Is fancy camping equipment worth the high price?

I love going into those outfitter stores, but the price of backpacks and such seems ridiculously inflated. As an engineer, I think I have some appreciation of the work that goes into them. But I really find it that hard to believe that, failing being on top of K2 in a freezing sandstorm, most of the ballyhooed features make things worth the high price. I submit you could go on a reasonable camping trip in mild to moderately bad weather using only stuff from Wal-Mart and that all these city-slicking daypacker yuppies are wasting their coin. I’d like to argue this. Or we could go marching up and down the square. Unless you’ve got something better to do?

IMHO this thread will be moved.

that said, some fancy equipment is worth it, some isn’t. All depends on what you need and want. For some 3-5 day backwoods trips, I’ve used a $30 tent from kmart? it is a simple dome, weighs about 5 lbs sleeps 2, compact, waterproof bottom, and strong. It compairs well with tents costing $150-250 being the same weight as most and easier to set up. Water filters, I used to use sweetwater w/ viralguard - then switched to pur also w/ a viralguard both cost about $80-$90. Sleeping bag: got a down mummy that was an ems special, very light, rated to 40F (with some clothes I survived low 30’s w/o discomfort, ultra compact and untra light - throw in a $15 ridgerest (now I would go with the z rest due to compact folding). Since I/ve gone the light weight route, I’m not intersetd in an inflatable matress pad, but heard they are nice. Backpack - external jansport apx $100 - survived many hikes and being pulled up the side of a mountain. THe only complait is that if a main zipper fails the entire upper or lower compartment is lost. I got this bag before I knew better, serious hiking packs are usally constructed with draw strings or at least a super heavy duty zipper. For the stove and light I went w/ campinggaz brand of propane/butane units. THese are designed to be light weight and convienent and are much better then the propane lantern and stove I used my 1st hike (campinggaz about 1/4 the weight of propane) I think the white gas (liquid) is lighter still.

It depends on how much backpacking you are planning on doing. As a Boy Scout, I tend to go on a lot of trips, so I found that paying more for an internal frame pack was worth the cost. Much more comfortable than externals. I also use the iodine tablets instead of the pump filters for water. Most of them come with a chemical that takes the iodine taste of it nowadays. But k2dave is right, most of the ultra expensive stuff is not worth it. Find some reasonably priced equipment that is comfortable and you’ll be fine.

I learned in ten years in the Army that all I ever really needed was a couple of shelter halves (tent halves) a small rucksack (backpack) and a sleeping bag. Last time I checked at the local Army Surplus store, it would have cost less than $75 for everything.

Now when I take my FAMILY camping, we use the $200 tent that I got at Target, sleeping bags that I got for about $20 apiece and we cook over a wood fire so no need for propane/white gas or portable stoves. Utensils such as pans and whatnot are things I got at the Army Surplus place for ten bucks.

Hey, I’m cheap. I also see no reason to spend an arm and a leg on something that I didn’t even need in 10 years in the military.

Like xploder, being in the military taught me to travel light, and cheap. I still use the same ALICE pack I used in the service 15 years ago to haul what we all need to go camping. Military sleeping bags, surplus mess kits, and before getting a tent from hell as a gift, a $50 Kmart tent. I may not look as cool as the trendy packers, but it all works just as good. It’s all about what you need and prefer to use though. Granted, I did finally give in to technology and get a propane stove. It’s a lot easier to start in the morning than a fire:)

A few distinctions will help clarify a lot.

First, there is a threshold of durability that you must address. If you backpack once a year, real longevity of your equipment is not a central issue. Cheap gear is servicable, but not anything you want to stake your life on when you become snowed under in the mountains. Certain levels of quality are imperitive if you are going to be farther than a few miles from civilization. For the sake of argument I am going to assume that you really want to backpack instead of car camp.

Second, a lot of this depends on what degree of performance you desire from your equipment. Crappy zippers and a lack of features don’t manifest in short pleasure hikes. When you are in inclement weather sealed seams and tent fly sheets suddenly become a genuine concern. Try carrying a poorly built backpack loaded with more than thirty pounds in it for more than five miles at a crack.

