Monday, 30 May 2011

Budget Hill gear.....false economy?

Budget hill gear has been around in supermarkets and pound shops for years, but is it any good? Once upon a time I would never have considered buying anything that was considered 'budget'. Budget outdoor gear was discussed in hushed tones throughout the outdoor community for fear of being branded a 'cheapo'.However times have changed, and after recently purchasing a small trowel for my wild country toilet kit at a cost of £1, and it actually being good, I decided to investigate further. Over the last few months I have investigated and researched a number of products, and produced a list of my top 10 items;

10: Poundland “Camping Kit bag” From Outdoor Solutions
RRP: £1
The camping kit bag, is a large 10L stuff sack with a drawcord closure. For £1 it is constructed from tough material and certainly not thin and flimsy. This might be of some use for someone looking for a small stuff sack to store kit separate from the rest of your gear, e.g:  stove and cooking bits. Available in your local Poundland.

9: Lidl “Flexible camera tripod”
RRP: £5.99

Whilst not strictly hill gear, this little tripod seemed worth a quick mention. This small unit is essentially a flexible tripod for those people who do not want to pay £30 for a Gorilla-pod. The flexible legs mean you can wrap it round trees, railings or anything else you want. This is suitable for small cameras only, I definitely would not recommend anything bigger, for example a large digital SLR or video camera. It has a standard  tripod screw fit so should be compatible with most digital cameras, if in doubt check underneath your camera, and if your camera has a tripod attachment it will have a small indent with screw threads inside.

8: Wilkinsons “Deluxe Compass”
RRP: £2.28
This compass is well built and surprisingly solid given that it only costs a couple of pounds. The bezel has a smooth action, and the notches in the bezel make it easy to grip even with gloves on. The compass has basic features including; a roamer, and glow in the dark points for easy use in low light. Definitely worth looking at if you want a very cheap backup compass.

7: Aldi “Polarised Sunglasses”
RRP: £3.99
These sunglasses are definately good value for £3.99, and polarised lenses mean no glare. These are actually designed for use while fishing to protect from reflection off the waters surface, however they would work just as well for use on the hill if you were after a pair of polarised sunglasses on a budget. What I would say is they seemed quite a tight fit round my head so definately don't buy these blind. Worth noting however that I have a big head.

6: Tesco “Micro-lite Mummy Sleeping Bag”
RRP: £14.67
This little sleeping bag is ideal for anyone looking for a  lightweight summer sleeping bag. With an extreme rating of +1oC they were perhaps a little optimistic, I would estimate around the 5 oC mark is a more sensible rating. However at 800g it is light, it packs down very small, and is ideal where you are looking for basic functionality and minimal weight. I would be willing to use this in sub zero temperatures if worn in conjunction with a good set of thermals.

5: Poundland “waterbottle and karabiner”
URL unknown
RRP: £1
This item is not currently available online, however a quick browse in your local Poundland and you should be able to find them. It is a metal 'sig' bottle with a small karabiner included. Ideal for fuel or for water, and at £1 they are a good solid little bottle. The bottles hold 500ml so they are huge, but for £1 you could buy a couple!

4: Poundland “karabiner washline”
RRP: £1
This is a good little addition to any outdoorsman's kit. The karabiners on each end of the elastic allow for easy attachment to tree's, tent's or car's to create a makeshift washing line to dry wet kit.

Now we come to the top 3 budget hill gear items. These 3 items I feel are the best cheap pieces of hill gear out there.

3: Tesco “65L rucksack”
RRP: £25
This rucksack is the most expensive of all the items in this test. However I believe the higher cost is reflected well in the features the bag has;
Firstly the bag is very well built, it feels tough. Whilst the website says it is made of polyester, it is actually reinforced with cordura at several important points throughout the pack. This makes all the difference in the quality of the bag, as the main areas where the bag will recieve wear and tear.
Secondly, it is a very simple design but includes all the features you would want from a basic expedition sack; compression straps on the side, central taped seam zip for easy access into the bag, good padded straps, and a good waist belt. I recently assessed a Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition where all the candidates were using these bags. This gave me a chance to 'test drive' one and see how it felt, I have to say, it’s a good rucksack especially for £25, well worth looking into if you are trying to kit yourself out on a tight budget.

2: Poundland “Camping pillow”
RRP: £1
This has proved to be the best £1 investment I ever made! You aren't buying a pillow, far from it, your £1 investment will reclaim hours of lost sleep, and save you the discomfort of a stiff neck every time you go camping. Gone are the days where I am forced to loosely stuff clothes into a stuff sack to try and make a pillow. This beauty inflates in a couple of breaths and is unbelievably comfortable and really does make all the difference. It has a velvet feel meaning its very soft to lay on. It even has a little notch that lets your head nestle into the pillow for an excellent nights sleep. For £1 you will not be disappointed!

 .....and the number 1 item on my review is……

1: Aldi “Altimeter Watch”
URL not available
RRP: £19.99
And here you have it, a watch with all the features of a Suunto Vector, at 10% of the cost. The Aldi expedition watch has the following features:

Large easy to read LCD display showing:
- Time (12/24hr format)
- Month and day
- Alarm with snooze function
- Altimeter with trip timer
- Electronic compass
- Temperature (°C/°F)

In addition the watch comes with a spare battery and a 5 year warranty. The materials on the watch feel really good, and not at all cheap. The altimeter is usually off by around 100m, and needs recalibrating during the day to ensure accuracy. The thermometer follows the trend of other expedition watches by not functioning correctly whilst on your wrist. And the compass is ok, not accurate enough to walk on a bearing with, but good enough to give you a general bearing when walking. What I would say is the gadgets on the watch and the cost of it, means that they are like gold dust to find. Aldi sell these twice a year (from experience) and when they do, they sell out quick, so keep checking in, sign up to Aldi’s newsletter, do whatever it takes, but if you are looking for a budget expedition watch, you can’t argue with £20 for all the features this watch provides.

In conclusion, some cheap gear out there is better than you think. I’m not sure I would rely on essential kit like waterproofs just yet, however there are definitely some great products out there for very cheap. Well worth looking into. It is however worth bearing in mind that to bring you these 10 good quality products, I had to trawl through a number of useless bits of gear, so treat everything you buy in the budget range with a bit of caution before trusting it fully!

Next time: high quality gear at low it possible?

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