MGO Gear Review – First Impressions

By August 18, 2019Gear

Is it worth paying top dollar for adventure clothes?
Is ALDI hiking gear trail proof?
Is spending time with a sales assistant in store worth the effort?
Does all down wash the same?
Is everyone these days doing their bit for the environment?

As consumers, we have OH so many questions.

So we decided to put it to the test!

Last month we called for nominations to be our MGO gear reviewer. From the applications Penny K was randomly selected. We supplied her with 5 items from Aldi and sent her off to Jack Wolfskin and Vast Outdoors to be fit for comparable options.

Penny with all 15 items of gear!

A little bit about Penny:

Penny is a 37-year-old mother of three who is finally hitting her adventure groove – one hike at a time. Originally from Cairns she has spent a lot of time in creeks, rivers and on the reef. In 2012 with a 5, 4 and 2 year old, Penny and her husband quit their jobs, sold everything and spent nine months caravanning around our beautiful country before settling in Ballarat.

Penny came across MGO when she felt the itch to get out of town and in to nature. She will be joining Tamara and other MGO members at the end of this month on the Beeripmo Trail in Mt Cole for her first overnight hike with the group.

The invitation to test drive gear has come at the perfect time. In December Penny will be jetting off to Scotland and Germany for a white Christmas with the whole family – which instantly screams a whole lot of $$ in acquiring travelling gear for the whole family. Needing to buy all the gear for 4 instead of 5 will lead to massive savings, and answer the questions she’s been struggling with: Does it pay to invest more? Or is Aldi just as good?

Penny is a very budget minded lady, and like all of us she is VERY aware that money does not grow on trees. While she is willing to spend the money if it is worth it, the bitter disappointment when money is spent and it isn’t necessary, is enough to turn her away. As someone who is forever reading gear reviews online, penny hopes that her reviews over the next couple of months will help our members spend (or not spend) their hard earned money in the best way possible.

Over to Penny

Current gear situation

Prior to being selected for this opportunity I was on the cusp of investing in a new outfit. I had genuinely been struggling with questions such as “does it pay to pay?”, “do brands matter?” and “which brands are best?” (Cue: brain implosion)

My current attire for hiking is 3/4 Lorna Jane workout pants (2nd hand from my mum), a pink fleece Best and Less hoodie and a black t-shirt or thermal depending on the season. Nothing hiking specific.  On a cold day I wear a beanie and gloves, my socks are either globe or converse (stolen from my teenage son) finished off with trail runners that I wear running and at touch football.  If the weather is gross, I wear my 7 year old Kathmandu Down jacket (yeah, crazy I know, but its all I have) or simply, walk in the rain/drizzle. My backpack is a casual-wear/fashion backpack and I don’t own multiples of any clothing or accessories. It is safe to say I am no fashion icon hitting the trails of Victoria and I had no idea what I actually needed to be wearing. If anyone needed a ‘before’ and ‘after ‘ hiking makeover… it was me.

Fashion faux-pas aside, I knew I had gaps in my hiking needs. Hiking shoes and a rain coat were on my list but I found both really overwhelming to buy. I was confused with the range of rain coats (was a $15 from Rivers just as good as the $160 North Face from Anaconda?) and hiking shoes. As a size 10.5 shoe – hiking boots and I were not friends. I felt ridiculous plodding around stores trying on boot after boot, till I gave up and walked out. I simply didn’t have the confidence to commit to a sale. I knew my running trail shoes were not fit for purpose, but at $250-$300(+) a pop for hiking shoes, my deposable income stash couldn’t take the hit if I purchased the wrong boot.

What do you look for in gear?

Sustainability – we, as hikers and lovers of the great outdoors have an invested interest in keeping the environment safe and clear from as much pollution as we can.  As consumers we must put our money into those companies who are actively seeking more sustainable ways of making products.

Durability. This ties into the first point.  I want things to last longer and wear well with less chance of it arriving at landfill prematurely.  

Warranty: If I pay the big money for the product (and the brand) I want some sort of guarantee that the company will stand by its product. If a zipper breaks, the stitching comes undone, I want to know I can go back and have it seen to without a guilt trip.  

