If you’re just getting into hiking and hillwalking, or even considering trying wild camping for the first time, buying outdoor kit can be a daunting prospect. There are literally hundreds of brands to choose from, and some eye-watering prices. Luckily, Outdoors Magic is here to help with our buyer’s guide to best value budget outdoor gear. We’ve got plenty of advice on how to be a savvy outdoor shopper.
Best value budget outdoor gear
‘Buy cheap, buy twice’: this old saying definitely applies to outdoor kit. The key to buying on a budget is not necessarily to buy the cheapest product you can find. Instead, look for the gear that represents the best value while remaining affordable. A slightly more expensive item that will last for years is a good investment. It is a much more sensible purchase than something that lasts only a couple of trips.
Having said that, it’s worth spending a bit more – or as much as you can reasonably afford – on key bits of kit. This includes a decent pair of boots, for example. As anyone who’s suffered painful blisters from poorly-fitting footwear will tell you, good boots or trail shoes can make the difference between a great day in the great outdoors and a miserable one.
Footwear in particular is a highly individual purchase. You should visit a good outdoor shop and try on lots of pairs to find a walking boot or shoe that suits your foot shape. That’s why we haven’t included a budget boot in our list of low-priced picks (though there are plenty of bargains to be had).
Savings and discounts
If there’s one golden rule when it comes to buying outdoor kit, it’s this: never pay full price. Ever! Always shop around for the best price on a particular product. There are so many outdoor retailers, from high-street chains and local independent shops to online web shops. So you should always be able to make a saving on the manufacturer’s RRP.
Secondly, look out for discount codes and vouchers, which often give 10% (or more) off full-priced items. Often, something as simple as signing up to a mailing list will give you a voucher code.
Don’t forget that you can also get a discount (normally 10-20%) at many shops if you’re a member of an organisation or group. For instance, this includes the Ramblers, the BMC or even the Army or NHS.
In addition, many outdoor retailers will price-match an item. You just need to prove that you can buy it cheaper elsewhere. Go Outdoors is one of the best chains for this. Provided you’re a Go Outdoors Discount Card holder, if you find a product cheaper online or in another store within seven days of your purchase, they’ll beat the price by 10%.
Where To Shop
You’re probably familiar with the major outdoor chains – like Cotswold Outdoor, Go Outdoors, Blacks, and Ellis Brigham. There are also a number of budget chains selling only their own gear. You’ll find these shops on most major high streets, for instance Mountain Warehouse and Trespass. It’s not only the big chains that offer the best prices, however. Often, independent outdoor shops do some great deals, both in-store and online. Some of the best-known are Needle Sports in Keswick, Gaynors of Ambleside, Mad about Mountains in Kirkby Stephen and LD Mountain Centre in Newcastle. Down south, there’s Taunton Leisure in Somerset and out west, Trekitt in Hereford.
More recently, supermarkets have been starting to stock ranges of outdoor kit. Aldi’s ‘Specialbuys’ and Lidl’s ‘weekly offers’ have regularly featured sporting and outdoor goods. These range from camping kit to kayaks and paddleboards.
You can also find great outdoor kit bargains in some surprising places. It’s often worth popping in to TK Maxx and Sports Direct (or visiting them online). Some top outdoor brands like Millet, Black Diamond, Marmot and Mountain Hardwear pop up from time to time at a fraction of the RRP.
Another well-known sporting goods retailer selling decent kit for those on a budget is Decathlon. Look for products from their own Quechua brand, which is focused on outdoor pursuits like hiking and camping. Similarly, their Simond brand is focused on more technical climbing and mountaineering products.
One British brand making a range of excellent outdoor gear at sensible prices is Alpkit. Their business model is to design and manufacture their own outdoor gear. They sell direct to outdoor enthusiasts. The kit is well-made and customer service is first-class. They now have four physical stores in Hathersage, Ambleside, Gateshead and Keswick too.
Lastly, for dependable gear at very affordable prices, a visit to your local army surplus store is rarely wasted. Although you won’t find any big-name brands, you will find a range of tried-and-tested military kit. Gear can be issued or unissued. It often works well for camping and hiking. The only thing to be aware of is that military-grade kit is rarely the lightest stuff around. This might be a factor for gram-counting backpackers.
In recent years, online-only retailers have proliferated. This has meant that prices have come down even further, provided you’re prepared to scour the web. You can often find good bargains from specialist independent outdoor gear sites. These include Webtogs, Blackleaf, Surfdome and Ultralight Outdoor Gear.
Take advantage of sales. Just like the fashion industry, the outdoor kit industry works seasonally. New products are usually released in two waves: spring/summer collections and autumn/winter collections. You can make big savings on outdoor kit by buying at the right time of year, when end-of-line products make way for new ranges. But often, the only changes to products will be new colours. The promotional sales calendar usually starts with the January sales. This is followed by mid-season sales in March, summer sales and the ‘Black Friday’ weekend in November.
For the absolute best bargains on top-quality kit, consider buying used items. Call them ‘pre-loved’ if you prefer! Remember that buying second-hand gear is better for the environment compared to buying new. Obviously, the usual warnings apply. Check the condition of the goods carefully. Contact the seller to request more info and images if necessary. Also look for sellers with lots of positive feedback. And if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Good places to look for outdoor kit include Ebay, Gumtree and the two major Facebook groups: Outdoor Gear Exchange and Outdoor Kit Exchange. These two are private groups, so you’ll need an active Facebook account in order to make a request to join them.