Hey Everyone! I am so excited to let you know that my amazing husband has done this guest post for us. He’s amazing and I am excited to get to share just a piece of his genius with all of you.
Look at that handsome guy! He has been camping since he was a child with his family, he can tie almost any knot, he is calm in the face of all things, and is my complement in all ways. Enjoy!
Like Claire wrote in the last post, you don’t need all the gear you think you need. However, you do need some. I like REI’s list of the Ten Essentials. They say you need navigation, light, sun protection, first aid, a knife/tool, fire, shelter, food, water, and clothing. I would tend to agree with them.
Once you figure out what you absolutely must have to go outdoors, you need to figure out which equipment you want and how to acquire that equipment. If you ask the internet what equipment is best for camping/hiking/outdoor activities, the internet will gladly point you to the most technical, researched, overdeveloped items you can buy. (I’ve gone to outdoorgearlab.com almost obsessively. Although I like sectionhiker.com too.) Those items come with a price tag that reflects all the development work that went into them. If you are going to summit Mount Everest, save your pennies and buy that gear. It will serve you well. If you are going outside overnight or to escape the suburbs, then don’t buy that gear.
So, where do you get all this stuff?
Some outdoors brands have brick-and-mortar stores. Hopefully, you’ll find helpful people there with experience who can direct you to the items that fit your needs and budget. Unfortunately, dedicated brick and mortar stores are only available in the largest cities.
My favorites: Patagonia, The North Face, Eddie Bauer
Then there are the outdoors stores that carry several of the blue-chip outdoor brands. There is usually more variety here with respect to use and budget. Usually, these stores will also have helpful people who can point you to things that will help you go outdoors successfully. I love going to REI because it gives me a chance to put my hands on things. It’s hard to tell online how heavy a base layer is or how thick a particular set of gloves are. Besides, there’s one close to my office and I like to wander around in it. (Claire’s note: This place is super dangerous for us because there are so many fun items that we love. Even our kids love walking around REI and Bass Pro Shops to look at all the gear. It’s infectious! But hey, if you don’t buy anything, it’s a cheap date.)
My favorites: REI, Bass Pro Shops, Sun & Ski, Field & Stream, MooseJaw
If all of those are out of your budget, many major sporting goods stores will have outdoors gear. Usually, the staff is helpful, but you’d have to get lucky to find someone with the same experience as someone who’s working for a dedicated outdoors company. But also there are more options. You don’t have to get something that’s designed specifically for backpacking if you’re not going backpacking. Plenty of sporting brands will make clothing that will keep you safe from the elements, but might not have the bells and whistles the internet says you “need”. You can (and I do) buy paracord from anywhere. Who doesn’t need more rope? (Claire’s note: This is literally his life mantra. “You can never have too much rope.” And, judging by the amount of rope and paracord we are in possession of, he means it.)
My favorites: Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain
If you are still not satisfied with those options, you can go to your favorite big box store. You’re not likely to get much help in identifying good equipment, but it sure is cheap. By the same token, you don’t need an avalanche-capable tent to spend a spring weekend in a southern state park. These stores will probably carry the Coleman brand. That brand has been a gateway drug for our gear. Our first tent is from Coleman and my Coleman camp stove has some nostalgia tied to it because an older version is what my dad cooked on when we went camping.
My favorites: Target and believe it or not, Costco
If you’re looking for ruggedness, military surplus stores can be a good place to find camping and survival gear. Here again, you need to know what you’re looking for to find something that will fit your needs.
Once you’ve exhausted the places you can physically walk into, you can go online. Depending on where you go, you can find the top of the line peak-bagging gear or you can stumble into cheaply made junk. Amazon is a blessing and a curse here. There’s no helpful guide to say, “this item you’re about to buy has no guarantee that it will survive a stiff breeze.” Reviews are only so reliable. On the plus side, there are infinitely more options online. You can browse Amazon, eBay, or Craigslist if you like.
If you want to rent big ticket items before you buy them outdoorsgeek will rent gear as well as some REI stores.
All these sites have sale and clearance sections that can save your bacon if you get lucky (Claire’s note: Check out REI Outlet/Garage and consider becoming a member so you get access to their big sales.). We’ve benefited from putting outdoors gear on Christmas and birthday wish lists. But there are whole sites dedicated to selling stuff on the cheap. These sell items that are not the latest and greatest, but still good stuff. Think steepandcheap.com, sierratradingpost.com, campmor.com, campsaver.com, decathlon.com, and mountainsteals.com. Also if you plan things out far enough in advance, you can buy gear out of season. Winter clothing is the cheapest right as winter is ending. Same with summer items. Most big box stores consider camping and outdoors activities a “summer thing”. Use this to your advantage when fall rolls around.
It must be said here that the cheaper gear is, the less you know about how it’s made. Some companies are glad to source their materials from countries that have poor worker protection laws and poor conservation efforts. Outside online profiled the Decathlon brand here.
If you have a preference for sustainability and conservation, the internet has you covered here too. There are brands that clean up trash for every item you buy (United by Blue). There are brands that give back to help alleviate poverty (Cotopaxi). Patagonia is getting political with its conservation efforts. Clif Bars make sure all their ingredients are traceable and sustainable. Marmot uses fewer chemicals in their manufacturing and is incorporating recycled materials into its products. Many of the major brands are opening online stores that sell used and refurbished gear. There might be a patch on that jacket or there might be a seam that needed repairing, but preventing these items from going to a landfill or the Great Pacific garbage patch is a noble endeavor. These sorts of things can be found at rei.com/used, wornwear.patagonia.com, outdoorsgeek.com/product-category/buy-now-used, thenorthfacerenewed.com and renewalworkshop.com. There is a push currently for outdoors brands to care for the environments they want their customers to enjoy. If you can, support these efforts.
Let me know if you have tips or tricks that I’ve missed.
Otherwise, gear up and get outside!