Best Budget Backpacking Gear – Philmont – Boy Scouts

Best Budget Backpacking Gear The backpacking gear recommendations below apply to any sort of backpacking, with a few tweaks noted to accommodate the unique rules and environment of a trek […]

Best Budget Backpacking Gear

The backpacking gear recommendations below apply to any sort of backpacking, with a few tweaks noted to accommodate the unique rules and environment of a trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. Feel free to consult this list for all of your backpacking adventures. Please share any suggestions in the comments.

Best Budget Backpacking Gear – Philmont – Boy Scouts

best philmont backpacking gear

My first Philmont trek

The typical trek at Philmont Scout Ranch is 12 days, 11 of which are on the trail in the wilderness of New Mexico.
Like all backpacking adventures, the right gear can be the difference between a great trip or a backwoods disaster, whether you are a Scout or an Adult Crew Adviser. The acquisition of quality backpacking gear for this type of backpacking trek has inflicted many cases of sticker shock, over the years.

Don’t worry, we are here to help you sort through the options and find the right gear for your trek and your wallet in the list below.
*If you find this article helpful, then please consider clicking our links below before you buy your gear. The very small commission Gear Report receives when you purchase from our links does not raise your cost, but provides the funds to continue reviewing gear. 🙂

Living list

best backpacking gear for Philmont

My most recent Philmont trek

This list of the best budget backpacking gear for Philmont is a cooperative effort that will be changed and updated as needed. Some of the best gear ideas have come from reader comments. So, join the discussion below and let us know what gear YOU think should be on this list. Last updated with gear feedback from our July, 2017 Philmont trek.

The right gear for your goals?

Your goals for your Philmont trek will heavily influence your gear selection and what is “best” for you.

  • If you want to cover the maximum mileage, then ultralight backpacking may be for you.
  • If you prioritize camp comfort over pack weight, then you may want to carry a few more luxury items.
  • If you are an adult crew advisor, then you are responsible for the safety of the Scouts in your crew and will need a bit more safety gear.
  • Maybe your goal is simply to NOT be the slowest person in your crew. Let’s be honest here… nobody wants to be the one that slows down the rest of the crew. If you aren’t a 17 year old athlete in top shape and with lots of trail miles under your boots, then you will probably benefit from carrying a lighter overall pack. This is true whether you are an adult that hasn’t yet accepted that you aren’t as fast and strong as you used to be, or a young Scout that is still growing and not the strongest person on the crew.

For example, my goal for a Philmont trek is to avoid any sort of emergency trips to the infirmary for anyone on my crew. After 5 knee, 3 shoulder surgeries, 2 herniated discs and a questionable mental state (really questionable) I am the most likely to fail under the weight of nearly two weeks of backpacking up and down the mountains of New Mexico. My best bet for completing the trek in one piece is to shed every bit of weight possible from my Philmont gear. However, as an adult crew advisor I also have to reserve a bit of pack space for wilderness first aid items… and coffee.

I’ll list a variety of gear recommendations below. Read them with your goals in mind. If something that I recommend doesn’t fit with YOUR goals, then find something else that does.

Go light!

Regardless of your goals, reducing your pack weight as much as practical will:

  • Make your Philmont trek less difficult and more enjoyable
  • Reduce your risk of injury
  • Allow you to hike faster, leaving more time for activities and enjoying the views
  • Generally make the Philmont experience much more pleasant

If you are one of the folks that heard that youth should plan to carry 55 Lb and Adult Advisors should plan for 65 -75 Lb, then check out our in depth guide to lightening your backpack (link). I believe that no youth should hit the trail with more than 40-45 Lb. No adult should leave base camp with more than 50Lb in their pack. It just isn’t necessary.

Where to get Budget Backpacking Gear for Philmont

If you want new gear, then lightweight backpacking gear is available at various trusted retailers:

If you want to search for used gear at a discount, then check out this eBay search (link).

Recommended Philmont gear

For this list let’s assume our goals are:

  • Go light!
  • Go cheap!
  • Get only gear that will hold up for all of your shakedown hikes plus 12 days at Philmont (and hopefully a lot more)

Best Budget Personal gear

Best Budget Backpack for Philmont

Goal = No more than 4 Lb. However, I recommend a goal of 3 Lb or less.

Capacity = around 40-50L if you are going light and small, 60L if you don’t have the budget for really compact gear or the discipline to leave things at home. If you think you NEED more than 60L, then you should go read our in depth guide to lightening your backpack (link) right now because you are probably planning to take too much stuff.

And yes, I know that Philmont Rangers are taught that everyone needs at least a 60L pack. The truth is, Philfood (Philmont trail food packs) are BULKY and take up a lot of space. However, I think that if you strap your sleeping pad and/or tent to the outside, then even a 40L pack can work, if you pick the right gear.

best backpacking gear for Philmont - trail food

Crew cooking at Philmont, Santa Claus camp

No Thank You, WalMart

First… don’t even consider the backpacks at Walmart. I’ve looked over all of the options in my local stores and find them to be cheap imitations of good packs. Not something I would trust in the remote and unforgiving backwoods of Philmont. You could save a few bucks and might (or might not) be OK, but it simply isn’t worth the risk.

