I admit it. I’m a gearhead. I’ve spent the last 30 years working in the outdoor industry selling paddlesports clothing and equipment. I have a basement full of tried and tested gear and a long list of things that would be nice to have as soon as my budget will allow.
I’m enough of a nerd about this stuff that a few years back, I went through my closet and set to work devising a universal system of outdoor clothing for all environments and wrote a long series of articles about it.
Yeah, I’m that guy.
So, when it comes to the question of whether quality equipment is worth the price, I say yes. I’ve been at this long enough and seen enough junk wear out along the way to know it pays to buy the good stuff. While it may cost more out of the gate, you’ll likely have more fun and save money in the long run. Here are my top six reasons why.
6 reasons why it pays to buy better gear
1 Higher performance
Good gear works better. Quality equipment outperforms budget alternatives almost every time. Consider the breathable fabrics waterproof paddling clothing is made from. Premium waterproof/breathable fabrics breath better over low-cost alternatives. It’s a difference you can actually feel. The same is true of an ultralight carbon paddle or a quality composite board. Premium construction, design and material in outdoor equipment give you an enhanced experience on the water. Good gear is more fun.
2 More value
Attaching a price tag to the peace of mind synonymous with higher quality gear might be hard to quantify but cost per use is not. You might not feel like you’re saving money at the register, but since well-made products generally last longer, cost savings can be substantial. Especially with items you use frequently. Not having to replace the product means you’re getting a better return on your investment. And, since you’re more likely to get on the water even more often with gear that performs better, you may get an even higher return than expected.
3 Fresh features
It costs money to add features to equipment. A kayak without bulkheads is less expensive than one with them, but harder to rescue if you dump. Quality outfitting is expensive but lets you easily customize your fit in your gear. Skip the relief zip in a drysuit and you’ll save some serious green. But some features pay for themselves the first time you need them.
4 Better fit
Good gear fits better. And I’m not just talking about clothing. You’re far more likely to find a boat or board that fits you just right at the top end of the quality spectrum. This is partly because of premium outfitting options and also the cost of development and demand for performance. It’s expensive to develop a new product, and the safest bet is to aim it at the largest number of potential customers. This means big paddlers and small paddlers may be left out in the cold. The extra cost of premium gear gives manufacturers more leeway to develop products fitting at the tails of the curve, rather than the average paddler.
5 Increased support
The best gear comes with great customer support. Quality gear is sold through specialty dealers who know their stuff and can help connect you with exactly the right equipment. Premium brands partner with retailers who offer test paddling, so you’ll know you’re purchasing the right ride. Top-tier manufacturers offer warranty support and repair services for lengthier periods as part of their customer care—some even offer lifetime warranties. Often you can get them on the phone or an online chat to answer questions about maintenance and use of your equipment. If you’re serious about getting out on the water, you’ll appreciate the support accompanying quality equipment.
6 Niche specialty products
Last, but not least, is one for all you other gearheads out there. The super tweaky stuff. Whitewater SUPs, specialized tow systems, drybags that fit in the corners of your boat, saddles, thigh straps, rescue PFDs with big pockets and strong swimmer harnesses, featherlight graphite racing paddles, bombproof water boots, and more. All the niche stuff performing just right on the river or the sea. These products don’t exist outside of the top tier. They’re either made by specialized small companies or by premium manufacturers who have a large enough range of products to support specialty items that wouldn’t otherwise be profitable. If you love to get out on the water, chances are there’s a piece of specialized gear with your name on it. And you won’t find it in a big box store.
This article was first published in the Early Summer 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
Buy the best and you’ll only cry once. | Feature photo: Ben Haggar