Not so very long ago, Alan Sloman and I had a twitter conversation about writing a feature for a well known magazine highlighting good kit but which was accessible and inexpensive. For too long, many of us have coveted expensive, top-end kit with each and every feature, new fabric and technical innovation known to exist. To some, it has almost become a heady game of one-upmanship and brinksmanship. Ultralight kit has often been ultra-expensive. I want to turn that on its head a little and look at getting new people into hiking without persuading them they have to spend a fortune. I would venture to suggest that kit falls into one of these categories - light, strong and expensive; light, weak and cheap; or heavy; strong and cheap. You don't tend to get light, strong and cheap in one package unless it's stolen or you are a sponsored athlete!
So, following on from that, I wanted to look at an inexpensive brand which is known for decent kit, but which is relatively inexpensive: Outdoor Clothing at Regatta.com.
To start with, to get into the hills, you need boots/trainers, trousers, socks, base layer, mid layer, shell layer and a rucksack. I won't go into tent and so on just yet, I am just looking at getting people into the hills for a daywalk inexpensively. I am not reviewing any of these - I have not used them - I am just looking at what's out there using a fairly well known but inexpensive brand.
What do Regatta offer then?
The Crossland Low Boot and the Crossland Mid boot fit whichever category you fall into - trainer or boot. They are £60 and £70 respectively. Not bad, given that trainers run to £100 or more if made by any of the more 'prestigious' brands and boots even more than that. Both have water resistant and breathable uppers and steel shank, EVA shock pads, rubberised heel and sole - the basics of decent walking footwear are covered. They will do the job. Socks start at £3!
Perhaps this is where the principle contrast occurs - next to skin base layers need to be good but, again, we don't necessarily need to go for Accapi. What about the Kona T-Shirt? Quick-drying and good wicking performance for £10 at the moment. Perhaps better than the £40-50 we are used to paying.
The easiest place to save money, in my view as the main issue with this layer is weight. If you don't care about that, a good fleece is every bit as warm as a lightweight down/primaloft jacket - just heavier. The £30 Ballen Microfleece is one option or the £25 Hedman if things get colder. On a sunny day, you might even want to think about the Reflexion soft-shell at £45.
At 65/35 polyester/cotton, the Crossfell trousers resemble most hiking pants and at £25, they good value. They have a DWR finish so will shed water to begin with - wash them regularly and they'll probably provide a good service.
Regatta have their own proprietary waterproof fabric ISOTEX. The Calderdale jacket, at £65, features ISOTEX 5000 and has pretty much all the features you might expect. Or if you want packable, how about the still breathable and waterproof Magnitude III at £45? If you want top-end, stretch waterproofing which is breathable and athletic cut but don't want to pay £200+ for Neoshell or Demizax - try the Volan at £110.
Move light and fast - the 35L Cyborg may be enough at £28. Need a little more space? Try the 45L Survivor at £50.
The issue with all of this is performance - I am sure that anyone looking to get into the hills cheaply will find more than adequate performance from Regatta kit. However, if you are looking for top level performance in the worst conditions, regularly, then you get what you pay for. That said, getting into the hills is what we are here for and not everyone can afford that. Maybe Outdoor Clothing at Regatta is nice place to start your hillwalking career...