Keep in mind that Philmont food is bulky and you will have required crew gear… which is also bulky. If you are a seasoned lightweight backpacker you need to accept now that Philmont’s rules and food choices will likely require more space in your pack for food, crew cooking gear, and other crew gear than you are used to. It pains me to say it, but some people really will need 50-60L of pack space IF their gear is average sized or slightly bulky. My ideal Philmont pack is closer to 44L. By choosing a pack smaller than what Philmont recommends I will have to be very diligent in picking only small and light gear to go in the pack.

best backpacking gear for Philmont - trail food pickup

This is how they issue food on the trail at Philmont

For example… I used a EMS Sector 42 pack (42L) on a recent shakedown hike and had room for all of my personal gear, my portion of crew gear (12×12 tarp, BRS 3000T stove, isobutane canister, Platypus Gravityworks 2 water filter system, Olicamp XTS cooking pot) and food. However, I had a bulky US military MSS Patrol sleeping bag and had to strap my Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum tent and Hikenture inflatable sleeping pad to the bottom of my pack. With more and bulkier Philmont food I’m not sure it would all fit. So, I need to downsize my sleeping bag via replacement with a smaller bag or a good compression bag to make the current bag take up 1/2 of its current space. Sea to Summit is sending a couple of Ultra-sil compression Dry Sacks. I suspect that one of them will solve the problem of the bulky MSS Patrol bag. If not, then the Outdoor Vitals Summit 30F down sleeping bag will get the nod… which it might anyway.

best backpacking gear for Philmont - MyTrailCo 70L backpack

R-Man hiking through Dean Canyon at Philmont with his MyTrailCo 70L backpack

Recommended backpacks for Philmont:

  • MyTrailCo 70L backpack Yeah. I know… it is bigger than the 60L upper limit I set above. However, this convertible 70L/25L pack weighs LESS (2Lb 3.5oz) than the REI 45L pack below. R-man used the 70L on our last Philmont trek and LOVED having extra space so he didn’t have to fight with compression sacks on days when we were carrying several days worth of food.
  • REI Flash 45 backpack comes in at 2 Lb 14 oz and a cool $149 new from REI I strongly recommend that you take only what you need, and go light & small on all gear so that you can squeeze into this smaller, cheaper version of the Flash.
  • REI Flash 65 backpack adds 20 L of capacity, about 1Lb in weight and $50 to the price. There are 3 of these 3 Lb 10 oz packs in our 8 man crew, but at $199 they are too big and pricey to truly earn a spot on this “budget” list.

Other packs that are popular with Thru-hikers and would also work well for Philmont type treks:

  • Z-Packs Arc Blast – I carried a 2015 model Arc Blast on our last Philmont trek. It held up well, but was pushing it’s max weight limit on food resupply days and dry camp days. But at 19oz, I was OK with that.
  • ULA Circuit
  • Osprey Exos 48
  • Granite Gear Crown VC 60
  • Granite Gear Virga 2 – cheaper, but frameless… so you would have to pack very light and know how to pack a frameless pack properly
  • Deuter Futura Pro 44 EL – Deuter sent this one for review. We shall see if it is comfortable enough to make up for the slightly higher weight

    Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - backpack

    On the trail to Philmont’s Toothache Springs camp

Best Budget Sleeping bag for Philmont

Goal = 3 Lb or less

Temperature rating = Philmont suggests a 20 degree rated sleeping bag

Packed size = Smaller is way better. Shoot for the size of a nalgene bottle, if possible.

MSS Patrol bag pictured on right side of tent

Sleeping bags run a WIDE range in terms of cost and performance. Generally, the less expensive a bag is, the bulkier it will be when packed. Down filled sleeping bags have been the gold standard in light weight and ability to pack small, but with the major drawback of being very ineffective when wet. It is a given that most summer days at Philmont feature a brief, but heavy torrential downpour in the early afternoon. If you get lucky and go during the annual monsoon season, then you can expect more rain… MUCH more. A few years ago I would suggest only considering a synthetic insulated bag for a Philmont trek, as it would still keep you somewhat warm even if soaking wet. However, there are new down treatments like Nikwax Down Proof that you can apply (and re-apply) at home in your washing machine to make your down bag about 75% effective (or more) even if it gets wet. So, if you can fit a budget down bag and Down Proof in your budget, then a down filled sleeping bag may be the way to go. Otherwise, you might consider a synthetic bag.

Philmont recommends a 20 F degree rated sleeping bag. The most experienced Philmont trekker I know has carried a 40 F degree down bag on his past several trips and was happy. However, he also carries a silk bag liner and wears insulated sleeping clothes.

Best cost to weight ratio I have found in a synthetic sleeping bag for Philmont

US military MSS Patrol sleeping bag. With lots of choices, R-man selected a surplus MSS Patrol bag to take on the trail at Philmont and was pleased with how it performed. It is bulkier than a down bag, but actually compresses really well for a synthetic bag. At 6’4″ tall the Patrol bag is long enough for me AND it weighs less than 2.5 Lb. It is rated as a 40 F degree bag, but I find the rating more accurate than most other light, cheap 40 F degree bags I have tried, which tend to exaggerate effectiveness. As a military item the MSS Patrol sleeping bag is also more durable than many of the cheaper 40 bags you find at big box stores, walmart, etc.

MSS Patrol bag in a random stuffsack

Best alternative sleeping gear for Philmont and backpacking

I have to give a huge Shout-Out to our guest writer Randy for telling me about SnugPak. I met the SnugPak guys at SHOT Show 2017 and they sent a trunk-load of gear for us to review… including the dark horse of the bunch, the SnugPak Jungle Blanket XL. After trying a wide range of sleeping bags and even making a custom down top quilt specifically for Philmont, the forecast for our trek turned stormy and I made a last minute decision to avoid down and chose the synthetic Jungle Blanket. It performed beautifully on the trail. So well that I may never go back to a mummy bag.

best philmont backpacking gear - Outdoor Vitals Summit 30 degree down sleeping bagBest value down sleeping bag for Philmont

I had been leaning towards the Outdoor Vitals Summit 30F down sleeping bag for our last trek because:

  • It is one of the least expensive lightweight down backpacking bags I have found at around $110.
  • It uses 800 fill power down
  • Is wider at the shoulders than most mummy bags
  • comes with a compression sack and packs down to 7″x7″
  • Weighs only 2.3 Lb (“long” model)

However, the bag turned out to be slightly heavier and because of concerns about the predicted sustained monsoon rains during our trek.

