Thank you for saying what I really wanted to say, but decided to err on the side of not trying to scare him off.
You're exactly right. I've seen a bunch of Ozark trails stuff in various states of collapse or abandonment in the car campgrounds and dumpsters, and have awoken well-rested after a good night's sleep to see the folks using it huddled around a fire trying to get warm after freezing their butts off in their "20 degree" bags on a 40 degree night. I've also carried out some of their stuff after it transformed itself into "litter" by failing someone along the trail.
As far as good quality gear in the lower ends of the price spectrum, Eureka is a reliably good brand, as are Kelty and Sierra Designs. You won't find really lightweight offerings in their lines, but they aren't crushingly heavy. REI and Campmor both offer house brands that are excellent quality, reasonably light, and reasonably affordable. (In fact, if I didn't already have fairly high-end gear or were just starting out, I might be looking at REI brand gear - they have some interesting-looking stuff.) However, if I were just starting out, I might also be looking heavily at "cottage" makers like Six Moon Designs and Tarptent, too.
I'd stay away from WalMart, and probably also avoid big-box places like Dick's, Gander Mountain, Pro Bass, or Field and Stream (one just opened across the street from my office; I probably should go in some time. Naaaah.)
Edited by Glenn Roberts (12/31/14 06:01 PM)
Edit Reason: additional thoughts