Outdoor Gear – how long should it last?

This is a question that drifts across my consciousness every so often and is inextricably linked to the cost of gear. In my last musings on the cost of gear, there was a lot of talk about relative worth of gear and one or two comments about value of gear over a long period. That brings back the oft quoted (including by me!) “buy cheap, buy twice”. But how true is that and can we really make a quantative measure of this statement and apply it to our beloved gear? It also begs the question of how long should outdoor gear last? Of course, I have only my own experiences to go by although they are over a period of 30+ years.

So lets start. How long should shoes last and do cheap shoes last any less than expensive ones? In my experience, most walking shoes I have owned have lasted realtively well regardless of price. The best of all are my favourite Montrail CTCs, the current pair of which have lasted 3 years of constant use (hill and urban). They were rrp of £70 but bought for £40. The worst pair actually are my Montrail Streaks which showed signs of extreme wear after a few months of use (hill only). They cost me £45 but the rrp was £80. Ok, not much to choose from in my experiences but others must have a view on this bit of kit that gets a real pounding from all of us?

What about the tent/shelter that we rely on so much when camping out in the wilds? For me, cost isnt always (again) a strict relationship with longevity. I have only just retired my first tent which I bought for £43 in 1981 and made by ???? (it is called the Adventure 1 and was bought at a tent show in Bristol). This tent went everywhere with me in my teens and got a huge amount of use as well as a month-long trip around Europe in the late 80’s. Against that I have had a Hilleberg tent fail on me (the fly developed “stress” holes after one use and no it wasnt due to the cack-handedness of the user!) which cost me £400 (although Hilleberg did replace it). The only time I have had cheap tents fail quickly on me (and normally this is the waterproofness) is for family/car camping type ones.

What about rucksacks? Actually, I am of the opinion that the more expensive rucksacks I have owned (apart from specialist uber-lightweight ones which carry their own inherent risks) have been more resilient that cheapo ones. My Golite rucksacks have been excellent with the Jam showing very little wear indeed over a couple of years. My OMM packs have been even better with The classic 32L still holding up well after 5 years continual use. I did buy a frameless pack way back in the early 80’s but this fell apart after 1 use.

Waterproofs. Best waterproof = cheapest in this case. Although still a “technical” jacket, my Montane Atomic DT (£60 in a sale) is what I would consider a cheap waterproof. I have used it for 5 years and it is still waterproof (with occasional TLC). In comparison, I bought a TNF jacket a few years ago (I know, the shame!) and it lasted one outing before the zip broke and the toggles failed on the trim cinch lines around the hem of the jacket. It cost £150 and went straight back for a refund. Really cheap jackets (and trousers) dont work well to be fair either but then I wouldnt want to go out into the hills in a £20 jacket..!

Other items to consider are cookware, sleeping pads and sleeping bags.

Cookware, for me, does pay dividends by forking out slightly more than normal. I have bought titanium pans and cutlery and the weight and longevity have really performed well against stainless steel. I reckon my titanium pans will last forever :) and have had a real hammering.

Sleeping pads swings back the other way but is subjective to the type of pad considered. Obviously inflatable pads dont tend to last that long and innevitably leak. I have seen very expensive pads leak quickly and much cheaper ones not (neoair £90 vs alpkit slim airic £20). Non inflatable pads obviously last longer anyway but the cheap ones such as Multimat are really good value for money. I have had a Multimat pad for 20 years (paid £10) and it is still in perfect nick and still does the business.

Sleeping bags are a tough one to call. Price often dictates the performance level (down/fill type) and the more expensive the bag the lower the temperature rating it has (generally). However, I can attest that the Alpkit down sleeping bags have served me extremely well for 5 years and showing no signs of wear and tear and yet the Golite quilt I bought a couple of years ago has broken straps and migrated down even though twice the price.

Right, I know that alot of the above is personal experience and depends on harshness/length of use and the activity for which the items were bought. For me, on balance, one thing I have learned is that high value/cost items do not necessarily outlast the cheaper versions. In fact some very expensive items have not lasted at all well and way under par for the cost. To be fair some items have shown their worth (the titanium cookware) but its not that often. I guess the middle ground is where the best balance of performance, price and longevity is to be found.