Best Budget Sleeping pad for Philmont

Most Scouts should be fine with a 1 Lb or less closed cell foam pad. The inflatable options below are probably “luxury items” for young hikers who haven’t yet wrecked their backs. For the aging Adult Crew Advisors I’ll list some inflatable options with and without insulation.

Closed cell foam sleeping pad

I have had the original Z Lite pad for many years and love how light it is. The new Therm-A-Rest Z-lite SOL adds a more effective heat reflective layer. If you can handle sleeping on a thin foam pad, then it is hard to go wrong with the Z-lite. In fact, this is the easiest recommendation on the list. If you are buying gear for a Scout, buy this.
Pro: It is light (less than 1 Lb) and provides insulation from the ground to the tune of R 2.6. As a closed cell foam pad you never have to worry about the pad leaking, about blowing it up or deflating it.
Con: The Z lite is thin and provides minimal padding for comfort, especially or heavier campers. It is also rather bulky, likely meaning it will be strapped to the outside of the backpack.

The Therm-A-Rest Z-lite SOL is the easy winner if you can sleep comfortably enough on a closed cell foam pad… as most Scouts can. At Philmont I suspect it is mostly only the older Adult Crew Advisors who are normally in the 40+ age range that would NOT be comfortable enough on the Z-lite.

Budget Inflatable sleeping pads

Outdoorsman lab ultralight sleeping pad – 15 oz, 2.2″ thick and blows up quickly. This is a light, but comfortable pad that we acquired for about $40 on Amazon. R-man used this pad for a few months of camping and shakedown hikes and liked it so much that he chose this pad to take to Philmont. It performed perfectly the entire trip.

R-man’s orange Outdoorsman lab ultralight sleeping pad on the left

I recently tried the Hikenture inflatable sleeping pad, which is also 15 oz, but has a built in pillow and is only 1.5″ thick. I had only slept two nights on the Hikenture inflatable sleeping pad before our last trek. I found it comfortable one night, but not quite thick enough for my aging back the next. However, when the monsoon forecast caused me to abandon my 1Lb custom down top quilt in favor of the 2 Lb SnugPak Jungle Blanket XL, I needed to cut some weight and opted to take the Hikenture inflatable sleeping pad. At 205 Lb I had to blow it up rather firmly to get enough support under my body. This made the pillow too hard. A lighter person might get away with lower inflation pressure, keeping the pillow a bit more comfortable.

Inflatable, insulated sleeping pad

Adding insulation to an inflatable sleeping pad generally ads weight and bulk. There are a few higher-end pads like the Therm-a-rest Neo Air XLite that manage to combine insanely light weight with insulation. But expect to pay a lot more for an insulated inflatable pad that is 8-16 oz, depending on size.

REI offers the Flash series of insulated sleeping pads, but start around $110 and weigh between 15 oz and 1 Lb 4 oz, depending on size.

To get into the “budget” range we have to look at the older style of self-inflating pads. There are some interesting 1″ thick, self inflating, insulated sleeping pad options with good reviews on Amazon in the $25 range, but expect weights in the 2.25 Lb range.

Given my bad back and 6’4″ height, I had planned to carry the REI Stratus long, wide model insulated, 2.5″ thick inflatable pad on our 2017 Philmont trek. Weighing 1 Lb 12.5 Oz, it is heavier than I was hoping for, but the Primaloft insulation should help make up for taking a 30 F sleeping bag instead of Philmont’s 20 F rated recommendation. However, I bailed on the Stratus at the last minute in favor of the lighter Hikenture inflatable sleeping pad. Paired with an inflatable pillow, the Hikenture pad actually worked out quite well.

Best Budget Tents for Philmont

One person tent

If you are an adult that is allowed to sleep in a single person tent at Philmont, then this one person hiking pole tent is a pretty good bet at $100 and only 2.2 Lb. I have a friend that raves about his, although I have not used one enough to say whether it will hold up at Philmont.

Two person tent

If you are a Scout that is required to sleep in a 2 person tent, then we have to stretch the definition of “budget” to get the weight below about 4 Lb. Please leave your suggestions, as I am still working on recommendations for lightweight, budget 2 person tents.


You can sort of see through the ultra-light weight Fly Creek HV 2 Platium tent

If money is less of an object, then check out the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum tent. I used this ultralight dandy on shakedown hikes and in the Philmont backcountry and was very happy with everything about it. On the first shakedown hike for our last Philmont trek it proved a bit snug, but workable for my 6’4″ frame + my 5’6″ 120 Lb tent mate. Steady rain one night proved to be a non-issue with no rain intrusion and very minimal condensation inside the rain fly. At Philmont the Fly Creek HV2 Platinum stayed dry inside through a couple of brutal thunderstorms that dropped monsoon style rain for hours.

monsoon rains on the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum (far left) and My Trail Company UL3 (far right) tents at the Pueblano Ruins camp, Philmont Scout Ranch

3-man backpacking tent for Philmont?

