Jun 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm #1236958
Companion forum thread to:Jun 10, 2009 at 1:16 am #1507168
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
I found your article fascinating. Thank you.
I would only add that many retailers I have met do not seem to share your philosophies, being quite content to peddle out the dearest junk for the maximum profit. Which goes to show that the buyer needs to find reliable brands AND retailers. I knew about the former: you have taught me about the latter.
CheersJun 10, 2009 at 1:29 am #1507170
You really need to visit Australia's only dedicated Lightweight Gear Store and check out some of the gear.
That may be so, but as this is your first posting here and the posting appears to be a disguised ad for a shop which some might think you are associated with, you should declare any vested interest you may have in the matter. We don't mind if you do have an interest, but BPL policy insists that you declare it up front.
If I am mistaken, my apologies.
Online Community Monitor
backpacking LightJun 10, 2009 at 1:36 am #1507171
Agreed. Would be nice to have a store like that nearby! Especially for folk who are new to lightweight.
Gotta get myself a Hubba Hubba HP! 1 pound 9 ounces! Sounds great! Last time I looked they were a little heavier than that ;-)
I'm a little puzzled as to the advantages of Ti cookware compared to, say, AGG aluminium pots. The AGG pots are the same weight, just as strong, but much cheaper. No compromise necessary!Jun 10, 2009 at 2:03 am #1507172
@markmclauchlinLocale: Western Australia
This issue that I see is two parts, firstly Light weight here in Australia really hasnt taken hold for the typical hiker, there are those of us that are trying to educate others such as myself. Many times out on the trail I am mistaken for a day hiker when really I am out for a few nights. Most recently on a 60 km hike over two days several people stopped to talk and look at the gear I had or didnt have, the night time dinner around the campsite triggered some great light weight converstations.
Secondly the price of UL gear here is too high for most people, importing from US is still a lot cheaper.
Tim, I have actually been watching your store for a while and generally check there before I purchase Os, however prices are still an issue, which is more than likely out of your hands to an extent, nevertheless keep up the good work. I will be sure to add your site to my blog web link,
MarkJun 10, 2009 at 2:11 am #1507173
@tallblokeLocale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!
Nice article Brad. I think a lot of people end up carrying extra weight and bulk in clothing. A bit of education in using quilts or sleeping bags as camp comforters and washing/drying base layers helps.Jun 10, 2009 at 4:19 am #1507179
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
Great article. I am sure a lot of retailers could learn from it, depending on their philosophy. Do they just want to maximise profit on each individual sale or are they trying to maximise long term loaylty by effectively meeting customer needs and hopefully make even more money in the long run. At times I am sure this can be a bit of a balancing act.Jun 10, 2009 at 6:06 am #1507189
I have noticed that many shops that carry light gear will only do so for a year or two. I have asked why and the reply has been "high return rates". Do most people equate weight with durability? I admit some light gear (packs) don't have the durability but I don't think sleeping bags fall into that category. Do retailers get burned on a few items and then condemn all light weight gear? I find I buy almost everything online.Jun 10, 2009 at 9:20 am #1507229
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
In this failing world economy breathing some fresh ideas and fresh air into a retail location is an excellent idea.Jun 10, 2009 at 9:45 am #1507240
Thanks for your comments so far, glad you enjoyed it.
Roger, you're right, many retailers don't share my philosophy or passion for education. I wish more did. Hopefully a few will read this and take an idea or two to heart…
Ashley, yeah, that'd be a really light tent… my hope is the typo will be fixed soon. 2# 9oz for the solo Hubba HP. As far as Ti vs Al, write about what you know, and I guess sell what you know. I haven't used the AGG pots; I know they're pretty popular here. I have used aluminum pots before and my personal experience has led me to believe that they are more prone to sticking and a bit harder to clean. Also, most aluminum cooksets are still heavier than some of the Ti options (ie, Snowpeak's Multi-Compact sets). FWIW, I've altered the display to include a Fly Creek now… 1# 14 oz!
Mark, UL and lightweight haven't really taken hold here, either. Perhaps more so? But it can be a tough sell, which is frustrating, because carrying a lighter pack ultimately makes for a more fun trip.
Rog, yep, I shed a ton of pack weight when I started taking a good look at my layers. One pair of socks a quarter pound? This is the hardest habit to break for a lot of people: "I don't want to get cold." I've been trying to put things in practical terms, as in "Imagine yourself around a bonfire at a campground in summer… What are you wearing? A t-shirt? Flannel shirt? So why would you need more than a midlayer and a poofy down vest or jacket for a backpacking trip at the same time of year?"
Jason, I hope that some retailers do learn from this… and I also hope that consumers can learn from this.
