There are a lot of options out there when it comes to your outdoor gear, and a lot of claims about quality and reliability to boot. Some brands have built up a trusted name after decades in the hunting, camping, and survival industries but might recently have slipped into the trap of lower-quality and higher-margin goods; some lesser-known newcomers are producing top-notch products at affordable prices and could be the high-end stalwarts a decade or two from now.
It can take a little digging to determine the quality of your gear and how much you ought to be paying for it. While every product, manufacturer, and brand needs to be considered on its own, here are a few basic guidelines that might help demystify the process.
Read Real Reviews for Your Gear
Don't just check out the star ratings; read full reviews for multiple competing products to get an idea of the common problems found throughout and the company(ies) that solves them best, and to see how others like the value they got in return for the price tag listed. Long-form reviews are the best, both to avoid fake reviews planted by the company itself or its competitors (this is very common across online sales platforms, unfortunately) and to get opinions from consumers who seem to know what they're talking about and have really taken the time to give others a detailed look.
Blogs in the outdoor niches are often good places to check out specific product reviews, and you can also go to forums to ask others directly for their experiences. The point is, even if you're buying something sight-unseen, you don't have to go into it blind.
Don't Let Price Determine Your Perspective
Premium prices can indicate premium quality, and it's even more true that the cheapest items are often (though not always) of inferior quality, but there's a whole range of considerations that go into many companies' pricing strategies. This is especially true of large and well-recognized brands, where you're often paying an extra fee for the logo alone.
In general, mid-range prices are probably your best bet. Unless there's a proprietary process involved in the manufacturing of a truly unique item, you're probably not gaining anything by paying top-dollar, but budget items that can't perform aren't worth the price no matter how low it goes.
Find Brands You Can Trust
When you've found the quality, durability, and value you're looking for in one piece of gear, look for others made or distributed by the same brand. While not every company is consistent across all of its products, it tends to be a good place to start. Check out return policies for equipment that doesn't perform as advertised, too, to make sure you won't run into any disappointments. Once you've found a few providers you can trust, there's no use going stray unless the quality of the products and service you receive starts to head downhill.