Saturday, May 16, 2009

Please... Buy gear that works!

I just got home from a camping trip with my son's boy scout troop.  We had a really great time, despite the weather.  The plan was to camp Friday night, canoe Saturday and come home Saturday night.  The rain came in about 3am Saturday morning and came in droves.  It rained buckets until around 11am.  We cooked breakfast in the rain, ate in the rain, did some service work in the rain and hiked in the rain.  

By lunch time, almost everything and everyone was soaked.  However, I noticed something.  The one's whose stuff and persons were soaked the most were the ones who had skimped on their gear.  They had bought the big, cheap family tents.  Their rain gear was the $9.99 plastic jackets and pants from the local sporting goods store.  They had no water shoes, so they were wearing their tennis shoes.  Cotton shirts, shorts and socks were the name of the game.  My self and my son and all are our gear, bone dry!

Now, I'm not one to splurge and buy the most expensive and highest tech gear that rolls onto the shelves at REI.  Well, not all the time.  I troll Steep and Cheap, Campmor and the REI Outlet looking for good deals on quality products most of the time.  What I look for is functionality and performance.  

With the amount of camping that we do with the Boy Scouts, Indian Princesses and Guides, and our Family Campouts, I ensure that we have proper rain gear and solid tents.  Everyone has at least a couple of pairs of wool socks, some good water shoes, quick dry shirts and quick dry shorts.  

It doesn't take a whole lot of money to ensure that you are properly prepared for various conditions.  If you are going to be spending any time in the outdoors, you need to BE PREPARED.  I have posted on my site, an Essential Gear List, along with recommendations.  When looking at options for certain gear, think about how often are you going to use it and what are the consequences if I don't buy something that will work?  Also think that you won't know it doesn't work until you need it to work.

For tents, I use 'em on pretty much every campout, so I wanted something that would serve my purposes for weight, size and configuration.  Price was a consideration.  I didn't want to spend $600 on a 2-person tent, but I also knew that something at the local sporting goods store for $75 probably wasn't going to cut it.  I did a bit of research, whittled my list down to 2 or 3 choices and then looked for reviews.  I ended up going with my favorite tent, the REI Half-Dome 2HC.  It's fantastic!  I've camped in snow, ice, rain, wind, heat and cold.  It's performed in all conditions.  The one or two times I've had issues like condensation, it's been because I didn't guy it out properly... Operator Error.  I think I paid $189 for it or something like that.  It wasn't the cheapest, but it also wasn't $300 like the MSR Hubba Hubba or the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2, both of which were finalists in the Canyon Man tent sweepstakes.  I took on a bit more weight for $100.

For my rain gear, we first stumbled upon the $9.99 cheapo specials at the local sporting goods store.  I pulled them out of the packaging and immediately felt that these were not gonna do it.  I went to my friendly, neighboorhood REI to check their stash.  Some things to think about with rain gear:
  • You are more than likely going to be around fire at some time or another while wearing it.  You will either be cooking or sitting around a camp fire.  You don't want anything that is going to be dangling around the flame, you want it to fit to your form.  
  • You want it to breathe, something the $9.99 specials don't do.  Look for features like pit zips, zippers under the arm pits which will let air in and out.  It doesn't do a whole lot of good to keep the rain out, if you're sweating under your jacket and the moisture can't escape.  
  • For rain pants, you want something that is easy to take off and put on without removing your footwear.  Zippers or some sort of way to expand the opening at the bottom of the pant legs are a must.  Think about it, do you want to sit down, take your shoes off in the rain or with wet ground, just to put pants on or take 'em off?  
  • Look at the zippers on ALL pockets and the front of the jacket.  You want zippers that are seam sealed.  It's hard to explain, but you will notice a distinct difference in a seam sealed zipper vs. one that is not.  Zippers are the easiest place for water to seep in.  
  • For the rain jacket and the rain pants, there's not much variety in price.  I found either you pay for the $9.99 specials or you pay around $50-$60 for pants and around $100-$150+ for the jackets.  But, after hiking and standing in rain, snow and wind in the Grand Tetons for a couple of days, you will be glad you dropped 2 Ben Franklins on good rain gear!

So, if you are going to be spending a fair amount of time in the outdoors, think about what you will use the most and what you need to perform the best.  Then, take your time, do your homework and buy good gear.  That doesn't necessarily mean spend a lot of dough, it simply means don't rush out and buy the cheapest thing at the sporting goods store around the corner.  Ask around, read reviews and try it out.  If you are dissatisfied and you bought it from a reputable company, they will often give a refund or exchange.  The reason I buy from REI, The North Face, Leki, Mountain Hardwear, Petzl and others like it are that they are gear nuts, just like me and they stand behind their stuff.

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