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Learn which basic outdoor essentials you should pay top dollar for


Splurge: Most of the time it's better to crank up the credit card on the pack itself and save on what you're putting in it. This is especially true for multi-day backpacks. Fit is key: higher-end packs tend to have more customizable features—hipbelts that swap out or are heat-mouldable, inflatable lumbar support, more precise length adjustments. Lighter is always better on the trail, and fabric and padding options go down in weight as the price goes up. Remember, on day four, a great fit and extra comfort are priceless.


Splurge: Most shoes come with flimsy footbeds that lack the support a foot needs, especially over the long haul or under a load. A quality footbed absorbs shock, helps correct alignment and motion, and improves shoe fit. Look for rigid footbeds with cushioning built in, like Superfeet (from $40; Heat-mouldable models, such as Sole Custom Footbeds (from $45;, are even better. Custom-made orthodics aren't necessary for most people, but never hurt.

Sleeping bags

Save: Sure a draft collar, foot vent, watch pocket and sleeping pad strap would be nice to have, but when it comes to staying warm at night-the essential purpose of a sleeping bag-these add-ons don't help. They're just luxuries that usually add weight. Stick with fundamentals in decision-making: down or synthetic, temperature and fit. Put the money you save buying a bare-bones bag into a warmer, lighter or more compressible one.