Rather than a gear review this week, I’d like to put up something a little thought provoking instead. Something we hear every day is, “it’s a good value” but what does that really mean? I’d like to put my perspective on it.
Value (as taken from Webster’s dictionary), is:
- Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.
- Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.
- the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.
- Equivalent worth or return in money, material, services, etc.: to give value for value received.
- Estimated or assigned worth; valuation: a painting with a current value of $500,000.
How does that translate into gear? Is the most expensive piece of gear more valuable than all others? Is value simply the amount of currency paid for an item? This oversimplified idea just doesn’t fly in the real world.
Value is what you get for what you pay for to accomplish the task you set for it! For example: Is an $80,000 Italian sports car more valuable than a $40,000 minivan + $40,000 in cash, or $50,000 pickup truck + $30,000 in cash? Some would say yes, some would say no and some would say they are equal. (From a monetary point yes they are equal, but from a value point on the individuals perspective they are not equal). Perspective plays a big role in this. To someone who only cares about speed, the sports car is more valuable for the price, however to someone who has to drive a family of 5 around the Minivan + Cash would be more valuable, and to someone who has to haul a trailer or loads of wood, the pickup +Cash is more valuable.
Now how does this play into gear? The same principal applies. If you have several similar pieces of gear available, say one is $10, one is $20 and one is $40, which one is the best value? Some would jump on the $40 because it’s the most expensive so it has to be the best which is rarely the case. There are many parameters that affect “Value”. Quality or “How long will it last”? is probably the most important. If Item 1 will last about 1 year before it’s falling apart and needs to be replaced, it would take 8 of them to last 8 years. And if the $40 item will last 8 years without replacement, then the more expensive item is easily the better value. But as in every aspect of equipment, we hit a point of diminishing returns. In this example we see that point. The $20 item will last 7 years. Is the doubling in price worth it for the extra year on the more expensive piece of gear? In this example I would say no it isn’t.
When it comes to gear, we see a point of quality that I like to call the 90% line (or the value line). Once we find gear that is better than 90% of the other similar gear, we start to get so close in quality, that the tiny percentage gains in quality no longer match the rapidly rising price. (What’s called diminishing returns). Cheap gear won’t last and you’ll be replacing it constantly. Middle of the line gear is ok, but you’ll still replace it more often than necessary and probably at a faster rate than the numbers justify. But once you start working with gear in the 90th percentile, you start to gain very little as the price increases much faster than the quality can improve to match it. The two lines (Quality and price) are not parallel. They trend closer to each other as you move along the scale.
If you are planning on putting a piece of mission critical gear through hell and back in an area where you need to trust your life to it, you can easily justify the extra cost to gain the small return of quality difference (Think soldiers in combat for example), but for the average guy or gal, value is much easier to find in that 90th percent arena. That doesn’t mean you buy cheap gear, far from it, cheap gear below the curve will be replaced too often to be of value. NEVER buy cheap gear. It will frustrate you, it will fail you and it will cost you more in the long run with replacements.
The best bet is to find your own “Sweet spot” for value that you are comfortable with for the task the gear will be used for. I don’t mind getting 2 for 1 if the quality is at the 90% mark or higher. In a back pack for example, I can buy 1 pack that will last me 20 years or I can buy 1 pack that will last me 15 years for ½ the price. Even if I replace the pack at 12 years with something newer and more efficient with more modern engineering, I’ve gotten a far better value. Value isn’t “Cheaper” far from it, value is more efficient for the cost.
As with everything else, value is what you get out of it, don’t short change yourself when you need it, but don’t throw money away either. I hope this explanation helps you to find your own best value in gear.