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 High-end gear vs bargain gear 
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Sovereign Woodsman
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Joined: Sat Aug 06, 2011 2:12 pm
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Location: Somersworth NH
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 High-end gear vs bargain gear
I'm suspicious that I know what everybody's going to say. My guess is that bargain gear people will say "Oh it's fine, high-end gear's nice but not at all necessary, live on the cheap!" and that high-end gear people will say "The difference is staggering, if at all possible get the best stuff you can!" I'm also suspicious that I'll do whatever I want to, regardless of what anybody says! But I'm going to ask anyway. I'd be especially interested to hear from anybody with extensive experience with both and your thoughts and observations.

I'm not exactly "poor," but I am cheap -- especially when it comes to non-essentials like hobbies and recreation (I know, hiking isn't really a non-essential, but you understand). So when I ever go inside and EMS or look up gear on-line, even the "steepandcheap" stuff sounds outrageously high to me. Yesterday I climbed Jackson/Webster, and it was very still all day but like 3F when I left my car. I went out wrapped in a Starter baselayer that I got on clearance at Wal-Mart for like $6 and some $20 Target brand (C9, which I think is a division of Champion) legging baselayer, a thin sock that I found for like $3 somewhere that advertised "use as a baselayer!" under a pair of nice thick wool socks (these are nice, but came from my sister-in-law who manages a shoe store). I carried a "Winter Season" fleece (didn't ever wear it) that I have no idea where it came from, but I'm pretty sure would have at one time retailed for closer to $20 than $200, and on level/descent a probably decent Columbia jacket that came as a cast-off from my same sister-in-law. I also wore a pair of thinly insulated wind pants that I think my wife's had for years, I don't know the brand or where they came from. The one piece of higher-end gear that I actually bought myself was a retail $30 Icebreaker beanie that I got with a coupon on steepandcheap, and when needed on top of that a $15 Target/C9 balaclava. All day I was warm and dry, it seemed like it all really works well, and this wasn't the first time in single digits for any of it.

So I fully expect that there's a real difference between $20 tights and $100 tights. I'm sure that there's some real difference between a $120 Mountain Hardware long sleeve wicking shirt and a $12 Starter long sleeve wicking shirt. I'm not suggesting the only difference is the name, as the overly cynical might. But I guess I'm curious what, or how much, is the difference? Is it really "worth it?" Of course I know that's relative based on income/discretionary cash, etc. Those of you who use the high-end stuff (which I know is probably most of you), would you still go out if you had to use cheaper gear? Do you think it's foolish to do so? I guess I'm interested in whatever experiences and thoughts you might have.


Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:36 pm
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Sovereign Woodsman
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Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2011 8:10 pm
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Location: Natick, MA
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
If it works, it works 8)

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Tue Dec 09, 2014 8:38 pm
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Hiking Forums Are My Crack
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Joined: Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:37 pm
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Location: Exeter, NH
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
What Matt said! But to elaborate... :D

I'll start by saying I own a lot of upper middle/lower high end gear, much of which I got either as presents or at end of season sales and such. With a lot of it I find what it comes down to is durability, weight and maybe most important reliability. I'd rather buy the expensive stuff once than the cheap stuff every few years and in addition get the benefits some of the higher end materials provide even if they are minor.

But my overall opinion is the cheap stuff will often get the job done. I started my winter hiking career 20 years ago in lots of cheap wools and downs. They worked fine until I could get more advanced ones. They didn't always have Arctrix and Mountain Hardware and people managed just fine. My friends often use -20 degree Eddie bower sleeping bags in the winter they got on clearance for 40 bucks vs mine that cost 10 times as much. They're just as warm as I am but their bag is twice as bulky and weighs double. Some materials wick better than others for sure but most synthetics do a fine job of wicking and drying fast. Wool socks vs smart wool socks? I notice a difference personally in the blister prevention more than warmth for some reason. Synthetic base layers do seem to all perform slightly differently by I think it comes down to the individual as to what they want in one. Some are warmer than others but if you are a warm individual to begin with maybe you don't need the ultralight ultra warm layers. Or maybe you're colder blooded and happy with a heavier cheaper polyester layer that will still wick and dry quickly. Fleece is fleece to me unless it's the winds stopper stuff. I think it rated by weight so it shouldn't matter if it's a Wally World fleece or Mammut other than the quality of the construction.