Not one to read a detailed review? Here are the ratings off the bat for you!

  Aldi Vast Outdoors Jack Wolfskin
Visual quality of the gear 2.5 5 5
Fit of the clothing 2 5 True to Size 5 Size down
Visual appeal of the store 1 4 5
Environmental
sustainability
1 4 4
Comfort 3 5 5

ALDI

Item Cost (RRP)
Backpack $34.99
Waterproof jacket $39.99
Insulated Jacket $49.99
Hiking Pants $24.99
Hiking socks $11.99

I am a regular customer at Aldi for my weekly shop, but usually stay away from the ‘special buy’ area. I recently went to the Aldi Snow Sale and specifically bought thermals, winter socks, gloves and jackets for my children. It cost $800! Snow week at Aldi was chaos. People lined up at the door prior to opening and it caused a stampede once it did. Seeing people trying on clothing in the freezer isle and throwing back items that didn’t fit as I feverishly dug around like I was about to strike gold was absolute madness. The experience of shopping during a big ‘special buys’ sale is not for the faint hearted. Get in early, go hard, go home.

The thing about Aldi, is that you’ve got to know what you want at the exact time that it cosmically lines up with Aldi’s special buys schedule. Finding the correct size is the biggest issue – once they’re sold out (often that same day) – that’s it. Aldi clothing has helped get my family dressed in essential for a cold, snowy winter. It provides an affordable entry point for many adventure items – as long as you’re aware and available on that specific date.

As a starting Point, I have found the overall quality at Aldi good. However in the case of the backpack and hiking pants, it is my opinion – even at this early stage – that the quality is not there and you are better off without them. Save your money for a better occasion.

VAST OUTDOORS

Item Brand Cost (RRP) MGO
Discount
Backpack Lowe Alpine – 30LT $209 20% off
Waterproof jacket Patagonia $179.95 all full
Insulated Jacket Salomon $259.95 priced
Hiking Pants North Face $129.95 items.
Hiking socks Bridgedale $43.95

Vast Outdoors is simply that. Vast. I walked in and instantly broke into shopping anxiety hives. SO MUCH CHOICE. You really do need a guide, a Sherpa, and salesperson to get the most out of your shopping experience. Thankfully, Andrew showed up immediately and shared all his knowledge and understanding of the products. I had been hiking around Victoria in a cotton shirt and a Best n Less fleece hoodie for more than a year. Andrew took me through the rain coat and insulated jacket options before we looked at new products such as synthetic jackets, backpack, socks, and hiking pants. There is so much to know about brands, but for me, I wanted to focus on the sustainability of the brands and how much they used recycled elements in their products. It was amazing that Andrew knew all of this information and saved me from hours of agonising over online reviews and research.  With the selection phase over, we began the next, more brutal phase.

Enter: the dreaded ‘trying on’ stage.

Why is change room lighting so hateful?

While I had eyed off a Patagonia Down Jacket earlier in my time there, after much discussion about suitability to hiking, I tried on the Salomon Reversible Insulated Jacket and instantly fell in love with both the feel and the freedom of the jacket. While I adored many things on the rack, the change room quickly sorted out the ‘noooo’ from the ‘YES!’ It is all about the fit. This is where the in store experience really set the store apart from buying online or at Aldi. It is the ability to try on clothing, walk around and feel it. I now appreciate that it is one of the most important aspects of shopping and often undervalued.

Vast Outdoors has so much to offer people who are passionate about exploring the great outdoors. The products are quality and the selection has been specifically curated to cater to the lover of all things outdoors. When I am ready to move into overnight hiking I will absolutely return to Vast Outdoors for their guidance and range – which includes, not only all the clothing you would ever need, but also the gear.

In the end the clothes chose me – a combination of recommendations from Andrew, based on my needs, and the fit. Walking into the store I did not know what to expect but as I left I felt a high wave of excitement about my next adventure and what future possibilities could come from another visit to Vast Outdoors.