Over to you……

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About Saddlebags and Backpacks - a brewer's outdoor adventures

I am a keen hiker, camper, cyclist and general all round gear addict..... I also manage to be a professional brewer in my non-spare time :->
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16 Responses to Outdoor Gear – how long should it last?

  1. Yasmine says:

    I started out just getting cheap gear, and my best ever waterproof jackets were a gelert I bought in Hay on Wye for £40 and an army surplus jacket that probably cost about £20. The gelert lasted years (I’ve lost count) until eventually the gortex lining dissolved. The army jacket I still have, albeit with a new zip. I’ve had it for about 8 years and it was second hand when I got it.

    Things changed when I started buying TGO magazine, and I think I got a bit snobbish about gear. I’ve only bought one jacket since the gelert. It’s a Mountain Equipment seraph and I think this is its third winter. There’s a loose seam somewhere, but otherwise it’s doing very well. It’s lighter and better designed than my previous jackets. Two things apart from its weight that I love: it’s never let water through, and it dries extremely quickly. It does wet out though.

    I think that if I have the money I’d go for another ‘top end’ jacket next time. If I’m too skint though, I think my army jacket will last forever. Even though it doesn’t have any pockets and it’s about four sizes too big for me!

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Hay on Wye used to have 2 or 3 outdoors shops but I think there is only the one now which is a shame cos its a lovely town within a few miles of the Black Mountains.
      Digression aside, army kit is designed to be abused and so it doesnt surpise me its lasted well. Army surplus stores should never be overlooked when buying gear. I bought a brand new goretex bivvy bag for £25 from army surplus :) Its large, its camoflagued and its unsubtle but by heck its good value for money and tough too

  2. terrybnd says:

    Nice post mate. I’d answer the following…how long should your car last? ;)

    It’s all relative mate. But something I’ve been particularly mindful of in the past couple of years is durability of gear. There’s kit I’ve used and am sure would last me a good couple of years (in my previous employment etc) but now don’t last 6months and in some cases just 3!

    There’s lots to consider though. Tear strength of tent fabrics vary – though on lightweight shelters they tend to be about the same. So, stitching and DWR and design comes into it. For example, I know of at least 3 budget backpacking tents with respectable weights and pack sizes that would last the distance for most folk and you can buy them for under £150. Granted, they may not be roomy and so on, but they’re fit for purpose and tick the boxes as a budget shelter.

    The Vango Force 10 Helium 100 I’m testing has really impressed me so far. One gentleman emailed me saying he picked one up for £130. It packs small, weighs little over a kilo (inc half decent V pegs), I can sit up and relax in comfort inside and it’s very stable (when using the TBS). But the porch is small and that might put folk off. Not me or others though. As the inner has plenty of room to accommodate gear leaving just the porch for cooking and boots and wet waterproofs :)

    But this is really only a 3season tent at best. The Terra Nova Solar Comp 2 weighs the same, packs smaller and is just as roomy though but with a larger porch. It’s a stronger tent too by design and it costs at least £230 online So, far it’s still going strong with only some minor signs of wear and tear around the inner door.

    So, often as you’ve pointed out you can and will get what you pay for. But many people are obessed with kit and will always overlook the perfectly adequate (for most UK hiking) budget kit!

    Some things are a false economy in my opinion. Like footwear. Generally, cheap will do but it won’t last. So, you ought as well invest in a decent pair to give you value for money.

    Same goes for waterproofs really – though if you’re only out and about now and again, then save ya money and go for a budget waterproof in my opinion.

    Sleep bags with regards to down – the expense tends to lie with the quality of down you’re getting. I’ve used Alpkit down bags and after just a few months regular use, they lose a good inch or two of loft. A mark of the cheap down they use from China. Use the bag from time to time and it’s fine but regularly you will if observant notice how it’s slowly losing some loft.

    And on that last point, in truth all down sleeping bags do lose loft to a degree for various reasons. But with care and paying for that bit extra, you’ll find the better quality down will last much longer and perform much better. Alas, all said and done, the design of the bag counts too – you could have two sleeping bags with identical amounts of the same sourced down in, but one may feel warmer than the other, for example.