Yeah, I was worried about this, as Philmont only technically allows 2 man tents. However, the MyTrailCo UL3 tent weighs just 3 Lb an looks pretty close in size to some 2 man “backpacking” tents that weight 5-6 Lb. For our 2017 Philmont trek R-man shared the UL3 tent with 2 other guys, so each only had to carry about 1Lb. It was a bit snug the first night, but the My Trail Company UL 3 tent performed well, even through monsoon rains. They did get a bit of water splashing up from under the rain fly the day the picture above was taken. However, the guys had been lazy when setting the tent up and had not adjusted the rain fly properly. We had one pole section break during a storm in pre-trek testing, which made me really nervous on the trail. Fortunately, the replacement pole set worked perfectly and all was well for the entire Philmont trek. It even survived being blown about 30 yards across tent city when the guys set it up to try after returning to base camp, but didn’t stake it down. So, a gust of wind picked up the UL3 tent and blew it away like tumbleweed.

Best Budget Pants for Backpacking at Philmont

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - rei convertible pants

Jeff (far left) and Mickey (red shirt) show off REI convertible pants on top of Baldy Mountain at Philmont

It is not unusual for backpackers to wake to a 30 degree mornings but then find themselves at 80 degrees or higher that same afternoon. For this reason I am a big fan of “Convertible pants”… Pants that have zip-off legs to convert from long pants to shorts. Convertible pants also allow you to get dual use from your shorts, as long pants are required for several activities in the back country.

Key convertible pants features to look for include:

  • light weight
  • sufficient pockets for what your hiking style
  • durability
  • vertical zippers at the ankle to allow the bottom of the pant legs to be removed without taking off your hiking shoes

I have had good luck with REI convertible pants. They cost a bit more up front than some brands, but my current pair have outlasted no less than 4 pair of $20 generic zip-off pants. So, $65 for REI pants is actually cheaper than $80 for 4x pair of $20 pants.

I am thinking about trying a pair of these Columbia Silver Ridge shorts for backpacking, as they were highly recommended by a two time Philmont hiker.

If you don’t like convertible pants, then these Columbia Silver Ridge pants might be just the ticket.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - MyTrailCo shirt

Jeff after climbing Tooth Ridge from Stockade Ridge – MyTrailCo HL shirt and shorts

Best Budget Shirts for Backpacking at Philmont

The wide range of potential temperatures in the mountains makes choosing shirts for backpacking challenging. However, we know there are some key features to look for:

  • light weight (you saw that coming, didn’t you?)
  • wicking, to help move sweat away from your body
  • durable
  • easily layered
  • sun protection
  • quick drying – for sweat, rain and ability to wash frequently

First and foremost, leave the cotton at home. I prefer synthetic wicking t-shirt options, but lots of folks like merino wool shirts or smartwool shirts.

Best Budget Hiking Boots for Philmont

If you have strong ankles, then less than 1 Lb per foot should be easy.

First… don’t you need hiking boots?

best philmont backpacking gear - heavy hiking boots

hint… you probably DON’T want to wear these

There have been holy wars fought with less passion and conviction than some “experts” argue for, or against hiking boots. I almost never wear shoes. My “go to” footwear are old school Crocs Clogs. Yep. The fashion absurdity that so many people love to hate. I don’t care about fashion. I care that my feet sweat like crazy and Crocs are the only footwear I have found that are comfortable AND let my feet “breathe” sufficiently. Because I rarely have even a hint of ankle support my ankles are up to the challenge of carrying a light pack (relative to my weight… I am 200 Lb and my pack will be a max of 30 Lb) in light trail running shoes.

Here is a note I received from a seasoned Philmont trekker on backpacking in trail runners:

” If you commit to trail runners, you need to keep pack weight below 35 lbs.  The soles on the trail runners will not give you the support necessary for heavier loads.  Replacement insoles may also be a good addition.  The lower weight of the trail runners also translates to lifting less weight with each step.”

If you plan to carry a heavy pack, are used to footwear that provides ankle support, have weak ankles, or are a heavier person, then you might want to look for a light pair of hiking boots that will provide ankle and sole support.

Waterproof vs Ventilated

Another area where Philmont “experts” tend to disagree is whether you should wear Waterproof boots (Philmont’s recommendation) or Ventilated.

In my experience, even the most “breathable” waterproof footwear can’t pass my foot sweat out of them as fast as my feet make it. So, after a few hours of walking or hiking my feet are a white, mushy, pruney mess… and that is a perfect recipe for blisters and other foot problems. One of the most common forms of abject misery at Philmont is suffering from blisters and other foot issues that are amplified by the grueling day after day pace up and down mountains with full packs. When I wear shoes with very aggressive ventilation I have far less issues with soggy feet, since the moisture my feet produces can easily vent through the shoes.

At Philmont it can be REALLY hot, which makes feet sweat more and REALLY wet, which makes feet… um… wet. I planned to wear a pair of obscenely comfortable Altra Running Lone Peak 2.0 or Lone Peak 3.0 Mid trail running shoes on our next Philmont trek, but found that the NeoShell waterproof exterior doesn’t breathe enough for my sweaty feet. If your feet aren’t abnormally sweaty like mine, then these might work for you.

S0, my preference is to wear the most ventilated trail shoes I can find. If I step in water and soak my feet they will probably be mostly dry within 30 minutes or so.

best philmont backpacking gear - Columbia trail shoesWAIT!… I mean weight!

