Is there really a difference between cheap and top-range gear? Quality of product is one thing, but there are plenty of other ramifications of purchasing cheap gear that we don’t see.
I recently decked myself out in a full hiking kit from ALDI, and headed into the bush to give the gear a run for its money – which isn’t a lot. For nine items, undies to headtorch, I paid just $300. After a few months, most of the gear was falling apart. Some of the items didn’t even live up to their function. But that’s not the worst of it.
All of the ALDI gear was made in Bangladesh and China, which are hotspots for fast fashion and the ‘modern day slave’ industry. In 2013 in Bangladesh, more than 1,100 people died when the building they were working in, Rana Plaza, collapsed due to cost cutting and poor regard for worker safety. Workers in the garment industry can work up to 16 hours a day for well below a ’living wage’ (minimum wage in Bangladesh is about $92 AUD a month, but many workers don’t even receive this), and end up essentially enslaved and unable to build a better life. Child labour is also common.
Does supporting this industry align with our values as outdoor adventurers? Is this the kind of world we want to support – a disposable culture of throwaway items? Paying $200 for your boots doesn’t guarantee the maker got paid fairly. But paying $30 means for certain that they didn’t.
Buying good quality gear reduces resource consumption and landfill from made-to-break gear. It lasts longer and ends up at a better cost in the long run. Plus, better quality gear usually has robust warranties (brands like Thermarest and Osprey have lifetime warranties) which will ensure your purchase is a one-off that lasts a lifetime.
Borrow Your Gear
The extra time you spend saving for good quality gear shouldn’t stop you getting outside. In the meantime, consider borrowing gear from mates – a backpack is easily swapped between people. If you’re part of a club, see if they have gear for members to use for free.
Thrift Your Gear
Thrift stores can be filled with some serious gems. I’ve found a North Face windbreaker, Quechua hiking pants, and even Scarpa hiking boots for under a tenner each. Buying used extends the life of an item and prevents it from going to landfill. It’s also a cheeky way to avoid directly supporting crappy companies – because, technically, they never see your dollar.
Buy From Better Companies
Consider Kathmandu, who are doing great things for social responsibility. They list the exact locations of all their factories (this is almost unheard of in the clothing industry), pay minimum wage, and are working towards paying a living wage (minimum wage is not always a liveable wage). They’re also accredited by the Fair Labour Association for compliance with fair labour standards throughout their supply chain.
Then there’s Patagonia, an international leader in ethical outdoor gear. They’re known for their ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ advert, which ran in the New York Times to inform consumers about the resource cost of its R2 Jacket. With lifetime warranties, free repairs (even if your gear isn’t Patagonia brand!), reasonable repair costs for wear and tear, and a loud voice for environmental issues, Patagonia is a great choice if you’re buying new.
Buy According To Your Hiking Needs
You don’t need top of the range gear for small day hikes and overnighters at a drive-in campsite. Buy gear that matches up with the kind of trips you’re going on. Spend your extra dollars on buying well-made gear, rather than high-tech or extra stuff.
Feature photo by Miranda Fittock