Cheap gear is awesome! Except these…
First of all, we love cheap gear. We have written before about the best gear to get for cheap and how to make your money go further when acquiring gear. There are some items for camping, hiking and backpacking that you should never cheap out on. Putting more money into these is going to equate to better quality and lower rates of failure out in the wild. If one of these items fails, it could mean the end of your trip, a miserable uncomfortable outing, or worse.
While I am all for second hand apparel like pants, or shirts, hiking shoes are an item I would recommend against. Reason being even if they visibly appear solid chances are they have sat for a long time. The glue holding the sole on is more than likely ready to come apart in areas you simply cannot see. Once you get way out away from it all is where this failure will most likely occur and then you’ll be humping it back in with a sole flopping off your shoe. I can tell you from my own personal experience that is no fun.
Activities like hiking or backpacking can be a challenge for even the healthiest best-conditioned feet. Even carrying small amounts of gear changes the dynamics and stress placed on the feet. Going with cheap gear may mean sacrificing great fit, which is exceptionally important to support your feet and counter the uncommon stresses placed upon them while navigating rough terrain. When buying your shoes take the time to make sure they fit snug and support your ankle, this is even more important in mountainous terrain. Having loose fitting shoes means that if you twist your foot the likelihood of injuring your muscle or joints goes up.
Cheap sleeping bags, those under $100, cost you in convenience, space, weight, and warmth. They tend to be synthetic fill, making them heavy and bulky, have poor zippers, and lack drawstrings to trap in warmth. After testing out so many bags and trying different types of fills I personally cannot advise you that you should purchase a synthetic bag over a down bag. Overall, down is just such a better deal than the synthetic, even if the upfront cost is slightly higher than buying a cheap bag.
A while back I purchased a Teton Leaf, one of the more modern bags synthetic bags with a compression sack. When fully compressed this bag still occupied almost 80% of my 50L pack. Carrying the Leaf was a burden. It weighed in at nearly twice the weight of the M3 bag I have now and cost a mere $10 less. Spending the extra $10 and waiting three weeks for the M3 gave me a better bag. The M3 weighed half as much and packed down to about a fifth of the size. My pack was freed, my back was freed and I have more space for organizing my gear. All of that for $10 well spent.
Oh the choices! This one can honestly seem a little overwhelming and to help you we have written a great article here on selecting the right tent for you. There are also a bunch of YouTube videos on the subject and rightfully so. This is your home away from it all, what keeps the snakes off of you, the mosquitoes out, and keeps you dry from midnight rains.
To put this simply, money spent here will get you one of two things and among the two you have to decide what is more important. You can either have space and organization, or compact and lightweight, in the extremes. Whether you go car camping or backpacking, the more you spend on that category of tent the more you get of those qualities. You will have to decide which way to lean for yourself. In tents money buys you happiness for sure. A more expensive tent can mean having that large patio to cool off or escape a sudden shower for the family, it can mean a changing room and a place for the preteen to hang a tablet for a late night movie under the stars.
For the backpacker, more money spent can mean a tent with super strong, but yet surprisingly light tent poles that magnetically spring in to place like our Kelty Salida 2. It also will generally get you a tent that is so advanced it handles cooling, heating and moisture wicking in nearly any environment, while packing down to the size of a change of clothes.
From my experiences and own personal failures at trying to go with cheap gear I can tell you a cheap tent is not the way to go, not even in the short term. A cheap tent will typically last far less than a more expensive tent. You will end up spending more on cheap tents than the one time purchase of a reputable tent. You don’t need to spend a fortune but if your tent cost less than $100 you are probably going to regret your choice.
In the end you can cheap out on whatever your heart desires. I strongly encourage you though not to be frugal on these. If you do, I can tell you from personal experience that eventually it will ruin your trip. It is not a matter of if, but when.
A Web Developer by trade, future data scientist.
A motorcycle enthusiast at heart.
Most days I’d rather be in the woods anywhere.