Someone smarter than me figured out that with all of the lifting and moving you do when you walk, 1 Lb of weight on your foot is roughly equal to 6 to 10 Lb of weight in your backpack. So, unlike the first time I went to Philmont and wore a pair of late 1980s vintage all leather combat boots that probably weighed more than 2 Lb each, I now would not consider wearing any shoes that weigh more than 1 Lb each… preferably less. For reference, my size 14 Columbia Plains Ridge trail shoes weigh about 10 ounces each… just over 1/2 Lb per shoe.

Trail shoe recommendations for Philmont

best philmont backpacking gear - Merrell Accentor hiking shoes

R-man showing of his Merrell Accentor hiking shoes

The most frequent and passionate suggestion I have gotten is for Solomon XA Pro trail running shoes. I tried on a pair at REI and they felt pretty good, but they were solidly out of my “budget” price range. So, I went with a pair of Columbia Plains Ridge trail shoes. After a few hikes they are working wonderfully.

R-man liked the La Sportiva Men’s Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoe and they have gotten very good reviews from Thru-hikers. However, budget constraints sent us looking for other options and he settled on a pair of Merrell Accentor trail shoes. After a few hikes he is pleased with them.

Another budget friendly trail runner/trail shoe that seems to be well liked by Thru-hikers is the Merrell Moab.

Shoes and boots are some of the hardest recommendations to make because how well they are fitted to the wearer is as important, if not MORE important, that what make/model of shoe it is. ie. I can tell you the lightest, most supportive, all around best shoes that I have worn, but if your foot is shaped differently than mine or yours aren’t fit to your foot just right, then they could feel TERRIBLE for you. Still, there are some generalizations to consider.

Blister care: We have used MoleSkin to remove the pressure and friction that causes blisters for years. However, we are planning to try the ultra-slick Leukotape to prevent blisters on our next Philmont trek.

Best shoes for Disney - CrocsBest Budget Camp Shoes for Philmont

After a long day on the trail many backpackers like to shed their hiking boots in favor of some light camp shoes that will let their feet cool off and air out. The go-to for most of our crew’s prior trips have been Crocs Clogs. Crocs are light, provide a bit of foot protection around camp compared to the more open flip-flops or sandels some folks choose, and are totally waterproof.

Philmont recommends bringing a pair of shoes for crossing creeks. I expect that my ventilated trail shoes will dry out quick enough that I won’t bother changing into the Crocks to cross streams. However, I think Crocs may be suitable for creek crossing as well.

Best Budget Backpacking Socks for Philmont

1) WrightSocks

I have been a fan of wearing multiple layers of socks while backpacking for more than 30 years. Well…. that is not true. I have appreciated that having an inner wicking sock and thicker outer sock combine to get moisture away from your feet and reduce the chances of blisters… but I always HATED having to put on two pair of socks at a time.

A veteran Philmont trekker shared with me his secrets to avoiding blisters and having “happy feet”:

  1. Wear lightweight trail runners that are well ventilated (his “go to” are the Solomon XA Pro trail running shoes) and
  2. Wear Wrightsocks. Wrightsocks are actually two socks in one. Since switching to that combo he has not had a single blister over a few Philmont trips.

I reached out to Wrightsock and they sent several types of socks for our crew to test. After a couple of shakedown hikes and completing 2017 Philmont itinerary 27 (plus a few side hikes) I can report that we did about 120 miles with moderately heavy packs and several of us in new shoes, all wearing either Wrightsock Coolmesh II, Wrightsock Escape socks or Farm to Feet socks (below), and we had very few blister issues. In fact, I think I was the only one to get any sort of meaningful blisters (on the balls of both feet the last 2 days at Philmont) and I attribute that to some experimentation I did with how loose I could wear my shoes on the trail.

I drove the Project HMMWV Battlewagon to Wrightsock’s worldwide HQ to pick up socks for testing

2) Farm to Feet

Another NC based sock manufacturer that sent socks for us to review on the trail was Farm to Feet. They sent a wide variety of socks with varying amounts of wool vs synthetic fibers. My favorites, and the ones I took on the trail were the Damascus 1/4 technical hiking socks. However, I saw others in our crew wearing the topo map themed Elkin Valley socks at Philmont. While I really like the double layer Wrightsocks for backpacking, I also liked having 3 pairs of socks on the trail. So, I could rotate the single layer Damascus 1/4 socks in every 3rd day and have a different feel on my feet. Blisters come from repetitive friction. So begin able to wear different types of socks everyday likely contributed to having no blisters at Philmont… until I screwed up at the end and grossly over tightened my shoes.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Cascade Tech carbon trekking poles

Jeff using a Cascade Tech trekking pole as a selfie stick on the Baldy Mtn descent

Best Budget Trekking poles for Philmont

The best value I have found are these Cascade Mountain Tech lever lock carbon fiber trekking poles or $45. They weigh only about 8 oz each with the rubber tips removed and are reported to be very durable. Three of the guys in our 2017 Philmont crew use these poles on a shakedown hikes and on our Philmont trek. R-man used them, but never really got a rythm with treking poles. He said they helped and would take them again. Keith loved them for uphill climbs, but carried both poles in one hand for anything that was not a steep uphill grade. I used the trekking poles for all but one really steep and technical bouldering section on the climb from Stockade Ridge camp to the top of Tooth Ridge at Philmont. The only reason I stowed the trekking poles is that we were climbing about a 45% angle over huge boulders. I was using my hands and feet… so basically the human equivalent of 4 wheel drive. Other than that, I really enjoyed the trekking poles and felt that they saved me from falling MANY times. I even used the trekking poles as a selfie stick for some cool video on the trail. 🙂

Best Budget Rain Gear for Philmont

Philmont no longer recommends ponchos like they did the first time I went (if you know why, let me know). They recommend a rain jacket and rain pants. Finding a light, durable rain suit isn’t that hard. However, finding a “budget” rainsuit was looking considerably more challenging… until I found the 12 oz  Frogg Toggs Ultra-lite2 Rain Suit W/stuff Sack for less than $14 shipped! I had some concerns about durability, but have used a Frogg Toggs poncho for several years of summer camps and backpacking trips and it has held up very well. On a prior Philmont trek one of our scouts wore his Frogg Toggs rainsuit every day as his long pants and jacket and they lasted the whole trip. The waterproof coating had worn off of the seat of the pants, but they were otherwise intact.

