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#199711 - 12/05/17 07:07 PM How cheap can you go?
EMT Dave Offline

Registered: 11/24/16
Posts: 65
Loc: MA
I have been following (and contributing) to a variety of strings involving choice of gear, especially older folk who want to get started on the trail. Many of the posters have been wondering how cheaply they can get into the sport for a particular item.
Now, at 65 years, I started into this sport about 46 years ago and then, like now, I am terminally broke. I posted a couple of replies on the thread about Ozark Trails gear and as to whether it was a wise purchase. On the whole I do not support buying crap, although I have occasionally found incredible buys in Chinese gear (although the buyer needs to be VERY aware!)

Now, I would like to ask the community for some feedback on a topic dear to my heart. I believe I am a past master at saving money and getting quality gear on the cheap. I recognize the risk of going too cheap however and I have occasionally been burned.

Now I am hoping to get more active over the next decade or so. As I age, it is apparent from my experiences last year, I need to be more vigorous in getting my weight down.

I am good with updated packs, I have two one Kelty and one Lowe that are great quality; I got them cheaply when the line was discontinued.
I have ultralight shelters, one an MSR ultralight that I am not sanguine about (no bug protection, no floor) which might still work for bugless conditions when I am alone. Another I made from an old two wall A frame that may prove better in buggy areas.
I have a pile of stoves: an early MSR-G model (it was a display model-discounted) that has traveled more miles than my aging Ford. , I have a GS-1 similar to the Svea 123 but which burns automotive fuel- an estate sale find. More recently a Chinese copy of a multi-fuel that seems of decent quality, if still a little heavy. A butane stove of course, again a Chinese import for $10 and a Trangia clone for about the same outlay. I find the canisters heavy so I will probably go with the alcohol stove.

So, first question: how cheap do you think I can go for a decent down bag that compresses well and is CLEARLY good for a chilly 30 degree night? I have already eliminated the direct-from-China down bags as being unreliable in construction and materials. I want down, do not suggest synthetic as I have lived with them for decades and now want something more packable and light.

So..for myself, what do you think of the Kelty Cosmic 20? It's about $112, pricey for me, but just doable. Are there other suggestions?

Second, for others: how cheaply do you think a beginner (or a born again light/ultra-lighter like myself) can get away with spending for a decent outfit.
Thanks to all...

Edited by EMT Dave (12/06/17 08:17 PM)

#199719 - 12/05/17 11:29 PM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: EMT Dave]
toddfw2003 Offline

Registered: 01/08/16
Posts: 358
Loc: Texas
I dont know all the prices on down bag. I know there are some Chinese ones on amazon. But, im not sure I would want to be cheap on the one thing that will keep me warm at night. Hammock gear makes an econ down quilt that around 160 bucks but you need a war, sleep pad with it. You can pick 2 options out of the 3. Warm, light, cheap.

If you want to save money maybe look at a Marmot Trestle Elite

#199721 - 12/06/17 12:23 AM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: toddfw2003]
balzaccom Online   content

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1800
Loc: Napa, CA
If I were looking for a deal on cheap gear, I would start by having a list of sleeping bags I would be happy to own, and then patrol ebay, craigslist, thrift shops, and yard sales until I found a used one at price I could afford.

I started backpacking with a tube tent and a synthetic bag that was chilly at 32 degrees. But I was young, a little bit stupid and stubborn, and made it work. You can get a ton of usable equipment at thrift shops and the like. But if there is ONE piece of equipment I would want to make was sufficient, it would be the sleeping bag. Packs are a dime a dozen, tents can be tarps, stoves may not be necessary for all foods....but if you're cold at night, you will not have fun.

check out our website and blog:

#199724 - 12/06/17 02:06 PM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: balzaccom]
aimless Offline

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2964
Loc: Portland, OR
I agree that one's sleeping bag is critical gear that needs to be entirely reliable. It ranks right up there with footwear and shelter as the items that really must do their job correctly. Buying a used sleeping bag is one way to go, but has some risks if the bag has not been well cared for.

If I were buying a new bag and needed to watch every dollar I spent I think the best place to economize is not to buy from a manufacturer with no track record, especially from China. Chinese manufacturers often are just blindly copying someone else's design using cheaper materials, but they have no idea why a cheaper material may not be functional, because they don't really understand what its function is. Instead, I'd go with a reputable maker who understands what backpacking is, and I'd economize on the fill power of the down. 600 or 650 fill power bags may be slightly heavier for the same amount of loft, but they are significantly cheaper than 800 or 900 fill power.

