How to evaluate gear based on price versus value

In outdoor gear there is a huge price range for seemingly similar products. Here’s what to look for when evaluating why a more expensive jacket or pants is worth the higher price…

  • How often are you going to use the jacket and for how long? Daily wear working in the field? Wet season backpacking? Summer backpacking?
  • Are you using your jacket in remote conditions where repair or replacement may not be possible?
  • Do you know how to repair tears or zipper failure?

Many products at first glance look similar. In many cases, they are. The more often you wear the jacket, the more durable fabrics you’ll want unless you’re willing to sacrifice durability for weight. Just be prepared to replace your jacket more often. The differences are in the details and are difficult to spot unless you know what to look for. The easiest ways to start evaluating construction quality and attention to detail is by turning the item inside out. Waterproof jackets and pants are a prime example of this. Look at the seams and zippers.

  • Every time you stitch through the fabric you just made a spot where it is no longer waterproof. In order to make it waterproof again the stitches and seams need to be sealed with a seam tape or other seam sealer (glue).
  • The width of the seam tape and how centered the seam is on the tape will tell you a lot about the quality of construction… the narrower the tape the better, as long as the seam is centered.
  • Also check out the seam tolerance. The smaller the seam tolerance, the higher the quality.
  • Next check out the stitch count… the more stitches per inch, the better. Tighter stitches are harder to snag.
  • Lightweight zippers and fabrics can help keep the weight down, but you’re sacrificing durability.
  • Storm flaps covering the zipper help keep water out but add weight. Unless it is a truly waterproof zipper you will appreciate the storm flap despite the added weight.

Now on to fit. A garment should fit well without being baggy or restrictively tight. Stretch added to the fabric can help with the fit, but, in some cases, it’s added to compensate for poor tailoring. A well-tailored garment should not restrict movement or ride up as you move. Tailoring does take time and effort though, and those add to the cost.

Finally, materials factor significantly into the cost of the garment. Yes, Gore-Tex is more expensive than other waterproof/breathable fabrics, but Gore-Tex is also the industry gold standard for balancing waterproofness, breathability and durability. Further, most manufacturers will offer a warranty of some sort. Gore-Tex backs up the manufacturer with their own warranty for fabric failures. All that said about the Gore-Tex membrane, remember that it is bonded to a “face fabric”, and not all face fabrics are the same. Nylon is stronger and more durable than polyester, but polyester is more water-repellant and UV resistant.

Keep in mind… good gear is an investment. Yes, it can be more expensive up front, but look at the price breakdown over the life of the item. That $100 jacket may fulfill your immediate need and budget, but you may be replacing it next year if you use it hard. That $400 jacket you passed up because of the up-front cost may in the long run be a better value. If you have it for eight years you would have purchased eight $100-priced jackets over the same time frame. The $100 jackets cost you twice as much as the $400 jacket. All this said, again, look at the details! Some brands are marginally more expensive than others at roughly the same price point. There can be a huge quality difference between a $400 and $450 jacket! If you were already prepared to pay the $400, the quality difference between the two can easily justify the $450 jacket if you know what you’re looking for.

The other jacket everyone should own and carry year-round on adventures into the woods is a “puffy”. Whether it be down or synthetic, you should always have one with you. Both down and synthetic have their advantages and disadvantages, but a “puffy” is your single most important way to get warm and stay warm. Even when it’s 100 degrees during the day, it gets cold at night, particularly at higher elevations or near water.