Today I wanted to do a short post on a topic that is very close to my heart, hiking gear 🙂 Specifically, do you need to spend a lot of money and buy expensive gear to be able to start hiking. This question was put to me recently by a person, who is relatively new to hiking, in a hiking group I regularly hike with. It is an interesting one to consider.
At the time I said that, from my personal hiking experience, first and foremost, expensive hiking gear doesn't necessarily mean good hiking gear. It can depend on what your goal is too of course. Some folks just want to be seen strutting about in the latest cool and expensive looking piece of kit. While that isn't my thing, I guess there's nothing wrong with it if that floats your boat.
However, I am talking here about functionality first and foremost. Branded gear is fine, but for me it needs to do what it promises to do from the get go!
It can be a bit surprising, when you start to get into it, how much gear you actually need as a regular hiker. If you're new to hiking and not sure what you may need, check out this day hiking checklist for the whole gambit of day hiking kit. You of course may not need it all getting started but if you become a regular hiker, you will likely need all of it at some point.
Brand Name Hiking Gear
By brand name hiking gear, I mean gear from outdoor gear makers, stuff specifically designed and marketed as equipment and clothes for the great outdoors and hiking in particular. For example, the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking Boots shown below is a good example of a piece of brand name kit specifically designed and made for hikers and backpackers.
I have had plenty of expensive brand name hiking gear that has really been excellent and I have got excellent value and use out of. Overall, as a general statement, my experience with brand name hiking gear has been very good.
At the same time, it is worth pointing out that I've also had my share of experience of big brand stuff coming apart on me after little to no use, or just not performing as it is supposed to. I think every hiker has experienced that to some degree at some point. On the plus side, good brands usually give you a reasonable chance of getting your money back, or at least a replacement, if the gear falls apart. And finally …
Non Brand Name Gear
I have of course bought the odd non brand piece of kit every now and then. While it's cheaper, I can't honestly say I've had a great experience with non brand name gear. It usually isn't of a great standard but again, there have been exceptions for sure. I once bought a pair of light hiking boots for summer in a non brand supermarket chain. I only wanted them as a spare pair for a trip I was going on so I wouldn't use them regularly, kind of a back-up plan if I recall correctly.
As it turned out, I wore them for a hike one of the days and I actually found them really comfortable. I wore them repeatedly throughout the summer that year. While they were very comfortable, they did eventually break open at the seams after about 4 months regular use. Not great in terms of longevity, but for 20 bucks, it wasn't the end of the world and they did a decent job for a fair few hikes over a four month period.
What I do
OK, from reading so far it seems that I am almost saying it can just be pot luck 🙂 That isn't what I think though so I will tell you how I do things.
I always use well known brand gear for all my hiking gear. There is the odd exception, for example, a water bottle is sometimes just a water bottle be it €5.00 or €20.00. If the job is done, on something like that, I am happy to run with the cheap version. If however, that was a compass, there was no way I would risk relying on a cheap non brand model as it's a crucial part of my safety. It would have to be the reputable brand name one. You get the idea.
When it comes to clothes, while I have the odd non brand piece of kit, nearly everything I use is from a well known brand name. One of the main reasons for this is that as these items are more expensive and made by outdoor gear manufacturers, it is simply purpose built and so it has to, generally, be of a decent standard for the company to stay in business.
The next reason is that you can easily find lot's of information on people's experience with gear so with brand name stuff, it is quite easy to find reviews and see how other people got on with it. Any dud gear, in terms of performance, will usually be exposed pretty quickly.
Finally, there's usually some element of guarantee or warranty in terms of performance.
Overall, I would say that what I do is simply the best approach 😉
I'm kidding … In all seriousness, I think if you're just starting out hiking, it's fine to go with cheaper gear and to improvise on stuff you already have. I did a series of posts for beginner hikers and gear which goes into this in more detail.
In summary of those posts though, I think you can even get away with non specific hiking gear, in certain cases and in certain conditions when you're just getting started. When you're new to hiking, you're probably not, or at least you shouldn't, be doing anything too crazy or challenging. So at worst, if you get a bit wet by the time you get back to your car, you'll be alright.
Branded hiking gear isn't cheap, but I do recommend it longer term. However, you don't need to go out and buy a shed load of brand spanking new hiking gear from Arc'teryx and The North Face from day one! You can start out with a mix of what you have available in your wardrobe and maybe one or two specific items, non branded.
For example, everyone usually has a small standard sports pack of some kind, like one of mine below, which will do fine as a short term daypack in decent conditions. You may also already have a rain jacket from playing golf. While not the best option, it will keep a shower off you for a few hikes no problem.
As mentioned you may need to buy one or two things from the start. If you don't have hiking boots, I do think it is better to buy a cheap non brand $20.00 pair to tie you over than to head out on the trail in sneakers.
Over time then, you can start to replace your bits and pieces with the best branded gear that, firstly, meets your functional needs and, secondly, that you'd like to have, wear and so on. There are also options like Gear Trade, where people buy and sell, and even trade I think, second hand branded gear at knock down prices. I've never bought anything like that myself but I have come across some good reports on peoples experiences.
In the final analysis, I would say that no, you do not need to buy expensive gear to start hiking. Starting out, you will probably need to buy one or two things, and mix it with stuff you already have, to get you going but you can easily get non branded gear pretty cheap to tie you over in the short term. This of course assumes you're keeping your initial hikes practical and sensible of course 🙂
If you start to love hiking and want to get into it more and more, I recommend you start to add decent branded gear to your kit to replace your temporary stuff over time. Spend time reading sites like this one and reading user reviews to be sure you get a good piece of kit that you want. When you spend $250.00 on a pair of hiking boots, you want to be sure you got as good a pair as you could possibly find!
Finally, if you're completely new to hiking, check out the hiking for beginners page. It has lot's of great information to get you started on the trail if you're new to hiking.
I hope you found this short post useful. Please like and share it round!