Sometimes spending more money on travel gear saves money. Put in words, this sounds ridiculous, but put into proper practice the logic is sound.
I do not want to drop an entire pay out a week’s earnings for any piece of outdoor travel gear, but I also want the equipment that I use for traveling to be able to withstand the pressures of the open road without breaking down, tearing, under performing, or doing me bodily injury. Even more than my penchant drive to save money I want to ensure that I am well provisioned in my travels: so I buy high quality long term travel gear, often without regard to the fact that there are inferior, cheaper options available. I despise the practice of shopping, so when I make a purchase I want to make sure it lasts. I want to buy one pair of high-quality hiking shoes once every five years, one backpack for a decade, and I want my water filter and other long term gear to last indefinitely. One shot shopping is what I call buying high quality gear, as I know that the higher quality of gear I purchase the longer it should last.
When I use the word quality here I mean projected longevity combine with performance.
By performance I mean that the gear does what it is suppose to do without a hitch.
The paradox here is that through spending a little more money to provision myself with high quality gear I often end up saving money in the end, as the cost of multiple replacements of cheap-o gear will often go over the price of a singular quality purchase that will last for many years. For example, I paid around $100 for a pair of Carhartt work boots many years ago. I could have gone for cheaper models, perhaps spending $25 per pair at a department store, but I know that these cheaper boots would probably have needed to been replaced at least five times over the five year lifetime of the high quality Carhartt boots. The same goes for backpacks and other specimens of long term travel gear.
What is long term and what is short term travel gear?
There is a marked difference between short term and long term travel gear, and two different strategies are needed for their acquisition. For my long term travel gear, I want the best gear available (within reason); for short term gear, I dig through thrift stores the old discards family and friends, and generally look for the cheapest options possible. My criteria for separating the two follows.
Long term travel gear
Backpacks or luggage
If you get a good backpack it will last you at least ten years. I look for the best value bag I can get but compared with the amount of time I plan on using my backpacks price is a mere side concern. When getting a back I want to make sure that it is sewn well, made from top of the line material, is highly water resistant, has an excellent harness, fits me well, and is comfortable to wear fully loaded. If a bag meets these criteria I will glance at the price tag only long enough to
A backpack of any price — even free — that gives you a back ache is not a good value. The expense of using ill suited luggage is not found in the price but the lack of comfort. I have known many people who have done serious damage to their backs lugging around crappy backpacks (add your medical bills onto the price you paid for that cheap-o knock of backpack you picked up in Nepal to come up with its real cost), I know well the annoyance of climbing in the hills with a bag that just won’t sit right on your body (add up how many vistas were not fully enjoyed because of unnecessary body wear and I have the real price I paid for my lack of foresight), add up how many items you lost because your bag busted open on a bus, tore, or whose stupidly arranged pockets invited theiving fingers and you have the price you paid to cutting corners). In point, the gear that I use almost daily on the road should be up to the challenge and made for the type of travel I intend to use it for.
On the recommendation of Craig at Travelvice.com, I picked up a Lowe Alpine TT Tour 70 backpack for $160. I could have picked up an inferior bag for less than half this price, but I know that this backpack will last through just about anything I put it through — it is made specially for travel, has no exterior pockets, a great harness, and the straps can be zipped up into it for easy transport on planes, buses, and trains. I made an investment when choosing this backpack over others, and it is one that experience tells me should work out in my favor.
Boots and footwear
Almost without saying, attention to footwear is a must for any traveler who intends on walking over a mile or two a day. Walking — and its various forms: hiking, trekking — is among the prime occupations of the traveler. I spend most of my days on my feet, very often walking at least five to fifteen miles each day. Without good footwear one of my main enjoyments of the open road would probably not be so appealing. I have tried the full circuit of footwear when traveling — from logger boots, to hiking boots, to working boots, to sneakers, to sandals — and have found light weight, non-insulated, non-steel toe, all leather outers working boots to be the best performing, but there are many other options that may be more suiting to other travelers. I do not intend to sell any type of footwear here, I just want to say that having a calculated plan when purchasing shoes for a journey is worth many times the effort. I generally add up my traveling style (likes of bipedal movement) with terrain (lots of hiking, outdoors walking, rural and urban exploration) climate conditions (the entire world) and come up with a sum of what I need from my footwear. Perhaps your needs are different, but do the same math.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I have learned the lessons I mention in here the hard way. I am still learning. Around a month ago I picked up a pair of flat bottom, $5 Converse knock off shoes from a department store. I ran and trained on them hard for around two weeks. Then one morning the tendons in my ankles were too stressed to move. I lost two weeks of training time because I was lured into using crap gear by a low price.
I have found the following specialty gear to be well worth taking the quality route on.
- A water filter- Stick to the pump variety, those Steripens and more fancy varieties look as though they are just waiting to break.
- Tight nylon or polyester athletic shorts- This may make you laugh, but not getting brush burns on my thighs in the middle of long hikes is worth dropping $13 for a pair of good athletic compression shorts every once in a while.
- Proper gear for extreme climates- If going into extreme weather, be prepared. If that means purchasing a few extra pieces of gear then do it,as the enjoyment of a stretch of travel is worth more than a couple dozen dollars — and travel is difficult to enjoy when you are not bodily comfortable.