I guess I could go on with all sorts of comparisons but in short I'd say it's not a huge difference if you can stand the extra weight and maybe buying new gear every couple years. Like most things in life you get what you pay for. Yep a Mercedes is higher quality and should last longer than a Hyundai elantra, but usually there's a middle ground like a Toyota too. That middle ground is where I look for most of my gear in the good value category even if it's a bit more expensive and it almost always lasts until I get sick of it and replace rather than have to because it wore out.


Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:06 pm
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Flatfoot
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Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:09 am
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
I'll go with the lesser one... :)

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Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:57 am
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Sovereign Woodsman
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Joined: Sat Aug 06, 2011 2:12 pm
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
That all makes pretty good sense to me, GG. The car analogy might be pretty good -- a Hyundai or a Mercedes will accomplish the baseline task of providing transportation, albeit the Mercedes more comfortably and for a longer period. And certainly nobody wonders why the guy who can afford the Benz didn't roll with the Hyundai!


Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:25 pm
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Peak Bagger
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Joined: Sat Feb 22, 2014 4:44 pm
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Location: Hudson, Mass
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
I love shopping the end of the season sales, no matter where they are. I got a bunch of fleece shirts at Macys last year for real cheap. It is always fun opening the closet and picking out a new shirt with the tags still on. Shopping the sales and using coupons works well too. Even this time of year, I just got an EMS down hooded jacket for $106 which sells for $219. I always have the urge to buy something every time I go to REI or EMS. If I feel it is too expensive I don't buy it. I will try it on and if I Ike it I go online and search it out there. So many places sell the same stuff, so shop around!


Thu Dec 11, 2014 6:33 am
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Sovereign Woodsman

Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:23 pm
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Location: Lakes Region, NH
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
I will just say that I used to always buy junk and of course it would fall apart resulting in spending more money than if I had just bought the better quality gear since I'd have to replace it. Husband was of the type that would buy the high end gear and would buy me gear of higher quality and low and behold it would work better, last longer and the difference would be noticeable. So I was sold and you figure it pays for itself since it lasts longer. So although painful initially it seems to be worth it. I think it also depends on what you are buying.


Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:20 am
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I Spend All My Time on This Forum
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Joined: Wed Feb 14, 2007 2:04 pm
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
For things like base layers, socks, maybe even out layers like tops, I will go with cheap stuff. I have a lot of base layer stuff that I got at Marshalls, and some generic stuff that I got at Campmor.com. Where I won't go cheap is boots....I don't mind spending money for decent boots because a day out with bad footwear could make you really miserable, although I'm not talk about spending $200 or more...but I think getting a decent pair for somewhere between $125 - $175 is worth it.

One other area where I did spend a lot of money (well, to me it was a lot) was about 3 years ago when I bought a Mountain Hardwear Dragon Jacket. It cost me $175, but I love that thing. It has a hood, which to me is like gold on a winter jacket, and it also has "pit zips" (zippers under the arms that you can unzip if you're too warm). I also spent $99 on an EMS rain jacket. So I guess you can say I'm about in the middle in terms of spending money...sometimes I'm willing to shell out, but I'm basically pretty cheap so I'll look for deals whenever I can, and will even buy stuff that I don't necessarily need yet but may in the future. For example, I saw a deal for Hillsound Trail Crampons for $29 last year so I snagged them, even though I had just bought new Microspikes. I figured the Microspikes would eventually wear out and I couldn't pass it up...

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Sun Dec 14, 2014 11:23 am
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Sovereign Woodsman
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Joined: Sat Aug 06, 2011 2:12 pm
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Location: Somersworth NH
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 Re: High-end gear vs bargain gear
Yes, thanks for your thoughts. I think it all makes sense.

I'd almost forgotten, but I initially bought some cheap Hi-Tek boots that looked perfectly good. I was pretty disappointed with how quickly they fell apart, and bought some more expensive (although still well below what I think most serious hikers use) boots that have performed much better. My jacket does have pit zips, which I think are awesome. Again, I got that for free and don't really know what it would sell for, but it is a "good brand" and seems to do well.

Mike, I hate going into EMS (or even anything online) because I feel like I need to buy a bunch of stuff, but always quickly talk myself out of it and never do. As hiking lady points to, the pain!


Tue Dec 16, 2014 3:16 pm
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