Monday, 22 April 2013

Budget outdoor equipment


(all prices given are full retail prices and are correct at time of writing)

Most people shudder at the thought of the words `budget equipment`, images are conjured up of cheap nasty gear that fits badly, causes pain, falls apart, is heavy and generally makes an outdoor experience a miserable one, there may be many reasons why someone chooses budget equipment besides price, these may the persons first time in the outdoors and therefore they may not wish to spend money on equipment they will never use again, they may not have the experience to know what is the best fit or works best for them, they may not have heard of the more expensive brands or cannot see why they are different from the budget brands.

A Prime example of this `Cheap, nasty tat` is a 65 litre rucksack from a supermarket, cheap to buy and for good reason, it is a very poor example of what constitutes a rucksack, cheap nylon, poor stitching, no frame to carry weight comfortably and a non-adjustable fixed harness (although this does have its advantages) this would probably be the worst choice that someone could make but how do alternatives compare?

First what do I consider to be budget equipment? To me budget equipment should be shops own brand equipment but that shop should be specialise in outdoor equipment, such as Millets (Eurohike) Black (Eurohike, Blacks), Mountain Warehouse (Mountain Life) ETC, where advise on equipment is available. 

I always advise that even if you are buying budget equipment that the two pieces of equipment that you should never compromise on is boots and rucksacks. A badly fitting pair of boots will rub, cause your feet to become sore and cause blisters; a rucksack that is badly fitted or does not have a frame would cause pain in the shoulders as the weight pulls on them and pushes into the lower back causing pain throughout the back as well.

A pair of budget boots should cost no more than £80 regardless of whether they are leather or fabric, in this price range don’t expect to see Gore-Tex waterproof linings or vibram rubber soles however there are occasionally some surprises,

Boots from the Peter Storm, Thomas Black and Mountain Life ranges are good examples of what good quality budget boots should be. Although the majority of Peter Storm boots do not have Vibram rubber soles or Gore-Tex they are still fully waterproof and have decent soles, of these the Ormskirk (fabric) and Langdale (leather), retailing at £50 and £60 respectively are probably the best buys within the range. 

Men's Ormskirk Mid Walking BootsMen's Langdale Waterproof Leather Walking Boots

                The Thomas Black Jura can almost be viewed as upgraded Peter Storm Langdale, and indeed the family resemblance can be seen when the Langdale and Jura are placed side by side, the upgrades start from the ground up, literally, although both have Vibram rubber soles, the Jura is stiffened even further with a metal shank running through the mid sole, the stitching on the leather has been has been reduced to a bare minimum and a soft leather ankle cuff is used to provide even more comfort. Although pushing the top end of what could be classed as budget at £90 these would be an investment as they would last for a long time.

Men's Jura Leather Walking Boots

                The Rapid boots (fabric) from Mountain Warehouse also represent very good value for money at £59.99 although without Vibram rubber soles the rubber on these boots is still made from a hard rubber compound adding to its durability and although not Gore-Tex lined they are again fully waterproof and have a soft ankle cuff to provide more comfort.

Mountainlife Men's Rapid Waterproof Walking Boots

With the amount of weight that could end up being carried investment in a decent rucksack is a must, as stated earlier rucksacks can be picked up very cheaply from supermarkets however with no technical features this may end up being a bad decision, as a bare minimum a rucksack needs to have some sort of frame to carry and distribute the load evenly, the absence of a frame in this size of bag should be a real concern as a relatively average weight of ten kilos could end up causing pain to the shoulders and push into the lower back, there are many different designs of bags from bags with no sleeping bag compartment, to no top lid pocket, to bellows side pockets but as long the bag is big enough to take everything you need, fits properly and is comfortable when loaded the choice of design is ultimately yours.

                Three bags I would recommend would be the Eurohike pathfinder 65, the Blacks Alpine 60+10 and Mountain Warehouse Tor 65, the pathfinder 65 is perhaps the most basic of these, with the classic design of main compartment, sleeping bag compartment, two side pockets and a top pocket, it does have an adjustable harness and a frame and retailing at £79.99 it won’t break the bank either,

With three bags to choose from the blacks range I have chosen the middle of three, the Alpine 60+10, retailing for £75 this is a technical bag as you can get from an own brand budget range, with a frame an adjustable harness, bellows side pockets, a main compartment that boasts a waterproof roll top lining, a sleeping bag compartment, top pocket, hip belt pocket, bungee cord holder and several gear attachment loops, there is a lot this bag has to offer.

Mountain warehouse equivalent is the Tor 65 which retails for £79.99 and like the Eurohike pathfinder 65 boasts an adjustable harness, a sleeping bag compartment, main compartment, two side compartments, a top compartment and gear loops.