Short term travel gear
I make my living off the electronic devices I use to publish this website, but I have never been shown any reason to purchase anything other than the cheapest cameras, computers, and sound recording gear possible. My reasoning for this is that electronics are easily broken, stolen, beat up, or otherwise rendered unusable on the road. I hardly know of a long term traveler who has not left a trail of broken cameras in their wake — it is my estimate that I have had no less than 12 cameras break in my travels. The same goes for lap top computers, I have had to purchase five in the past three years. I know the argument that if I bought high quality electronics they may last longer could be raised here, but I must say that $2,000 laptop is more than likely going to respond to a fall very much the same to a fall as a $200 one; a $500 camera can be stolen just as easily as a $50 one. In terms of quality, my cheap netbooks may operates at a slightly slower speed than a top of the line laptop, but, for the most part, they do what I need them to do — until they break. For the cost of a $2,000 lap top I could buy 10 netbooks. No matter how many of these cheap ass computers I lay ruin to, I am going to be ahead of the game as far as expenditures go.
Most articles of clothing are only going to be with you for the short term, as in under one year. Like so, I am unsure if I spent over $5 for general, cotton based clothing in the past two years. There is five billion people on the planet, and most of them wear clothes so cheap clothing is everywhere. A 50 cent cotton t-shirt often functions just as well as a $50 one, so why pay out for an expensive one?
Unless on some sort of expedition where a specialty outer shell is needed, I do not fret over my jackets or coats. I do not consider those $250+ super Gore Tex expedition coats high quality gear, as they are often only fully functional for under a year. For a one shot outdoor adventure in precipitation prone climes, these types of Gore-Tex coats could be great, but for prolonged wear — such as is inevitable with long term travel — they simply wear out too quick and the weather proofing degrades.
[adsense]I have laughed myself to pieces many times when a hiking partner realizes his super waterproof coat is no longer waterproof in the middle of a rain storm on the side of a mountain. As any kayaker knows, those breathable “water proof” jackets are not so waterproof. I must admit here that I’ve even had the pleasure of laughing at myself when my own super fabric water resistant rain jacket — one that I lifted from a friend — left me soaking wet one day in Mexico.
My strategy for buying coats and jackets is to look in the second hand bins of discount stores, in the closets of friends and family, and going with whatever jumps out at me. I go for a jacket that meets my current specs as far as my projected style of travel and current climate, and then I purchase an additional rain poncho or cheap rain sleeve to wear over the jacket in the event of precipitation. $30 duct cloth workingman jackets are often my preference in climates that are not overtly humid and prone to rain. In point, I have found those ugly, plastic rain ponchos tend to be more water resistant than any of those super fabric jackets, and they are about a hundred times cheaper.
There are plenty more examples of what constitutes long term versus short term travel gear, I just sought to outline some major examples.
How to determine high quality travel gear
Price is not to be confused with quality. High quality gear is often more expensive than crap gear, but expensive gear can still be crap. My advice here is not to shoot for expensive gear but to determine quality without initially paying much regard for price. There are plenty of pairs of crap boots being sold for vastly more money than the ones I buy, the same goes for backpacks or just about anything else.
I try to determine quality in a variety of ways. First, I look at the general presentation of a particular item: is there anything that that immediately stands out as being advantageous? Disadvantageous? I log the good and the bad, and if the ratio is tipped to the positive, I take a closer look. First I look at the material: does it feel thick and strong or is it brittle and flimsy? I then look further at the pieces: are the sewn, bolted, securely fastened together, and the parts assembled in a double lock fashion (two methods of adhesion for each part)? If I answer yes to all of the above questions I try out the gear: how does it feel? Is it designed well to fill its purpose? Do I think it would take an unexpected impact well? Is this item suited to my style of travel in the particular climates I intend to visit? For long term travel, can the item be utilized in cold, hot, moist, dry climates equally? I then I try to imagine how and where a piece of gear may malfunction. On a pair of boots, I look at the soles and the interior fabric, on a backpack I look at the weight of the material, the stitching pattern, zippers, and harness. Can the parts that may wear out on a particular piece of travel gear be easily replaced around the world? This is a big question, as high tech or specialty pieces on an item manufactured for sale in the USA or Europe may be difficult to replace in, say, South America or Asia. As a last measure I look at brand name and reputation, as this can sometimes give clues as to the quality of the manufacturing.
Well chosen travel gear is not only a purchase, but an investment.
Where to buy high quality travel gear
As a general rule, stay out of expensive adventure gear shops if you want quality products. Look for the manual work shops. Buy specifically recommended specialized gear online. The backpacker oriented outdoors stores all too often sell over priced and under quality gear: 80% of the stuff seems to be made for sale to the fashion packer, not the traveler or actually backpacker or anyone who intends to use the gear under prolonged extreme conditions.
The VJT travel gear store sells what I recommend.
Use high quality gear conclusion
I did not come to these conclusions through any sort of preplanned logic or reason, but through experience. I traveled for a long time with shit backpacks, shit footwear, the cheapest of gear I could find, and very often without the gear I should have had. I confused being a vagabond with being intentionally squalid. Having a pair of $20 Walmart boots lose a sole two days into a week long hike is not only an expense in replacement but an expense in time and comfort — there is a certain non monetary cost inherent to having to walk through mountains with a taped on boot sole for five days. I have been there. $200 is a lot of money to drop in one go, but when spread over ten years it is hardly any amount to mention.
I will happily drop $100 to $200 on a high quality backpack, $100+ on boots, $50 for a water filter, $100 to outfit a bicycle with good parts, $80 for a messenger bag that won’t leak in the rain. My equipment is high quality — it is not cheap — but I would not call it expensive either. I am not frolicking through the world like some sort of Gore Tex adventure man. Though my gear is good, it does not make me look like a rich man. After six months of constant use a $200 pair of boots will look as shabby as a $20 pair, all tourist backpacks look alike, and the flaunting of wealth should not infringe upon selecting quality travel gear. If you ever meet me you may at first find me a touch squalid — my gear is well worn and looks valueless — but if you look a little closer, check out the material of my boots, the stitching of my backpack, the brand names on some of the labels you will see that I am provisioned very well for long term travel.
This is my strategy for selecting long term travel gear.
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