A Case For Quality Gear And Why It’s (Nearly) Always Worth It
Di Westaway | Founder and Chief Adventure Chick
As a hiker and keen adventurer, I can think of several times when I’ve thanked my lucky stars that I forked out more money at the register for quality gear.
The reality is, if you choose to buy cheap gear over quality gear – you’re taking a risk. Cheaper gear is more likely to break, fray, degrade, and simply not do the job.
You don’t realise how important quality gear is until it saves you from a drenching, blisters, or discomfort.
Two years ago, I was hiking in Iceland, frolicking naked in hot springs with a group of Wild Women (as you do). In what felt like seconds, the sky darkened and it began pouring. A storm had struck and suddenly the rain was soaking our clothes, which were a delicate bare-foot scramble away from the spring.
For those who had quality gear that was genuinely water-proof, the rain wasn’t such a disaster. But the wild women whose gear wasn’t quite water-proof, soon realised their error.
But good gear isn’t just essential for overseas adventures. When you’re out enjoying a long summer hike at North Head and the weather takes a sharp turn for the worse, you might find yourself wishing you spent that extra $100 to get a decent rain jacket. Even in summer, when rain and wind combine, you can suffer serious chills.
Experienced hikers will tell you that size matters. Quality matters. Comfort matters. And weight matters.
However, there are times you really need quality hiking gear. And times you don’t.
Don’t get sucked in by glossy Instagram posts or in-store bargains unless you’ve done your homework first. Depending on whether you’re an explorer, a nature craver, a challenger or a Sunday stroller, you’ll need different things.
Sunday strollers only need to look like adventure goddesses in the latest trail fashions, stylish joggers and slim-line hiking vest-packs. If you're only walking locally, buy whatever feels fabulous, because the worst thing that's going to happen is you might get a bit cold.
If you're an explorer, hoping to get out into the wild for some overnight or multi-day hikes, it's wise to invest in quality gear. It could save your life. If a storm hits and you've got the right gear, you’ll be having magic moments rather than a shit sandwich.
Technical gear changes seasonally, so hiking is an opportunity to shop-til-you-drop to benefit from the latest fabulous features. It's also a chance to fill your Christmas wish list with practical presents.
Things to spend up on
A quality back-pack that is fit for purpose
If you’re planning a day hike you’ll need a 20 - 35L backpack with a bladder. For overnight and multi-day hikes, you’ll need 55 – 65L that’s custom fitted for your size, weight and shape. For me, this means generous hip-pocket storage, a bladder pocket in the lower back, a light-weight frame and a comfy fit. I’m a fan of the Osprey packs in all sizes, but I’ve loved One Planet, Mountain Designs and Macpack packs over the years.
This is trickier than you might think because fabrics that are fully waterproof aren’t breathable. If you’re hiking in summer conditions, you’ll get sweaty in a fully waterproof jacket. If you’re in alpine environments, you might not, depending on how hard you’re puffing. For breathability, I recommend pit zips. For dryness, I recommend bottom coverage. Gortex usually requires regular re-waterproofing to stay dry. I like the Arcteryx raincoat for hiking but if you can’t afford $800, the RainBird raincoats are waterproof with back venting for $90.
This might seem obvious, but some tents aren’t seam-sealed because that adds weight, so make sure to check before you buy. I go for a quality light-weight tent that’s guaranteed to keep me dry in torrential rain. It’s also great to have a tent you can set up in the rain. This requires a separate fly to shelter you while you set up the inner tent. I adore my Mont Moondance 2, but it's currently sold out. Mont has some other beautiful tents in their Moondance range which are worth checking out!
Your waterproof boots should have good ankle and foot support, good tread and should be super comfy.
Down Sleeping Bag
A down sleeping bad is best for weight-to-warmth ratio and you pay for what you get. But a good night’s sleep is a priority for most of us, so the only way to save here is to know what you want and wait for a sale. I love my One Planet mummy bag but many of my wild women love their Mont sleeping bags which come in some great colours. For car camping you can use synthetic bags which can be more water resistant, but heavier.
Merino wool socks
Things to save on
While technical clothing will help wick sweat away and generally keep you dryer and warmer, you can sometimes get a bargain, or indulge in your favourite colour or stylish fit with clothing.
These come in all shapes, sizes and lumens. I love the Petzl Actik because it's comfortable, has good visibility and has a red light for night vision.
Hiking mug and plates
You can get fancy and expensive, lightweight titanium crockery for hiking, but you really don't need it unless you are carrying a full pack on a multi-day hike. I just take my mug from home and a plastic bowl.
I generally don't recomend buying hiking gear on sale (you're limited with options and often pick things that aren't perfect because they're cheaper), but when it comes to thermals, I only EVER buy them when they're on sale. Stock up.
To Wrap Up...
There’s no perfect shopping list for hiking and the best way to learn is to jump in the deep end and go wild. Every time you get into nature, you’ll take home a valuable lesson on what, and what not, to do.
Don’t forget to reach out to your hiking buddies or a hiking community online and you’ll be inundated with helpful tips. If you haven't already, you can join us in our Wild Women Community.
For more gear, fitting, packing and shopping tips, check out How to Prepare for World Class Treks by Di Westaway.