Some equipment and related concerns:[ul][li]Backpack: This is one place you do not want to scrimp. If you are carrying real weight, your ability to enjoy yourself is going to be severely curtailed by an aching back and weary bones. Any pack should have a well constructed hip belt. This critical feature transfers weight from your shoulders to your waist where you are better suited to support a load. A pack should have the capacity to hold your equipment without compromising your ability to get at it. Zippered sections can be a hassle if the closure fails, but try working with a single compartment model where you have to unload the entire pack to find one item. Few items can make or break your chances of having a good trek than your backpack.[/li]
[li]Sleeping bag: Have you ever been really tired from a long day’s hike only to sleep cold all night in a lousy sleeping bag? As with the backpack, your physical comfort suddenly assumes a pivotal role in getting the most out of your camping experience. Important features are internal box baffling, top and bottom zippers so that you can correctly ventilate your body while you sleep, and an integral hood. A wind flap along the zipper can make a drastic difference in your comfort. The big decision between synthetic fibers and genuine down feathers should not be based on economy alone. If you are going into a wet environment, go with synthetic materials, they survive frequent soakings much better. If you are going into a cold climate, a down filled bag makes all the difference and the extra $50.[sup]00[/sup] - $100.[sup]00[/sup] spent quickly fades from consideration while you snuggle in your warm sleeping bag. An extra pound of weight can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of your trip.[/li]
[li]Tent: While you can eliminate a lot of weight from your pack by not carrying a tent, once the rain begins you may have second thoughts. Self-erecting tents seem to have displaced the more traditional A-frame styles of the past. Their ease of set-up is a definite advantage. Features such as a zippered cook hole, a snow tunnel, mosquito net doors, a fly sheet, high quality zippers and a “bathtub” stitched floor are worth every cent paid. A good tent can improve your camping experience ten-fold when weather becomes and issue. Rain is not the sole factor here. High winds, insects, low temperatures and the privacy afforded all make you really happy to have a tent among your gear.[/li]
[li]Boots: An ounce on your foot tires you as much as a pound on your back. This old addage remains true to this day. Good boots that have been properly water sealed are your best friend on the trail. Bad fitting footwear is a curse and can completely ruin a trip when a crop of blisters sprout on your tender feet. Few other investments are more cost sensitive than this purchase. Good boots are not cheap, but when you factor in the overall cost of organizing and preparing for a trip, their price quickly fades into obscurity.[/li][/ul] With all of these main items out of the way, there are many ways to save your pocketbook from any additional assaults. Some other smaller items are important to pay attention to:[ul][li]Mag Lite: The quality of these flashlights puts them lightyears ahead of all other competitors in the marketplace. With such a vital tool, there is no excuse to cut corners. Only when you are at the extreme end of long duration treks does the small additional weight of a Mag Lite come into question.[/li]
[li]Victorinox Swiss Army Knife: There is no substitute for this unique and versatile implement. It is the finest and most compact toolbox that you can own. One of these will reduce your hassle-factor by an order of magnitude when you hit the trail. No experienced camper will deny the importance of this splendid tool. There is no other brand of Army Knife that remotely approaches the quality and durability of the Victorinox product. Accept no substitutes![/li]
[li]Camp Stove: Recent advances have made drastic improvements in the performance and fuel efficiency of modern camp stoves. Nothing ruins a day of happy hiking than a balky and uncooperative stove to leave you with cold food for dinner. As with the Mag Lites and Swiss Army knives the extra money goes a long way towards enjoying yourself.[/ul][/li]
As to all of the Gortex™ and fancy-schmancy garments and what not, here is the place to save money. A good chamois shirt and some Levis™ will do you just fine around the campfire. Only in extreme situations does high performance gear make a critical difference. Simple and basic gear will see you through just as well as expensive overpriced kit from Abercrombie and Fitch. The obsession that some campers have with the latest and greatest doo-dads is just another easy way to tear the top off of your wallet.

All said and done, there are many ways to cut corners but cheap kit is a great way to ruin a long anticipated trip.

I’ve done a fair amount of climbing–rock, ice, high altitude expedition–and my answer is: it depends.

Yes, if you are planning a 3-month expedition to one of the world’s fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, you need the best gear you can find, as the margin between life and death can be reed slim.

But American culture is one of adolescent overkill–that’s my next thread, maybe–and that’s why you see well-heeled folks wearing $450 North Face parkas that are designed for the West Buttress of Denali rather than the garden section at Borders. Ditto Gore-Tex apparel. Few people need that level of protection, but people like overkill, like to make a statement, and get it anyway.

Premium camping equipment will probably last you longer and may do better in a freak windstorm, but if all you want to do is occasional weekend camping, Target, etc. should be absolutely fine. Most of the high-end stuff is expensive because the economies of scale aren’t there and also because the manufacturers know that some people will pay a lot of money for quality. Used equipment can be good, though I would never buy anything used for rock or ice climbing without knowing the climber–especially ropes and pro. By the way, some outdoors stores will let you rent–which is a good way to test drive things.

