Too many times I’ve made the mistake of buying low-quality outdoor clothing brands. It wasn’t until I began to work at summer camps and spent time with true outdoorsy people that I began to learn about the importance of quality outdoor gear.
I grew up in a middle class family, so we always just bought whatever rain jacket was at Kohl’s, and all our shoes came from Payless. For most of my childhood that was enough, because we were always growing and clothes didn’t fit for a whole year.
Now as an adult, most of my wardrobe is still from these places. However, over time I’ve begun to invest in pieces that will go the distance since I’ve stopped growing. This has been a big part of my zero waste journey, too.
Invest In Quality...
Quality outdoor gear like heavy duty footwear and rain gear is an investment. I remember as a pre-teen asking my mom for a North Face fleece jacket and we both balked at the price. Growing up, these big brands were a status symbol, and in many ways, still are.
However, it only took a couple of hard rains and a rocky hiking slope for me to realize why hardcore outdoor lovers only buy the best. In most cases, the status brands are the best, and they’ve gained that status for a reason. It may be a large investment upfront, but the gear will last three times as long as off-brands and helps keep low-quality stuff out of the landfill.
But Save Some Money...
To save money, know that you don’t have to go out and drop $1000 on a whole new outfit in one shopping trip. Most lifelong climbers and hikers have learned that you should stagger your purchases to save your wallet. The time allows you to find your favorite brands and make a conscious shopping decision. You can also ask for items for Christmas or Birthday gifts!
As a bonus, in some strong outdoor communities such as Burlington, VT there are resale shops that specialize in outdoor gear. You may not be able to be as picky with styles and brands, but they offer the same quality materials at a lower price. For those living in more rural settings, Ebay can also be a good option.
If you’re new to the outdoor gear world or how quality and minimalism are tied together, here are some of my favorite products I’ve bought or been gifted far and can’t stop raving about.
- Chacos - I LOVE Chacos. They come at a pretty steep price of an average of $100 or more. You can buy one of their pre-made designs or customize your own.
What I love about the brand is they are really intentional about keeping stuff out of the landfill. So, they have a great repair shop where you can send in your shoes to have them replace soles, fix straps, etc.
They are super supportive sandals with good sole grips and easily adjustable straps. I’ve taken them on intense hikes through creeks and various terrain with no problems.I highly recommend joining #ChacoNation!
- Tevas - Ranging from $50-$100 on average, they are a slightly less expensive option and pride themselves on being vegan footwear. I personally think Teva’s classic sandals look like grandpa sandals, so I went with Chacos. However, I know people who love their more fashion-oriented (not hiking-oriented) Tevas and wouldn’t switch. It’s all about personal preference, really.
- Merrell - My first pair of hiking shoes are Merrells, and again, my mom balked at the price when I was getting ready to go to camp. However, these shoes have gone through the thick of everything. They have brought me across many streams and rocky peaks. I still use them today, 5 years later.
- Since this is the only brand I’ve worn and that my friends have, that’s all I really know. However, I did find this post from Best Hiking with other top recommendations. The important thing with buying any kind of hiking shoes is to try your best to buy in-store so you can try them out on various mock-terrains the provide.
- Anything with GORE-TEX. I thought regular rain jackets with random pounds per square inch (psi) ratings was helpful. Alas, they all failed me. Once I got to my second summer camp, I learned from the best that GORE-TEX was always the way to go. If you’re confused about anything raingear related, I highly recommend this article from REI. Here’s the link to a North Face GORE-TEX jacket similar to what I own.
- North Face - Currently, my winter jacket is usually just a heavy North Face fleece jacket. I’m used to brutal Chicago winters, so it takes a lot for me to wish I had a full winter jacket. If I go somewhere it’s colder, I now usually just layer up my North Face rain jacket (which has GORE-TEX) on top of the fleece.
- Patagonia - Known for its great company ethics and care for our planet, Patagonia is a favorite for a lot of nature lovers. They also have incredibly soft sweaters and base layer or second layer jackets.
- prAna - I fell in love with this brand when a roommate from camp showed them to me. They’re fair trade certified and sustainably made, so I was 100% on board from the start. Their women’s Halle pants also have Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, making them perfect for rainy days, too! My male friend who studies outdoor adventure also only wears prAna, so it’s a consensus!
Of course, there are so many more clothing items and blogs with endless rankings to help you find the best of the best. I hope this short list gives you a baseline to start your potential wishlist for higher quality gear. I promise you won’t regret the investment!
If you have any other suggestions for your favorite brands or gear, feel free to comment below!