Jun 13, 2008 at 7:20 am #1229526
I feel the need to vent about The North Face. I work in an outdoors store where we sell a lot of North Face products. We sell a little bit of everything, a lot of clothes, shoes, backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags. We sell a wide variety within each category as well. We sell both high end summit series products as well as everyday stuff like cotton clothes and school bags. Frankly, I’m tired of their junk.
The North Face is not the company they used to be. From what I know, about five years ago they were bought by Vanity Fair (yes, the magazine) and ever since then they have been selling overpriced vanity products. Their high end gear is often terrible. They try so hard to be cutting edge that they don’t take the time to properly test their products and technologies. For instance, they sold tents with rain flies a few years ago that could not stand up to UV rays. We had people trying to return their tents after only two seasons of moderate use. One employee said he had a Tadpole tent that was toast after about 50 nights in the bush. The fly was completely discolored from UV and was no longer waterproof. Not only that, but The North Face said it was normal wear and tear and wouldn’t replace it.
Their footwear is awful. I own a pair that was sent back on warranty after 3 months of around town use. We see a lot of The North Face shoes come back on warranty. I had one guy come in who’d bought heavy duty hiking boots. He had to cut his trip short because of them. Even after wearing them for a couple of weeks before he went to the mountains he couldn’t get them broken in properly. His feet hurt so much on the trip he had to go home. Not only that but the EVA foam they used on the sole was torn to shreds.
I’ve seen $700 sleeping bags that had seams coming apart before we’d even put it on the rack. We had a shipment of $400 down jackets that had women’s tags sewn in to men’s jackets. Even the sizes were wrong on the tags. It’s not uncommon for the cardboard tags they attach to have the wrong info. For instance, we had sleeping bags that said they had condura in the footbox but they didn’t and jackets that said they had water bottle pockets but they didn’t. I own a pair of pants that started out a beige color but have faded to almost a mint green over the last five months. How is it that a gear company that has built it’s reputation on quality and customer service can’t even make colorfast pants?
Basically, I want to discourage everyone from buying anything North Face. Their quality is terrible and their gear often lacks proper testing. I speak as both a consumer who has been completely disappointed with almost everything I’ve bought and as a sales person who sees how much stuff comes back on warranty. The only thing I can say in their defense is that their lifetime warranty is still pretty good, although you have to be careful. A lot of their trendy products only have a 1 year warranty now days.Jun 13, 2008 at 8:34 am #1438161
@splproductionsLocale: Salt Lake City, UT
It sounds to me like they are shifting their target market to that large segment of the population who buy outdoor equipment and never use it for its intended purpose, i.e., the wealthy and trendy businessman who buys a $400 ArcTeryx jacket to wear to work when it's a bit chilly. Similar to people who buy a Hummer to take their kids to soccer practice and go to the grocery store.Jun 13, 2008 at 8:44 am #1438164
It's certainly true that North Face has changed their target market somewhat. What bugs me is that some of their gear is still meant for serious people. Yuppies don't buy expedition sleeping bags for example. However, the serious gear was still decent a few years ago but even it's gone downhill fast.
What also bugs me is that even the yuppies are returning their clothes. We had some jackets a couple of winters ago that were Pertex quantum and 900 fill power down. Although the down was a high fill power it was bad quality. There were a lot of pointy feathers in it that poked through the thin Pertex. The women's jackets had the calendared side on the outside to look trendy. Interestingly, the women's jackets had a lot more loose feathers. I would guess that a quarter of the women's jackets were returned.Jun 13, 2008 at 9:39 am #1438174
@jdw01776Locale: Southeast Texas
You may not like the quality of North Face clothing and equipment, but they are owned by VF Corporation, which has nothing to do with Vanity Fair magazine.
VF Corporation also owns JanSport, EastPak, and Eagle Creek brands, among many others.
I also believe that like much high-margin fashion merchandise, there are fake North Face goods out in the marketplace.Jun 13, 2008 at 10:03 am #1438178
I owned a The North Face pack a few years ago (it was called the Skareb) and it seemed to be very good quality. In the end it wasn't what I was looking for so I sold it off, but it didn't give me any durability problems. I do find that their clothing doesn't fit well and the workmanship isn't of good quality. I had a pair of fleece glove from TNF that had raw seams inside the fingers.
I don't find myself even contemplating making purchases of TNF products as there are usually much better choices of equivalent gear for my needs. But this holds true for most of the 'major label' outdoor gear makers…with the exception of maybe REI, Mountain Hardwear, and a few others. Mostly, I'm buying from cottage operations where the focus is on performance and filling a certain niche. I'm sure this is the case with most of the folks here on BPL.
