I hear that a lot. While it can cost a pretty penny to get completely outfitted, one of the reasons I offer so much assistance to folks is so they can save money by purchasing the right gear the FIRST time. If I can help a hiker skip some mistakes a beginner might make (like the mistakes I made in 2003), they can start investing money in quality gear from the get go.
But the expensive myth doesn’t really hold true once one looks at the cost of gear. My Mountain Laurel Designs backpack costs $180, which is cheaper than most traditional packs by Gregory or Mountainsmith. The Gossamer Gear tarp I have costs $200; way cheaper than any quality tent on the market! My Nunatak quilt is over $400, but most 20 degree down sleeping bags cost about the same. You can scrimp on your sleeping bag, but saving a couple hundred bucks isn’t going to be very worthwhile when you’re shivering in the cold, and eventually want to replace it with a quality product. The BushBuddy stove I use is over $100, but I never have to buy fuel, so it has payed for itself many times over.
There are many items in my pack that are cheap yet functional. My arm warmers are a pair of snowboarding socks with the toes cut off. An alcohol stove is easily made using aluminum cans. My sleeping pad costs $16 and my water bottle is a recycled sports drink container. When traditional backpackers say my ultralight set-up is expensive, they are failing to remember how much they paid for their own gear. Often twice as much!