RVs rock. :slight_smile:

I would have to agree with the whole “it depends” idea. I know that cheap, cheap, cheap equipment often doesn’t hold up for much longer that a couple trips. (I am talking about CHEAP equipment. I know it is made and purchased by people cause I see them doing it.) For me, it was worth it to spend the money on…
…a great internal frame pack, because I am very short, and everything I tried was uncomfortable after a few minutes.
…a good Swiss Army knife, which I know someone else had mentioned, but they really are great. (Sometimes I really expect to see a shovel or umbrella come out of them.)
…if I am going camping vs. backpacking, I will take a cooktop with an oven attachment. It’s easier to deal with in the short run.
…a single propane burner, very small and light, to use in emergencies.
…a good first aid kit. This doesn’t actually have to be purchased as a whole kit, but spend the money on it. Buy good tweezers for removing splinters, single use packets of first aid cream, antibiotic ointment, alcohol swabs. You will be thankful in the long run, because you take less of a chance that things will spill or squeeze out and ruin something.
…buy a good book on first-aid, or take a class on first aid, especially if you plan to take others, or younger kids, even if you are just camping at the campsite down the street. Knowing first aid is invaluable for small things, and it can keep you from panicking in more dangerous situations.
Also, buy from names that you either recognize or trust. If you have never seen a name on something before, do a little research on it. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Another rock climer with a little less extended experience checking in…

I would say, start from the expenaise PERSONAL basics and go outward to the $30 K-Mart Tent.

In my order of purchaseing stuff I would say

  1. Waterproof Breathable shell, look at a few online stores and at less popular brands. $150 shelled out on 1 to 2 year old outlet gear will go much further than $150 shelled out on one of TNF’s new Crap-Tacular “Extreme Light” 3 lb POS. Look for three-ply, design+ventilation second, followed by name
    (I own a Helly Hansen El-Cap 2-ply)

Don’t go TNF. At any end. Marmot and Lowe can take the high end. TNF needs to go away or keep where it is selling to image obsessed adolescents.

  1. Fleece, $100 will cover all the fleece you will ever need, even for five pitch ice climbs. Name does not matter here at all. Consider vents+minimal pockets, consider cutting them if they are not there. I would suggest one fleece pant, one fleece jacket in the 200-300 range+ 1 300 weight vest. Again, there have been no REAL revolutions in fleece technology in the last 5 years, go outlet.

(All Helly Hansen Pro-Pile, for under $100)
3. Boots, get good ones. You cannot go wrong with La Sportiva. Consider spending $100 MINIMUM. Try to get away from nubuck. Go for GTX. Buy some lotions and waxes, even if your boot has a waterproof liner. $10 in maintnence will seriously extend the life of your boots.

  1. A good pack to put everything in, with a $15 Platypus reervoir. I like my Kelty Storm, but also look at Mountainsmith and some others.

  2. Waterproof breathable pants. You can get some good ones starting around $70

  3. Polypro/Capilene long underwear. Your totally fine at about $40 total.

  4. Everyting else.

This opinion comes from situations where I was RELATIVELY comfortable during some extended biouvacs after having a little trouble finding rap stations becasue I spent on good personal gear. An $800 dollar Bibler is not going to do you much good sitting in your car because you do not think you need it.

Now a $300 dollar Tripod Bivy, hmmm… :slight_smile:

A few nit-picks:

Swiss Army Knife? For get it. Go for a $30 Gerber Multi-Tool, much more usefull and half the cost. It has an extremely sharp blade that could go through loaded 13 mm rescue rope in two swipes that took a Spyderco Recue Jr. two minutes. Then again, the person with the Rescue Jr. was being pretty weak willed and taking a passive approach to cutting ropes.

Mag-Lights? Heavy, short lifed, and undependable if dropped. Get yourself two Princeton Tec’s. A 2000 halogen and then a basic headlamp that will last for about 8 hours.

That’s why I carry both. The Victorinox Pocket Tool that I purchased recently puts the Gerber that I’ve carried for years to shame. The Gerber’s edges are superb but all of the blades on the VPT lock and the true box hinge of the pliers is the best I’ve seen. It puts all other pocket tools to shame. Like all SAK’s, it comes from the factory shaving sharp.

I recommended Mag Lites because they are commonly sold and streets ahead of the nearest commercial competitor. I too, am really disappointed in the lower quality of The North Face. I used to buy from them when they had only one store in Berkeley, and their recent products have suffered badly.

Final word? When it comes to the difference between low end kit and intermediate quality gear; you get what you pay for. As to comparisons between intermediate and high end gear; you quickly hit a diminishing return on your money as you go upscale. As Tsunami said, “…if you are planning a 3-month expedition to one of the world’s fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, you need the best gear you can find, as the margin between life and death can be reed slim.” Quite true, but for regular backpacking you don’t need to spend a fortune.

One of the better technical connections with the internet is camping gear and e-bay.

There is scads of quality used equipment on there! Placed of course by just those folks that gotta have the newest and the bestest.

