Q:

How can I get quality gear that won’t break my bank?

Is there a manufacturer of backpacks, boots, and tents (probably three separate manufacturers) that offer acceptable quality without the "post-20's mid yuppie" price tags that have made so much good equipment unaffordable? Robert Walnut Creek, California

Sep 23, 2004
Outside
Outside Magazine

The Gore-Tex Mountain Guide XCR Parka from L.L. Bean.

A: It's true that a lot of outdoor gear is wildly expensive. It's also true that most gear manufacturers have become keenly aware of how absurd some of their offerings can be, and are working fairly hard to keep prices down or at least offer gear in several price ranges. I recall a presentation of one major maker's winter lineup several years ago; they didn't blink when they trotted out a Gore-Tex outfit – jacket and pants – that would have retailed for just under $1,000. My thought at the time was: "Are they serious?" Turns out, not really – the stuff was on the market only a year or two.

For starters, L.L. Bean and REI – oft-mentioned on these pages – both offer full lines of good-quality stuff that's usually very reasonably priced. L.L. Bean's Gore-Tex Mountain Guide XCR Parka (www.llbean.com) is – at $279 – one of the best-priced, highly technical waterproof-breathable jackets out there; easily $100 less than equivalent offerings from other companies. Another nice piece, the Cresta Ultralight Parka, uses a proprietary L.L. Bean waterproof-breathable fabric and sells for $175. And L.L. Bean’s Cresta Hikers in leather ($169) have long been a wonderful buy in a good-quality boot.

Over at REI, meanwhile, you can get the REI Coupe Tent (www.rei.com) – a very light two-person, three-season tent – for a mere $169. Or, for a good-quality soft shell piece, check out REI’s One Jacket for $199, much less than similar pieces from other makers. REI’s new Mercury Pack, meanwhile, is a well-designed 4,600-cubic-inch pack for backpacking or climbing, just $185.

Some specific makers, meanwhile, emphasize good values in their gear. In tents, Eureka always has emphasized good quality at a reasonable price – the Apex 2XTA is a decent two-person backpacking tent, nice and light at 6 pounds, that sells for $189. Kelty (www.kelty.com) offers a wide range of good packs and good prices – even the huge Red Cloud 6650, with more than 6,000 cubic inches of capacity, sells for $190 while still offering solid construction and a decent suspension. And in footwear, Vasque (www. vasque.com) gives you a highly reputable brand and trail-worthy boots such as Sundowner Classic GTX for $165.

Another great option is to watch for good deals on closeouts, seconds and last year's gear. Anyone interested in saving a buck should check the Sierra Trading Post site (www.sierratradingpost.com). All kinds of good buys there, such as the recent offer of a Marmot Trinity 20-degree down-filled bag for $119, regularly $200. Northern Mountain Supply (www.northernmountain.com) also offers great deals, such as 2002 model year Dana Terraplane for $169, down from $439 (true, available only in small or extra-small).

So there you go. Lots of good gear at good prices – just shop around a little.

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