I recently found an old spreadsheet from when I began backpacking in 2017, listing everything I needed to get started in this hobby. It’s one of those accidental historical documents, because of the things I thought were important once upon a time (“I’ve got to get one of those portable medical splints!” said I, quite seriously) and all of the fads which turned out to be busts (“wow, UV-treating water on the trail is amazing! It’s more expensive than a filter, it’s about as annoying, it’s not much faster, and you have to pre-filter it anyway to get the leaves and sticks out!”). The things I spent a lot of money on, like my solar panels and my first lightweight tent, which sort of sucked, and my fancy down sleeping bag, which despite all the dire warnings against using down in wet climates has been worth every one of the many pennies.
Oh well, I was learning to backpack and I made mistakes, and few of them were expensive. I did something smart: I’d buy something big, heavy, and cheap, and I’d find out what I hated and what I liked and I’d upgrade where I needed it. This definitely saved me money compared to people who buy several blue-ticket items from trendy ultralight manufacturers until they find one they like or suffer in poverty.
Saving money’s more important than ever. In addition to the items, I wrote down their prices, in 2017 dollars, so I could budget for them, and what an eye-opener that is five years later. Getting started backpacking certainly felt expensive at the time, but it’s gotten so much worse.
To see how much worse, I decided to compare the items and prices I bought, or priced out, in 2017 versus what it would cost to get the same thing new today. I’ve only included items that have a close modern equivalent. For example, in 2017 my blue-chip tent, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum, cost $700 and weighed two pounds. Big Agnes has discontinued that particular trim level. The Fly Creek HV 2 Carbon is a sort of replacement, but not really; the Platinum did not have carbon fibre poles (I wish it did) nor wafer-thin DCF, and the Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye is a cheaper, heavier, probably better piece of kit. My Garmin fēnix 3 Sapphire was $800 in 2016; the nearest equivalent is over $1,100 today, but you can no longer get a fēnix with just sapphire glass, you have to get the sapphire solar one. The fēnix line is definitely way pricier than it used to be, but to quantify how much would be unfair.
Some of the products with the same names have been remodeled over the past three years but none of the differences are that dramatic. In cases where a Canadian retailer is not currently stocking the item, I’ve obtained the US price and converted. All 2017 prices were from the Mountain Equipment Co-op.
|Comparison of prices, 2017 to 2022|
|2017 Items||2022 Items||Price Difference|
|Category||Brand and Name||Cost (CDN$)||Brand and Name||Cost (CDN$)||CDN$||%|
|Shelter||MEC Spark UL 1+||$289.00||MEC Spark 2.0||$319.95||+$30.95||+10.7%|
|Sleeping bag (entry-level)||MEC Creekside 0C Synthetic||$65.00||MEC Creekside 0C Synthetic||$115.95||+$50.95||+78.4%|
|Sleeping bag (higher-end)||Western Mountaineering Terralite -4C||$575.00||Western Mountaineering Terralite -4C||$674.10||+$99.10||+17.2%|
|Sleeping pad (entry-level)||MEC Reactor 3.8||$85.00||MEC Reactor 3.8||$94.95||+$9.95||+11.7%|
|Sleeping pad (higher-end)||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite||$234.00||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite||$249.95||+$15.95||+6.8%|
|Backpack||Gregory Stout 75||$269.00||Gregory Stout 70||$279.95||+$10.95||+4.1%|
|Trekking poles||Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork||$115.00||Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork||$159.95||+$44.95||+39.1%|
|Backpacking chair||Helinox Chair One||$112.00||Helinox Chair One||$159.99||+$47.99||+42.8%|
|Water bladder||Platypus Big Zip LP 2L||$34.00||Platypus Big Zip EVO 2L||$41.95||+$7.95||+23.4%|
|Water bag||MSR Dromedary 10L||$54.00||MSR Dromedary V2 10L||$69.95||+$15.95||+29.5%|
|Isopro camp stove||MSR PocketRocket||$44.00||MSR PocketRocket 2||$64.95||+$20.95||+47.6%|
|Isopro fuel||MSR Isopro 227||$6.75||MSR Isopro 227||$8.95||+$2.20||+32.6%|
|Titanium pot||MSR Titan||$63.00||MSR Titan||$89.95||+$26.95||+42.8%|
|Bear spray||Frontiersman 225g 1%||$35.75||Frontiersman 225g 1%||$49.95||+$14.20||+39.7%|
|Bear bag||Ursack Major 10.5L||$95.00||Ursack Major 10.5L||$128.95||+$33.95||+35.7%|
Five years is a long time and you’d expect prices to have gone up somewhat even under normal circumstances, but as you know if you’ve bought groceries lately, conditions are not normal.
Not every piece of equipment on here is the same as it was three year ago. The Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad has a new valve and somewhat different interior structure. The Black Diamond trekking poles are available in picante (mine broke two weeks after I got them but they were definitely not picante). The Ursack Major is black now. The Gregory Stout, which is barely more expensive at all, has been remodeled: the new one seems nicer than the old one did, but it’s also five liters smaller. My MSR Reactor sleeping pad is just a rectangle; the new one is somewhat tapered, giving you less pad for your money. I never actually had an MEC Spark and for all I know the 2.0 is a completely different tent in the same colour.
On the other hand the Helinox Chair One, which has gone up 42.8%, is the exact same chair it ever was. The MSR Titan is a titanium pot that hasn’t changed because it couldn’t, but a new one also runs 42.8% dearer than it used to. Nothing changes about bear spray and isopro fuel, except the price, which is exploding in exactly the way you hope the pressurized canisters don’t.
Supply shortages will make this worse. MSR’s website just about doesn’t sell anything direct anymore; their warehouse is perpetually empty as they rush whatever they manage to import to their retailers. The retailers themselves can be regularly out of stock of anything, outside real niche products like pizza ovens and birding binoculars, for weeks at a time. Ironically, the least affected seem to be the cottage manufacturers: sure, the lead time at Mountain Laurel Designs is around two months, the Palante grid fleece is unobtainable, and whenever you scope out the options on any little tent manufacturer’s website it’s even-odds that what you want will be unavailable, but that’s always true with those guys, it’s part of what gives them character. To save money on worker wages many companies that made their products in the United States, like Palante or Hyperlite Mountain Gear, are now outsourcing their manufacturing just like the big guys, but I’m sure that’s fine it’s not like there’s a ongoing global logistics crisis.
This post has no actionable advice, because backpacking gear turns out to be subject to the same problems as everything else. If you think you’ll need a new tent or backpack or fancy fluffy jacket in the near future you’re better off buying it now than later. But that’s also true for your coffee maker or fridge or any major vehicle repairs, and loathe though a hiking site is to admit it, such things are more important.
Still, it’s reassuring to look at the numbers and know that you’re not crazy, things really are as bad as you think.