My niece, Mina, wanted to help today, so this article is partly her doing. I wanted to write about hiking gear on a budget, especially during this time of transitional weather. When the days fluctuate between 54 degrees at 3 pm to snowing overnight, it can be challenging to decide what to wear on the trail. Since you need to layer up so you can take off gear as you warm up, it's a good idea to know where you can skimp, and where you shouldn't, when it comes to getting all those clothes for the trail.
For anyone who has ever researched the cost of hiking pants, thermal underwear, base layers, wool hiking socks, winter hiking boots, a warmth layer shirt, and waterproof/windproof outer layer(s), you know that the costs can quickly add up. If you are new to hiking, and not sure it's something you are going to do consistently, it doesn't seem right to invest so much money! So here are some tips on ways to minimize your costs, substitute clothing that is more cost effective, and still enjoy your hike without breaking your bank account:
1) Pants. During transitional weather, it's important that you wear a base layer (thermal/warmth layer) with a lighter, waterproof (and preferably windproof) outer pant. For your base layer, you can purchase thermal underwear (great for temps in the 20's and lower 30's), synthetic athletic layers (30's and 40's) or just wear thicker outer pants (40's and up). But what do you do if you don't want to spend that kind of money on a base layer? You can substitute workout pants, especially leggings for aerobics and running. These work, too, for your outer layer, if you can find inexpensive, windproof sweatpants. For the outer pant, windproof sweatpants and rain pants will help keep heat in while keeping the wind off you.
2) Shirts. Layer, layer, layer. But not with cotton underneath, which will hold in the sweat. Again, the exercise clothes department is a great place to start (discount department stores can get you what you need and keep your costs down). Thermal base layer can easily be a breathable t-shirt or other exercise wear, with a fleece sweatshirt over it. Add a rain jacket or windbreaker, and you'll be comfortable when the temps are cold at the start and warm up as the day goes on. Exercise shirts make for a light cover, and zipper shirts add extra warmth. In addition, flannel shirts (yes, those plaid things that farmers wear and the rest of us only seem to break out at Christmas) will keep you warm, and most are amazingly windproof.
3) Socks. I don't recommend skimping on these! Spend your money on good hiking socks - wool with a nylon undersock, or nylon/poly socks with cushioning, or my new favorite - alpaca socks with a nylon undersock. So important to protect your feet!!
4) Hiking boots. Another place not to skimp, at least not too much. The right boot, paired with the right socks, will make or break your hike, regardless of the distance traveled. Even so, there are less expensive alternatives. Regular sporting goods stores are a good place to start - you don't have to go high-end to have comfy feet on the trail. I don't recommend the discount department stores for these, but if that's all you can afford, then focus on the boots marked "hiking boots." They won't have a huge selection, which is why we recommend the sporting goods stores. Try on several pairs, and find the ones that best fit your feet. A good pair of hiking boots can be found for $40-$75. They may not last as long as some of the more expensive pairs, but if you aren't sure you want to hike regularly, it's worth minimizing your outlay until you know for sure that you'll get your money out of the better boots.
Let us know if you have any other budget tips for hiking clothes! We'd love to hear from you!
Penny Allenwood, and my niece Mina!