Best Budget Flashlight for Philmont

Primary flashlight for Philmont

I strongly recommend a headlamp as your primary light while backpacking. Be sure it has enough light output for putting up your bear bag, a required task at Philmont. My current “go to” lightweight headlamp is the Black Diamond Ion. I picked it up on sale at REI for less than $20. I dim this light when possible and use it sparingly to preserve the batteries. Testing through our shakedown hikes showed great battery life with lithium AAA batteries. So good, in fact, that I didn’t need to swap in the spare batteries on the trail, but finally changed them when we got back to base camp.

Key features:

  • up to 80 lumens white light output.
  • Dimmable, to extend battery life when less light will do
  • Uses common AAA batteries (2)
  • 1.7 oz with batteries

Black Diamond Ion headlamp … on an old TruGlo box to keep it from hanging off of the scale

There is a new version of the Black Diamond Ion headlamp (link) out now which offers 100 lumen max output and IPX8 weatherproof rating at a slightly heavier 1.9 oz.

I am also intrigued by the new Streamlight Bandit, which just arrived for testing. Time will tell if this innovative, light, USB rechargeable headlamp will make the cut for our next Philmont trek.

Backup flashlight for Philmont

I carried two of these little keychain LEDs (link) on our 2017 trek for use in the tent and around the campsite where a hands free headlamp is not needed… but never used either of them. At $2 each and only 0.2 oz, I considered leaving one hanging in the roof of my tent and kept one in a hip pocket on my pack. I normally wouldn’t carry 2 backups, but they weigh so little that I could extras to preserve the heavier AA batteries in the Black Diamond Ion. The think about Philmont that is different than most backpacking trips is that you generally are going to bed as soon as it starts to get dark, since you will be up just before sunrise most days. So, there is not much need to actually use a flashlight.

Best Budget mess kit for Philmont

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Fozzils origami plateI thought these were a silly gimmick when I first saw them in a camping store, but have to admit to being dead wrong. These Fozzils flat folding plates, bowls and cups are fantastic for backcountry backpackers since they are ultralight, store flat and can be rolled a bit to sterilize in a small pot (meaning there is no need to carry the BIG Philmont issued cooking pots).

I have used a Sea to Summit Alpha Light aluminum spork for a several years and highly recommend it (reviewed here, btw). However, I am excited that Sea to Summit sent a pair of Sea to Summit Alpha Light LONG spork for our 2017 Philmont trek. Once we ditched our Philmont Ranger we rehydrated our food in the bags they are shipped in and the longer spoon or spork handle made it easier to dig around in the bag to get all of the calories out of it. This titanium Toaks long handle spork is another option that is a great value.

Best Budget Hat for Philmont

I hike in a light weight, ventilated, wide brimmed boonie hat in the summer. I go for the wide brim for rain protection, but even more so for sun protection at Philmont. Randall used a similar hat that was $12 shipped via Amazon.

best philmont backpacking gear - wide brimmed hat

Best Budget Compass for Philmont

I have used this type of Silva Starter compass for 3 decades and find them light, reliable, affordable and easy use.

best philmont backpacking gear - Silva Starter Compass

Silva Starter Compass – HI Viz model

Best budget Action Camera for Philmont

GoPro offered a pair of action cameras for this trip, but they never arrived. I had not budgeted for a camera. I found this little fake GoPro (I call it a FauxPro) on Amazon and ordered it a week or so before our trek. It did surprisingly well. Be careful to protect the lense, as mine got scratched on the trail. It still took decent pics and video, but the 2nd half of the trek all of my images had a blurry spot in the lower left quadrant. I used this little micro USB charger and higher capacity batteries on the trail. The charger plugged into the USB output on the Goal Zero solar panel and I hid it in the zippered pouch on the bottom of the solar panel while charging.

Since the 2017 trek Intova sent their new X4K waterproof action camera and I’m having great success with it. I think it makes a worthy candidate for trail duty.

Best budget solar panel for Philmont

I carried a Goal Zero solar panel to keep my FauxPro JVIN 4k Action camera charged. It worked great on sunny days when we weren’t under tree cover too much. The first several days I would burn one camera battery per day and the solar panel would recharge one battery per day. Because of this, the I let the other adults charge their phones a couple of times from the 10,000 mAh battery pack I had in reserve. But the 2nd half of the trek there wasn’t enough sun and I filmed a bit more, so I ran out of juice. I was able to plug in my battery pack at a big staffed camp, but that took some schmoozing and name dropping. I had met with the Philmont official videographer before the trek to talk about what Gear Report should video on the trail and he told me the only 2 places in the back country where I might hope to charge something from AC power.
Between the weight of the solar panel, the 10k USB battery pack and the little AC charger I carried, I’m thinking I may have been better off to carry multiple 10k USB chargers, a 10k + 20k mAh battery pack, etc. I think a 20k might have been enough, since I had 5 camera batteries fully charged when we left base camp. I used this little micro USB charger and higher capacity batteries on the trail.
But how much power you will need is hugely dependent on what you need to charge, how power hungry it is, how much you use it, etc.
Foregoing the solar panel in favor of another battery pack or two would have been lighter, but also a LOT easier. I was constantly messing with the solar panel to make sure it was positioned best for charging and it was a PITA keeping it on my pack where I had to move it out of the way to get in my pack, then re-secure it.
BTW, the Philmont staff will tell you that there is practically zero phone coverage on the trail. That is a bold faced lie. I get why they say this, as they don’t want everyone staring at phones all day on the trail, and it would result in lots of folks begging for electricity at staffed camps. However, as a Crew Advisor I would have carried a phone for emergencies had I known there is actually pretty good voice coverage on the trail.

