Worth it? Well...on the one hand, you're rightthere's nothing particularly exotic about the Ultra. It's a loose-cut, four-pocket hiking/running short with a nylon/polyester shell and a liner made with mesh Capilene, Patagonia's polyester-based underwear material. So it does seem to be a bit steep for a pair of shorts.
On the other hand, I generally regard Patagonia as a company that takes a fairly sane position on pricing. Their products are well-designed and well-made, and Patagonia tries hard to be a good corporate citizen, not seeking out the last nickel when it comes to hiring subcontractors to make their products. I've also found that most Patagonia products last for years with regular use, so amortized over five or six years, the Ultras aren't too bad.
Still, for Patagonia or anybody else, keep in mind that they have to sell through retail channels in order to get their product out there. So a retailer buys the Ultra from Patagonia, then marks it up to cover his or her own costs and profit margin and then sells it to you. So one way to save money is to find gear makers that sell their stuff "direct," without a middleman.
L.L. Bean products, for instance, represent good value because Bean designs something, finds a manufacturer to make it, then sells (mostly) out of a catalog or website, which is a cheaper distribution model. So Bean's Supplex Cargo Sport Shorts, which I'd say are roughly analogous to the Ultras, sell for $24 (www.llbean.com). The Ultras have two more pockets, a roomier cut, and a better liner. But all things being equal, the Cargo Sport Shorts work perfectly well. Put a Patagonia sticker on them and sell them the same way that Patagonia does, and they'll probably be anywhere from $5 to $15 more.
So there you go. We'll save for another day the pressing economics question of why everyone doesn't sell the same way as Bean or REI or any other company with a "house brand."
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Filed To: Clothing and Apparel