Outdoor gear is stupid expensive. Sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s not. The thing is, given the advances in washer/dryer technology, of which I have partaken quite heavily, gear hardly ever wears out anymore. It’s really mostly the rigors of the laundry that shortens the life of a garment, and dropping extra moolah on your cleaning system nets you years and years out of your wardrobe. I still have the original North Face Apex softshell pants and jacket that started this web site, and the Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch base layer that followed shortly after. I got those things in 2008 and they have had a lot of wear and are still going strong. I finally relegated the jacket to the “fishing clothes” hanger just because it’s showing a tiny bit of wear and the zipper is weakening, but the pants are still in my normal lineup. Over the years I’ve come to realize there is no point in babying your gear, because for the most part it’s going to last near to forever unless you wear the same stuff over and over again. Which we don’t, because we are Westerners who have lots of stuff. It’s definitely an Alaska thing to buy the new pair and keep using the old pair while you squirrel the new pair away because “someday I’ll need it” but really, that way you just end up with too much stuff. Don’t do that.
Anyway, because of all this, I really don’t buy much gear. I’m a little out of touch with how much things cost despite all this gear testing, so when I took stock of the old beat up gear I really truly USE all the time, actually ALL THE TIME, I was stunned at how inexpensive some of these pieces really are. I compiled this list of what I think are the best buys of the outdoor industry. You really get bang for your buck with these products:
1. REI Sahara zip-off shorts/pants. If you don’t have a pair of these, you must not be from the US. The REI Sahara pants are cheap as hell (can be found for $30 on sale) and last forever if the zippers hold out (results can vary, but generally you get your money’s worth). They’re not the greatest looking pants, but who cares? They’re functional and cheap and they last. Forget those stupid fashion-oriented zip-offs that are too tight in the legs for any woman to use. The industry is still trying to make those happen because they can’t get past the “MUST LOOK CUTE AT ALL TIMES” zombie programming of many female consumers. Get over it, ladies, tight pants suck. Saharas are beautifully baggy, which looks better AND provides no stretched surface which mosquitoes can punch through. I’ve had these pants forever and always. I’m on a pair that’s probably six years old. I tagged them with the end of my ice tool five years ago and popped a hole in one of the legs. I figured eventually the hole would expand and the pants would be destroyed, but no. The hole is still tiny, I still wear the pants, and I’d buy a new pair happily when they finally do give out. Pro tip: buy the men’s version. They are better. (They must be good, cuz they are currently sold out.)
2. Manzella Windstopper Gloves. I was gifted a pair of these at a Black Diamond press trip, and wore them nonstop until I sadly lost one. Crushed, I googled to see if I could buy another pair, expecting them to be highly overpriced – and they are only $36! Thirty six dollars! Even I will pay that for a pair of good gloves. I used my REI dividend on them and only had to pay $8. Now I’m just wondering what I bought at REI that netted me a $28 dividend.
3. Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals for your bike. Seriously. $40 and you’re clipless. Boom! I have both the $40 version (bought) and the $450 version (gifted from this fabbo dude) and I can’t tell the difference in the slightest. Not only are they the most superior clipless pedals on the market in my opinion, they are super cheap, easy to use, simple to maintain, never, ever clog with ice or mud, and never break. If you’re scared of clipless because you think you can’t clip out in time (in time for what?), you will appreciate the quick and easy release on these. Yet the almost never release when you don’t need to – the only accidentals I’ve had were when I clonked the pedal on a rock on the downstroke which was really my fault as it compressed the spring that provides tension to the cleat. These are my favorite pedals. They are excellent. They are the No Excuses jeans of the bike industry.
4. MSR Pocket Rocket Stove. This thing is a cheapo trip saver. It costs about $40. It’s tiny and light. I carry it even when not intending to camp, because it’s so light, why not? It’s reliable, lights every time, and can be used as a wet-weather firestarter by holding it by the canister and directing the flame into the damp wood until it submits. It’s essentially a blowtorch, so why not? This is probably not an officially recommended use of this stove, and I’m sure there are classier ways of starting a campfire in Southeast Alaska (er, not really, that is a seriously wet place and you do what you have to do), but what can I say, I’m just a cheater. Need a stove? Don’t overthink it, buy this thing. Keep more money in your wallet and more camp time for doing things other than trying to get your stove lit.
There you have it, some hot tips on Best Buys. From this article I thought to make a more regular feature about my favorite things, the things I really do use frequently, expensive or cheap. I wanted to share them with readers because gear is really only great when you reach for it all the time. I have my standbys like everyone else and I wanted to write about them. I was really excited about it until I realized that My Favorite Things is the name of a bunch of Oprah episodes. Oprah has different Favorite Things than I, no doubt. I mean, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to gear, but I get craigslist prices for used stuff, not GOOP prices. I could call it Best Buys, but I want to feature loved gear, not just cheap gear, and I am stumped for a name. No one wants to see me call a $300 cycling jacket a best buy (except the manufacturer). So I guess this isn’t going to be a feature. But I had the best of intentions when I started to write this.