I can’t tell the difference between a $1,000 suit and the $200 one I bought for my wedding. But I can tell you how awful it is to be stuck with a lousy pair of hiking boots or a flaccid sleeping pad. Some stuff—like the ten products below—is worth investing real money in. In my next column, I’ll list ten items that you can save money on.
Midlayer ($130 to $250)
Winter is coming, and I can’t stress the importance of this layer enough for those who like to play in the snow. It’ll add much-needed warmth when you’re cold and move moisture and heat when you’re sweating. Cheap midlayers, like, say, a cotton sweatshirt, don’t do either of those things well, leaving you wet and cold. For a synthetic option, I like the Patagonia Nano-Air because of how well it breathes during high-output activities. For a wool option, I like the Voormi Drift Jacket, which wicks and quashes odors really well.
Ski Boots ($650 to $1,000)
Ski boots are the drivers that control your skis. If they don’t fit well, you won’t have as much power and your feet are guaranteed to hurt. I always tell people to buy their boots new from a local ski shop so they can try several pairs and have the fitter custom-mold the best one.
Sleeping Pad ($100 to $150)
The friends I camp with often complain about their sleeping bag being too cold. But the issue is actually their pad, which is supposed to insulate you from the freezing ground. I like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Seasons, with internal chambers designed to keep cold air from creeping up and allowing body heat to escape. Plus, it packs down well and weighs just over a pound.
Whiskey ($40 to $50)
If you’re going to carry the extra weight, you better bring the good stuff. Spend the extra $10 on that nice bottle of whiskey, like Corsair Triple Smoke.
Hiking Boots ($120 to $250)
If your boots suck, so too will your hike or backpacking trip. As with ski boots, I suggest trying on several pairs of hikers at your local shop to ensure you pick the right pair for your activity. Don’t be afraid to shell out way more than you think is necessary. I spent $200 on my first pair of hiking boots at a time in my life when that was my weekly income. They lasted me seven years.
Socks ($20 to $25)
Yes, $20 (or more) for one pair of socks seems silly. But a good pair of merino ski or hiking socks will keep your feet from getting cold or blistered. I like FITS socks because, as the name implies, they fit really, really well. I’m also a fan of Darn Tough, which I’ve found to be more durable that other options. If they do wear down, the company will give you a free pair, no questions asked.
Water Filter ($120 to $350)
I’ve had giardia, Montezuma’s Revenge, norovirus, and untold Peruvian bugs ravage my intestines over the past 12 years. Looking back, I would have drained my savings account on every one of those occasions for a better water filter. Go with the platinum option like the MSR Guardian if you’re traveling overseas or camping in a spot where viruses are a problem. If you’re sticking to backpacking in the United States, go with something solid and less expensive like the Platypus GravityWorks.
Sunglasses ($100 to $250)
There are lots of reasons to pay more for high-quality shades. First, they do a better job of protecting your eyes from the sun. The sharp glass provides a crisper view and helps you spot hazards on the trail or slope. Finally, as I found out earlier this month, top-end glasses can take a real beating. If you invest in one pair of nice sunnies, you’ll keep them for years, rather than replace them every few months.
Helmet ($150 to $550)
Buy a good helmet. Please. Modern lids have all kinds of new safety features (think: MIPS, multi-impact foam) designed to protect you better in a crash. Ignore the price and invest in one that fits well.
Backpack ($120 to $1,700)
The type of bag you want depends entirely on the activity you’re doing. Backpacking for the weekend? Get a pack that fits and carries well. Heading into the backcountry for a ski trip? Get one that’s well organized so you can comfortably carry skis up a bootpack and quickly access avy gear—or an airbag. Riding a bike to work? That pack should carry well and protect your laptop.
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