I would be concerned about using expedition gear from most of the major manufacturers. If I were climbing Annapurna, I'd have to think twice about using a TNF tent.Jun 13, 2008 at 10:16 am #1438181
I didn't know VF Corporation owned North Face. I'm not sure how I got my facts wrong. My only guess is that someone at my store confused the VF for Vanity Fair or maybe, although unlikely, Vanity Fair own shares of VF Corporation or something.Jun 13, 2008 at 12:11 pm #1438201
It looks like the VF Corporation used to be called Vanity Fair Mills, until 1969, when they changed their name. It doesn't look like they have any relation to the magazine (other than a really goofy name):Jun 13, 2008 at 1:21 pm #1438212
@legkohodLocale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
I was recently in Boston and was absolutely shocked by the percentage of people wearing TNF products. I would say it was about 25%. That is, 25% of the people walking down the street had a shirt or sweater on with TNF logo. That's a phenomenal level of market penetration.
I think that when a brand starts to become a status symbol or a recognized fashion statement, the company comes to a difficult crossroads: continue trying to fulfill the original mission of the company and make modest earnings or ride the new wave and capitalize on growing mass appeal, which usually involves moving all production to China and shifting emphasis from functionality to appearance. The North Face has made its choice, and I can't blame them, but they are no longer a brand for serious outdoorsman as they used to be — or rather, such goods make up an ever-shrinking percentage of their profit.
This could happen to GoLite and other successful ultralight brands as the movement progresses. Luckily, there will always be peripheral brands who cater to the narrow market of demanding adventurers.Jun 13, 2008 at 2:22 pm #1438227
Ben 2 WorldParticipant
@ben2worldLocale: So Cal
I have never purchased TNF products. Every time something or another looks interesting, that huge THE NORTH FACE logo hits me like a ton of bricks — knocking me clear across the aisle to other, less in-your-face brands.Jun 13, 2008 at 3:01 pm #1438235
@blister-freeLocale: Puertecito ruins
Their casual/crossover apparel line is actually very nicely done, many of the products. I'm referring to BDU-style pants, zip-neck polos, and the like – stuff you'd wear for a night on the town, and quite possibly into the woods as well. I don't find the branding on these types of products to be objectionable nor any more or less blatant than the majority of what's out there.Jun 13, 2008 at 3:07 pm #1438238
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Buy technical gear from NF, I have no qualms about buying around town clothes. My favorite fleece jacket is by them – more of a soft shell, with hoodie. Comfy and holding up great so far.
It does have its place……just not in the great outdoors so much.Jun 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm #1438245
te – waParticipant
Tnf is the #1 choice of posturing poseurs. "look at me, Im outdoorsy"
didnt you know?Jun 13, 2008 at 3:49 pm #1438251
@blister-freeLocale: Puertecito ruins
>>Tnf is the #1 choice of posturing poseurs. "look at me, Im outdoorsy"<<
That may be true of the bold logo stuff like 700-fill down jackets for the "inner city adventurer." But I don't think that argument holds up for the "less loud" garments like the shirts and pants. ("Well, these go to 11.")
Heck, why should functional, aesthetically pleasing garments be reserved exclusively for poseurs?
E.g., the TNF Paramount convertible pant is popular among l-d hikers, though I've yet to have one of those embarrassing "look what we're both wearing!" moments while wearing 'em around town.Jun 25, 2008 at 11:59 am #1440082
@jimbluzLocale: Pacific NW
A few years ago I purchased a North Face tent that I discovered was 14" shorter in length than the specs. Because of this disparity, my feet touched the inner wall of the tent causing my sleeping bag to get wet. When I finially did get in touch with someone at TNF (they did not return my call), they told me they really had no idea how a tent floor was measured. I returned the tent to REI who explained that TNF's quality had been slipping and that REI had to financially "bail TNF out"! Needless to say, I have not purchased any TNF items in years.Jun 25, 2008 at 2:37 pm #1440119
@halfturboLocale: Northernish California
Wow, more than a foot short–that doesn't even seem possible. How frustrating! (I wonder if they mistook a fly dimension for a floor dimension?)
TNF is what it is. They make some good stuff and plenty of pedestrian stuff. That they exist at all is a bit of a miracle. I can't recall many details but in the late '90s there was to be a sale &/or public offering, and severe accounting irregularities were discovered that essentially torpedoed the transaction and sent TNF hurtling towards bankruptcy. VF acquired the wreckage in 2000 and that's what we have today.
Some of TNF's creative core left to start Mountain Hardware in '93.
I manage a shopping spree at the TNF Berkeley outlet a couple times a year (it has nothing whatever to do with the Pyramid Brewing down the street). They still know how to make good technical clothing and I continue to use a couple of daypacks and (old) tents. You just have to sort through a lot of boring stuff to find it.Jul 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm #1444036
I just went into a North Face store – large one in palo alto, ca, to find a certain topo map – THEY DON'T SELL THEM! WEAK! That's the last time I ever consider North Face a player in any kind of outdoor activity…Jul 22, 2008 at 7:48 pm #1444071
A few months ago The North Face opened a shop in Elizabeth St, Melbourne, just down the road from the also company owned Mcpac store. Looking at the Macpac store you can see that it is a hiking supply store whilst TNF is pretty much a fashion clothing outlet, not that different from the Columbia store around the corner.