Thomas, I think that the real reason shops only carry light gear for a year or two is the staff doesn't know how–read, isn't interested in selling the stuff. Sometimes a shop will pick up lightweight lines because they have a select staff who does have an interest in the approach; given the turn-over rate in many shops, once they leave the remaining people or newbies quite likely have no idea what the lightweight stuff is all about. This is a problem that starts at the top. Traditional backpacking gear distinctly has a place and a reason for being. But people need to truly understand how UL principles apply to backpackers of any ilk. I think it's doing a disservice to customers by not incorporating UL principles into a shop's approach to sales. A couple of our biggest challenges are institutional programs such as Scouts or NOLS; the equipment requirements can be quite rigid. I recently fitted a very small 12-year old in an 85 liter (!) pack for a multi-week mountaineering trip he was doing with his Scout group. More stunning? His Scoutmaster made him return the pack because it was too small!!!!! It's effectively the largest pack made in his torso size; we tried on other similars, this had the best fit, and an accessory pocket or two could have bumped up the volume… but that's beside the point. Why is it mandatory that a 110 pound, skinny pre-pubescent kid carry a 95+ liter pack? I think that as a retailer I bear the responsibility of consumer education. It is my duty to educate consumers, and I do my best to get people to lighten up. However, the responsibility is on us all… as Mark mentioned, spreading the word on the trail. I don't believe that UL is always right or preferable, but I do believe that many principles of it apply to just about everybody. One thing we can all do? Share the website with other backpackers, just tell them to check it out, and acknowledge that they might not want to use everything they learn there, but there's a ton of great info to get them started toward having more fun on the trail… or for those who think they can no longer hike, great info for carrying a daypack-sized, comfortable load and getting back out there. In short, I guess I'm saying (I can't believe I am, but that's another story) that we need to spread the gospel… not like the guy on the street corner screaming about evil sinners, but more of a mention in passing, perhaps mentioning a benefit or two you've seen from making the UL transition.
Sorry, a bit of a long-winded response…
BradJun 10, 2009 at 10:43 am #1507261
Brad, it's awesome that you have a representative gear shelf. I've only ever been into one retailer that even compares to what it sounds like your shop is like; Santa Cruz Down Works. There's another guy who understands UL and is happy to educate people, He doesn't have a shelf like you, but he does have a checklist for various 'skin out' weights' and a representative gear list for each that would get you there.
As Mike Clelland said on a recent gear list thread,(paraphrasing) the dumbest reason to do something is because 'that's the way you've always done it.'
The best way to approach a gear list is to be like an annoying two-year-old; "Why?" (Maybe this should all be under Dr. Jordan's "Why" post)
Last year my base packweight was 30lbs or so. This year, it's about 11lbs. Sure, I bought a lot of new gear, but aside from one obvious piece (my 3.5lb, 15 degree sleeping bag was just too warm for Sierra summers), I could've dropped it to 15 lbs by just packing better.
Why cut off yourtoothbrush handle? Why trim tags and excess cords and straps? Just last year I was thinking like that. But why not? What does it cost you? What purpose do they serve?
Sacrifice is having aching shoulders and legs because you packed an extra set of clothes when one set would do, because you wore 5 lb hiking boots because you were to narrow-minded to explore the possiblity of wearing 2 lb trail runners, because your first aid kit weighs 2 lbs, even though you wouldn't have a clue how to utilize 1.75 pounds of what's in it.
It's nice to know there's a few retailers out there who understand this.Jun 10, 2009 at 11:05 am #1507270
@pgibsonLocale: SW Idaho
Years ago when Golite first came on the market my favorite shop started right off the bat carrying some of their gear and after checking it out and reading up on the basic principals I was on board. There really was a better way. Then they got away from it to a large extent. They almost totally quit carrying any products that could be considered light let alone ultra light. About that time I cam into need of a job and they came in need of a new employe (they had some one walk out one day). So as I began to sell I pushed for more and more light gear, I set up a display much like the one described in the article. I put together a 4 day 3 season kit that totaled out at about 20 pounds full skin out with food and fuel. We made large signs with the items and weights of everything. It was a huge success. We even did a demo night for the local search and rescue team with this kit to help show them that they could cut down significantly. I worked hard to keep increasing the selection of lightweight gear in the store, the management was very skeptical of some of the gear that I insisted we start stocking – at least until I had sold items as soon as we had them on the shelves. But after I left that job the knowledge of using and functionality of lighter choices went with me. At present that shop carries nearly no gear that promotes the light weight selections on the market. They no longer carrie any products from Golite, the selection of sleeping bags only contains one or two Western Mountaineering versus the 8 models stocked during my time there. A huge factor in a shop doing anything light is the knowledge and interest of the people selling and promoting the products.
PaulJun 10, 2009 at 3:23 pm #1507337
Interesting article. Good work.
BPL has been the best source for knowledge about UL gear and the use of it for me.
I suppose most of us bought our first gear from a brick and mortar retailer. This leaves so much to chance. Odds of the clerk having any backpacking experience, odds of UL experience, etc. So far I have run into one traditional retailer sales clerk that practices UL. It was funny – we discussed home made can stoves and the clerk spoke slightly above a whisper. : )Jun 10, 2009 at 4:13 pm #1507349
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
We forget that UL backpacking is a niche in the backpacking world. Even after nearly 20 years after Jardine published his first book.
