By: Blonde Two
Since I wrote this post we’ve seen a few changes. We’ve been through a global pandemic, are far more aware of the impact our behaviours are having on the environment, and are now experiencing a cost-of-living crisis. I’ve added a few notes below each paragraph to reflect this.
There can be no doubt about it, the outdoor industry is a competitive one. This is good news when it comes to the economy but perhaps not such good news when it comes to encouraging people to get outside in a safe and enjoyable way. If you went into a mid-range outdoor gear store and totalled the cost of a basic set of outdoor gear, the result would be way above the budget of many UK households. Blonde One and I have experienced this issue many times with our DofE and Ten Tors Challenge youngsters. We have had help in the past from fantastic enterprises such as Gift Your Gear but have often resorted to lending our own gear. Good gear does its job well and costs money but it is possible to get yourself safely out enjoying the outdoors on a budget. Here are our suggestions of how to find cheaper outdoor gear…
October 2022: I imagine that a ‘basic’ set of outdoor gear, as suggested by some marketing, would now be beyond the budget of even more UK households. Reputable brands are doing their bit to counteract this but there’s still a disconcerting ‘fast fashion’ element to lots of gear marketed as suitable for the outdoors.
Cheap walking gear
Different outdoor activities obviously require different pieces of outdoor kit but we are going to concentrate today on walking kit. Partly because we have a lot of experience in this field but also because a good set of walking gear is a great place to start. Let’s have a think about what you will need:
October 2022: One thing that’s really struck me this year, is the importance of seeing outdoor gear as multi-purpose. A jacket that will keep you warm on the hills will also warm you up after an outdoor swim. My old fleecy kayaking top is also great for winter camping nights. The more uses an item has, the less items we need to buy. Better for our pockets, better for the environment.
Outdoor gear to keep you warm
Whether you are warm or not will have a big impact on your enjoyment of your time outside. Not only that, should you find yourself having to stay out longer than you planned, having enough warm layers can be a question of safety.
October 2022: This hasn’t changed. Lots of layers, or rather the air they trap, can keep you warmer than one big layer. They can also be cheaper.
Cheap base layers
Base layers (top and bottom) to draw moisture (sweat or rain) away from your skin. Merino wool is great for this but synthetic base layers are often cheaper and last longer. Keep an eye out in Lidl’s middle aisle or try Millets for long sleeved tops (also useful for daily wear). If you can’t stretch to thermal leggings as well, wear a good pair of tights underneath your trousers (footless ones are more comfortable for walking). Mind you some pairs of tights cost more than this pair of thermal leggings from Mountain Warehouse.
October 2022: There’s an environmental argument against synthetic clothing. I am torn here. I find wool base layers warmer and more comfortable but even with repairs, they don’t last as long as synthetic ones (but are compostable). Buying second-hand and only when I need to can help me balance this.
Cheap outdoor mid layers
Fleece doesn’t always look fantastic but, when it comes to keeping warm for less, it is a great place to start. Not only that, fleece mid layers dry quickly when they get wet and can be very reasonably priced. We recommend a few thinner fleeces rather than one thick one as this allows for better temperature control (sweat can make you cold too). Look out for retailers offering bargains if you buy two, for example this Gelert fleece from Sports Direct.
October 2022: How times change. Because of their fast-fashion approach, I would never recommend Sports Direct today (and have removed the link) but I stand by fleece. Not least because it’s one of the easiest outdoor gear items to find in a charity shop but also because it lasts a long time.
Cheap walking trousers
Walking trousers are great because they have pockets but thicker, synthetic leggings can also do a good job and have the added bonus of being useful for other activities (I wear mine around the house). For extra warmth (and curves) wear two pairs of leggings.
October 2022: The synthetic/natural fibre argument raises its head again here. Perhaps here it’s more helpful to look at labelling. Leggings labelled for the outdoors can do the same job as footless tights, which cost a lot less.
Outdoor gear to keep you dry
Once you are wet through it can be very difficult to keep warm. With UK weather being so unpredictable, it is important to take your waterproof layers with you whenever you venture outside.
Cheap waterproof jackets
Waterproof jackets can be really expensive and it’s true that really cheap jackets don’t do a great job but there is a happy middle ground to be found. Look for a jacket that’s breathable and consider buying second hand. Facebook Marketplace can be a good place to find bargains or check amongst your friends to see if anyone is having a clear out. You can always check online stores if you want to find out original prices. If you buy a second hand jacket, it is worth taking the time to re-waterproof it.
2022: At last, some of my own advice I still agree with. The second-hand market for outdoor gear is coming on nicely but my favourite option is my local charity shops. Plenty of bargains and a useful input into my local economy.
Cheap waterproof trousers
Your legs have a fair amount of surface area. Surface area that will get wet when it starts to rain, especially if your waterproof jacket is doing its job. Waterproof trousers fit over your walking trousers or leggings and will keep the wind out as well as the rain. The more you pay the better they will do their job but a cheap pair is definitely better than not having a pair.
2022: I’m discovering that over-trousers have more uses than I thought. Mine older ones also now come gardening.
Outdoor gear to keep you safe
Keeping warm and dry is really important when it comes to outdoor safety but gear that can prevent accidents is also important. Walking boots are the most important of these and can make the difference between a stumble and a broken ankle.
2022: It’s worth noting here that there is some outdoor gear that shouldn’t be compromised on when it comes to safety. Helmets, ropes, and climbing harnesses are all good examples. These items are expensive so it’s worth trying to save money in other areas.
Cheap walking boots
The truth is that cheaper walking boots will probably not keep your feet dry on a really wet day but they will support your ankles across rough ground. Look for sturdy soles with plenty of grip and boots that lace fairly high up the ankle. Even the cheapest pair of walking boots will be better than your trainers. Second hand walking boots are also a great idea, especially when you are starting out.
2022: One even cheaper way to get started is to borrow a pair of boots before you decide to buy. If you walk a long way, you might end up with blisters but you might get those from new boots anyway.
Maps and compasses
It is possible to buy second hand Ordnance Survey maps online but compasses should be bought new if possible. We use this Ordnance Survey compass for our navigation workshops, at £19.99 it doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles but it does have all you will need to get yourself safely across the hills. Of course, maps and compasses work much better when you know how to use them so you might want to check out our Dartmoor navigation courses.