Best budget USB battery pack for Philmont

I generally recommend Anker products for the best weight to mAh ratio.
These Anker 10,000 mAh Power Core power packs are reported to be great. I intended to use one on our trek, but it arrived at my house in NC about 4 hours after our flight landed in Denver for the drive to Philmont.
So, since tracking showed it would be late I ran to Wally world the night before and bought the 10,000 mAh version of this Blackweb 10,000 mAh battery packAnd I friggin’ love it! It is heavier than the Anker, which sucks. But off the trail I have a few devices that require higher amp output, and the Blackweb can output over 3 Amps at 5 Volts. Most portable USB battery packs only put out 1A or 2A…. maybe 2.4A.

Best Budget Crew gear for Philmont

Best Budget Stove for Philmont

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Boiling water on the MSR Whisperlite

Boiling water on the MSR Whisperlite at Dean Cow camp

The old standby at Philmont for the past couple of decades has been the MSR WhisperLite. In fact, our crews have used a pair of whisperlite stoves on each of the last 3 or 4 (probably more) Philmont treks. Not sure if the WhisperLite really qualifies as “budget”, although they have been known to operate for decades… making them a long term investment type of purchase.

However, for our 2017  Philmont trek we started to evaluate some canister stove options like the tiny, uber-lightweight BRS 3000T stove or Kovea Spider Remote Canister stove. Sadly, we ran out of time before canister stove testing was done. So, we ended up taking a pair of WhisperLite stoves on the trail. Both were brand new stoves that we ordered when I stumbled on a WhisperLite sale on Amazon and had delivered directly to Philmont. One of the stoves acted up periodically, and one of the pumps had a minor breakdown on the trail as well. While the Whisperlite stove is a respectable choice for backpacking and Philmont, I believe the time has come to retire the Whisperlites in favor of any of a wide range of newer canister stove designs.

Stay tuned as we continue to evolve our stove choice and cooking system for Philmont. Obviously, we don’t plan on using the Philmont issued 8qt pot on the the tiny BRS stove. We are experimenting with the Olicamp XTS cooking pot for our next trek, but find it is tricky to get the short legs on the BRS 3000 centered under the heat exchanger ring on the bottom of the pot.

best philmont backpacking gear - BSR 3000T ultralight backpacking stove

BRS 3000T Weighs less than 1 oz

Best Budget Cooking Pots for Philmont

We also received a set of Sea to Summit X-pots to test and found them to work very well.  Unfortunately, we heard shortly before leaving for our 2017 trek that Philmont would not allow the X-pots. Then learned when we got to Philmont that X-pots are not banned. However, the Philmont staff don’t really like them because they absorb food smells and then have to go in the bear bags at night. This would not have mattered to us since we had no intention of using the silly Philmont cooking method at all once our Ranger left. All we used the pots for on the trail was boiling water. No food went in the pots AT ALL. So, the X-pots would have been fine, lighter AND taken up less space. All that said, the 8 qt aluminum Philmont pots are absurd and an insult to our intelligence… but are less than 2 Lb.  My preference would be to take two of the Olicamp XTS cooking pot and run them both to boil water for meals. We have to carry two stoves anyway. Why not run them at the same time, each boiling a liter of water? If more is needed for cleaning or sterilization, then it takes just a few minutes to refill the pot and boil another liter of water. Compared to the time it takes to boil a much larger 8 quart pot, given it’s massive external surface area that bleeds off heat nearly as quickly as the stove applies it, the smaller, more efficient pots just make more sense.

Best Budget Water Filter for Philmont

On past treks our crews have carried a pair of Katadyn base camp water filters. However, since Platypus sent us a Gravity Works filter to test, we ran a head to head throughput test and found that the Gravityworks actually filtered water faster. I also REALLY like that the sealable Gravity Works dirty water bags can be carried to camp for filtering. The Katadyn base camp filter has an open top that can not be sealed closed. So, it is more difficult to carry dirty water to camp if you are in a hurry.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Filtering water at Philmont

Jeff filtering water at the river dividing the Philmont North country and South country

For our 2017 trek we carried the Platypus Gravity Works 2.0 with the addition of the Platypus Gravity Works 4.0 dirty and clean water bags (6 L of dirty + 6L of clean water). This allowed us to refill one dirty water bag while the other was being filtered, which really cut down on the bottleneck in the water filtering process.  One of our crew members also brought a Sawyer Squeeze water filter as a back-up. We only used the Sawyer filter one time on the trail at Philmont, when the silty river water caused the need to black-flush the Gravity Works filter once every 2L of water and it was taking WAY too long. Our pre-trek testing showed us that the Sawyer is MUCH slower than the Gravity Works. However, it was helpful to have both running in tandem that day.

