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How To Buy Hiking Gear:
Approach Your Shopping
With These Tips

By Diane Spicer

Hiking For Her shares tips for how to buy hiking gear, based on decades of trail experience. #buyhikinggear #hikingtips #besthikingtips #hikingforher

How to buy hiking gear is a subject near and dear to my heart.

I've been buying hiking gear since I was a teenager (in the seventies).

And I've watched trends come and go: plastic water bottles giving way to metal, for instance.

Or heavy woolen clothing giving way to lightweight easy to clean hiking apparel.

I've also made some whopping mistakes!

Like what?

I knew you were gonna ask!

So here's a quick list:

  • Over-paying for hiking gear.
  • Buying the first thing I saw because I was in a hurry.
  • Buying what someone else was wearing because it looked pretty good.
  • Going for price, not quality, and having to replace the item in a few seasons (thus paying double for it).
  • Believing marketing hype.

{And there's a hideous pair of purple rain pants we are NOT going to discuss.}

Crank up your skepticism
to a high level

So if you're wondering how to buy hiking gear, here's what I'd recommend before you take out your credit card, checkbook or wallet:

  • Approach buying hiking gear with a healthy dose of skepticism, and a moderate amount of time investment.

Why the skepticism?

Because gear companies are out to convince you that they have THE greatest (fill in the blank).

They have marketing people who do nothing but sit around a table and scheme to paint a bright, rosy picture into which you will insert yourself.

You've seen the ads!!

  • Handsome, strong young men leaping effortlessly up a mountainside - wearing the latest jacket, of course.
  • Gorgeous young women (not a hair out of place, not a smear of mosquito blood on the forehead) lounging in a tent, all dreamy eyed over their hiking destination (or trail companion - see above).

C'mon, people!

It's not about the color of the jacket, or the name brand, it's about the PERFORMANCE!!

[Sorry for shouting. I get a bit worked up over how to buy hiking gear, which is why you really need to consider my strategy, outlined below.]

If you're a casual hiker, no need to read further.

But if you are dedicated to building a functional multiseason affordable hiking wardrobe and gear collection, read on....

Female backpacker with hiking poles on the Pacific Crest Trail with Mount Adams in backgroundConsider how to buy hiking gear before you find yourself on the Pacific Crest Trail with this view of Mt. Adams, Washington State, USA

How To Buy Hiking Gear
TIP #1

Spend time on the hiking trail without it.


If you're just starting out as a hiker, do your first few hikes in running shoes & whatever shorts or pants you happen to own.

By the end of those hikes, you'll know exactly what you're looking for in terms of hiking boots: support, protection, and so much more.

Then, and only then, put yourself in temptation's way by dipping into the vast sea of hiking boot marketers.

Ditto for a backpack.

Use whatever you already have to carry books to school, or can borrow from a neighbor or relative.

You'll find out in a red hot hurry how important it is to get a pack that fits!

This also goes for outdoor clothing. I'll bet you have a shirt and pants or shorts that will work when you're starting out as a hiker.

Only after a few hikes should you consider these hiking clothing recommendations.

Which brings us to ...

How To Buy Hiking Gear
TIP #2

Avoid the glossy magazine with the pretty pictures.

Or at least approach the ads cautiously, somewhat like you would treat a rattlesnake sunning itself up ahead on the trail.

In fact, since I just know that you're gonna take a peek at those ads, do me a favor when you do:

  • Make a list of the adjectives and superlatives in 5 ads.
  • Then ask yourself: Do I really want to be a mountaineer rock star? Or a trail fashionista?

Ask yourself a follow up question:

  • Has the description of this particular piece of hiking gear answered the basic questions of usability, performance, and affordability?

Ha! I'd be surprised if it did.

In fact, if you run across an ad in a hiking magazine which does all of these things, send me a note so I can send a note to the company, thanking them.

Which seamlessly brings us to...

How To Buy Hiking Gear
TIP #3

Talk to a lot of other hikers, either in person or on line.

Ask them which brands they trust.

Inquire about what matters most in a piece of gear.

Hear what they recommend for the best adjustable hiking gear.

Sometimes you'll hear that quality really matters, which I feel is the case for trail footwear. I'm willing to pay more for boots which are going to last and keep my feet dry and happy.

  • Also true for a tent when I'm in the back country.

See if these seasoned trail dogs are willing to part with a few "professional" secrets, such as which pack out of all their packs is the favorite, and why.

With no effort, on to...

How To Buy Hiking Gear
TIP #4

Visit at least 2 bricks & mortar gear stores.

What??? How old fashioned can I be?

Before you check my senior citizen status (yes, AARP counts me as a member), hear me out.

You can be lulled into complacency by photos online.

One example: Actual colors vary (not to bring it up again, but the purple rain pants were NOT purple in the picture).

You want your best angle shown in your photos, right?

It's the same for gear.

Whatever you're ordering, it will look bigger, glossier, better in every way in that photo than what you actually pull out of the shipping box several days later.

Trust me, you need to try hiking gear on or handle it or tug on it or sometimes stomp on it (gently, of course) before you pay for it.

I'd recommend one high end gear store and one low end gear store for your shopping trips.

It's a good idea to "book end" your research (a.k.a. shopping trips) in order to make the all important decision between quality -vs- price.

And I'll bet you know what's coming next!

How To Buy Hiking Gear TIP

Only buy from companies with a generous return policy.

If your hiking boots fall apart after one season, let the manufacturer know how crummy they were by returning them, and sending a letter.

  • Otherwise, they'll keep ripping us off with shoddy materials and empty promises.

Bonus Tip:

Keep all of your receipts in a special folder, labeled Hiking Nirvana or some such descriptive title.

And please don't abuse the return policy.

If you fell asleep with your left foot in the campfire, don't tell the store the heel fell off "all by itself"!

  • This leads to stingy return policies for the rest of us.
  • And the necessity for major changes in store policy, as REI Co-op and L.L. Bean have learned after decades of service to the hiking community.
LayeringSystemInfographicFinalOPtSoon enough you'll be able to pull together a layering system like this one, using the tips for shopping you found here

One more note...

Try to keep the reputable, quality, reasonable gear providers in business.

If you can afford it, pay a bit extra for gear which has obvious thoughtfulness and quality designed into it.

This is especially important for the best women's hiking gear.

Manufacturers and designers are slow to catch on to the fact that women have hips, and breasts, and all sorts of other anatomical "oddities" which males don't have to consider when choosing gear.

You know, over the many years of buying hiking gear, I've never been sorry for investing in quality gear.

Your safety and enjoyment on the trail will be enhanced by choosing quality whenever your budget allows it.

And now you know why thinking about how to buy hiking gear before you surf online or wander into a gear store will enable you to make great buying decisions.

And if you're looking to find a bargain, try this.

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