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I meet a fair number people who would like to try backpacking. Unfortunately the initial cost seems to be pretty high. Even an overnight requires a lot of big ticket gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc). Generally I don't just happen to have a bag, pack, tent, etc. in all the right sizes for any given person who might want to try a trip with us.

How can you introduce someone new (with little or no gear) to backpacking without them needing to invest a lot of money upfront in gear?

Specifically, pack, tent, and sleeping bag. A poorly fit pack can make someone miserable, and overly heavy tent + sleeping bag can likewise make for misery. Miserable first trips turn into last trips.

By cheap, I mean less than $100 per person for their first trip.

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They or you don't have any friends that can lend you equipment? And there's nowhere they can rent from? –  whatsisname Feb 2 '12 at 21:11
    
@whatsisname -- Yes, how dare I hike and introduce people to hiking without a large group of friends who are more than happy to loan out gear. –  Russell Steen Feb 3 '12 at 1:53
    
@Russell Steen: Looking at answers to this question, I think you might want to put a monetary value on "cheap." Otherwise, I think you're getting subjective answers. –  Clare Steen Feb 3 '12 at 12:30
    
Have you tried renting gear from REI? Super easy and cheap for a single trip. –  theJollySin Sep 25 '12 at 18:44
    
This is a gear-focused question, so I didn't want to make this an "answer", but focus on taking them to a location that will amaze and awe them in some way. That's what got me. On my first trip the borrowed gear I had was awful (so was the weather the last day), but the experience was memorable and it made a lasting impression because of where it was. The trip was miserable, but I loved it. Maybe I'm just odd. And yes I know this is a old question, but I just can't help myself. –  manoftheson Apr 21 at 21:52
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Tent: A 2 person tent divides up really well between Tent/rainfly, and poles/groundcloth, a 4 person tent breaks down each component even more. Share with a bigger tent and you should be good to go

Sleeping Bag: Go in the summer months, when the temperature will be warm. I live in the Mid-Atlantic, and typically take an Army Surplus Poncho liner as my sleeping bag on trips in the late spring-early fall. In the height of summer, I bring a cotton sheet (I know, cotton is bad, but it's all I got).

Sleeping Pad: If you are careful about your sleeping spot you don't need one of these. However, it's always the first "luxury" item that I pack. I won't camp without my mattress. If you can, however, I'd loan mine to the newbie friend, or use a spare/borrow one from a friend.

Stove: Most backpacking food reads like: Boil X volume water. Add powder. Stir. Let sit Y minutes. Plan to share food/utensils, and you should be good to go.

Food: Again, double up and plan to cook/eat 2 person meals instead of 2-1 person meals.

Eating Utensils: All the friend would need is the bowl and spoon. Bowls can be repurposed from frozen dessert topping containers, large butter/margarine tubs, etc. Sure, it will fall apart after a few uses, but you can't beat the price

Water Bottles: If you know anyone who beverages out of plastic bottles, collect and reuse them. Wash them out and use as water bottles. I've personally used 1 liter soda bottles for months before they wear out. Best part, it's free (assuming you'd drink the soda/water/juice to begin with).

Backpack: Either borrow a full pack from a friend, or pack as much as you can in your pack and have him bring along the biggest backpack (daypack) he has. Alternate days.

One final note: You can rent almost all the gear needed from a local REI. I'm not sure if you need to be a member (recommended if you will be buying a lot of gear), or if they will rent to Joe Public, but worth looking into.

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Thank you for the ideas for sleeping bag substitutes. –  Russell Steen Feb 3 '12 at 1:54
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I marked this as correct because it specifically gives good suggestions for each of the problem areas. –  Russell Steen Feb 5 '12 at 20:33
    
Sleeping pads: they isolate you from ground. Without it may be much much colder. But you can make isolate layer from the clothes or some dry grass/leaves. –  Łukasz 웃 L ツ Jul 9 '13 at 17:44
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I would begin thinking about the overnight accommodation. You can do this fairly cheaply in the UK if you stay in a hostel, walkers lodge or a bunk barn. Many of them provide bedding and often food as well. Thus removing the need to take a tent or sleeping bag. Some places even provide tents for a charge!

If accommodation cannot be found then I would take a larger tent if possible and share the load of other stuff between the group. All the new person would need is to borrow a backpack. Then as long as you can put up sleeping in the same tent with them it will reduce the upfront cost! Assuming you have the larger tent!

