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
The Gore-Tex Mountain Guide XCR Parka from L.L. Bean.
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. Beans 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 REIs One Jacket for $199, much less than similar pieces from other makers. REIs 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.