    Again, you tend to get what you pay for here, too

    It’s all swings and roundabouts is I suppose the point I’m trying to make. The points and examples you raise match my own experiences too. However, it’s best not to generalise too much on the cheap v expensive argument (even though I’ve verged on it) – simply because whoever wins the fight will solely depend on a number of other factors by which we generally can’t measure with any standard over time.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Agreed! :D

      It is all relative, based on the user, the application of the kit and the length of time. Ypu make some very valid points Terry. I guess the most emotive is always going to be the tent. Its the one thing that is on show for all to see in all its glory or failure!

      I used to own the older Helium 100 and I thought it a cracking tent for the money and yes the porch is small but by heck it was a warm tent (probably the warmest I have owned). The trouble with tents is that the drive to lightweights has in some instances led to “thinning” of materials which is always a tricky balance to maintain with longevity.

      I have always had a nagging thought in my mind that some gear manufacturers want their premium gear to last long but not that long if you see what I mean? :) Probably the cynic in me :D

      Horses for courses as you say but I have some great kit that has lasted for years (with abuse) and didnt cost the earth. But then it would be boring if everthing was predictable wouldnt it? :)

      • terrybnd says:

        Your thinking is right mate. I know it is ;) ;)

        Some companies DO think like that. Not all, not the majority. But some high profile European ones do ;)

        I do feel that most companies are beginning to strike the balance with weight and durability well though. Hence the Vango tent example I mentioned. Even Alpkit in truth. They’re business strategies are changing to. Be it target market, area, fashion or becoming niche.

        I reckon the boundaries between the quality of budget brand kit v the big boys is becoming more and more blurred with some kit too. Make no doubt it. I could go on mate….but I’ll leave space on ya blog page for others to comment LOL ;)

        • backpackbrewer says:

          I agree again Terry, there is a blurring of the boundaries between high end kit and the more budget based kit. That can only be good for the end user (you and me :) ) although care is required when choosing the kit (well that never changes does it?)

          After all, I work in the manufacturing sector and I can assure you that “named” brands and “own label” or budget brands are quite often made in the same factory. This negates to an extent (materials aside) the premium charged by the big named brands

  3. BG! says:

    FWIW, we bought our youngest some new boots on Feb 16th this year. Now we don’t buy expensive boots for the young ‘uns because they inevitably grow out of them in about six months. That said, we don’t buy just any old tat.
    What we didn’t expect was that said boots would be trashed after just ONE DAY of fairly tame fell-walking. The insides fell to bits as soon as they got wet, the insoles started to slide around and when we removed them for drying we found that the rear-half of foot-bed was made of some sort of compressed paper/card stuff which had turned to a lumpy mush before falling out in sloppy chunks. Not the most weather-proof of materials.
    Needless to say, I’ve complained to the manufacturer as it’s a design flaw. The retailer has agreed to take the boots back and give us a refund. In this case I feel for the retailer because it’s not their fault, they’ve been sold a batch of pups by the manufacturer.
    One day’s use… four days to agree a return/refund… a couple of days for ParcelFarce to do their bit… probably two or three days to process the return and issue a refund… another day of boot-shopping. Brilliant! Not.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      thats absolutely awful, probably the worst case I have ever heard of. At least you got your money back but it does bring into question the ethics of selling gear and brand quality versus maximum profit
      unbelievable but at least you wont make the same mistake twice!

  4. hillplodder says:

    I work on the premise that with the very very top end, price-wise, you are usually paying a premium for the name and for some super-duper new-fangled technical feature of dubious actual use to you. Similarly, the very bottom end, in terms of price, I automatically rule out as being too cheap to be of any use – unless of course it’s something that I would consider as a disposable single-use item. I apply this principle to everything, not just outdoor gear, and it’s served me well. I’m also prepared to do extensive research to find the right balance of functionality, weight, looks, price etc for me.

    Take one example, when I was looking at tents recently I quickly ruled out the Akto as being overpriced by about £100 for what I could get elsewhere. I also ruled out a very budget tent, as my old tent from Decathlon which cost me £70 is actually ok, so why try to replace it with something cheaper – I might as well just stick with it. I so nearly went for Terry’s Helium (although liking my space I’d probably have got the 200), but instead imported a natty little number from Tarptent, which is as good as the Akto but £100 cheaper even after shipping and customs duties. This was an item where the price only came into the decision as a tie-breaker between things with similar features.

    I’m not afraid to buy budget, but not for shoes, waterproofs or anything that could save my life. Apart from that anything’s fair game subject to the functionality/weight/price test.

