A tip to save » Explorersweb

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A few weeks ago, a reader asked when it made sense to buy sparingly for a polar trip and when to splurge. He mentioned how his inexpensive pair of gloves outperformed and outlived an expensive pair. On the other hand, he never regretted paying $40 for a nice pair of cold weather socks.

That’s a good question, one I can relate to. Before my first expedition, I had no one to advise me and online resources were not available. So I erred on the side of caution and bought the best of everything. It wasn’t necessary, but it assured me that I wouldn’t skimp on the wrong item. I had enough natural shipping intelligence to ask companies for a professional deal, even though I wasn’t a pro. Many companies agreed, and I saved a lot of money this way.

Generic travel clothes are fine, but don’t skimp on camping gear. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Travel Gear vs Camping Gear

Over time, I’ve learned when it’s necessary to buy top-notch gear and when it’s not. There’s a general principle: save money on travel gear, spend it on camping gear.

So the most expensive items include a tent, sleeping bag, and fleece parka to wear around camp. I would also put boots in this category.

On the other hand, travel gear doesn’t need the same standards, because no matter how cold, what you wear for transportation is the same as you would wear for cross-country skiing or winter hiking. The usual layers: underwear, fleece if it’s cold, windbreaker. The heat of exercise increases from 40°C below to approximately 10°C above. You still need protection and warmth, but you generate a lot of it yourself, so you can get by with basic choices.

So while a $900 Norrona or Arcteryx shell looks nice, any old jacket with a few pockets in which to store candy bars and junk will do.

Once you reach camp and stop being a furnace, get the warmest clothes you can buy. You will need it.

That said, there are also arguments for buying top of the line with other gear, especially if you want to do more than an expedition or two. Unlike summer clothes, winter layers cushion very well. Snow and cold create a soft environment: no dirt, no abrasion, no mud, no sharp twigs or small stones, not even rain to remove the DWR coating from a shell. I still wear clothes I wore 15 years ago, including socks, base layers, and fleece midlayers. My ski bibs are older than that. I change hulls from time to time, not because it has to be replaced but because the photos are starting to look too similar, from one expedition to another. Sometimes, like those neon Lycra tights worn by Yosemite’s old climbers, they’re just too old-fashioned to last. Otherwise, a lot of winter clothing is basically immortal, assuming you don’t get away with it.

Finally, if your budget is tight, you can even justify spending less on camping gear. You’ll suffer more than necessary, but if you enjoy the expedition life, even that isn’t endgame.

Fleece garments like ski bibs can last a lifetime. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

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