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  The Way I See It: Price vs. Quality

I'm not one to rant about nothing (ok.. maybe I am...) but one thing that really gets me about the outdoor gear industry is price vs. quality. Sure...maybe I don't own a lot of gear (yet :-) so I may not be the best person to comment on this. On the other hand.. I don't own a lot of gear because of price.. so maybe I am the right person to talk about this.

My classic example is the good old tarp... Ok.. so it's nice to have a tarp around the campsite.. no doubt about it. It'll keep you dry, and help stop the wind. So.. what's the problem you ask? Well.. here's the debate. Do you go to Canadian Tire and buy one of those nice blue tarps that are perfectly wind and waterproof, and very cheap? Sure.. if you want to carry the weight, and have it rip on you at the most inappropriate time. So, the solution to this problem is....one of those beautiful coated nylon tarps with hundreds of tie down points and re-enforced edges, etc. Perfect! Until you actually come to your senses and realize that you just paid $60 (likely more...$60 is a cheap one) for a simple sheet of fabric! What a rip off! That's not to say that I don't want a tarp like this.. because of course I'd love to have one.. It's just that I find it hard to justify paying that much for a peice of coated nylon! So.. as you see, there really is no perfect solution to this problem.. unless you have so much money that you don't care (in which case, please make all checks payable to Darren Cope). My solution? Well.. like my solution for most things right now is to do nothing. I do own a blue tarp from Canadian Tire. Sure... I'd likely take it on a canoe trip if I couldn't find something better (or at least go with someone who has something better). I would love to have a nice, light, super-strong tarp, and will hopefully someday be able to afford one without making myself feel guilty.

OK, ok enough about tarps you're thinking... Fine. Lets talk about tents.. Do I own a tent? No..not really. My family owns a tent.. a huge car-camping tent that is quite inappropriate for canoe tripping. Do I want a tent? You bet! The question is.. what tent should I buy? Again, it comes down to price vs. quality (and also just the coolness factor) Do I spend $600 for a Moss tent that will last the rest of my life? Sounds like a great plan to me. Problem is.. who can afford one?? Not many folks I don't think. So do I go to a local store and just buy the first tent that comes on sale? Hell no.. I'd get wet.. and the tent would fall apart.. and I'd be mad at myself for being so cheap and buying a piece of $h!t (oh come on...you've all heard it before). So.. my solution to this problem? Again.. nothing. I haven't bought a tent yet, because I haven't really figured out the solution. I just mooch off of someone, or maybe rent if I have to. What would I like to have? Again.. no brainer... I'd like to have a Moss tent that would last me the rest of my life (although I wish they'd make a slightly less hardcore tent for us non-mountaineering folks.. but that's a different story) What will I likely end up with? Probably a middle to high end tent.. maybe a Eureka.. possibly a Sierra Designs.. or of course, probably the best value, a MEC tent... My problem with the MEC tents is that they don't have a design which I particularily like.. although they seem to have the price vs. quality thing figured out better than most.

In fact.. lets keep talking about MEC. (I guess I should clarify for those of you who don't know what the MEC is.. MEC stands for Mountain Equipment Co-op and it's just about the coolest place ever...) If I wanted to buy a fleece jacket, I would go to MEC without hesitation. Why? Simply because they have the best value. Would you rather pay $120 for a North Face jacket, or $50 for a very similar jacket from MEC? Tough call eh? (Unless you're one who pays for the label only). Not to say that the MEC is perfect, because it isn't. I've noticed that MEC has increase their prices quite a bit lately in the fleece jacket department. Are they increasing the quality as well? Sure they are...but is the quality:price ratio (aka value) the same? Hard to say....but I think not. I can't argue with MEC trying to provide quality products.. but their last cataloge does have a $145 fleece jacket in its pages. I guess that's alright, as they still provide options (they still have a very nice fleece for $50). Even though I could point out some problems with the MEC, and show how not-perfect they are, I could point out a lot more problems with the competition, so MEC is still the best choice in my humble opinion. (Note that I don't work for MEC... I just tell it how it is.. or maybe I should say I tell it how I see it.. which may not always be how it is). Is there anything wrong with paying $120 for a North Face jacket? Of course not. There's no doubt in my mind that they make quality stuff. But would I pay that much for one? No.. Would I buy one on sale for $60? In a second! (if I was in the market for one that is). Are they ever on sale when I'm in the market for one? Of course not.. but again that's a different rant.

Bottom line?? Price vs. Quality will always be an issue. There is no perfect solution. Same as everything else.. make compromises. My feelings? For key gear like tent, sleeping bag, etc. get the best you can afford (ok that's a lie too.. because I can afford a Moss tent, but then I wouldn't be able to buy anything else for 3 years...) For clothing, and other less important gear, look for middle to high end stuff. Avoid all really low end stuff and you should be fine. Ah.. and the most important part... do your research. Order the catalog from the manufacturer, or check out their website. Surf the web for reviews of products. Ask friends and people who use the gear. Reality? I would love to have 100% quality no compromises gear (and dream of someday having said gear) and of course who doesn't want the latest, greatest, newest (and dare I say brand name) gear? I can't honestly say I don't want that.. cause I do.. :) Am I just falling prey to marketing and consumerism (I don't care if it's a word or not!) and everything else that's wrong with the world? Yes. Do I admit that? Yes, and I feel like that's a big thing. At least I know I'm being evil.

Darren Cope
May 7, 2001
  This page was last updated on June 17, 2003 at 02:15 AM