Is cheap gear worth it?

Since I decided to get outdoors more, both on my bicycle and on foot (anyone want to buy a car) I have been sorting out my camping / hiking gear. This inevitably leads to buying more stuff just in case I need it. I did think that I wanted to go ultra lightweight as it would make both cycling and hiking more comfortable. After all I’m not getting any younger and my doctor has recently informed me I have arthritis in my hip, now I do feel old!

Ultra lightweight however means expensive, Cuban fibre (Dyneema) currently is the most robust and lightweight material you can buy. However a 3m x 2.9m Cuban fibre tarp weighing in at only 76 grams, costs nearly £400, my current tarp is 830 grams and cost £35. I will therefore have to opt for the middle weight versions when I need to replace worn out items. An ultra lightweight DD tarp is 460 grams costing £65 and will shave some weight off at least and at a much lower cost, I hope my hips don’t wear out first.

I imagine lots of people interested in cycling and hiking spend a lot of time looking at equipment. Some, like me, have a habit of buying stuff just to check it out. This led me to discovering a whole range of cheap produced gear. Taking into consideration that most things nowadays are made in China, the quality is predictable as things have improved dramatically since the seventies. I came across a company called Bangood who sell a huge array of cheap stuff. AlthoughI have used eBay and Amazon on occasion. EBay tends to work well as most items are free delivery however can take up to 45 days to arrive.

So Far I’ve Bought.

  • Naturehike Ultralight Tent
  • Adtrek Self Inflating Mat
  • Folding Closed Cell Foam Mat
  • BSR Titanium Stove
  • Tarp Clips
  • Cook Stove Wind Shield
  • 10 Ltr. Molle backpack

My first impression of all these items is a good one, nothing has arrived and surprised me, they match the description and so far are doing a fine job. The Naturehike tent even survived a nasty rain storm on its first night out, without fault. The Adtrek 75mm self inflating mat is very comfortable to sleep on and seems robust. The folding mat has not been out yet but will mainly be used for insulation in my hammock and to sit on whilst I make a coffee outdoors.

The BSR Titanium Stove is a backup, I’ve had one before as my main stove on my European cycle tour and it was excellent. It’s extremely compact, has a great flame and is lightweight. I’ve not used the tarp clips yet as I invented something to lift my tents outer rain fly away from the inner. I used 2 milk carton screw caps to trap the material between and pull the outer away using shock cord. That meant there was no sewing involved and although it’s unlikely I’ll remove them if I do there’s no damage to the outer material.

Here’s where it gets a bit wonky, the stove wind shield are smaller than I thought although this could be a good thing. It’s a folding screen which comes just over the height of the flame meaning it’s easy to carry as well as stop the wind. The molle backpack is also smaller than I thought but I was due to fly with Ryanair so it was perfect hand luggage. As it’s molle I can attach items to the outside so it will make a great day pack.

Before I spout off any more advice about purchasing equipment I will answer the question posed at the beginning.

Is cheap Gear Worth It?

It depends on your use case, if you go out occasionally then yes. If however you go out a lot, as in a month long cycle tour and use the gear everyday, then no. This is because it’s lower quality and usually a copy of other manufacturers equipment. You’ll also end up spending as much on cheap Gear in the long run as you have to replace it more often.

If you are serious about your hobby / lifestyle then it pays in the long term to buy quality equipment. You can only determine the quality of equipment by research, reading reviews, watching videos and going to a store which stocks the item and trying it. I’m lucky enough to work in an outdoors store, so I see what people buy and what comes back. I’ve discovered that a lot of items which are returned have actually been used incorrectly or abused. It amazes me that some people don’t look after their equipment, we had a down jacket returned as faulty. It turned out the owner hadn’t read the care instructions and had just thrown it in their washing machine with other items. If you buy decent gear then there is the responsibility to look after it, most high end gear will take more abuse than it’s cheap equivalent but all gear needs proper care.

Some Suggestions About Buying Gear.

Determine how much you will use your gear.

If you are going to be using your gear daily whether on a long cycle tour or hike then I would suggest you purchase equipment which has been proven in the field. You may have to save up for some pieces of kit but it’ll be worth it when you do get it. I have only used the Naturehike Cloud Up 1 person tent once and already know that it wouldn’t stand up to being used daily over a long cycle tour. I can use it for my occasional trips closer to home but I wouldn’t have the confidence in using it on a 3 month cycle tour.

What type of trips do you take?

A cheap piece of equipment maybe okay on a day ride or hike, perhaps you carry a cheap tent just in case the weather closes in and you need shelter for a few hours. A tarp is probably the best piece of kit to take as an emergency shelter as it can be used in so many ways.

If your trip involves being out for multiple nights then buy proven gear, an MSR tent or a whisper light stove is going to prove more useful. There’s nothing worse than getting wet at night in a storm or falling to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve not had my cheap stove let me down but I know it’s not as efficient as a MSR pocket rocket or a Jetboil. Where I saved on the product I make up for in gas canisters.

Can you do without it?

You would be amazed at how little you can take on a trip. You could forgo all the gear in the world on a cycle tour, just your bike and a credit card. Sleeping in hotels and eating in restaurants would mean no setting up camp, no cooking but for me that’s no fun. I would recommend spending some time deciding on what level of comfort you require. A sleeping bag, bivi and a sleeping mat is all you need to get some sleep on most cycle tours.

I’ve been experimenting with different gear and have come to the conclusion that what I take depends on what I’m doing. I could cycle across Europe again with a quarter of the gear I took last time. The one thing I do know is the lighter your set up the comfier you’ll be and the further you can go.

Have a great trip.

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