Best Personal Water Storage for Philmont

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Smart Water bottle hydration tube


Most of our crew used SmartWater 1L bottles in the bottom side pockets of our packs for our primary personal water storage. I had been a die hard hydration bladder user for decades, but recently had one of my bladders fail, and 2 of R-man’s bladders lead in the course of about 1 month. Having lost faith in hydration bladders I searched for another option and found that lots of Thru-hikers swear by SmartWater 1L bottles. Many suggest also getting some SmartWater 700ml bottles, as they have a squirt top lid.  Personally, I tried the 700ml Smartwater bottle lids and HATED them. The cap cover breaks off easily leaving a big gaping hole in the top of the bottle.

Speaking of hole… I drilled a hole in the cap of one of my SmartWater 1L bottles and inserted the drinking tube (with bite valve) from an old hydration bladder. This made the SmartWater bottle collapse as I drank. So, I experimented with adding the check valve from a toddler’s sippy cup. However, I ran out of time and ended up just making a tiny pin hole in the SmartWater bottle cap with the tip of a hot nail. That was enough to let the bottle vent as I drank, but small enough that water didn’t leak out all over my pack… unless I squeezed the bottle by accident.

For the other 3 SmartWater bottles that I carried I installed Platypus push-pull bottle caps on them to make it easier to drink from them one handed.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Smart Water bottle hydration tube

You can see the hydration tube in my SmartWater bottle as I descended Baldy Mtn at Philmont in July, 2017

R-man opted to attach the Platypus drinking tube to a 1L Platypus soft-sided bottle for his on-the-trail hydration system. He carried 3 1L SmartWater bottles with Platypus push-pull bottle caps for additional personal water storage on the trail.

Best Crew Water Storage for Philmont

MSR sent their 10L Dromedary bag and 6L Dromlite bag for our crew water storage needs on the 2017 trek. We weren’t sure if we would actually use these, but they both turned out to be quite helpful, especially the first few nights when our Ranger was with us and we were forced to use the official Philmont cooking method… which wastes liters upon liters of water, requiring that we carry a LOT more water to any dry camp. We used the black Dromedary bag as a dirty water storage bag, and the translucent Dromlite bag as clean water storage. Both did very well, although the MSR Dromedary bag lid was sometimes hard to get to seal properly.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - Filling the Dromedary bag at Deer Lake Mesa camp at Philmont

Filling the Dromedary bag from an untreated well tank at Philmont

Best Budget Trowel for Philmont

Our crew has used the old orange plastic trowel to dig cat holes (to poop in) when nature calls and there isn’t a privy or “Red Roof ” (that is what the trail latrines at Philmont are called… the one’s that actually have roofs, that is) close by. A comment from a Gear Report reader turned us on to a multi-use item from REI… the REI Snow Stake, which is a whooping $3 from REI. However, a former Philmont Ranger that I backpacked with during our shakedowns for the 2017 trek enlightened us about the “Deuce of Spades”. Yes… I said Deuce of Spades. I’ve got to be honest here. I would have bought it JUST because of the cool name. However, our Ranger friend raved about the strength to weight ratio and all around effectiveness of the 0.6 oz poo hole maker. So, I reached out to The TentLab and they sent a pair of Deuces for us to use on our 2017 trek. Long story short, THIS is the cat hole shovel to buy.

Best budget backpacking gear for Philmont - The Deuce of Spades Trowel

The approving look of a satisfied customer… after the first use on the trail at Philmont

Best Budget Dining Fly Tarp for Philmont

Most nights on the trail our crew pitched a big tarp or dining fly to stash our packs under. A few nights we were confident it wouldn’t rain, so we did not set up the tarp at all. On our second to last night on the trail at the Pueblano Ruins camp a strong storm blew through and dropped buckets and buckets of rain. Our tents were already set up, but the adults all hung out under the big 12’x12′ tarp until the rain stopped.

We were pretty happy to have taken such a large tarp, although we could have gotten away with a bit smaller and been OK. Crews are welcome to use the dining fly provided by Philmont as part of the Crew gear issued before your trek. For our trek Philmont listed their 12’x12′ dining fly as a whopping 4 Lbs. That is 64 oz! WAY too heavy. My 12’x12′ tarp was heavier than I wanted, but still less than 40 oz. I noticed in the 2018 Philmont Guidebook to Adventure that they now list the Thunder Ridge 12’x10′ dining fly as the standard issue crew gear and it is a much more svelt 2Lb 3oz. That may be a decent option for some crews. However, if you want to go a bit lighter, you might check out this Silnylon 10’x12′ tarp that weighs 27 oz with the lines and stakes included.

Prior to our 2017 trek I was excited that Outdoor Vitals was sending their brand new, very nice and light weight (12.24 oz!) Scout 11’9″x11’9″ square Silnylon tarp for us to use on the trek. However, when it arrived a few days before our departure date I quickly realized that it was measured on the diagonal, not along the edges like EVERY other tarp (OV now lists it as a diagonal measurement, but did not at the time they offered to send ours). So, the edges were only 8’x9′ long, making it a good bit smaller overall than expected.


We had to fall back on the 12’x12′ tarp that I brought along on our shake-down hikes, even though it weighed a full 30.5 oz by itself. More like 38 oz once I added a few additional tie out points, and this kit of lines, adjusters and stakes. I was NOT pleased. Perhaps we would have been better off to order this Silnylon 10’x12′ tarp that weighs 27 oz with the lines and stakes included.

Where to get Budget Backpacking Gear for Philmont

If you want new gear, then lightweight backpacking gear is available at various trusted retailers:

If you want to search for used gear at a discount, then check out this eBay search (link).


Please leave a comment if you have suggestions on backpacking gear and/or gear specifically for a Philmont trek.

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About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.