In Search of the Best-Value Gear
Our editors on what they expect to spend on new gear, with the goal of balancing quality and affordability
If you want the latest gear innovations, you’ll have to cough up some cash. But the vast majority of consumers don’t need the absolute newest and best. They just need a great piece of gear that will hold up over time and won’t empty the bank account. To help identify that sweet spot—the price at which you’re getting both a good deal and a great piece of gear—we turned to our editors and asked them how much someone should spend on 16 of the most popular products. Then we asked them to give us their pick for the best value. These are their answers.
Running Shoes: $100 – $120
Whether you’re training for a marathon or just going out for the occasional jog, a running shoe with moderate cushioning—like New Balance’s Vazee Pace—will suit most runners’ needs for a few hundred miles of pounding the pavement. —Molly Mirhashem, associate editor
Smartwatch: $140 – $160
Technology has gotten so good these days that even the most affordable watches will have almost all the features you need. Take the Polar M200. It comes with the usual GPS and on-wrist heart-rate monitoring, plus syncs with third-party fitness apps. Yes, you can pay more to get calls patched through directly to your wrist, but let’s be real, that’s what a phone is for. —Will Egensteiner, senior editor
Resort Skis: $650 – $700
Lots of respected ski manufacturers make perfectly decent products in this price range, but the standout is the Atomic Vantage 100 CTI. The Vantage has all the fancy tech (like a carbon-mesh weave to add stiffness while keeping the ride playful) you get in skis that cost $300 as much. And at 100 millimeters underfoot, it can do everything from ripping groomers to floating through pow. Pay less and you’re getting a basic, likely a skinnier frontside ski made with cheaper materials that will not relish being taken off-piste. Pay more and you’re shelling out for specialization–or simply good branding. —Axie Navas, executive editor
Backcountry Skis: $650 – $700
The best backcountry skis strike a balance between weight and performance. One of our long-time favorites is the Salomon QST 106. Mounted with a tech binding these boards are plenty light for long skin track slogs but can also handle any snow type or terrain with aplomb. —Jakob Schiller, gear contributor
Backpacking Tent: $170 – $200
You want a light backpacking tent, and at just over three pounds, the REI Half Dome 2 Plus is the best bang for your buck. The two-person tent is freestanding, so it sets up easily on any type of terrain, plus it has ample mesh for breathability and two doors for easy access.—Ben Fox, associate editor
Mountain Bike: $2,400 – $2,600
New mountain bikers may balk at that price tag, but this is the bare minimum for a full-suspension rig you won’t outgrow in a season. I’d recommend the YT Jeffsy, which comes with high-end components like a Sram GX group set and Rockshox Pike fork, but sells for significantly less than the competition, thanks to the company’s direct-to-consumer sales. —Nicholas Hunt, associate editor
Road Bike: $1,500 – $1,600
People swoon over aero wheels and electric shifting. But what really matters most on a bike is the frame. Get yourself a good one, and the rest is upgradable. Start with the Cannondale CAAD12 105. For a hair more than $1,500, you’re getting the world’s best aluminum frame (the top-end model retails for about six grand) paired with solid Shimano 105 components. You can race this bike from day one and it won’t hold you back. And when you’re ready for an upgrade, splurge on some carbon wheels. —Scott Rosenfield, digital editorial director
Fly-Fishing Rod: $300 – $350
A five-weight, medium-fast-action rod in this range—like the Echo 3—will work for 99 percent of situations an angler encounters in their lives. And if it comes with a lifetime warranty (the Echo does), it will last them that long, too. —Jonah Ogles, articles editor
Hiking Boots: $100 – $120
When buying hiking boots, a proper fit is most important. The full-leather Hi-Tec Altitude V Waterproof works with most foot shapes and has proven to be just as durable as models that cost three times as much. —B.F.
Rain Jacket: $120 – $130
If you’re trying to set a fastest known time up some Colorado fourteener, then yes, you might need a lightweight $400 rain jacket. The rest of the time, you’ll be totally set with something like Patagonia’s Torrentshell. It’s waterproof and breathable, comes with features like pit zips, and packs into its own pocket. —J.S.
Backpacking Pack: $180 – $200
The Osprey Exos 58 isn’t as feathery as other thru-hiking packs from specialized cottage-industry brands. But at just over two pounds, it's still damn light and significantly more affordable. (Look for even better deals on sites like Backcountry.) It will carry 40 pounds comfortably. If that’s too big, check out the 48-liter version. —B.F.
Sunglasses: $55 – $75
There are lots of performance shades out there that cost between $100 and $170. And while I recommend not going super dirtbag and buying a pair of $10 cheapo shades from the gas station (they legitimately do not provide enough sun protection to effectively shield your eyes), you can get perfectly good, safe sunnies for way, way less than a Benjamin. I turn to Sunski, a fun sunglasses maker based in California that sells good-looking, high quality product—for less than $85, in most cases. My favorites are the $55 Dipseas, with their fun, stylish frame and polarized lenses. — A.N.
Surfboard: $650 – $750
This is what you’ll typically be quoted by a shaper. But if they ask for more, pony up because these guys are artists working on the slimmest of margins, often in places with the highest cost of living. Whatever they quote you, just say, “Sounds perfect.” Then add on a nice 12-pack while you’re at. Don’t have a local shaper? Channel Islands makes boards that can be found at nearly any surf shop in the country. My current favorite is the Mini ($805), a solid groveler that has enough rocker for late takeoffs and a pinched tail for snappy turns in the pocket. —Matt Skenazy, senior editor
Grill: $80 – $100
You can spend hundreds or thousands more, and if you want the convenience of propane, you should plan on adding $100 to this. But there’s almost nothing that can’t be cooked well on a classic Weber 18-inch charcoal grill. —J.O.
Down Jacket: $200 – $220
Skimping on warmth isn’t a good idea, but coughing up a week’s pay on a down jacket isn’t necessary, either. Something like REI’s Magma 850 (850 because of its high fill power goose down) does the job of keeping you toasty in most climes. Not to mention it’s water-resistant. —W.E.