O f course, the way it works, is the lighter the gear, the more expensive the gear. We started off by saving up and every year (using our awesome REI dividends) we would get an upgrade or new piece of gear. This didn't mean we got the most expensive gear we could find. We actually did our homework and looked up countless reviews before making our decision. We still had to balance budget with quality and weight.
There are many companies our there that are getting more reasonable with that balance. I am a huge fan of REI brand equipment. It is, for the most part, good quality at a great price. A great way to get started until you know the ins and outs and decide which factors in a piece of gear are make or break. I still read reviews because, let's face it, nobody is perfect and sometimes you may be able to to get something just a little bit lighter or has better reviews for just a little but more money. Big tip....become an REI Co-op Member. This allows you special deals throughout the year but also allows you to earn dividends, or cash back, at the end of the year. You can use these dividends toward anything. I tend to combine it each year with a 20% off one regular priced item coupon toward my one new piece or upgrade on gear.
The other part of being an REI member is the access to their garage sales. I can't tell you how much gear I've scored over the years at these events. They happen all the time and all over. Basically, when people return stuff, they put it out at the garage sales for the rest of us to be able to grab. The tag always says why something was returned so you can read it and decide if the issue of return is a problem for you. A lot of the time these are things that can totally be fixed by you or maybe it simply didn't fit the prior person and it's a perfect fit for you (my new Osprey 65 backpack is a prime example of that). All sales are final at these garage sales so make sure you read the tag carefully and set up any tent you get (I got my REI quarter dome 2 from a garage sale).
All in all, no matter how you get your gear, do some research. Something may sound like a great idea and get great reviews but may not work for you (check out my review for the Sawyer Squeeze filter). But also, be ready for a learning curve no matter what. Like I have said, being a backpacker makes you a gear junkie and that means that it's a never ending battle of finding the next, best, lightest piece of .