I couldn’t agree more, I had 3 maglights (C and D models) and 2 crapped out - very overrated, heavy. The princton Tec is a good one - also check out scuba dive stores. Scuba lights are great they throw an enormance amount of light for their size and weight, just make sure that the one you get can be safely used above water as some require water to cool them.

Also forget the swiss army knife - it’s useful but pails in comparison to the gerber or leatherman

I must say that the little AA mag lights are ok and I use them often on hikes and during work.

also on my 1st multiday (5day) hike i went the cheapo route. borrowed an undersizes pack, imporvized a waist belt, use car camping sleeping bags, tents, lantern, stove (single burner propane) etc. - it worked but it was a hassle.

i gradually replaced items with better and lighter counterparts and it does make the diffrence. again don’t go crazy. one item i love is a $2 AL coffee pot that is very lightweight and perfect for: 1 boiling water and 2 storing the lantern globe. I think my pack weight was about 45 lbs the 1st time and now it’s about 30.

Most importantly is the boots - go crazy here (and don’t forget the socks). then the pack comes in second. everything else is pretty much a weight/space issue. Look for sales and gradually replace items that you feel arn’t serving you as well as you’d like. again I don’t think top end gear in needed and often is heavier then gear that is less expensive but still fine for the job (i.e. a for season tent will be heaver then a 3 season tent of simular construction.

You probally have clothes suitable for hiking already. I like to use fleace sweatpants/shirt as it is very light weight and won’t hold water. combined w/ a shell it makes a great jacket.

I just read an article on just this topic on the Backpacker,2646,668,00.html

Their answer is about the same as the answers you’ve been getting. A guarded “yes”.

There’s a wealth of quality equipment out there, a lot of it developed and heavily marketed in the last 20~25 years. Some items have revolutionized the sport-- Nylon and synthetic fabrics make for cheap, lightweight tents and sleeping bags. That is, they should be cheap.

The prices are obnoxious, but well heeled fern feelers are the biggest part of the market, so what do you expect? I happen to enjoy good equipment, and like anything else, you tend to get what you pay for. Try garage sales or pawn shops, you can get good gear at more realistic prices.

I’m just pissed big stores like REI, which owe their birth to a co-operative agreement to make good gear available at good prices have morphed into a yuppified salon style fashion statement. Oh Well.

As a long-time army brat and avid camper I grew up using US military equipment–much of which was older than I was, and it’s never let me down.

Civilian equipment is scandalously overpriced, and distressingly cheap and flimsy, with the exception of specialty equipment made for serious outdoorsfolk. (mountain climbing, etc.) But if you’re one of these folk you already know that.

Bottom line is, the military establishment of the US and other countries (notably the Swiss, Germans, Israeli) throw tons and tons of money at the problem of developing super-durable, reliable, and pragmatic equipment for their fighting men and women, and then let it go for a song whenever they have a surplus. You’d be a fool not to benefit from their bad business sense. :slight_smile:

Ok, so maybe I don’t look ‘cool’ when I go camping, but really, do you want to? Do you want to leave your campsite littered with brightly-colored expensive equipment that will break within a year, or would you rather have equipment that you could likely pass on to your children–and which is so subdued in color someone wouldn’t see your campsite if they passed within 10 feet of it?

You forgot one thing-- I for one, having worn O.D. and Camouflage for a living, have no desire to gaze upon a sea of green anymore. On the other hand, the purple and blaze pink gear that is all the rage leaves a lot to be desired.

That’s another thing that yanks my chain as well-- “Surplus”
isn’t, and the prices are waaay out of wack, just about what you’d pay new. Oh Well.

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself “backpacking” less and less and four wheeling into remote areas and making quick, light hikes free of the heavy pack. Currently, I gasp build a campfire, and go the whole nine yards with a nice big tent, steaks, beer, lanterns and the rest. I’m sure others with families can tell the same tale.

I don’t care if you drive you suv to the most remote place on earth - it’s still car camping. And car camping as all real campers knows is not real camping - so there :stuck_out_tongue:

Weight and space is not a consideration. When I car camp, I bright heavier equipment and save the light weight stuff for when I need it. or sometimes i bring it both to have more options

Well, that’s just it. I’m sure you’re joking about that anyway, but I started out backpacking before I ever car camped and held that same kind of elitist attitude.

Of course weight is a consideration when backpacking! But I don’t have the time to spend weeks on the trail as when I was younger. (Two weeks was my limit before resupply) In total, I’ve probably spent years on the trail.

I’ve found that food just tastes better over a fire out of good old cast iron. It does get a little pricey-- $65 nesting aluminum Sigg cookers and $120 one-burner stoves to boil water for $12 freeze-dried almond-rice pilaf meals…
Yeah, I got tired of filing down tootbrush handles and all that… :slight_smile: