It’s difficult being a consumer these days. Nobody wants to waste money, but there are a multitude of marketing messages popping just about everywhere in our lives, which makes it difficult to know what’s worth buying and what is just hype.
All too often, though, the more research you do, the more you come away thinking that all the products are largely the same. You’re basically buying a commodity with a logo — sometimes at twice the price of another option.
The world of outdoor clothing and gear, however, still has a wide variety of products. Yes, many companies now sell items like down jackets, raincoats, tents and hiking boots. But they are far from commodities. Each can have a different application for a specific type of user, and there are usually major differences in quality, features and price.
When should you pay more? Which features will actually improve your experience? In short, what should you be looking for before investing your hard-earned money in outdoor apparel and equipment? Here are three reasons to invest in better outdoor gear.
1. Quality and Durability
Uninitiated consumers tend to be penny wise and pound foolish. But when it comes to spending on outdoor products, going the more frugal route can be significant. For example, if you buy a cheap food processor and it fails, you’ll have to chop that onion by hand.
But if the wall of discount tent you bought rips en route to or during your camping trip, then you’re either sleeping in a puddle or snuggling up with a horde of mosquitoes. Are you really willing to take such a risk just to save a few bucks?
Similarly, if your only goal is to not get wet during an hour-long storm on the trail, you can cut a few holes in a trash bag and wear that around. But while that would work in a pinch, it isn’t a comfortable or viable long-term solution, as thin plastic rips easily and traps so much body heat that you may get as wet from sweat as you would from the downpour.
Given all this, it’s no surprise those who venture into the wilderness regularly are more than happy to pay a bit more for a tent that won’t tear the first time a pinecone falls and forego that 50-cent trash bag in favor of a rain jacket that will perform for years.
2. Cutting-Edge Technology
The outdoor gear world has long been locked in an arms race to produce better apparel and equipment. At this point, avid consumers simply expect world-class durability and build quality from the gear they buy.
The battleground has instead become about innovation. Companies are devoting billions of dollars for research and development in areas such as synthetic down, textile strength and weather resistance.
But industry leader Columbia has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to outdoor and adventure apparel. In recent years, the company has developed and deployed technology such as TurboDown insulation, which offers an optimal warmth-to-weight ratio, as well as OutDry layers that remain waterproof in fierce storms without sacrificing breathability.
Advanced features do tend to cost more than discount brand offerings. But the value is immediately clear to any hiker, skier or traveler who demands function, comfort and longevity from their gear. When the only thing between you and the elements is what you can carry on your back, you want to know you have the latest and greatest products on the market.
3. Weight Savings
Over the past decade, a growing number of hikers and campers have been focusing on weight. The momentum comes from a simple premise: The most pleasant way to walk through nature is with nothing on your back. But, since this isn’t a real possibility, you should try to cut out every unnecessary ounce.
Many within this “Ultralight Backpacking” community first moved toward minimalism in an attempt to reduce their pack weight. But this tactic invariably runs its course after you cut out the non-essentials. No matter how spartan you become, you will always need a pack, shelter, insulation for warmth, rain gear, first aid basics, food and water.
In response to this demand, the market is now full of no-frills backpacks, tarp tents and sleeping bags that weigh roughly one pound each. How can such vital equipment be so light and still withstand the elements? Simple: By using expensive materials and charging more to the consumer.
Many have no problem paying the extra cost. For those who love hiking and hate back pain, shelling out a few hundred dollars more for their whole kit is a no-brainer. This one-time extra expense is a justifiable investment into years — or even decades — of a vastly more enjoyable experience.
Better, Stronger, Lighter
For companies that hope to compete in this industry, the message must be heard loud and clear. If you aren’t getting better, well, you better be getting lighter. And no matter what, your apparel needs to stand up to whatever nature can throw at it.
Because unlike the clothes and products used in other walks of life, outdoor gear is about function over frills. It can’t fail in the field, and it has to be comfortable.
With these goals in mind, more and more enthusiasts are willing — and even excited — to pay for quality when it comes time to spice up their adventure wardrobe. When the value is there, the right purchase become less of an expense and more of an investment.
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