Outdoor gear is expensive. It’s even more expensive if you’re buying a name-brand product from someone like The North Face, Patagonia, or Canada Goose. While those companies all make great stuff, you can find generic gear at outlets like REI and even Walmart for much cheaper. But I always wonder: Am I sacrificing performance by not buying from one of those big, well-respected manufacturers?
This article aims to answer that question. Over the years, I’ve stumbled onto a few great buys from off-label brands, all listed below. Some things are worth spending a lot of money on from the outdoor world’s most widely recognized companies. These six products don’t fall into that category.
Kirkland Signature Men’s Trail Socks ($12 for 4 pairs)
I have a lot of Darn Tough and Fits socks in my drawer, but I also have several pairs of Kirkland socks from Costco that were gifted to me years ago. They’re 70 percent merino, 30 percent nylon and spandex, and so thick that they’re ideal for shoveling or hanging out in the snow. I’ve washed them dozens of times, and they still show no sign of wear.
EMS Men’s Thunderhead Jacket ($80)
For $80, you get a 2.5-layer waterproof-breathable jacket with some nice touches, like pit zips and a well-tailored fit. Buy one and keep it in your car in case you unexpectedly get stuck in a blizzard.
Ozark Trail Folding Chair ($7)
No, I wouldn’t take any of Walmart’s Ozark Trail gear on a fast-and-light mission, but the products are ideal for car camping. Case in point: this basic folding chair. I kept one of these in my truck for years. It survived dozens of campouts and backyard barbecues.
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide X-White Headlamp ($30)
I like this 78-lumen headlamp because it uses AA batteries, so I can carry extras and not worry about running out of juice in the backcountry. Branded by Cabela’s but actually built by Princeton Tec, it’s waterproof and runs for 90 hours.
Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon ($15)
You can’t go wrong with this bourbon, which is distilled and bottled by Buffalo Trace. It’s a good bottle of liquor at a fair price and won’t give you gut rot the next day.
Target Market Pantry Knapsack Trail Mix ($8)
I’m picky about most of my camp food, but I’ll scarf down pretty much any trail mix. And $8 for 42 ounces is a screaming caloric deal. One of these bags kept my friend and me from getting hangry during a six-day road and kayaking trip across British Columbia.