    One thing I think epitomises the gear spectrum is rucksacks. I’ve found cheap large rucksacks a false economy. I’ve tried them from Tesco and Decathlon when I’ve liked the size or features, but all have proved to be uncomfortable, heavy or break easily. But both a Lowe Alpine 65/80 I got last year and the Berghaus Freeflow 35+8 I bought in 2005 are still going strong, although obviously I could do lighter nowadays. So good brands for big rucksacks.

    I also recently gear-tested a Geigerrig hydration pack which is priced at nearly £100 for what is essentially a daysack with a complicated bladder. Well made but hideously over-priced and not a patch on a £14 Regatta 20L daysack and Camelbak 3L bladder combo that I’ve had for years. So I make the Geigerrig out to be overpriced by at least £50 for something that does essentially the same job. So cheap brands win out for smaller rucksacks.

    I also think what your examples show that sometimes it is the luck of the draw, and that even supposedly good gear can fail, or a top brand produce a bad product occasionally.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Yes,
      agreed. Quite often, the extremes of the price spectrum just arent worth the risk or cost. I alsways think about new technology in the same way. If there is an iphone 4 just come out then the iphone 3 will be a good bet as it is proven and cheaper. Cutting edge/new technology isnt always better until proven.
      And of course, dont forget that manufacturers want a quick return on their investments and so new releases are often overpriced to faciltate payback in a short period of time
      It is however purely up to the individual and also sometimes the luck of the draw

  5. Well, some garments I’m pretty confident are going to last me a long time (baring any significant changes in my sizing…) are my Paramo stuff. In fact most of my stuff should last me a while, it’s only footwear I’m not too happy with, I rarely go beyond 18months and I’m not particularly careless…

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Footwear does get a bit of a hammering to be fair. Having said that I like to think that all my approach shoes should last at least 12months and if they do 2 years then I am doing very well indeed

  6. Wurz says:

    How long do you expect gear to last? Mmm, I use a sliding scale.

    Tent – 10 years before UV degradation and general wear and tear starts to take it’s toll. This will need reassessing with lightweight shelters.

    Rucksac – Pretty much forever if it is made of cordura type material. My old canvas Cyclops roc was still in excellent condition when I sold it as was my Alpine Extrem when I cut it up. A couple of years if it is lightweight, like OMM Classic 32 or Salomon Raid Revo.

    Stove and pots – Forever, for Trangia, mess tins, my snowpeak stove and Ti Pots my new Pocket Stove, Climber 123. Not so long for pop stoves and clones. I have a couple of brass stoves that are at least 40 years old that work fine. my trangia has seen regular use for over 25 years and is virtually as new.

    Boots – 5 years plus but with resoling. Trainers 1 year.

    Clothes – long time for mid and base layers, a couple of years for a shell jacket. Same for cheap waterproof trollies as they don’t get so much use.

    Sleeping mat – Long time with care. My ultralite TAR is 20 years old, I hope the neoair lasts as well.

    Down Bag – A long time.

    BTW I’d be interested in how your neoair leaked? I know initially there were packing issues which caused a lot of failures but have not heard of any since. Alpkit by contrast and the Airics I’ve heard of lots of people having 2 or 3 fail.

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Thats a good summary of your kit and how long it lasts/should last

      re the neoair, it was at the start of production and was a leaky seam. There have been Alpkit leaks caused by the valve not heard of many recently but again probably batch specific. If you buy a neoair at £80 will it outlast 4 x airics at £20? I know its not as easy as that because of weight, comfort, heat retention etc comparisons.

      Interestingly my Classic 32L is 5 years old and still going strong but my heavyweight Karrimor cordura based rucksack lasted 12months when the stitching failed.

  7. I have learned to watch out for gear companies turned to fashion lines. This has happened with a lot of North Face gear. it is being mass-produced with cheaper product to increase sales and meet demand.

    –Kim in a kayak
    kiminakayakblog.blogspot.com

    • backpackbrewer says:

      I agree with you there Kim. The North Face are a classic example of outdoor gear turned trendy and hence more cosmetic than functional in approach. TNF recognised that a lot of younger people were wearing their brand as a fashion statement and so tailored to that niche or market. The end product is that whilst some of their gear is ok, alot (in my opinion) is not as good as some of the “lesser” brands around them and certainly not worth the money they are charging.

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