You would think the outdoors would be the most accessible activity around, right? All you need to be outside is to be outside, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. While getting outside can be expensive, gear companies try to make people think they need to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on outdoor clothing and equipment just to get started outside.
I am here to debunk this myth and show you that you don’t need a lot of money to start getting outside more. I will explain what gear is worth investing in (and there really aren’t that many, to be honest) and what gear you can spend less on, especially when you’re starting out.
Hiking Boots: The only investment you really need
If you make one investment in your entire camping/hiking/outdoor life, let it be hiking boots! If your feet aren’t comfortable walking even 5 km in your boots, you’ll never want to try a longer distance or multi-day hiking. A good pair of hiking boots is going to be around $200-$250.
To help you make this purchase, check out my post Pro Tips for Buying Your First Pair of Hiking Boots
My hiking shoes were $189 before tax (I actually went for one of the cheaper pairs). I got them in 2015 and that summer I wore them for four months of hiking in the Canadian Arctic. Since then have worn them throughout Canada, New Zealand and Australia and after all this time they still fit unbelievably well.
Base Layers: semi-investment
When you’ll be outside overnight or hiking in the cold, it’s important to have a set of base layers. Your base layer is made of the clothing that goes directly over your skin. They should be able to wick sweat away, not get damp with sweat; since cotton retains moisture, cotton shirts and tights aren’t going to help you here. A little investment is needed.
The good news is that there are two types of base layers, and one is fairly affordable. First, you have natural fibers (merino wool), which will keep you very warm and very dry. These are the super expensive ones where a set of base layers (top and bottom) will come to $150. But, merino wool clothing is also not that durable. I treat all of my gear very well, but I have still managed to rip/tear two pairs of merino wool tights. MEC replaced both pairs, but when it happened the third time, I ditched merino wool entirely. I now only buy the second kind, synthetic base layers. These are cheaper (one top and one bottom will come to $75) and they far more durable (I’ve had this pair of tights for two years now without a problem).
The reason I call this a semi-investment is that you don’t need a nice backpack to get outside, but a nice backpack will improve the experience. So a backpack is really a future investment once you’ll make once you’re going out more regularly or doing longer distances.
When you are starting out on shorter day hikes, don’t worry about getting a hiking specific backpack. You won’t be carrying that much, so you don’t need a fancy harness or special zippers. Just get outside with whatever you’ve got -don’t let this be the barrier keeping you inside!
As your hikes get longer, however, you will find benefit in getting a nicer backpack. Specifically, you’ll want a backpack with a hip belt and padded shoulder straps to make carrying it more comfortable. In terms of size, I’d recommend a ~28 L backpack because you can use it as a backpack for full day hikes, but also for city excursions or cottage weekends.
The more premier brands (Gregory, Deuter) will range from $150 to $200 for a 24-28 L backpack. Osprey bags start at $115 but can go up to $200. MEC bags will hover around $100 or a little more (this is not an exhaustive list of backpack brands – there are tons to choose from).
I personally use the Deuter Futura 28 (mine is older, so quite a bit different than this one). It was definitely expensive (~$200 with tax), but I have used it on at least 50 days hikes, and probably another 150 times for traveling.I used it as my carry-on when I was checking bags for my flight to New Zealand, and I’ve even used it for week long trips to Vancouver and Montreal.
The reason I’d say a raincoat is a semi-investment is that you want to balance quality with practicality. You could spend over $500 on a Gore-Tex raincoat, but for most people this is unnecessary and completely unpractical. That being said, I also wouldn’t recommend buying a$40 raincoat that isn’t designed for the prolonged water exposure. Check out MEC or SportChek for non-Gore-Tex raincoats in the ~$100 range (look at brands like McKinley, Columbia and NorthFace) or look for sales on last season’s colours (this is how I bought my Patagonia raincoat for under $100).
What gear isn’t worth investing in (at least when you’re starting out)
I’m not saying these are bad products or that you shouldn’t buy them, especially if you are already a someone who is regularly outside for long periods of time. Remember, this list is geared towards people who are new to the outdoors and its purpose is reducing the financial barriers to getting outside. If you want to spend $200 on a fleece sweater, who am I to say no!
Fancy wool socks: Did you know a single pair of socks could cost more than $35? When you’re starting out, don’t worry about having technical wool socks. As long as the material is wool, you’re good to go. Maybe that means purchasing two pairs of $11 Wigwam socks or maybe that means buying a value pack from Costo. I used to buy nice socks, but I always end up losing one or getting a hole, so I’ve stopped buying expensive socks.
Athletic clothing: I have a quick dry t-shirt from participating in a sports event high school, and I still wear it on all my camping trips. For three years I have worn a pink and green pair of Nike shorts bought for $10 from Winners. There is no need to buy expensive shirts and shorts for the outdoors.
Fleece sweaters: This may be the most controversial on the list. People love to talk about “technical fleece” and its “superior” benefits. Okay sure, if you’re climbing Everest or paddling across the continent. But for a day hike (or even a multi-day hike or paddle), don’t spend more than $40 on a fleece sweater. I only buy fleece is it’s on sale or second hand, and it’s often an obscure brand I’ve never heard of. MEC and NorthFace sometimes have nice sweaters on sale,and I actually saw great Columbia fleece sweaters for $21 this weekend.
First aid kit: Do not read this as “I don’t need a first aid kit” because EVERYONE should travel with a first aid kit. But don’t purchase a ready made kit because they’re expensive and I don’t think they have the right quantities/items to be practical. I’d recommend building your own (and use my guide here to do it).