I love hillwalking. I don’t consider myself to be a massive consumer, but I definitely make an exception for hillwalking gear. The brands suck me in too easily with their spec sheets and fancy terminology. Since I got into hillwalking four years ago, my entire wardrobe has been replaced, ‘upgraded’. Part of me just loves the research; I think sometimes the research is the main source of enjoyment, and occasionally pulling trigger is just a bonus. Don’t let John Thorne see this.
The most important piece of hillwalking gear (and my most expensive) is the boots. After a couple years of using some entry level walking boots from Sports Direct, I decided to jump straight into the deep end and buy a pair of Scarpa SL Activs. There’s no denying that these boots have great design.
They are constructed from a single piece of 2.8mm full-grain leather to reduce seams and improve waterproofing. Even the tongue is made from the same piece of leather, just folded inwards. The sole has been designed by Vibram to have deep treads and angled grooves which allow dirt to escape as you walk, preventing build-up. A full rubber rand runs around the base of the leather to protect against scuffs – something my previous boots suffered from. The laces feel extremely tough and are still in perfect condition. The boots are stiff enough to support crampons, yet still comfortable enough that I can walk for miles without any pain or blisters. Even two years later, I get excited every time I put them on.
Another piece of great design is the Osprey Talon 33 rucksack.
This is a staple rucksack for hillwalkers; you see it everywhere! It has 33 litres of combined storage, several external mesh pockets, a hip belt with accessible pockets, a dedicated water bladder pocket, dedicated walking pole straps, dedicated ice axe straps, and yet weighs only 900 grams. Osprey’s ‘Airscape’ padding design allows air to flow between your back and the rucksack, and the whole thing fits to you like a glove. The tall and narrow shape ensures the weight is close to your centre of gravity, making you feel much more mobile.
I could tell a similar story for my fleece, jackets, gloves, tent, stove, gaiters… the list goes on.
What’s my point here? Well, there’s a lot of great design in the outdoor space, but these products are often very expensive too. I understand that this stuff is intended for a tough environment and durable materials and constructions are expensive, but there’s more to it than that.
I watched a Ted talk by Joseph Pine about the progression of what constitutes value. He claims that, nowadays, experiences are the currency of the modern economy. If you can sell an experience, you can charge a high price. Outdoor brands are fantastic at this. You see adverts of people walking up beautiful snow-covered mountains, donning their bright orange waterproofs and big smiles. ‘This could be you’.
Outdoor products also have high perceived value. Slap a Rab or The North Face logo on a pair of trousers and it can go for £100 easily. How do they manage this?
The reality is that you don’t need that orange jacket to have a great experience. Sure, that jacket will keep you very dry and those boots might stop blisters, but you don’t need them. You can certainly get 90% of the experience with cheaper stuff. This is because functional value is only one part of the equation.
In his book ‘Value Based Marketing’, Peter Doyle offers three more concepts of value: financial value, social value, and psychological value. It is the combination of all of these that constitute perceived value. Financial value is whether the product is reasonably priced compared to the competition. I would say that outdoor products often don’t offer financial value. Social value is how much a product improves the user’s status to others, and psychological value is how much better a product makes the user feel about themselves. I think outdoor products are great at these last two.
Basically, I feel great about myself when I’m stomping around in all my gear. Nobody else will know nor care how thick the leather of my boots are or how light my rucksack is, but I know, and I care. Have I been duped into buying needlessly expensive products? Some would say so. But if I am happy then does it really matter? Perceived value is what I feel – what I experience – so who’s to say it wasn’t worth it?