I want to talk about the cost of kit. Yes, yes, yes - I know it's an old subject that's been done to death, but I'm not convinved it's necessarily been treated fairly.
Most outdoor gear consumers (of which I'm assuming you're one) seem to be universal in their criticism that the cost of outdoor gear is becoming increasingly expensive, putting it beyond the means of many enthusiasts. Certainly if you only use the opinions of the online forums you could be forgiven for assuming that a waterproof hard shell will set you back roughly the same amount as a two-week stay in an all-inclusive 5-star resort in the Caribbean. And it will probably let in water anyway.
But putting healthy cynicism to one side for a moment, I want to take a slightly different slant on it. My question is this: is all outdoor gear too expensive?
Suppose you wanted to buy a car. If you're a regular viewer of Clarkson, May and Hammond on a Sunday night, you might think that it's impossible to pick up a 4-wheeled vehicle for under £100,000. A quick Google tells me that a Bugatti Veyron will set you back something in the region of £1,000,000. That's even more than a down jacket. But then, the Veyron has an 8-litre, 16 cylinder engine, a top speed of 253mph and, at full whack, can devour a £10,000 set of tires in 15 minutes and drain its 100 litre fuel tank in 12.
On the other hand, my 10-year old hatchback has a 1.5 litre diesel engine, averages 60mpg and costs me £30 a year in road duty. Oh, and it cost me a little under 0.2% of the value of the Bugatti and does everything I need a car to do. Bargain. The point is this; yes, there are some ridiculously expensive cars out there that, unless you're Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Tony Stark, are unlikely to ever wind up parked in your drive-way. But there are plenty of other options too, ranging from the moderately pricey, to the dirt cheap, and everything in between.
The same, of course, is true of outdoor gear. There are jackets that are designed to keep you warm, dry and protected when hanging off the north face of the Eiger, and then there are those that are designed to keep the rain off when walking the dog. Naturally, the costs vary dramatically. It could also be argued that the reason some gear has become rather pricey over the years is becasue of the advanced technology that can be found in the kit. After all, in the same way that developments in Formular 1 racing cars eventually filter into mainstream motors, advances in high-end outdoor technical kit often winds up featuring in high-street gear shops. So why the assumption that all outdoor gear is too expensive? Is it, perhaps, because it's the top end expensive gear that the manufacturers publicise more heavily?
Let's go back to cars for a moment. Imagine you're flicking through a Sunday supplement or half watching the TV when a new car advertisement catches your eye. It's so shiny! Look at the shape and the colour and all those flashy bits that make it look so appealing! Wow. You could really imagine yourself driving one of those. And with prices starting so low, maybe you could! But hang on, what's the small print? Oh. The car shown isn't the standard model. The car shown is at the top-end of the range and has been upgraded with all the optional extras. And its price is almost double the 'starting from' figure. Oh.
The truth is that, in general, manufacturers tend to push their top-end stuff more than they do their entry level products. And that's because the brands aren't just selling you a product, they're promoting aspiration. They want you to look at an item and think "Ooh, that's very nice. It's probably more than I need, but maybe I'll need it one day." This is obvious in the outdoor industry. How many jackets that would be at home in the Alps during winter do you see on a rainy day in the Lakes? Heck, I'm guilty of it myself. I've got some kit that may never be used to its full potential, but I bought it knowing that it will do what I want it to do and if I ever 'up my game' it'll do that too.
Maybe I'm being slightly defensive, but I don't see anything wrong with that. The fact that manufacturers are still selling the gear suggests other consumers feel the same. After all, if a product is too expensive and too overpriced, it won't sell. Certainly some of the purchases may be destined for extreme use in extreme conditions, but I'd guess that the majority will be under-used. You can't blame the manufacturers for that. That's our fault as consumers.
However, if, unlike me, you're able to separate what you need from what you want, there are plenty of lower priced options out there. True, you may not see them promoted as much by the brands or the media as much as the more expensive kit, and that's for one simple reason - consumers are more interested in the flash gear and, to be blunt, are buying the stuff.
But if you refuse to spend more money that you need to, don't be angry with the manufacturers for making expensive gear, or the websites, magazines and TV shows of this world for promoting it. Just be happy and grateful that you're probably smarter than the lot of us.
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