By Michael Lanza
What if every time you laid down money for hiking, backpacking, or other outdoors gear, you always knew exactly what you needed and were invariably satisfied with your purchase for years afterward? What if you knew every time whether it was smarter to spring for the pricier piece of gear or go for the cheaper model? What if you always knew when and where to find the best gear at rock-bottom sale prices?
Read on to learn how you can become that expert gear buyer—just in time for ongoing gear sales at many online retailers.
Like me, you love getting out dayhiking, backpacking, climbing, and/or trail running. We need the right gear and apparel for those activities. That stuff costs money. So we have to make choices over what we need, the best products among myriad models, which of them represent the best value, and ultimately, what we can afford.
More than two decades as a professional gear tester and reviewer have taught me a lot about making informed gear choices and when and where to shop for gear. Here are my tips for becoming a smarter gear consumer who understands how to get the best value for your buck. Please share your thoughts on my tips or your own best tips in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Top 3 Tips For Buying Gear
For starters, my three top rules about buying outdoor gear would apply to buying almost any consumer product:
1. Do some research to understand what you need and the differences between choices available. (Start with the categorized menus and buying tips at my Gear Reviews page.)
2. Don’t buy at the last minute. Planning ahead usually gives you more choices and opportunities to find discounted prices. (Save money and support my work on this blog by making purchases through these links at moosejaw.com and rei.com, as well as links you find in the many gear reviews at The Big Outside.)
3. Assess price in terms of the gear’s value to you. If you use it infrequently, perhaps less-expensive gear (assuming it’s of adequate quality) will suit your needs just fine. But if you use it a lot and can afford it, high-quality gear pays for itself many times over in the currency of your quality of experience. And that matters.
Buy smartly. Read my “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear” and
“Why and When to Spend More on Hiking and Backpacking Gear.”
Use These Expert Gear-Buying Tips
Shop for any gear and you will quickly discover: There are a lot of choices out there. Sometimes it can be difficult or even overwhelming to sort through them all and discern which product is best for your needs—which is critical, because we all have individual needs and purposes for gear.
See my pro tips on finding the right backpack, backcountry tent, shoes or boots, sleeping bag, rain jacket, and sleeping bag in these articles:
5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack
5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent
How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You
Pro Tips For Buying the Right Boots
Pro Tips: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag
5 Pro Tips For Buying the Right Rain Jacket For the Backcountry
Those articles are premium content, which means that reading them requires a full paid subscription to The Big Outside, which costs as little as five bucks for a month, or pennies over four bucks a month for a full year. That’s a great value when you consider how much you will save as a more-informed gear consumer. Read more about subscribing here.
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No Time? Cut to the Chase
If you simply want my recommendations on the best gear, you can find a long list of Best in Class reviews at my Gear Reviews page, including the 10 best backpacking packs and down jackets; the best ultralight backpacks; the five best backpacking tents, rain jackets, and headlamps; and the best daypacks for hiking. (All of those articles are free content, and you support my work on this blog anytime you make a purchase through a link to an online retailer in any of my reviews.)
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You’ll also find hundreds of reviews at The Big Outside, ranging from the best new stuff on the market to gear and apparel that’s a year or more old but still of high quality—and may be available now at a price steeply discounted from its original price, simply because it’s no longer new. As I point out in my “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” this is stuff that went on sale new at higher prices just months earlier—it’s current technology, not ancient crap.
Tell me what you think.
I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.