Cheap Lightweight Backpacking Gear

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 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.



14 replies
  1. Al Smith
    Al Smith says:

    Chinese knock-offs of high-quality gear in all categories have become increasingly available at very large savings. One thinks in particular of down sleeping bags and tents. It would be very useful, but probably impossible, to find reliable reviews of this stuff.

    My current, personal obsession is with a $25 solo pup tent. WIthout stakes or poles, it’s well under two pounds. After two hours’ and $8 of seam sealing, it withstood about an inch of rain in a two-hour storm in back yard with no leaks. It’s NOT a particularly “good” tent, but given meticulous at-home seam treatment, it provides complete protection from insects and rain, and is practically disposable.

    There are doubtless better, low-cost products available.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good work on the seam sealing Al. Not a favorite task of mine. Wishing you some dry nights to come. Best, -alan

  2. Kelly Carter
    Kelly Carter says:

    I have two sets of the Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles, one set carbon fiber, one set aluminum. Both are EXCELLENT. I highly recommend them, especially for the price, but also the quality.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yeah, we left our CMT trekking poles with people more in need of them on recent trip. Just bought a couple more pairs. They are great! Best, -alan

  3. DismalDave
    DismalDave says:


    The link to the Costco vest has changed. It is now
    and the brand is now stated as Gerry. It’s $19.99 with free shipping, but only available in Small.
    I’m old enough to remember seeing that brand at Sports Chalet and other stores that don’t exist any more.

    The Costco down blanket is available on the website for $39.99 with $7.99 shipping.

    I just went to Costco today and asked about down vests. The clothing area lady politely smiled at me as they only had swim suits available. It’s summer already! January 30th, granted it’s Southern Calif. She said if you want the vests in-store the season is November to January. I’m guessing the vests just get sold off until gone after that, and the comforter is kept in stock.

    Great site. I’m going to recommend it to the Scouts in our Troop. The only thing I would add is a ‘date of last change’ on each page. That will let us know if the items or prices might have changed.

  4. Doug holscher
    Doug holscher says:

    Just came across this site and already KNOW I will revisit. Without question some great information coupled with excellent insight that comes with experience. Thanks Alan!

  5. Tad
    Tad says:

    In regards to a lightweight quilt, a military surplus poncho liner (or “woobie” as it’s known in the industry) is an excellent choice. Weight is approximately 22oz. It is slightly larger than the quilt listed above. I have two. One normal and one that is folded over with one end sewn shut and stiched up the side about 24” to make a foot pocket and I use it as a small sleep sack. They can be found as actual surplus items for less than $20 or bought new for more.

    Great site! Thanks for all of the info.

  6. Steve
    Steve says:

    Thanks again for the great input Alan. Many do not have a couple thousand per person to throw at top gear to use for a 3-8 weeks per year. I have been buying tons of stuff from Amazon and have 4 sets of the poles since last year. I think Skurka also recommends these.

    Most of my clothes however are the name brands and are found at TJ MAXX/Marshalls/Home Goods for 1/2 to 1/3 the retail price. I have Monkey Man Hooded, Mtn Hardwear wind, Hardshell jackets, Top Name Merino Wool Hooded Jacket, Marmot hardshell and North face convertible Pants, all kinds of top name UL running gear and UL rain gear, etc. You have to look through everything to find the one nugget, but I have saved thousands the last few years.

    For sleeping bags, I have gone aegismax through Amazon (limited sizes) so I found the larger sizes on AliExpress. I have blankets that zip into envelope bags (goose down), and mummy’s for every family member (4), all under $75. doubling up with a 30 mummy and 45 envelope gets us under 20 easy on the AT last winter at about 2 lbs range (same as most 20 degree bags and with two bags there are many options depending on the season). so for the price of a couple name brands, I outfitted a family of four!

    You might also check out the tents on Aliexpress, your favorite style in silnylon for under $90! Silnylon tarps for $30 and up!

    I have also spent top dollar on the best gear at Gossamer, Mtn Hardware, Six Moon, Zpacks, REI….this keeps my budget within my wife’s tolerance…happy wife happy life!

    The one thing you might want to stress is that it does take some time to learn from the Blogs and gear lists what to look for in the better products and what the name brands or better designs are for each application. Once you know what to look for, you can find last year’s top products on the rack or Chinese made equivalents at huge savings.

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Good stuff Steve. There are definitely savings for those that are willing to put a little research, time and effort into the process.


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