Join the (Warehouse) Club
Out of town and stocking up to go backpacking? A trip to Costco is usually my first stop.
Planning a vacation around a backpacking trip isn’t as simple as hopping off the plane and hitting the trail. At the very least, you need to pick up some food. Warehouse clubs like Costco may not be at the top of your list, but backpackers on a budget should reconsider the benefits that a membership can provide.
Fill Your Food Bag
Assuming the airline didn’t lose my bags and I have all my gear, the first thing on my shopping list is always food. When you’re buying in bulk, filling your bear canister is simple. Their pre-mixed trail mix is a staple for me both at home and on the trail. Keep an eye out for Aussie Bites, an organic rolled oat snack shaped like mini muffins that are delicious and calorie rich. Other favorites include muesli rounds, peanut butter, fresh fruit, chia and fruit squeeze snacks, ramen, oatmeal, and jerky.
Some Costco’s even carry dehydrated backpacking meals by Mountain House, in a boxed variety pack. Starbucks Via instant coffee is a great value at Costco, as well as the huge box of Snickers you can buy in the candy section. They carry a wide selection of granola and snack bars as well, from a variety of well known brands like Clif Bar and Kind.
Gear and Clothing
While I wouldn’t rely on Costco for all my gear needs, a surprising find does occasionally appear within their densely packed aisles. Clothes are your best bet, especially if you don’t feel the need to fork over large sums of cash for highly specialized gear you won’t use regularly. In the colder months, I use synthetic base layers I found at Costco. They work well enough and were a fraction of what a name brand would charge. My rain shell is also from Costco. It’s not as breathable or durable as high end options, but it’s lightweight and waterproof, which is really all I care about considering is sees limited use.
If you forgot to pack that extra pair of socks, warm gloves and hat, or even a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your neck, there’s a decent chance Costco can provide, depending on the season and region. You can sometimes find backpacking gear like trek poles and lightweight down quilts as well.
What’s a camping trip without some beer after a long day hiking? Depending on the location and state regulations, certain Costco’s carry beer, wine, and liquor. Selection can be limited, but the prices cannot be beat. Don’t be afraid to give their in house brand Kirkland Signature a try as well. It’s often sourced from the same places making some of the pricier offerings, but at a much lower cost to you.
Costco members don’t just get access to bulk foods. Their “food court” can be a great place for a cheap meal if you’re traveling on a budget. Look no further than their jumbo hot dog and soda combo for just $1.50. Really hungry? Try an 18” combo pizza stuffed with toppings for under ten bucks. Over budget already? Do a couple laps around the store and graze on some free samples.
There are online perks as well. Renting a car through Costco is often the cheapest option I find, and doesn’t require paying up front. You can choose a car from most of the major rental companies. Add the ability to cancel at any time with no penalty, unlimited mileage, and a free second driver. Before dropping the rental off at the end of the trip, top off the tank at their member exclusive gas stations (not available at all locations), which often have cheaper gas than other stations nearby.
After you get home, head out to your local Costco and take advantage of their high quality photo printing services to preserve some of those memories. They offer photo books, canvas prints, and more.
With over 700 locations, Costco’s are located in most major cities throughout the country, and can even be found in neighboring Canada. A reliable selection of staples makes planning ahead a breeze, with some regional options thrown in to mix things up. The cheapest membership does cost $55 a year, but the savings you’ll get on food and other perks more than make up for that. Whether you’re on an outdoor vacation or just stocking up at home for your next backpacking trip, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find at the warehouse club.