A $10 down vest that looks eerily similar to a $250 Patagonia vest? A $20 down quilt? Hard to believe. These are just the first two items in this post on Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear. Other great values include a 9 oz rain jacket, a +20 down quilt that’s ½ the price of the competition, and bomber, lightweight carbon fiber trekking poles. Stay tuned over the next few months as I will continue to add more cheap lightweight backpacking gear. This post contains:

$10 Down Vest  –  $20 Down Quilt (for mild weather)

These are seasonally in-store at Costco right now! The current promotion from 9/27/16 through 10/10/16 offers $4 off the vest (for a total cost of $10). Caveat: I just purchased the quilt and vest at Costco and therefore, don’t have long term field performance or durability data at this time. Given the price, and the fact that they are from relatively unknown, knock-off manufacturers it’s possible that zippers, stitching or other construction standards may not be up to the those of Patagonia or Mountain Hardwear. None-the-less at $20 and $10, they cost astonishingly less than big brand items. I leave it to the reader to determine if the cost justifies giving them a chance. It is also good to note that Costco has a good return policy. (The quilt and similar vests are also available at Amazon for slightly more $).

Is the Quilt Warm Enough?

For much of the country, temperatures in the “high hiking season” are usually mild. This year in the Mid-Atlantic we had 105 consecutive days where the low temp was above 60 degrees (June 9 to Sept 23). As such, experienced, bargain minded hikers might consider the quilt and/or vest for backpacking along the AT and similar trails during the summer and possibly late spring/early fall (quilt when used in combination with jacket/vest and a warm hat). See Why You Won’t Freeze or Starve Ultralight Backpacking and in particular Use a weather report to help you select the right gear.

Use for Two People in mild weather? My wife and have often/happily shared quilts with similar dimensions. In this case, the temperature rating is better (sharing body heat) and the weight and cost per person less.

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

Double Black Diamond Packable Down Throw: Think of this quilt as a slightly warmer, lighter, more compressible and wind-proof alternative to the fleece blanket that many camp with in mild weather.

$20 mild weather Down Quilt -“Double Black Diamond Packable Down Throw”

This quilt is available for $20 at Costco or around $33 at Amazon.
This is a mild weather quilt (if you are looking for a bargain in a top-quality, cold weather quilt, see below). Think of this quilt as a slightly warmer, lighter, more compressible and wind-proof alternative to the fleece blanket that many camp with in mild weather.  This is a thin quilt, with a single layer loft of 0.7 to 1.0 inches, and sewn through construction. As a wild guess, this quilt might work somewhere into the 50’s for some people, but not for others. Obviously, wearing a jacket or a down vest (possibly the $10 one below), combined with a warm hat and some other clothing would likely extend the quilt’s temperature range.

Specs below on the quilt:

  • 15.5 oz (440 g) Quilt, 0.4 oz (12 g) stuff sack
  • 700 fill power duck down
  • 20D polyester/nylon shell
  • Dimensions: 60” x 70” (155 cm x 177 cm)
  • Thin: measured single layer loft of 0.7 to 1.0 inches

$10, 650 fill power Down Vest – 32 Degrees* Packable “Ultra Light” Down Vest

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

This $12 down women’s vest I bought at Costco looks eerily similar to a $250 Patagonia vest. It’s even approximately the same weight and loft of the Women’s Patagonia Ultralight Down Vest. Some of the Men’s versions at Amazon do as well.

The vest is available for $10-$12 at Costco, or between $20 to $30 at Amazon.
This is a light down vest with similar weight and loft as $180/$250 Patagonia Down Vests. Obviously the quality/durability may not be the same. From reading Amazon reviews (most quite positive) it appears the fabric on some vests is not entirely down-proof (although I’ve had some down leakage from most of my expensive gear too).  I purchased a size large “Ladies'” vest for Alison.

Specs below for size large “Ladies” vest:

  • 5.9 oz (170 g) Quilt, 0.3 oz (9 g) stuff sack
  • 650 fill power duck down (90% down, 10% feathers)
  • Wind and water resistant
  • Shell: 100% Polyester
  • Lining: 100% Nylon

* Note: “32 Degrees” is the brand name and not the temperature rating

A version of 32 Degrees Men’s Packable “Ultra Light” Down Vest is available on Amazon. Some of the Men’s versions at Amazon look similar to a Patagonia UL Down Vest. The Costco version has slightly different baffling and snap pocket closures, but still uses 650 fill power duck down.

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

The gear listed below is not “cheap” in the sense of low quality. Quite the opposite, it is value gear with performance and weight that far exceeds its low price. And sometimes it’s equal to best in class (e.g. Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt).

Cheap Rainwear

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

Currently available for $55, the REI Co-Op Rain Jacket costs less and weighs less than much of the competition. It has most of the essential features, a generous and comfortable fit, and gets the job done.

The REI Co-Op Rain Jacket weighs 9 ounces. Some sizes and colors are on sale for $55 (full price is $70). It weighs less and costs less than a standard bargain rain jacket, the Marmot Precip. You aren’t going to win any fashion awards with this REI jacket. The hood brim is on the small side and not so stiff (I wear a ball cap with all my rain jackets anyway). But the REI Co-Op Rain Jacket has most of the essential features, a generous and comfortable fit, and gets the job done.

Specs below forREI Co-Op Rain Jacket, Men’s Medium

  • 9.5 oz, on my scale
  • Generous fit (some might want to go down a size)
  • 2.5-layer waterproof, breathable nylon shell also features a durable water repellent finish to shed light rain; jacket is windproof to 60 mph
  • Dual front hood adjusters (but no rear adjustment)
  • Internal elastic cuffs and drawcord hem seal out wind
  • Weatherproof center front zipper (with rear storm flap)
  • Zippered hand pockets (with mesh backing for venting)

Cheap Backpacking Quilts

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt. A +20° Burrow weighs less and costs almost 1/2 of a conventional down sleeping bag with similar warmth and performance. My version of this quilt is 18 oz (with 2 oz of overfill down).

A down quilt is the best choice for most, if not all backpacking trips. Quilts are lighter and cost less than conventional sleeping bags like Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom 32 sleeping bag but have similar warmth and specifications. I haven’t used a sleeping bag in about 15 years. I’ve used quilts for outings such as a February backcountry ski trip in Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau, or a winter trip at 15,000 feet in the Andes, or hammock camping down to +10F in the Appalachian mountains. Quilts work!

See more on this topic in Recommended Sleeping Bags & Quilts.

The $250, 18 ounce, 850 fill power down Hammock Gear Burrow 20°F Quilt is an exceptional value in lightweight, high-performance sleeping insulation. It costs far less than comparable down quilts (e.g. the $470 Katabatic Gear Palisade 30°F quilt) or conventional sleeping bags (e.g. $485 Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20°F  sleeping bag). The Burrow is equally adept for use with ground sleeping (use like a conventional sleeping-bag) or as a hammock top-quilt. The current version of the Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt has longitudinal baffles (running lengthwise, camouflage fabric in the picture). These longitudinal baffles keep the down on top (over you) rather than drifting down to the sides overnight.

Cheap Trekking Poles

cascade-tech-poles-1200

Cascade Tech Carbon Trekking poles cost about 1/3 the price of carbon fiber trekking poles of similar weight, strength and construction.

Cascade Tech Carbon Trekking Poles are a great example of value gear. They perform almost as well the $170, Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles. In the past two years I’ve used these inexpensive poles everywhere. Four weeks of technical canyoneering in Southern Utah, the rugged and rocky GR-20 in Corsica, the Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, and numerous other trips. They are super stiff and have not broken even when jammed in talus and then levered with my body weight. The adjustment mechanisms never slip. The poles have well designed and comfortable grips. And they have a generous 54cm length that is helpful for setting up larger shelters that use trekking poles.

Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

Trekking poles I use. More often than not I take the Cascade Mountain Tech poles.

From front to rear in photo:

Again, continue to check back. I will continue to add more cheap lightweight backpacking gear to this list. Or better put, value gear with performance and weight that far exceeds its low price.