How to Choose Outdoor Gear: Common Sense Tips
If Kanye West can rock a regular black North Face puffer jacket then why can't you? Granted, probably without the expensive Yeezy’s. Multiple factors are considered when you, the consumer, decide to invest your hard-earned dollars on outdoor gear. Your lifestyle, purchasing behaviour and attitude all directly influence what products are made, where the materials are sourced from and who the company serves. The decision to buy ultimately relies on your expectations.
The company assures you that with their field-tested technology and environmentally safe practices, your expectations will be satisfied along with your money being well-invested. However, let us be real. Outdoor gear at full cost can be expensive and way out of our price range. With that said, how can we justify the cost of expensive gear versus the benefit of using the product? Let us dive deeper.
The recent shift in trends from Gen Y/Millennials outdoor enthusiasts has pushed companies such as Patagonia, Arc’teryx and The North Face to adapt towards a larger population of young consumers. Four categories are used to explain the product expenses: materials, design, construction and long-term.
Material: Where the resources to make the product come from directly influence the cost. Will they be sustainably sourced? Were any animals harmed in the process? Are the materials recycled? It's important in these days for companies to be transparent in order to gain the trust of their buyers. For example, Patagonia consistently stays true to their core values by advertising materials that are both sustainable and recycled. On the flip side, Arc’teryx believes in always using fresh materials in order to provide a solid product without imperfections. Furthermore, companies will use Gore-Tex, down fill and/or synthetic insulation to improve the quality of warmth, weight and water resistance. Here are some keywords to help:
Gore-Tex: Waterproof and breathable fabric found in products such as walking/hiking boots, gloves and jackets. Blocks the rain while letting your body’s perspiration out.
Down fill: The exterior feathers found in ducks and geese. Great for cold temperatures as it traps the air while keeping your body warm and it's very compressible. Down is measured by the quality of the fluffiness and not the quantity/amount. Any jacket with 550 fill power and above is a good option for a winter jacket (reaches 900 fill down). It will lose its ability to keep heat if wet and it takes a long time to dry. Can severely decrease the quality if it gets wet (avoid solely wearing it in wet conditions).
Synthetic insulation: Made of polyester and is less expensive than down fill. Requires more fill to be made warm than down material. Unlike down fill, its still effective when wet. Considered to be environmentally-friendlier compared to down since the material is not sourced from waterfowls.
Fill power: Pertains to the volume measured in cubic inches which the down takes up. A 750 down fill jacket would be warmer than a 600 fill. However, a puffer jacket with 1oz of 800 fill will not be warmer than a 650 fill winter parka with more than 1oz of down.
Down/Synthetic Blends: Combines both down and synthetic which makes it less expensive than down and more water-resistant. Can be found in sleeping bags.
Design: Many jackets are made for different activities/environments. To the naked eye, the attention to detail might be unnoticeable. For example, ski jackets are specifically made for helmets to be worn over the hood and for zippers to function when wearing gloves. Rain jackets are made to have flap covers for your pockets to protect the inside from rain. The weight of an item affects the user’s experience as well. Hiking poles will be made light and durable to be carried around for longer periods of time and withstand the pressure of your weight. A heavy hiking pole is a tired hiker.
Construction: Both the design and materials are required to make the product. What's important to remember is whoever makes the product can directly affect the end result. A company that uses the same materials and design will not have a similar product (always look for the details). This is where the company's research department sends their product to sponsored athletes. These athletes will use rigorous testing in their respective activity/fields to ensure customers will receive a premium product.
Long-term: As mentioned in the beginning, outdoor gear is expensive. Terry Pratchett in his book “Men At Arms" sums it quite nicely: “A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.” Invest, invest, invest.
Always remember that it's important to reflect on what you need vs. what you want. You won't need a $300 Gore-Tex jacket if you only plan on wearing it in the city once in a while. Similarly, a winter parka with 50% down fill and 50% feathers will not be as warm as a jacket with 100% down fill. As you already know, down is what insulates you. The top feathers of a bird will not keep you warmer. Look for the information on websites in the "details" section to learn more about what the product is made from and how the materials were retrieved.
Repair, Reuse and Recycle
Look for outdoor companies that advocate for repair and reuse. Your item later down the road could have a noticeable tear or zipper issues. Patagonia’s Ironclad program for example provides a staple for customer care and brand image. If you have no more use for your product, please donate it, pass it on to a friend/family or find a company that can turn the old product into raw material for repurposing . This will lengthen its lifespan and reduce the need to buy new.
Where to Start Looking
You're ready to start shopping around and looking for a sweet deal. Here are some quick bullet points to help shop:
Sales occur during the holidays and other shopping events such as Black Friday, Thanksgiving Sale and Boxing Day. Most of the time, you will only find products that the company wants to get rid of due to a large amount of stock.
Clearance occurs when products are considered out of season or will not be manufactured anymore. Best time to look is early fall and early spring.
Companies will use clearance for outdoor clothing since these are seasonal items.
Companies will use sales for outdoor gear (ex. stove, tent, sleeping bags) since these products can be used during any season.
A brand name is just a name. Look for cheaper alternatives for your basics such as a polyester t-shirt in order to save money for the products that will matter most for your overall experience (ex. jacket, foam mat, stove, sleeping bag, backpack).
Get creative. A puffer jacket over a rain jacket is just as good as an insulated waterproof jacket.
Best Outdoor Gear Shopping Websites
The Last Hunt (https://www.thelasthunt.com/)
Branded as the only Canadian website to solely sell outdoor gear at a reduced price. The Last Hunt is an excellent website for smart shoppers. The reason why you will find many great products on discount is because most items are limited in sizes and colours. Check regularly and you might find a steal of deal.
If your looking for quality and affordability, look no further. MEC's house brand has everything you are looking for without having to break the bank. Chances are you have seen their logo around Montreal.
Originally a Montreal based store on Saint-Denis, Altitude Sports is a fantastic partner company with The Last Hunt. For $34.99 you can become a lifetime member gaining 5% on most products and even sale items. Additionally, theirs free shipping on companies such as Arc'Teryx.
Camp Store (https://www.campstore.com/)
Valhalla Pure Outfitters (https://vpo.ca/)