I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and reports about lightweight backpacking, ultralight backpacking, etc recently, and I’ve noticed something that comes up a fair bit. Most people who are blogging about backpacking are very heavily into the pastime, so they have rather expensive gear, and the suggestions they make tend to be on the expensive side. Just a couple of days ago, I read a blog post by Martin Rye titled ‘Insights in reducing pack weight’, which I found very informative, and the information is useful to pretty much everyone with an interest in backpacking. However, when he’s talking about gear, the gear he’s mentioning is in the higher end of the price spectrum, which, in fairness, is the norm for most backpacking blogs. What few articles and blogs I’ve found that cover backpacking on a budget are mainly from a US perspective, with lots of stores and brands which are not readily accessible to us in the UK.
So, I figured I’d give some suggestions on lower priced items you could purchase, which most people will find adequate for backpacking. OK, so you’re not going to get into the ultralight or super lightweight backpacking categories with these items, but you might just shave some weight off your pack, without breaking the bank in the process.
The heaviest weight items are normally the tent, pack and sleeping bag, as Martin advises in his blog post. There are some (relatively) cheap options, which can be used at a reasonably low weight.
With regard to your shelter, the cheapest option is almost certainly going to be a tarp or a bivvy bag. However, in the middle of summer on the west coast of Scotland, do you really want to be exposed to the midgies?! For me, that rules a tarp out, and I don’t particularly find bivvies very comfortable.
So, let’s look at actual tents… what can you get at a reasonably low price, that’s reliable, but also not particularly heavy? Low price in itself is something that can be debated for hours. For some people £200 is cheap, for others, £50. I reckon £100 or less should be the way to go.
The Vango Banshee 200 tent should be suitable as a 1-man tent (it’s realistically too small for 2 people, despite being advertised as such), and can be purchased from Go Outdoors for £79.99. For that, you get a tent with a weight of 1.85Kg, a hydrostatic head of 5000mm on the flysheet and enough room to fit 1 person and gear comfortably.
When Janie and I walked the West Highland Way in August, we used the larger Banshee 300 version (pictured below), and it kept us dry with no problems. I’d actually recommend it as a cheap 2-person tent for backpacking.
While we were walking the West Highland Way, another tent that seemed to pop up quite regularly (particularly with European walkers) was the Quechua T2 Ultralight Pro, which Best4Tents is currently offering for £95.99. This one weighs in at 2Kg, and from speaking to a couple of people who were using them (I’ve never tried one myself), are adequate for 1 person + gear.
If you want to go above the 2Kg mark, there’s significantly more options, but really, you want to be keeping the weight down as much as possible for backpacking
There are other tents out there, which are cheap and should do the job, but I’ve had no experience of them, and don’t know anyone who has, so can’t comment on them. Coleman is a brand to look at on that front, with tents such as the Rigel X2, weighing in at a tiny 980g (but at a head height of 68cm, don’t expect anyone to be able to sit up in it) or the Kraz X1. If you look around, you may find something that suits your needs at a suitably low price. For the same reason I ruled out the Bivvy Bag and the Tarp, it’s a case of getting the mix of comfort, weight and price.
Getting a cheap sleeping bag is easy. Getting one suitable for 2-3 seasons is also easy. Getting one that is lightweight, cheap and suitable for 2-3 season use isn’t quite so easy.
Realistically, if you’re wanting a properly cheap sleeping bag, you’re going to be looking at a synthetic one. Synthetic bags tend to be bigger and heavier than down bags for the same temperature rating, so getting a lightweight one can be a bit of a challenge.
There are several lightweight sleeping bags suitable for 1 season use, but even those, I’d advise against in the UK. When we walked the West Highland Way in August (apparently the 2nd warmest month of the year in Scotland), temperatures still managed to get down to 5°C – which rules out a whole lot of sleeping bags, such as the Vaude Sioux UL 100. Sure, it only weighs 600g, but if you spend most nights uncomfortable and cold, it’s not worth it!
Sleeping Bags are an area where I feel I should maybe have researched for longer before buying mine. Examples of sleeping bags which would be ideal for this sort of scenario would be the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 35. Go Outdoors are currently selling it for £85.50, in both the long and regular lengths. For that, you get a synthetic sleeping bag, weighing in at 1.02kg with a comfort rating of 5°C, a limit of 0°C. That would make it more or less ideal for the summer months. Admittedly, it’s a bit more expensive than I’d normally pay. When I chose my sleeping bag, I was looking in the sub-£50 range, which would definitely rule the Lamina out.
