My Recommendation: Skyscape Scout
Size: 1 person
Weight: 40 ounces
Among the most affordable tents on the market is the Skyscape Scout – a $160, one-person tent that weighs about 2.5 pounds. While it's possible to find a tent that weighs less than the Skyscape Scout, few products will be able to beat this tent’s price. Backpackers who have a few extra bucks to spare can upgrade to the Lunar Solo, which weighs just 26 ounces and costs $250.
Westbound (WEBO) Gear is a cottage ultralight accessories company situated in the California Bay Area. Characterized by clean lines and bold colors, WEBO offers an array of small pouches, bags, and external pockets that can be worn on the shoulder or on the waist.
My Recommendation: Thru Hip-Pack
Size: One size
Weight: 2.6 ounces
While it’s not uncommon for a lightweight, cottage-made hiking fanny pack to cost upwards of $50 or more, at $39.99, the WEBO Thru Hip-Pack shaves $10 off the price tag while still being incredibly functional and comfortable, not to mention adorable. There’s nothing worse than getting to town and not having a convenient way to carry your wallet or other miscellaneous items around, or searching after dark for your headlamp and spork. Weighing just 2.6 ounces, the WEBO Thru Hip-Pack aims to provide quick-access to items that you need while you’re on the go.
Do you know of another inexpensive cottage option for thru-hiking and backpacking gear? Leave your recommendations in a comment below!