JACK WOLFSKIN

Item Variant Cost (RRP) MGO
Discount
Backpack 18Lt Moab jam $149.95 30% off
Water proof jacket Sierra Pass Jacket $150.00 including
Insulated Jacket Fleece/Insulated $239.95 sale
Hiking Pants Active Pants $179.95 items.
Hiking socks Jack Wolfskin TBC

Before this review, I had never heard of Jack Wolfskin or, to my knowledge, seen the product worn by anyone I know.  Ballarat seems to be suffering from a Kathmandu Puffer Jacket invasion so the thought of seeing a new brand was very appealing.

The Jack Wolfskin store is a traditional retail clothing store with the layout focusing on clothing, boots and backpacks.  What I noticed immediately was how colourful the brand is. Coloured jackets and bags popped off the shelf which was a welcome change from the overwhelming selection of black on offer from other brands.

Brian met me with great enthusiasm for the review process and the Melbourne Girls Outside group. He gave me an overview of the company and their stance on environmental and substantiality.  During my visit to Jack Wolfskin we focused our attention on the products that were made from recycled items (down vs recycled plastic bottles etc) and the selections made in store were from a combination of recommendations from Brian and again, what fit and felt right. Brian was very clear on what products worked as hiking gear, he was helpful in educating me on what fabrics worked best and in what conditions as well as which products had more versatility and durability. He again (as Vast did) advocated for the synthetic insulated jackets that were now becoming available on the market. 

The sizing at Jack Wolkskin is European and as a result I sized down on each item. I am very much a standard Large or 14 in every other product but at Jack Wolfskin I purchased M in all items. Keep that in mind if you purchase online.

The backpack was the biggest challenge at Jack Wolfskin. Although the review asked for a 30lt backpack review, Brian was very clear that a smaller backpack is more appropriate for the average day hiker.  To keep in line with review guidelines I took the 30Lt orange backpack home however within the week I had swapped the 30Lt backpack to Brian’s recommendation of a 18Lt day pack.  It is more compact and only holds what you need for a day trip. First Aid, extra jacket, food, water, mobile and car keys. The back support on the smaller packs is the same as the larger pack and the fit is lovely.   Another question I will answer by the end of this review will be – small (18lt) vs big (30lt) daypack? At the moment, I have very mixed feelings.

Brian’s enthusiasm for the brand and genuine desire to get members of MGO into the correct gear for the great outdoors made shopping at Jack Wolkskin a true pleasure. His recommendation of product was squarely centred on ‘fit for purpose’ and guided me to product choices that insured I got the most from the product. There were many little features I came to appreciate from JW, being colour and the ability for products to fold into themselves (OMG, amazing) or having little bags they are stored in. Both real winners for me. This is now a feature I would consider high value when looking at other brands.    

While at Jack Wolfskin I committed to my first ever pair of JW hiking boots. After a day of trying on wonderful products there was no justice in walking the trails with my old faithful trainers. After my first climb of Mt Buninyong on the Goldfields Track in the JW boots, I cannot believe I used to do it in trainers. If no other question becomes clearer from this review process, the one thing I will take away from it is – HIKING BOOTS ARE A MUST. 

Love? Hate?

Overthinking my shopping choices has been the hardest part of this review.

I’m in constant debate over which product was a better choice. I take comfort knowing I followed the recommendations of both Andrew and Brian.

My standout piece is the Red JW rain jacket. I like the colour and it fits well. I love that it folds down into its own pocket.  Because of this, I found I am taking it everywhere I go and due to recent poor weather I have worn the jacket quiet regularly.

And for price – the Aldi socks. 2 pairs for $12. They feel really good underfoot and performed well in my new boots. If you can still find these in store I would suggest buying a few for your sock draw.

Items I know aren’t great:

  • Aldi backpack. Poor quality, zips and clips feel like they will break any moment
  • Aldi pants. The fit is not flattering and the material, zips and seams don’t feel like they would stand up to much punishment on the trail. I wonder if the zip will last the review period.

Have any questions? Please ask them below. Otherwise stay tuned for part 2 to see how they go on the trails and part 3 how hard they are to care for and how they wash!

Disclaimer: Tamara from Melbourne Girls Outside asked both Vast Outdoors and Jack Wolfskin if they would donate these items to Penny for us to review. They have very kindly done so, but please note that all of Penny’s reviews are published here without them being reviewed or edited by either brand. Her views are 100% her own.

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