Gearing Up on the Cheap


Mora #2 ($10) and selfmade mini-survival kit and necklace for day hiking and backpacking—a lightweight and cheap alternative.

“If You Don’t Buy This Piece Of Gear … You May Die!”

I believe some outdoor gear companies attempt to scare consumers into buying their products with melodramatic ad campaigns. This is most obvious with products like backpacks, bear spray, knives, and water filters.


But is the more expensive product necessarily better? Well, not exactly. All our lives we hear things like, “you get what you pay for,” and that’s often true. I myself have been accused of being thrifty, but really it is just a kinder, gentler way of saying that I am cheap, so why fight it? Here are a few ways I’ve been able to economize on gear and still score tough, durable products.


Two years ago, I went shopping for a new pair of outdoor hiking pants and was surprised at some of the prices out there. I ended up going to Wal-Mart and buying a pair made of the same waterrepellant polyester material as the expensive big-name companies. I thought I would give them a try and if worse came to worse, I could take them back or give in and buy one of the $45 to $60 pairs from any sporting goods store.

Surprisingly, they have held up longer than my friend’s Columbia Titanium pair that he paid three times as much for. By the way, my hiking pants cost $16 and were an off-brand called Athletic Works. They have lasted through two trips to the Amazon, hiking in New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and the Philippines, as well as the Arizona desert and mountains of California!

The same goes for any kind of outdoor shirts. You want quick-dry material that can handle both sweat and water. There are a few places to look for good quality outdoor shirts. First on your list should be the local thrift store. There are usually racks marked “sporting apparel,” where you will find workout T-shirts and button-down shirts, both long and short sleeve, all made out of some kind of polyester material suitable for outdoor excursions.

While you’re there, check out their se-lection of fleece pullovers for the cooler months. Wool shirts and hats can often be found in second-hand stores and are always cheaper than any other place.

Another great source for outdoor clothing and shoes is discount stores like Ross and Marshalls. If you can deal with a few bad stitches or backward labels, this may be the place for you, and unlike second-hand stores, everything is new.

Brands like Champion can be found at Target stores and the Starter brand at Wal-Mart. Both places and brands offer an array of workout clothing similar to the popular but more expensive Under Armour and Polarmax brands that have major celebrity endorsements backing up their products—and rightly so, they work. But simple stuff works just as well!


Let’s face it, when it comes to your feet while hiking/running in the outdoors, nothing will bring a trip to a swift end faster than blisters.

For years, I used Thorlos brand socks after hearing about them in a Ron Hood Survival video. I bought a couple of pairs and recommended them to a few friends who were getting their gear together for the upcoming hiking season and, to be quite honest, I like them. Like Ron Hood said in the video, “You can walk a thousand miles in a pair of Thorlos,” and, in the ten years I’ve had them, they have held up through some serious backcountry treks.

In my attempt to cut pack weight and keep spares around, I went on a search for some lighter, less expensive substitutes and found them. First of all, I didn’t need the extra thickness for three season hiking. I found some Dr. Scholls’ Diabetic socks (brown and black) made of the same blend of polyester, lycra, spandex and all the other scientific stuff they make synthetic socks out of. They cost about $4 for a two pack at Target as opposed to $14 for a single pair of Thorlos.

If you want to push the limits a bit into the realm of super-ultralight backpacking gear, try simple men’s dress socks made from polyester. They do the same job as hiking socks bought at sporting goods stores, and their inherent thinness makes them absorb less sweat, so they dry faster, which in turn prevents blisters. At this point, I use only these thin tan dress socks when running and hiking in the bush. They cost about .99 a pair.  When it comes to winter hiking, I bring out the Thorlos!


There are many “survival kits” available today, and some of the good ones have been covered in the pages of S.W.A.T. Here is a simple way to get a kit together using a few things you may already have in your home.  Purchase some resealable clear plastic bags that can fit enough important pieces to make your own mini-kit. Be sure to include a mini-Bic lighter, LED light or Maglite Solitaire (battery stored outside); small fishing kit; duct tape; signaling mirror; and water purification tablets. You’ll be surprised at how many survival items you already own and at the money you can save making you own kit.


A good knife or multi-tool is para-mount for an outdoorsman. But it doesn’t have to be expensive, and there are ways to combine quality with low prices.

Moras ($10), Swiss Army Knives (Wenger, Victorinox), and Tramontina machetes ($6) all are inexpensive and very capable tools in the field. They can be purchased from Smoky Mountain Knife Works ( and Ragweed Forge ( They offer some of the best values out there and at these prices you can afford to buy a few and stash them.


I would not be a penny pincher in a few instances. Shoes are your lifeline out in the bush, and discomfort can often lead to injury of the feet, knees, and back, not to mention annoying blisters, so don’t go for the cheap stuff. Get quality footwear and enjoy years of hiking.

Backpacks don’t need to be bulletproof but do need to carry the weight for which they are designed at a comfortable level. A good pack will last years and, if it has a good suspension system, it will save your back in the long run.


Simple, cheap, homemade mini-survival kit: TOPS Dog Tag Signaling Mirror and Firestarter necklace, and Victorinox One Handed Trekker. All offer great value and are field proven.


Smart outdoor gear shoppers don’t automatically buy either the cheapest or the most expensive products. Test things out: buy those cheap pants and shirt from Wal-Mart and try them on day trips before deeming them worthy of longer excursions. Thoroughly test any life-saving equipment like knives or water filters before putting your life on the line with them. You don’t have to break the bank to gear up for trips in the wild, but don’t trust your life to anything you haven’t thoroughly evaluated first.

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Reuben Bolieu

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