In the past I'd have recommended REI without hesitation as a good mid-price brand with acceptable quality. I haven't been as impressed with their down-filled sleeping bag offerings lately when I've looked at them. I'd still look there, though. Kelty is no longer a premium brand, but it is not yet an unreliable one. They also might be a place to look. For a used bag, I'd be pretty confident buying a Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends bag.

Edited by aimless (12/06/17 03:05 PM)
Edit Reason: added a sentance & expanded another

#199726 - 12/06/17 07:43 PM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: EMT Dave]
EMT Dave Offline

Registered: 11/24/16
Posts: 65
Loc: MA
Thank you all. You echo much of what I already felt.
While I have a great warm three season bag that is correctly rated at 20 degrees it was heavy and bulky when new (which was just when synthetics were coming on strong). It is too heavy though. My synthetic Campmor bags are a bit lighter but still bulky and not reliable below 35 degrees or so.
My other gear is sound and good and my trail skills are up there, although perhaps a tad atrophied.
I thoroughly agree that the bag is critical and the one area in which I cannot go stone cheap. I am going to make a hard, hard push next season to try and get out more often.
Even $100 will hurt, but if I am going out, I think the Kelty Cosmic 20 is about as cheap as I can go and keep weight down within my price range.
For beginners without anything I personally advocate buying the pack first and getting the best you can by shopping discontinued lines and the like. I prefer a tougher pack than the ultralight crowd, but that is my choice and I am well fitted in that line.
It took me when starting a long while to get decent gear and a lot of stuff, shoes, packs, bags and the like hit the Salvation Army (or the dumpster) before I learned the difference between quality and cheap.
So your advice would mirror my own. Ease into it, buy as you can and get the best quality that your income and shopping permit.

Edited by EMT Dave (12/06/17 08:20 PM)

#199727 - 12/06/17 08:07 PM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: balzaccom]
EMT Dave Offline

Registered: 11/24/16
Posts: 65
Loc: MA
Originally Posted By balzaccom

I started backpacking with a tube tent and a synthetic bag that was chilly at 32 degrees. But I was young, a little bit stupid and stubborn, and made it work.

I started out with plastic tarps and made them work; I transitioned to a tube tent and was reasonably long as the bugs stayed away.
My sleeping bag was, however too much in every way. It was one of the ancient and now fabled army mummy bags, rated to some hellishly low temperature. I packed to size not appreciably smaller than a compact car, weighed about as much as that car and I sweated nearly to death. In retrospect, I suspect it was a veteran of action at Inchon reservoir. be young and broke.
Eventually I bought an early decent quality Olin synthetic mummy. It did not compress well, but it did the job and did not break my back. And by steps arrived here.

Edited by EMT Dave (12/06/17 08:24 PM)

#199738 - 12/08/17 05:58 PM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: EMT Dave]
Jim M Offline

Registered: 11/23/03
Posts: 281
Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
Question one.
Everyone sleeps differently and in different conditions so no one bag fits all. I have had a few down bags and they last a long time, so it might be worth it to spend a little more for much better quality. For me the Cosmo 20 down does not have enough fill power (hence more weight for less warmth IMHO). It also is heavy. Nowadays anyone concerned with weight seems to gravitate toward bags that weigh 2.2 lbs (one Kilo) or less. The sleeping bag is one of the "big three" where you can loose weight. I would also go for a Pretex or equivalent shell. It does not have one.

Question two.
I started with army surplus gear years ago and cheap clothing I got at good will. I'm now able to afford better and lighter gear, but I did just fine and climbed a lot of mountains in old wool army pants and cooking in my old boy scout mess kit. I still see young people carrying 40 to 50 pounds! I would say they are stupid except I did that too, years ago. When you are young weight is not as important. As you get older and wiser you start replacing the old heavy gear.
Jim M

#199741 - 12/09/17 10:57 AM Re: How cheap can you go? [Re: EMT Dave]
the-gr8t-waldo Offline

Registered: 01/16/11
Posts: 134
Loc: Tacoma, Washington
I've found it very gratifying to build my own camping quilt. about 3-4 years ago I bought all the materials online and a sewing machine from CL.(20$ and rebuilt for~30$))about a week of part time work and I now have a quilt than I'm enjoying and rightly proud of. good down into the 30 degree range...the materials were about 150$.... not saying it was easy or quick like shelling coin out at a sales counter, but then how could anyone put a price on the fun of building yer own? and I now have a sewing machine ready for the next project!(or sell again-could go either way) check out the bulletin board at REIs- I always do when I visit the local store here.


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