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As a curmudgeonly outdoor veteran with years of gear abuse under my belt, I'd be the first to admit my days of new gear sticker-shock are thankfully few. Sometimes I see people in line at the Seattle REI, shopping cart piled high with boots, tents, sleeping bags, parkas, stoves, and all other manner of outdoor garb, and I think to myself: Whoa! There's $2,500 of shiny new gear in there!
Even if you're just buying a single piece of gear, the dollar signs can add up. Many tents sell for $400 to $500; some waterproof-breathable jackets approach that sum (and surpass it if you also buy pants); high-end boots are $250; even a basic down-filled 20-degree bagthe cast-iron skillet of the camping worldis $250 and up. Then there are the incidentals$60 for a stove, $40 for a cookset, $25 for a multi-function tool, $30 for a first-aid kit, and on, and on, and on. I probably have $300 worth of hiking socks squirreled away here and there.
So, is gear over-priced? It isn't easy to say. Not long ago, for instance, a Gear Guy reader tried to lure me into a trash-the-gear-companies debate, citing as evidence a pair of Patagonia shorts that he felt were not worth their $45 price tag. My rebuttal consisted of two parts: One, Patagonia products are well-made and use top-quality materials, which combined with the brand's cachet, command top dollar, and not unreasonably so. Two, they have to make their clothing, then "sell" them to retailers, who in turn sell them to you. Expensive? For a pair of nylon shorts, perhaps. Over-priced? In the scheme of things, no. Nobody is getting rich off these shorts. Moreover, most outdoor-gear companies operate in fairly niche markets, selling maybe only 400 to 500 copies a year of some items. So it's difficult for them to achieve real economies of scale.
Still in the face of $45 shorts and $400 tents, what's a budget-minded outdoors enthusiast to do? Well, plenty. With a little prudent shopping, you can outfit yourself for literally pennies on the dollar. Or at least nickels. OK, dimes...