I would choose a well known and relatively easy route as well. Don't get them scrambling on an arête on day one! Keep to a fairly low mileage unless you know the fitness of the person rather well. In my experience a lot of people exaggerate there fitness and walking with a backpack is quite tiring for the uninitiated.

Before you go I would check the following:

  1. Do they have warm clothing.

  2. Know what to do in an emergency

  3. Decent suitable footwear - it doesn't need to be the new best hiking shoes you can buy - are the shoes worn in. etc.

  4. Make sure they leave any unnecessary items in the car or at home.

  5. Basic Waterproof would be required.

  6. Basic knowledge of the countryside by-laws and customs.

Another obvious one is to get the person trying it out to join just for the day first! To see if they like it! before doing an overnight stroll somewhere..

Finally if you are in a reasonable group say 4+ people then you are likely to have spare stuff between you.

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Ask the newcomer if they can ask around their friends to see if they have anything like a tent or sleeping bag they can borrow - I tend to find quite a few people have things like that lying around from festivals if nothing else, and are usually more than happy to lend them out to people they trust (perhaps I just have trusting friends!)

In terms of tents, I find it useful to have a bigger tent (4 man or so) so people can sensibly share without purchasing a tent on their own. Obviously if you already own one though you probably won't want to splash out on another!

The other point to keep in mind is that how much gear you need depends on where you're going and what you're doing, or in other words, pick an easy route that doesn't need much specialist gear! I find it's much better to keep things easy and then have someone wanting to come back for more of a challenge, rather than throw them in at the deep end and perhaps put them off entirely.

That said, make sure they have the basics like good footwear, a waterproof, etc. - it's all stuff they probably have anyway and if they don't, stuff that will come in useful generally not just for hiking! Most of the other outdoor essentials (stove, fuel, maps, compasses etc.) a group will have already, thus they can be shared.

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Good, waterproof footwear usually costs much much more than $100. But my first backpackings I've done with sport shoes, that were soaking, but somehow I've withstanded it. –  Łukasz 웃 L ツ Jul 9 '13 at 17:46
    
@ŁukaszLech Sure, by "good footwear" in this context I more meant something that was just suitable for walking - but I agree I could have been clearer! Having said that, often where I am in the UK there's lots of sales where I've picked up good, waterproof walking boots for £50-ish or less, and they've lasted well. –  berry120 Jul 9 '13 at 20:37
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I tend to think backpacking is one of the cheapest activities to take up, as it takes very little cost to start.

Sure, they need some good boots, a rucksack and some warm clothing - but that's all really cheap. They won't need a compass or a stove if they are with you on their first outing - they won't even really need to know much: you can teach them along the way, and that way of learning is really valuable.

I, and most people I know who like the outdoors, have spares of pretty much everything else. I know I have 6 tents of differing sizes, many sleeping bags etc so ask friends and neighbours.

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+1. When you read a backpacking forum or visit an outfitter like REI, you would get an impression that backpacking is very expensive, but most of the time you really just very few things, unless you are doing something really extreme, and in that case it probably isn't a good idea to bring an inexperienced person along. –  Jan Hlavacek Feb 2 '12 at 21:42
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Even if you want to go for city-sightseeing trip for one day, you wan't go below 100$ assuming you have nothing, including shoes, clothes and rucksack.

But this is extreme situation. Everyone has something to wear and some kind of rucksack. You shouldn't started from extreme with novices, so we assume you choose some plains or little mountains during summer, and you wait for better weather, so you wan't need storm-proof clothes during day and warm sleeping bags at night.

Let's start with clothes. You can assume that everyone has some sport shoes and jeans trousers. They are good enough for start. In cheap shops like Decathlon you can buy fleece from about 10 Euro, if you have a luck you can get something on sale cheaper. But sweater would be enough.

Sleeping bag - you need some, but you can buy something cheap. For about 25 Euro you can have something with comfort temperatures about 10 degrees. Sleeping bags with comfort temperatures about 15 degrees are actually coverlets, not sleeping bags, and it may be a bit shivering to sleep in it outside even on plains in summer, but you can get it for about 10 Euro. Foam pad - the cheapest I've seen costed about 5 Euro (in Tesco or other Auchan).

Tent - novice won't need it. 1-person tents are extremes. Typical tent can accommodate 2-3 people. There should be a free place in your tent, or in someone's else.

Rucksack - yes, it is must-have. But most of the people that have studied have a bigger one. How else could they take their belongings to dormitory? If someone is in that extreme minority, that don't have one, it should be quite trivial to borrow one.

This was practiced million times in student mountain guides clubs. The people who started their adventure with backpacking usually don't have professional equipment from start.

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