FrancoJul 22, 2008 at 8:46 pm #1444075
@awsorensenLocale: South of Forester Pass
Take away there Flight Series and we have a good compitition for K-Mart.Jul 22, 2008 at 8:47 pm #1444076
te – waParticipant
hey man, you can wear TNF all you want. Its a poseur brand. You may not be a poseur, but TNF screams "look at me, Im outdoorsy"
Be it far from me to tell anyone what to wear. But yes, Ive seen Boston. Quite silly I think.
I'll still be seen in Moonstone, and Mt. Hardwear even if they both were absorbed by Columbia (another poseur brand)Jul 22, 2008 at 9:30 pm #1444086
@dsmontgomeryLocale: one snowball away from big trouble
Let's go beat up The North Face!
I love my Nuptse jacket for everyday winter use, but I certainly agree they've lost any edge they may have had on technical gear, and have never really "gotten" the whole ultralight thing.
Too many brands have done this. I have an older Mongoose from when they made high-end competition level bikes. Now they're Wal-Mart fare.
Their name sure does sound extreme, though.Jul 22, 2008 at 9:56 pm #1444089
@taildraggerLocale: Arkansas River
I like some of their fleece (at least when its given to me). Seems like its hard to mess up a 100wt fleece jacket, so far mine has done me well.Jul 23, 2008 at 12:20 am #1444104
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
I really think Rick hit the nail on the head: TNF transitioned from a niche outdoor company to one of broad market appeal.
My family owned an outdoors store for many years. My father was a product of the times; he really wanted to provide people with high-end, useful equipment. But as the years passed so did tastes change. The outdoor industry was besieged by marketing plans and savvy advertisers. People became much more fashion conscious. Apparel, not equipment, had an increasing impact upon the bottom line of the store.
The truth is most outdoor stores make their money on clothing, not equipment. Equipment and other hard goods are expensive to carry in any quantity because they don't turn over as quickly as clothing,which is recognizable because heck, we all wear clothes. Is it any wonder that brick-and-mortar stores would elect to carry name-brand merchandise over boutique UL equipment? The big names help pay for advertising, clothing racks, displays and even send reps and sponsored athletes to your store for promotional purposes. It is to the store's advantage to invest in a relationship that will in turn invest in the store.
If people want UL products to be found at stores such as REI, I think a change in mentality is due. First, UL gear is going to cost a premium because it is a niche business. The big players are generally interested in the largest segments of the market. They make a lot of gear and can keep prices low. Boutique gear producers are not going to be able to compete on price, typically. For the average consumer, price is a large factor in their purchase. Thus, it is vital for the sales people to explain the relative merit of UL gear. To do so, they need to be involved in backpacking.
But herein lies the problem: the simple fact that backpacking is not growing as a sport. It is declining in popularity in many regions of the country. Again, smaller markets mean typically smaller profits. Thus, if I am store owner with limited space for merchandise, I may elect to carry gear that holds more mass appeal.
Many people here laud the absolutely 100 percent guarantees on equipment offered by REI and selected gear makers. But little consideration is paid who bear these costs. In light of those guarantees, is it any wonder that a buyer may choose to a heavier tent over a UL model that is prone to damage if not cared for properly?
I do not blame TNF for their decision. I may not like it, but I do understand the rationale.Jul 23, 2008 at 5:17 am #1444114
I remember in the mid 80's I used to drool over the North Face and Wilderness Experience catalogs. The 3 pound Gore-Tex shells that would last a lifetime. When Qualofil was the high tech insulation.
My last experience was a jogging windbreaker suit that I had to fight with the zipper to get it on every time. My old book bag for school was a cordura North Face monster that you had to secure the zipper flap and open it 2 handed every time. The flap was guaranteed to get caught.
My brother has a 10 year Snowshoes sleeping bag that still keeps him warm.
I still look every once in a while on eBay for an old US made TNF Mountain jacket for history's sake, and the old Thin Air pack – one of the early lightweight climbing packs.Jul 23, 2008 at 5:47 am #1444115
@tallblokeLocale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!
I bought some TNF 'technical training shoes' in Spain 3 years ago to trek in. They proved to be excellent, getting me to the top of the Pico Valetta (3490m) and up rough tracks all over Andalucia.
I also have a TNF pack which I bought secondhand off ebay. It weighs 1050g and carries up to 30lb in comfort. Well designed and good quality. Don't know how old it is though.
I wouldn't touch their flimsy downwear.Jan 30, 2010 at 11:31 am #1567914
I to dislike The North Face Products.
It seems like everyone has to have one for a Fashion Statement.
I'm glad I don't own any of The North Face Products.
I'll stick with my Mountain HardWear Products. They Rock!
I'm also an LL Bean and REI shopper. They have great gear there.
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