Spring is (finally) rearing its pretty, sunshiny head, and as a result people are tentatively stepping outdoors again. It’s the season of mild weekend walks, morning runs and the anticipatory exercises for summer trips.
It is also the season of renewed fitness promises, as we leave the back end of the winter season holidays, and all its gluttonous festivity, and herald in our new, fitter selves.
For many of you though, this year might mark the beginning of your first foray into hiking (and may I say good choice!) and as you head to the various outdoor retailers to prepare yourself for the elements, it is understandable that your bank balance might shudder at some of the prices of the outdoor clothing and gear. While spending within a budget is important, it is just as important to choose the right outdoor clothing for your activities – otherwise it might cause you to end up disliking the sport, not to mention injuries or illness. Listed below are what I believe are the most important items to spend a bit extra on (knowledge gained from multiple unfortunate experiences by yours truly), followed by items you can get away with tightening the budget over.
If you plan on doing any walking over five miles, or spending a considerable amount of time outdoors in changeable weather, then this is the most important bit of outdoor clothing to splurge on. Comfort benefits aside, getting soaked in torrential rain in cold weather can cause all kinds of health problems, not to mention chaffing between a wet shirt and heavy bag. When looking for a waterproof jacket, look for one with a breathable membrane, such as Rab’s E-vent technology or the renowned Gore-Tex brand. Basically, these jackets have a thin film of plastic-like substance between the inner and outer layers that bears lots of small holes. These holes are small enough that water cannot penetrate it, but big enough that air molecules can pass through, allowing any hot air caused by exercise to ‘breathe’ through the jacket and prevent excessive sweating.
Cheaper jackets will be covered in a laminate coating on their surface. This will cause water to bead and glide off, but is not permanent and will need relaminating after awhile. This also means no breatheability, essentially trapping heat exerted through exercise close to your body and producing sopping wet base layers as a result. Unless you are looking for something compact to throw on while walking the dog, don’t be tempted with the cheap prices of laminate coats – you will thank yourself later!
Your feet are what get you up and down those mountains and trails, and they won’t thank you if you force them to do it in shoddy footwear. Hiking boots come in a very wide range of sizes and widths, and walking in the wrong shoes can cause serious damage to your feet. I have written previously on how to choose the right boots, so make sure you give it a read before visiting a store!
Rucksacks can come in a wide range of sizes, features and quality, which also means pricing can vary wildly. Before buying a rucksack, decide how you plan to use it and pick one that contains features that match your needs. Most importantly, choose one that fits well. A poorly-fitted rucksack can cause extreme back, shoulder and hip injuries, and the last thing you want to happen is your bargain-bucket rucksack to break and lose all your belongings in the middle of nowhere.
I can say I have learnt not to scrimp on these items from my own first foray into hiking. Being a relatively poor student and taking on the Ten Tors challenge, I decided to find myself some bargains, and went on a sojourn to Bath. After a quick dash to a discounted camping goods store I emerged an hour later, my purse £100 lighter and burdened with all the gear I could possibly need. Gleefully self-congratulating myself, I began to anticipate all the future camping trips I would take with the money I saved.
All seemed to go well, until the day before my team were supposed to take on the Ten Tors challenge. In the middle of a field in Dartmoor, the bottom of my bag decided to give, unceremoniously spewing my possessions over a particularly muddy patch of ground. We managed to patch it up, but uncertainty over how long this quick-fix would last loomed like an overcast cloud in my mind as we began hiking.
As for my boots – hot damn, I think I can truthfully say I have never cursed so much in my life at something as I did those few days in Dartmoor. At the time I assumed hiking boots were all the same size and style, and as a result picked the cheapest, widest, stumpiest pair possible. Turns out I have long, scrawny feet, and as we trundled our way round Dartmoor my feet at times literally swam in the shoes, repeatedly knocked against the end of the boot like a door-to-door salesman, and wiggled about in such a wanton manner I began to have visions of my ankles snapping like twigs.
In the end my feet had so many blisters and sores, they had to be bandaged until I resembled a mummy.
So where can you afford to save some money on outdoor clothing?
We are talking about basic fleeces here, not the non-pulling, temperature regulating fleeces you will find in the mountaineering and climbing sections of stores. Fleeces are made essentially from the same fabric, but some might be more soft than others depending on the quality of the fabric and whether it’s been treated. Technically speaking however, there’s no difference between the £80 basic designer fleece that you catch non-skiers posing in by the chalet bar, and the bog-standard £20 range you can find in most outdoor stores.
Now don’t get me wrong, base layers are important outdoor clothing. They help transfer sweat off the body and through the layers. But these too can cost upward of £40 or more, and if you are doing any multi-day treks then multiple purchases can easily add up.If you need to save a bit of money, then look at wearing any tops you already own that are manufactured from man-made materials. These are more breatheable than cotton, and will help transfer it through your layers, but you will be quite smelly by the end of your trek!
Do you have any tips on saving money on outdoor clothing and gear?