Yes, you can save heaps of money on Steap and Cheap and The Clymb. Even better, there are legendary gear scores to be found on Craigslist and at thrift stores. But, if you don't feel comfortable buying used gear or don't have time to wait for that deal to come around, this list is for you. —Joe Jackson
Hi-Tec Quest Hike WP
Boots are the foundation for your entire backpacking setup and a $200 plus pair can certainly be worth the investment if you have the dough. If you don't, we suggest checking out the Hi-Tec Quest Hike WP ($110). $110 for a waterproof leather shoe is a smoking deal—if it doesn't fall apart. While we have not tested this specific boot, Hi-Tec has a good track record with our testers. Hi-Tec shoes and boots have made the cut in almost every one of Outside's Buyer's Guides since 2005.
Costco Wool Socks
Full disclosure: I have a love affair with Smartwool socks ($17), so I felt guilty about the tryst I had with the four-pair of Costco wool socks (3 pair for $12) that a friend of mine gave me for my birthday this year. I found them comfortable, they managed foot odor extremely well, and they withstood all of the winter sports I could throw at them on top of their work sock duties—showing little wear and tear.
Platypus 1L Soft Bottle
If you go to enough outdoor festivals, events, and races, you likely have a cabinet full of swagged water bottles that you could take backpacking. It is likely, though, that none of them are as light, packable, and BPA free as the Platypus 1L Soft Bottle ($9). While $9 certainly isn't as good of a price as free, we think the features make it worth the small investment.
MSR Pocket Rocket
The MSR Pocket Rocket ($40) was a no-brainer addition to this roundup. Pocket Rockets have proven super dependable in the field, they are a featherweight three-ounces, and take up about as much space as an apple in your pack.
Therm-a-rest Trail Lite
Therm-a-rest has multiple solid price point options, including the Original Z-Lite ($40). I chose the Therm-a-rest Trail Lite ($70) for this roundup because at 1.5 inches thick this self inflating mattress will offer ample comfort and warmth for two-season camping and at only 1 pound 12 ounce, it doesn't carry a weight penalty.
REI Half Dome Tent
REI's Half Dome series tents have always treated us well in terms of both usability and durability. The current REI Half Dome 2 ($189) has plenty of room for two people, is an incredible deal for a three season tent, and while we wouldn't call five-pounds two-ounces light—we wouldn't call it terribly heavy either.
Princeton Tec Byte
I have made the mistake of buying a three pack of headlamps for $9 to save money. All three failed in the field the same summer I bought them. For six more dollars, I could have bought the Princeton Tech Byte ($15). At 50 lumens, it is plenty bright for your needs around camp, and Princeton Tec claims it has an impressive 96-hour burn time on a set of AAA batteries.
Columbia Reactor 35 Mummy 2
We picked the Columbia Reactor 35 Mummy 2 ($109) because you'd be hard pressed to find other sleeping bags that are light enough to take backpacking and still worth a thermoregulating damn for under $110. Which begs the question: Is the Columbia Reactor 35 Mummy 2 worth said thermoregulating damn? To be honest, I have not tested this piece, but I would take it on a spring backpacking trip because it weighs in at under two pounds and is feature-rich with technology like Columbia's Omni-Heat space blanket-like interior—a feature I have found effective in pieces of Columbia outerwear.
The Stoic Stash ($123) has proven burly and versatile as both a ski touring and backpacking shell. A 3-layer shell that moves and breathes pretty well is an absolute steal at under $150. The downside: Stoic has stopped production of all products and once this jacket sells out it will be gone forever.