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……