Mountainlife Tor 65 Litre Rucksack

To apply the same rules to waterproofs that I have done to boots and rucksacks to boots and rucksacks would result in close to 100 jackets and trousers so additional conditions need to be applied in this case I have a applied a £40 upper limit to jackets and a £30 upper limit to trousers. Again in this price range don’t expect to see Gore-Tex, eVent, waterproof zips or extremely lightweight fabrics but what you choose does need to be waterproof and not water resistant and also needs to be breathable, although in this price range these jackets will not be as breathable as some of the higher priced equivalents.

Retailing at £40 is the Peter Storm Journey jacket, this jacket although basic is still fully waterproof and breathable has 2 normal pockets as well as a chest pocket and an MP3 pocket all of which have zips to secure any items and are covered to prevent any rain getting in, the hood does not have a stiffened peak but does roll away into the collar and has draw cord to adjust the volume and size whilst wearing it.

Unfortunately Blacks has no equivalent to the Peter Storm Journey jacket so I’ll move on to Mountain Warehouse, the waterproof Trek jacket retails at £64.99 and is the cheapest fully waterproof and breathable jacket in the mountain life range. This jacket has fully taped seams and a fleece lined collar for more comfort, the hood is detachable and has a volume adjuster for a better fit.

                With sleeping bags unless you are very lucky you will not find down fill within the budget range, this means that all the bags that you will find will be made from synthetic materials, although this means an increase in weight and size but a decrease in warmth to weight ratio they do however have an advantage in that they are water resistant and wont suffer if they get damp, the list of must have in a sleeping bag include a stuff sack with compression straps and a desirable feature is women`s specific fit.

                The Eurohike adventure 200, retailing from £25, has a long history and called many things over the years and is currently the nucleus of a range 2 and 3 season sleeping bags, the technical capabilities of the standard 200 bag are a hollowfibre construction giving an extreme temperature of 0 degrees, an overall length of 220 cm and a width of 80cm, the bag also comes with a square toe, women`s specific fit and junior sizes, as well as it warmer and bulkier 3 season version.

                The Blacks equivalent is more or less the same as the Eurohike but with a better extreme temperature rating of – 16, this is reflected in the price of £35, this means that although you will survive in your sleeping bag at this temperature you will not have a comfortable night.

Quantum 200 2-Season Sleeping Bag

Mountain Warehouses Odyssey 200 retailing from £29.99 is certainly a better option for the slightly taller person as the overall dimensions of this bag are bigger at 230 cm and an almost standard 80 cm in width the filling is polyester which does mean that the overall warmth rating is affected and comes in at an extreme rating of 0 degrees.


Odyssey 200 Sleeping Bag

The next thing I shall be looking at is the mid or insulation layer, this comprises of both fleece and synthetic down, as with everything when it comes to outdoor equipment the choice is ultimately yours, once again i`ll apply a price restriction of £50 and a full zip restriction to items as well.

Even with these restrictions in place there are still a number of choices, within the Peter Storm range two fleeces stand out as being the most suitable for budget purposes, these are the Carrick fleece retailing at £25 and the full zip micro fleece retailing at £20.

The Carrick fleece is made from 100% polyester fleece features an interactive zip and 2 zipped pockets, being a basic budget fleece this is all you would really need.

The peter storm full zip micro fleece is a lighter weight fleece than the Carrick and does not boast an interactive zip, to make up for this shortfall however it does have one extra pocket in the chest, the lighter weight and smaller size does mean that this fleece can be worn under waterproofs without feeling too bulky.

Mountain Warehouse also have 2 fleeces that meet the criteria, the Ash and the Evergreen, unfortunately neither of these fleeces are interactive but is this really a necessity?

Both the Ash and the Evergreen have adjustable hems and anti pilling fabrics and are made from 100% polyester fleece, the difference between them lays in a slightly different design, with the Evergreen (£39.99) having two zipped pockets and the Ash (also 39.99) having three, two on the outside and one inside.

Men's Ash Fleece


Evergreen Men's Full Zip Fleece


The last thing I will be looking at will be base layers, the worst thing to wear in an outdoor activity environment is cotton, this is because although cotton feels cool, it absorbs sweat and doesn`t wick it away from the skin, eventually causing you to become cold, it also takes a long time to dry compared to other materials and has also been known to causing chafing to the skin.

Again there are plenty of options within the base layer market to choose from including wool, polyester and a blend of both, however with the budget end of the market in mind, the vast majority of the base layers will be polyester or a synthetic material.

Within the Peter Storm range there is one base layer that stands out, this is the Peter Storm ½ zip stretch base layer top (£30), as its name suggests it has a ½ zip for further ventilation, is made of stretchable polyester and can be worn as a base layer.

The Mountain Life Endurance base layer comes in both long and short sleeve varieties but no zip, like the Peter Storm it is high wicking and quick drying and also boasts a UV protection of SPF30.

This is just a short choice of products suitable for budget hiking and is by no means a complete list.

As with all outdoor equipment personal preference is key to any decision you make.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

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