If you're here, I'm sure you've noticed how much of what I post is about my gear. In part, this is due to the fact that I've started the blog in what is still (for Wisconsin) the off-season. In part this is also due to the fact that I am all about being well equipped. That's one thing that stuck with me from my boy scout days, is a drive for preparedness. Just ask my friends, I've got everything we need for most of our adventures. Whether it's heading north for a car camping trip, holding a LAN party, or trying our hand at EVP Recordings in an asylum graveyard I'm the guy with the gear. And while I've been researching gear, I've not only been looking out for top of the line equipment to outfit myself with, but also frugal options to try and help my friends get equipped. It's just not practical for me to bring everything the way I do in car camping, backpacking is going to require them to invest in a bit of gear.
I don't want to make that an extreme burden though. You can invest any given sum of money and then some in gear like this. But you don't have to to have a great time in the wilderness. With a combination of savvy shopping and a bit of research you can build nearly your entire kit for a little more than I invested in a backpack. I went with a high end Gregory Baltoro 65. The 2014 version is what I bought, but the 2015 version sounds even better. And they're great packs, but you don't need all the bells and whistles. You can get a closeout Jansport Katahdin 50 liter or 60 liter for way less. And I've handled the 50L at fleet farm, it's a decent pack for the price. CampSaver has them too! a 50L pack means having to think a little more carefully about your gear, but it'll help you keep things light. There are some interesting military surplus packs, and inexpensive external frame packs out there too. The most important thing with your pack is to try it on, try it with a load in it, and make sure it fits YOU.
Rather than a MSR Pocket Rocket you can go with the $6 Cannister Stove I reviewed here. I couldn't be happier with that purchase. Or, if you want to go extremely frugal/hardcore/lightweight, there's always the Cat Can Stove. If you're one of my friends reading this, I know several of you already have cats. And those of you who don't have cats also know the ones who DO have cats. So there should be cans available. I might have to see about getting some cans and trying my hand at this.
Instead of going with a MSR Sweetwater Purification system, most through hikers seem to rely on the Sawyer Mini. Those who don't mind the taste of iodine or other treatment chemicals can get by even cheaper and lighter with Portable Aqua or Aquamira. Really wouldn't be all that big a burden to bring both a mini and some purification drops/tabs.
I LOVE my Titanium Pot more each time I use it. But it's far from the only option. This GSI Pot/Mug was on my radar before I went with the titanium pot. It's a little smaller so some of the recipes, like the Knorr Rice sides I've been doing might need to be adjusted, or cooked in two batches, but it's a perfectly serviceable size for doing something like boiling water for a mountain house meal, or making hot chocolate at the end of the day.
Sleeping-wise, if you can find a Kelty Cosmic Down 20 for $160 or less (and with closeouts on 2014 models, that's entirely feasible. If you've got one like we do at the Fox River Mall, check Scheel's Sports to see if they have any left. Anyhow, if you can find a deal like that, it's going to be hard to beat. This is going to be more important for camping in the "shoulder" seasons or in terrain where you can expect varying temperatures. If you're going places where you don't expect the temperature to get down below 40 degrees at night, you might be able to get away with nothing more than a Polar Fleece Sleeping Bag. I spent the night at Flint Ridge in one, and it got down into the 40s. With the tarp coocoon around my hammock, I was toasty warm all night! Just make sure to get a closed cell foam pad like this or the sort that you can buy at wal-mart for $10 to insulate you from the ground.
Shelter-wise, I've already spoken on the dangers of buying a cheap hammock but entirely affordable options still exist there. You can also get some rather inexpensive one person tents. I can't make any particular recommendations in this area but...
I've been reading other gear lists and blogs like this $300 Gear Challenge and this lytw8 gear list which echo some of the things I've already said, and provide some good suggestions/starting points for sundries that I haven't covered. Depending on what route you're willing to go, there are a variety of solutions available. Want trekking poles without spending trekking pole money? Grab some garage sale ski poles and a roll of hockey tape (or similar) to improve the grip. Don't want to spend $100+ on a tent? Try a tarp and a dropcloth.
Gear is great, and gear that works for you, is one of the best things. But people have been surviving in the wild with far less than what I've been detailing here for a long time. There's no reason you can't get out there and be comfortable on the cheap.