My own 2-3 season sleeping bag (which I’ve previously reviewed) is the Snugpak Travelpak Extreme (or Xtreme, as some people put it). Simply Hike are currently selling it for £33. It’s advertised as 1100g, but in reality, it’s more like 1200g including stuff sack. It really does compress quite small, and with a comfort rating down to 2°C, it does the job, too. I used it on the West Highland Way and didn’t feel particularly cold at any point. As a summer use Sleeping Bag, it ain’t too bad.
Another sleeping bag that would be good would be the Vaude Sioux 800, which OutdoorGB currently have for £49.91. It’s similar in weight to the Snugpak, but isn’t as small. However, with a lower comfort limit of 0.5°C, it should be a slightly warmer bag.
I’ve recently purchased a new sleeping bag, but it’s not particularly lightweight, and it definitely doesn’t come into the super cheap category – however, for what it is, it probably is about as cheap as they come. I’ve recently purchased an Alpkit Skyehigh 800 sleeping bag for £145 (for the long version). It weighs 1.65Kg, so significantly more than all of the sleeping bags mentioned above, but it has a comfort rating of -10°C, is filled with 800g of 90/10, 650+ (EU) Goose down and compresses as small as the Snugpak (much to my shock!). It really is about as cheap as they get when it comes to quality goose down sleeping bags. (they’ve even got a price promise, where they’ll match any other offer of an equal quality) It will allow me to significantly extend my backpacking year (once I get a tent I’m comfortable with using in 4 seasons – in the meantime, bothies all the way!) and will be useful in other parts of the world, too. Alpkit’s PipeDream sleeping bags (when in stock) are lighter, only marginally more expensive (£150 for the 600),have similar temperature ratings, but are no use for me, personally. As they are not offered in a long length, my 6’4″ frame doesn’t fit in them, sadly. I highly recommend them for those who are 6’1″ or less, though!
Now, this is one area that I really don’t know very much about. I’ll come right out and say that my own pack is a monster – it was neither lightweight or cheap. I have a Berghaus C7 1 series 65+10 – Currently available from Blacks/Millets for £99.99. I got suckered in by the Bioflex back system and the promises of comfort (which admittedly does work!), but at 2.5Kg, it’s significantly heavier than anything you really require.
My pack is one area where I am looking to change relatively soon, but still relatively cheaply. Ideally, I want to be going down to a 50-60l rucksack, which should be big enough for a week’s hiking trip. I’ll stick with a realistic price max of £75
I haven’t tried any of the packs mentioned below, so can’t comment on how comfortable they are, etc. I’d strongly recommend trying a pack for fit before purchasing one!
One that I looked at (thanks to all the European hikers on the West Highland Way) is the Quechua Forclaz 50 Ultralight – currently sold by Decathlon at £54.99. 50 litre capacity, with a 1.1Kg weight. It’s not too bad, really. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but the price and weight are reasonable
Another option would be the Karrimor X-lite 45+10 rucksack, currently on Sports Direct for £69.99 Also an ugly piece of kit, with possibly too many pockets for its own good. Weighing in at 1.35Kg.
In the price range mentioned above, you’re not really going to get a lot that could be considered lightweight. You could get a Vango Explorer 60+10 for only £44 from Outdoor Gear, but at 2.1Kg, it’s definitely not lightweight (and is probably a little big for most people’s needs)
As with all things, it all comes down to making compromises. If price is the one area where you have to compromise, some of the items mentioned above may be of use.
If you consider the combination of Vango Banshee 200 tent + Snugpak sleeping bag + Quechua rucksack, that’s a total weight of 4.15Kg, which isn’t too bad a base to then build on, and at a total price of £167.98, it’s not breaking the bank, either. (That total price is only a fraction of what I plan on spending on my next tent!)
Clearly, I’ve only mentioned the 3 main items here – you’ll still have to worry about cooking, clothing, food, etc, but with those 3 main items at a reasonable weight, it’ll definitely not be outwith the realm of possibility to keep the total pack weight around the 10Kg mark. Not super lightweight backpacking, but hey, it’s cheap and should be relatively easy to carry… meaning that poor folk like me can get out and enjoy the great outdoors, too!
And if you find you really enjoy backpacking, maybe you can save up and gradually replace the bits and pieces with some lighter, but significantly more expensive gear over time? That’s what I plan on doing. I’m hoping that by the end of the winter, I’ll have a Scarp 1 tent (with crossing poles) to play with, and maybe even a new rucksack – but in the meantime, I’ll make do with what I’ve got and enjoy the outdoors as much as I can!
All of the items mentioned above are simple suggestions. If anyone has any other suggestions for cheap options in the UK, please do let me know by commenting below.