What Hiking Gear Should I Buy Expensive, and What Can I Buy Cheap?

It’s hilarious. We spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on camping and hiking gear so we can sleep outside. The outdoor gear industry is incomprehensibly massive, and many of us are guilty – myself included. It is too easy to get sucked into the world of latest and greatest when it comes to hiking gear, and many packing lists given out by companies and tour groups are chock full of gear that will drain your bank account. So what do you do with all this information? What do you truly NEED and what can you do without? What should you shell out on, and what can you buy cheap?

Of course much of this comes down to personal preference, but here’s my take on hiking gear that’s worth the investment and the other stuff that’s not.

Hiking Gear That’s Worth It

Hiking Boots/Footwear: worth it

The worst thing that can happen on a trip is injury. Walking and hiking, injury to your feet or knees can be especially unfortunate, as you have just lost your mode of transportation. The right boots or shoes can and will mitigate the risks of sprains, blisters, soreness, and chafing. I am certainly not saying that you need to buy the most expensive pair out there, but generally the more you spend here the more attention there is to details that will help you on the trail such as:

  • Waterproofing or Gore-Tex
  • A good sole that will prevent slips and falls
  • A proper and comfortable footbed/insole
  • Sturdy laces and eyelets that won’t fray, rust, or break
  • Materials that will protect your foot
  • Breathability

For a pair of boots that I won’t tackle any difficult or long trail without, check out my review of the Mammut Trovat GTX hiking boot.

Mammut Trovat GTX hiking boots in New Zealand
Be kind to your feet and they will be kind to you

Waterproof Shell: worth it

Ironically, I haven’t actually “shelled” out on a quality shell myself so it may seem bizarre that I’m recommending this. However, the past two raincoats I’ve had are not actually waterproof (found out the hard way) and this is what makes me confident and passionate: get a proper shell. When it rains hard on day 1-4 of your 25 day hike soaking through your coat and one of two shirts you brought, you gain a new perspective on the value of gear. Even if you don’t hike a lot, or travel for that matter, this investment is worth it and here’s why:

  • Buy once ($500) and it will last decades vs. buy twice ($200 each = $400) in 5 years with the need to replace again soon…
  • Actually waterproof
  • Actually breathable
  • Much more versatile: use it as a ski jacket shell as well
  • You’ll be very thankful when you stay dry and cozy and your friends are damp and cold
Motorbiking on mountain pass in Lao Cai, Vietnam
My current raincoat/shell had its best use as a shield to prevent sunburns while motorbiking in Vietnam. Yay!

Hiking Gear That’s Not Worth It

Shirts: not worth it 

Have you ever just TRIED to pick up a technical “hiking” shirt made by any of the big outdoor brands under? I love the icebreaker brand and their stuff is incredible… but I just looked at the t-shirts on their website and you literally can not buy a t-shirt for less than $80. Try it, I’m not kidding. For a shirt! And it doesn’t even have sleeves!! It’s robbery! The shirt I have worn on every long hiking or biking trip in the past three years cost me $15CAD. I have two; one in navy and one in black. I’m not even getting paid to say so, but the UNIQLO Airism line really can’t be beat in value. It doesn’t stink, it dries quickly, it’s stretchy, it’s super soft, and it wicks. Go get some.

3 countries 1 shirt

Pack: not worth it

The pack people have done an excellent job adding a whole whack of crazy features to otherwise wonderful bags that most people frankly just don’t use or need. When was the last time you used an ice pick, anyway? The other funny thing is that the more you spend, the flashier the pack tends to be. This is exactly the opposite of what I personally am after, as carrying a pack already attracts more attention that I’d like. My backpacking bag – the one I reviewed (North Face Terra 65) – is a mid-range bag. That is all you need. For example, the Osprey Xena 70L will run you $430. The Gregory Stout 65L costs $220. Do you really need a custom heat-moulded hipbelt? Because frankly that’s the only major functional difference between the two. Both are great brands that will give you a durable, reliable, and quality product, but you can spend that extra $210 on a whole bunch of other gear. Or better, spend it on snacks for the trail!

The North Face Terra 65 backpacking pack
A bag is a thing to hold your other things at the end of the day

I could go on for a long while about gear that I think is outrageously priced and gear that I absolutely love, but the real point of all this is to emphasize this: you don’t need a million bucks, complicated gear, and expensive gadgets. Make it happen with what you’ve got, and invest in things that will genuinely make your experience better. Gear is great, but action is better, so get outside and go already!

Want to know what I can’t leave behind on a hiking trip? These are the 6 items I always take.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *