We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
When I first started taking my interest in the outdoors seriously, or at least serious enough to invest in actual hiking boots rather than the running shoes I’d been relying on, I found myself overwhelmed. The outdoor industry is a still a funny place to be as a woman. You’ll find that with some of the things you need – clothing, especially, there are a plethora of options designed for you. But when it comes to other random, seemingly basic items, there’s just not much out there. To be honest, I have mostly lucked-out in this arena as I’m tall enough to get by using men’s gear when in a pinch – or when I don’t like the color options for women, which is often the case. Why must all women’s gear be pink or purple? You’d think purple was my favorite color if you saw my climbing gear, but I actually despise it.
It’s not just minimal inventory that will likely give you a headache when it comes to gear, there’s also the hefty cost associated with most essentials. This is where I struggled the most. I am, sadly, not made of money. And when you’re first getting into an activity, it can be difficult to justify spending money on gear that you’re not certain you’ll actually use. This is where stores like REI come in handy. Finding retailers with excellent return/exchange policies can give you confidence that you’re not committing to an item that ultimately doesn’t work for you.
Trust me, I understand the desire to scoop up that sweet new pair of this season’s goggles, even when next seasons are half the cost. They’re so shiny, so well packaged, so hip, I NEED them! But really, you don’t, and neither do I. Remember that most of your gear is going to get beat up in the back country. If you’re purchasing an item because you love the way it looks when it’s shiny and new, then you’re setting yourself up for a never ending war with your wallet. The outdoor industry is no different than any other consumer-driven industry, new items come out regularly even if the improvement from last season’s model is minimal. If you play your cards right you can find last seasons gear for half the cost.
Oh, and remember the frustration in finding gear in your size? Here is where smaller women can rejoice: kids gear! If you’re petite you’re likely to have success shopping for used kids gear. One of the best pair of snowboarding pants I ever owned was a pair of kids Patagonia’s that my boyfriend found at a Goodwill for $3.00. Not too shabby for an item that regularly retails for $200+.
Know Your Specs and Tech
Remember what I said earlier about last seasons goggles and how you don’t need them? While that’s generally true, its still a good idea to know how the gear is evolving and if that evolution is worth your hard earned dollars. We all have that one part of our sport that we can’t stand – for me, I hate stuffing my sleeping bag into it’s stuff sack. While I’m not in the market for a new sleeping bag, or stuff sack for that matter, if I were I’d look for options that packed down easily. Gear is evolving constantly and there’s never a better time to reduce annoyances and stress than when you’re updating your current quiver. Buying for the first time?
Set a Budget
Tired of relying on your friend’s tent for every backcountry camping adventure you go on? It might be time to take the plunge and buy yourself your very own camping tent. Tents, and pretty much all essential gear on the market, range dramatically in price and while it might seem like a good idea to start your journey with a quick browse through the tent section of REI, I caution you: don’t do it. Nicer gear is more expensive gear, its actually one of the few areas of consumerism where I do truly believe you get what you pay for. But do you really need a tent that can withstand 60 MPH winds, probably not. Will you convince yourself that this is precisely what you need while standing in the tent aisle at REI? Probably.
So start simple: set yourself a budget. What price point do you feel comfortable spending? For all the gear I buy I tend to set my price point based on my anticipated usage, meaning price per use. What is one days worth of use worth to you when it comes to your gear? Is having a comfortable tent worth $5, $10, $20 per day to you? Decide that number and then anticipate how many nights you plan to use it and for how many seasons you intend to keep it. I tend to sleep in my tent about 20 nights a year and a good, reliable, easy-to-setup tent is worth about $10/use to me. Seeing that I’ve had my tent for 3 years at this point, that would put my budget at around $600, which is almost precisely what I spent on my MSR Hubba Hubba.
Once you’ve got your price point set . . .
Make a List
Or rather, make a few lists. First, where will you be taking this gear? Lets use the tent as an example. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so you better believe water-proofness was an important factor when it came to selecting my tent. And when I envisioned most of my camping adventures they always included me + my dog, so a tent that was roomy enough for both of us plus all our gear was essential. Then there was the consideration of weight. I like to go back-packing so having a tent that was light enough for me to carry and store in my hiking bag was an absolute must. And finally, I wanted something easy to set up. When I arrive at camp I’m usually exhausted. If setting up the tent required too much mental energy to put together, it’d make me a not-so-happy-camper, so ease of set up was a must have on my list of requirements.
Now, I could probably go on and keep listing things I’d like from my tent but a short list of 3 must-haves when combined with a budget should be a pretty good start to help you narrow down a few options. And once you’ve found those options . . .
Read the Reviews
And the final piece of advice for buying gear:
Take Care of It
Once you’ve made the purchase be sure to follow all manufacturer advice on storing/cleaning and caring for your new piece of gear. It might surprise you that Patagonia recommends washing their rain coats to improve effectiveness, or that down sleeping bags should not be stored in their stuff sacks. If you take the time to take care of your gear it’ll give back with many seasons of use.
Questions? Comments? Want more advice on what gear to purchase? Leave them below! I’d love to hear from you.