Are outdoor gear ‘essentials’ too expensive?

What kit do I need for a DofE expedition?

The topic of outdoor gear essentials has, in the past, been a favourite of mine. From Ten Tors kit lists to wild camping tent recommendations, I have been just as keen as the next outdoor expert to insist people need certain kit to take part in certain outdoor activities.

But this year, as I faced my first group of 2024 Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trainees, I realised how much my thoughts on the topic of essential outdoor kit have changed over the last 20 years.

Too old to be an outdoor instructor?

As I started talking, I could see worries about the cost of their expedition kit scatter across some of their faces.

Is outdoor gear too expensive?

I’ve long been aware of the balance, when taking youngsters outdoors, between affordability and safety. Good quality kit isn’t just about keeping them safe (although it does do this), it’s about keeping them warm and happy enough to want to repeat their outdoor experience.

So the right outdoor gear is essential.

On the other side of this debate is the fact that some families don’t even consider outdoor activities for their youngsters because the kit list costs are, well quite frankly frightening.

Especially in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

To test this, I looked online for a waterproof jacket that would pass the three-wet-days on Dartmoor test needed for a Silver expedition. The one I found had a good hydrostatic head (waterproofing), some level of breathability, a decent hood and taped seams.

Even with a DofE discount, it cost the same as four family roast dinners (Tescos). That’s four meals to find from somewhere else and only one item ticked off the kit list.

This is a big deal for so many families.

Is it time for a change of language around outdoor gear and kit lists?

The way I talk to youngsters about outdoor gear has changed since my early instructor days. It’s a tricky balancing act. If families can afford to spend, they need the right information to make that spending worthwhile, if they can’t, they need to know how to either borrow kit or find good outdoor gear cheaply.

But most importantly, no youngster should ever go home or arrive on expedition feeling like a second class citizen because of kit concerns.

Thinking about this helped me adjust the way I give kit advice. Here are a few of the things I found myself saying last week, about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award kit list, to a group of Silver trainees who had all already completed a Bronze expedition.

  1. To give them a sense of ownership…

‘You’ve already started your outdoor kit journey. Your Bronze expedition will have helped you understand that you might get cold sitting around at camp, or that a dry hat in bed can be a gamechanger, or that on a sunny day you’re more comfortable in long sleeves. Use that information to find the best kit for you.’

2. To make second-hand gear a goal rather than a weakness…

‘By buying less new gear, you’ll be doing your bit in the fight against climate change. Whether it’s from people you know or not, second hand is good!’

3. To instantly take away some of the worry…

‘Before you buy anything, check what you already have. Some of your school sports kit will be suitable, the thin fleece you wore last year might be a bit short now but it will still do at bedtime…’

4. To normalise second-hand purchases…

‘This base layer I’m wearing cost £4. It’s my favourite, you’ll probably see me in it a lot, and I bought it from a charity shop.’

5. To make sure they know we’re there to help…

‘If you want advice about what to buy, we would be thrilled if you asked. And we have kit available for you to borrow if that works better for you.’

We are all still learning

There is plenty already being done to encourage youngsters who find it difficult to afford outdoor gear. Most youth organisations have spare kit they lend, and they all try very hard to support their young people.

The DofE website has a sensible downloadable DofE Expedition Kit Guide that gives some good tips and highlights borrowing as well as buying.

But we all still have plenty to learn. As I talked to my groups last week, I told myself off a couple of times.

By pointing out a good quality waterproof worn by one youngster, I risked making another one feel inadequate. Better to bring one along myself to demonstrate.

Instead of feeling exasperated with the lad who insisted his expensive jacket was waterproof, I should have instead explained what he needed to look for.

I really need to get out of the habit of mentioning outdoor gear brand names. It’s the quality of the gear that matters, not who has made it. Nobody needs the pressure of thinking they must buy ‘Brand X’.

Let’s ignore Black Friday

It hasn’t escaped me that today is Black Friday. This wasn’t a purposeful scheduling decision but it seems appropriate considering the pressure outdoor gear marketing advertising puts on all of us (especially parents).

Well done to those outdoor retailers (some listed below) who have turned their back on a concept that is, let’s face it, far more about increasing brand profit than helping customers, and really not at all good for the planet.

Is outdoor gear costing us the planet?

Outdoor retailers who aren’t participating in Black Friday 2023

Paramo – who don’t even seem to have noticed Black Friday (respect!)

Keela – who prefer ‘Bright Friday’ and are donating 15% of sales (10 days) to Cash for Kids (oh yes!)

Dewerstone – who have shut their shops and gone hiking (fantastic idea!)

Haglofs – who are closing stores and operations and encouraging their staff to spend time outdoors (yay!)

Montane – who are donating their Black Friday marketing budget to Fix the Fells (here’s to giving something back!)

Experiences not things. How to give the gift of adventure this Christmas.

How to travel more sustainably in 2023


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