Allow me to bring this thread back to the article for a sec....
I really enjoyed reading this. It's a topic I've often thought about when wandering the outdoors section of WalMart....Could this $10 nylon jacket perform just as well as my pac-lite? Or will it leak like a sieve and fall apart?
In the world of backpacking gear, cost, quality, and satisfaction don't move in lockstep. This is because, outside of basic manufacturing quality standards, "good gear" is a very much a subjective concept. The most high tech, expensive, brand name backpack may suit one person perfectly and be cumbersome to another. Likewise, a flimsy, cheapo pack might make an ultralighter totally content, while frustrating someone who needs more cushioning to be comfortable. This, unfortunately, adds a lot of complexity to gear shopping for newbies, who must wade through gear reviews and blogs before making an educated guess and hoping for the best. Outweighing this negative, though, is the fact that with a little extra research one can find really great gear for a steal of a price.
I appreciate the cautious conclusion the author makes. Gear at WalMart can be expected to fail fairly quickly. While good quality gear can be had at a low price, I think we can all agree that there is a certain price point for new gear at which quality will be consistently poor. The author is realistic in his view that the gear he bought will probably last no longer than two weeks. With WalMart, you gotta keep expectations low.
I disagree with the point that WalMart gear is a good place for newbies to start. This is because one cold, shivering night in a leaky WalMart tent or a day spent hiking in a leaky rain jacket might be enough to turn a first-timer away from backpacking permanently. My guess is that most newbies don't have the interest or skill in rigging up their own rain fly. I'd perhaps alter this recommendation by saying WalMart is a good place to start to find gear that isn't responsible for keeping one warm and dry.
My suggestion for newbies would be to do some research and then try to obtain the gear on EBay or Craigslist. With either of these methods you might still get stuck with something that is broken (although someone with a good seller rating is pretty reliable), but I think there's a better chance of having a dry night's sleep for a low price than with WalMart gear.