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, full of advice on how to be a savvy outdoor shopper.
Buy cheap, buy twice?
This old adage definitely applies to outdoor kit. The key to buying on a budget is not necessarily to buy the cheapest product you can find, but to look for the gear that represents the best value while remaining affordable. A slightly more expensive item that will last for years 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 practicably afford – on key bits of kit. This includes a decent pair of boots, for example. As anyone who’s suffered agonising 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 purchasing decision that should only be made after visiting a good outdoor shop and trying on multiple 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, both high-street chains and local independent shops, not to mention those online, that 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 are also often eligible for a discount (normally 10-20%) at many shops if you’re a member of an organisation or group, like the Ramblers, the BMC or even the Army or NHS.
In addition, many outdoor retailers will price-match an item if you can 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-focused chains selling only their own gear that you’ll find on most major high streets, like 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 instore and online. Some of the best-known are Needle Sports in Keswick, Gaynors of Ambleside, Mad about Mountains in Kirkby Stephen, LD Mountain Centre in Newcastle, Taunton Leisure in Somerset and 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 ranging 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), where 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 Chamonix-based Simond brand is focussed on more technical climbing and mountaineering products.
One British brand making a range of excellent outdoor gear at sensible prices is Alpkit. Put simply, their motto is ‘go nice places, do good things’, and their business model is to design, manufacture and source the best outdoor gear and sell direct to outdoor enthusiasts. The kit is well-made and customer service is first-class. They now have three physical stores in Hathersage, Ambleside 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, both issued and unissued, which 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, which might be a factor for gram-counting backpackers.
In recent years, the proliferation of online-only retailers 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 like Webtogs, Blackleaf, Surfdome and Ultralight Outdoor Gear.
Take advantage of sales. Just like the fashion industry, the outdoor kit industry works seasonally, releasing new products typically in two waves: spring/summer collections and autumn/winter collections. You can make big savings on outdoor kit by buying gear at the right time of year, when end-of-line products make way for new ranges – although often, the only changes to products will be new colourways. The promotional sales calendar for retailers usually starts with the January sales, followed by mid-season sales in March, the summer sales and the ‘Black Friday’ weekend in November.
For the absolute best bargains on top-quality kit, consider buying used items (or ‘pre-loved’, if you prefer…) This has a number of advantages – not least that buying second-hand gear is better for the environment compared to buying new. Obviously, the usual caveats apply – check the condition of the goods carefully, by contacting the seller to request more info and images if necessary. Also look for reputable sellers, and remember that 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. The latter are private groups, so you’ll have to have an active Facebook account and make a request to join them.