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  • Writer's picturePathloom Guest Blogger

Spend or Save? A Guide to Strategic Shopping for Outdoor Gear

A venture into nature can get expensive, follow this guide to help decide if your costly gear is justified

Strategically Shopped Gear on the Tahoe Rim Trail, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain


Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Read exclusive stories, learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.


Have you ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? Keep that in mind when you have an urge to splurge on expensive equipment.

Building a versatile outdoor gear collection can become pretty pricey. However with the proper preparation, your purchases can hold a much greater value to you and your adventures. There are many different ways to spend your time in nature, spanning from a casual hike using all the things you already own to an extraordinary backpacking trip into unchartered territory.

It’s important to acknowledge that everyone has different needs, especially in their preference of tents, hammocks, camping chairs, etc. Allow this guide to act as advice for when to invest in top-quality gear or when you should save some cash. With that being said, let’s dive into my tried-and-true 5 foolproof filters to strategic shopping.

White Mountains National Forest, NH - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

How often do you plan on using this?

Let’s be realistic here, a great place to start is thinking of your necessities. The pro-tip here would be to think of the versatility of an item when deciding on an investment. A great buy would be a first aid kit equipped with all the antiseptic sprays, dressings and Band-Aids. This holds such a high value since it quite literally revolves around your well-being. One thing I personally love to look for in a first aid kit is a compact package, to take up as little room in your pack as possible. I also find it helpful to have refills handy to customize the kit to your needs.

An example of an item that may not be as valuable to purchase would be something like a paddleboard for your first trip near a lake. While I absolutely understand the satisfaction of buying as opposed to renting, this might be a great time to try the latter unless you plan on paddling around your pool at home. This leads us to the second filter...

Is there a rental option available?

In some cases, renting is not only more budget-friendly, but it is also a great opportunity for trial and error. Let’s say you rent a sleeping pad on a camping trip to use underneath your sleeping bag. The pad you have rented is less than ideal and deflates quickly. This would have been an easy item to purchase outright, but now that you have experience with it you can use it as a reference when buying your own. Maybe you also learned through this experience that you also prefer a flat sleeping pad instead of one with ridges. Renting allows you to narrow down what features are non-negotiable for you when you eventually are prepared to purchase.

A great place to check out rentals is your local REI. Their available gear may vary by store, but this is a great option since there are many locations throughout the US.

Sedona, AZ - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

What’s the lifespan of this product?

When getting ready to purchase a big item, it can be helpful to consider how long it will serve its purpose. My parents bought a Coleman tent about 20 years ago when they started taking us on annual camping trips with their friends. That tent is the same one we haul along to this day and set up in between everyone else’s upgraded trailers and toy haulers. Needless to say, that was an investment that positively played out over several years (now decades!)

THE Coleman Tent! Photo Credit: Jamie Rees

The best way to determine the lifespan of any item is to hear it from those who have already invested their money, time and experience in it. In order to utilize reviews to your advantage, I’d suggest checking to see what the reviewer specifically used the item for, and where they feel like the faults are. If you find it to be a consistent issue in all reviews, or the issue is one of your non-negotiables, this may be a sign that the item won’t serve you best. With that in mind...

What do the reviews say?

Reviews are your best friend when researching your next potential purchase. I love to check out OutdoorGearLab when looking into gear purchases, since they offer individual reviews and product comparisons. Since reviews come from customers as opposed to the manufacturers, this will allow you to get an unbiased understanding of the practicality and reliability of items. This will be especially valuable for novice outdoor enthusiasts. You can learn a lot about the functions and situations different products are used for from people who have first-hand experience in those situations. There have been times that reading reviews has held the power to make or break a purchase, so be sure to recognize the benefit of well researched shopping.

Honolulu, HI - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Reach out to your local community!

In case you were wondering, there is a Facebook group for just about everything - including dozens for local outdoors lovers. Pathloom has a group set up for this specific reason as well! By joining groups such as these, you will be able to hear from people who may have previously taken the same trails as you hope to. They will likely be happy to share tips and tricks from their personal experience that can help you, too! You can see their recommendations, and also connect with a new community of people with similar interests!

One of my favorite things about Pathloom is that we strive for this kind of connection. By signing up for early access, you’ll receive a list of some of our favorite dispersed campsites, and all our social media information conveniently located on one page to help you make these connections with the rest of our community.

Don’t forget that sometimes less is more.

I’ll admit, I love a good Pinterest packing list, with everything you need for every occasion. However, many of these encourage you to pack more than is actually necessary. As an example, there have been a few times I have utilized a list emphasizing dry shampoo as a necessary toiletry. But by packing a product I don’t have much use for, I end up spending more time digging around the item in my pack than actually using it. In addition, I am guilty of forgetting sunscreen on my camping trips. This is the perfect example of where I could have ditched the dry shampoo for something much more important and useful.

Consider what is required for you to bring on your trip, versus what is more of a luxury. This is another instance that truly emphasizes how everyone has different needs. A great packing list to reference would be this one from REI that breaks down necessities, but also includes optional item ideas. In addition to considering personal necessities, one must also keep what's best for the natural environment in mind when packing for a trip. Flexibility, and responsibility, according to your own personal needs is the key.

Outdoor adventures create memories that last a lifetime, and the gear you purchase and bring along can either enhance or inhibit the experience. I have found these filters to have helped me in numerous situations, so I hope this serves the same purpose for you!


Guest Blogger Jamie Rees is a Las Vegas native currently pursuing a Journalism degree at UNLV. Look for more of Jamie's writing in the Pathloom blog in the coming weeks!


Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Read exclusive stories, learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.


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