There is a lot of experience that goes with the ability to use a lot of the UL gear.
Also, UL gear probably has a high return rate, based on the lack of experience by the purchasers. Not good for a retailer.
Additionally, a lot of the gear we buy is not available in any retail store, or only at selected retailers.
Some examples (and I may be wrong):
SMD = direct
MLD = direct
JRB = direct
Tarptent = direct
ULA = 2 or 3 retailers, but mostly direct
GG = direct
Trail Designs = 1 retailer
BMW/BPL = direct
zPacks = direct
Nunatek = direct
Dirty Girl Gaiters = direct
Simblisity = direct or 1 retailer
Of these 12 (there are others) I have purchased the majority of my gear, and the high ticket items from 9 of them. I would think that many people here can say the same.
There are not a lot of mainstream options for UL equipment.
For other lightweight equipment, I have found that the people in the stores who do hike, have not used the light weight products they sell.
Lastly, the bomber gear has more gross profit dollars than most of the lighter stuff, and very few returns.
But it is refreshing to see a retailer offer options to his customers.Jun 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm #1507356
@oiboyroiLocale: South West US
I used to work at REI. I can honestly say that a vast majority of customers that I encountered had no interest in lightweight or ultra-light weight activities. Even those that knew a thing a two about it; there was little interest it. Every great once in a while, I would talk with a few customers who did have a genuine interest in the ideas. I would tell them what I knew and still keep in contact with many of them even though I haven’t worked at REI in well over a year.
I guess there’s too much misinformation out there.
Once I volunteered to do a free ultra-light clinic for REI when I worked there. They gave me the materials they had for the clinic but I laughed when I saw it. It was just a small list of gear and wouldn’t even be considered lightweight. I asked the outreach specialist if I could give the clinic using my own materials and got the okay. I made up a nice powerpoint and a sample gear list (with multiple examples for each item) for the customers to take home. I brought my own pack and showed everyone how it fit together.
The clinic went well. I got lots of comments from the customers on how much they had learned and how they didn’t think it was possible but now do, etc. Felt pretty good overall to really show people how it’s done.
The clinic went well however, I was nearly fired because of it. The reason being that the gear list I had prepared. Some of the items that were on the list (not many mind you) weren’t available at REI. The managers apparently didn’t like that at all. They informed me of the fact that the point of clinics was to sell products. That was news to me. I talked my way out of getting fired and left with a big fat write up. Whatever, I never did another clinic.Jun 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm #1507364
I find it interesting that most of the folks who are into ultralight backpacking do it a lot, while those who backpack very little may benefit the most. This may take a little convincing, but consider how the casual backpacker might go on a trip. Such a backpacker is more likely to go on a weekend or three day trip. A casual backpacker is more likely to just cancel the trip if it looks like the weather will be bad (or change destinations). Thus, a casual backpacker will carry a rain jacket, but will probably not use it. Propore rain gear or a poncho make a lot of sense. Down also makes a lot of sense (less worry about losing loft due to moisture). A single walled tent provides plenty of bug protection (which is probably all that is needed).
Contrast this to what you would take for a week long trip to the rain forest that also involves a bit of bushwacking. Only the most optimistic would venture out on a trip like that with down, propore and a single walled shelter.
If I was selling gear, I would assess what type of backpacking the people hope to do, combine that with what sort of monetary compromises they are willing to make, and I might end up selling them a lot of very light gear. As the author said, for a lot of these folks the question isn't what gear they will bring, but whether they will backpack at all. Since most backpacking sites are free, you can pay for a gear with the money you save over a motel room.Jun 10, 2009 at 5:13 pm #1507368
Nick makes a very good point, which is why you don't see that many ultralight shops. However, we have one (or close to one) in Seattle, in Pro Mountain Sports. This is an interesting little shop, which caters to hikers and climbers. It may be that the climbing gear got the owner into ultralight equipment (probably the down connection).
For some of that gear, it would be nice if a retailer like that could just sell the equipment via the shop. In other words, the retailer would buy one model, display it, sell it and then have the product delivered to the customer (for the usual postage) or delivered to the shop (where it would be available later for pickup). I would think that both the maker and the retailer would be OK with that arrangement (little risk for both) while the customer would get a chance to try out the equipment. I would love to have that option for tents.Jun 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm #1507372
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> Contrast this to what you would take for a week long trip to the rain forest that also
> involves a bit of bushwacking. Only the most optimistic would venture out on a trip
> like that with down, propore and a single walled shelter.
Depends rather more than you think on the person. I don't think 'optimism' is the right word either.
I take down, silnylon and a single-walled shelter on week-long trips in dense rainforest with jungle. But then, that is the gear which I have. Sometimes that counts.
As to the major retail shops … I haven't been to one for ages. Most of them now sell to the street fashion market anyhow.
CheersJun 10, 2009 at 6:30 pm #1507375
@rezniemLocale: San Francisco
Anyone see this video:
The tag line is "This Retailer Knows how to Lighten Your Load"…but then you watch it and he's getting people from the 50's down into the 30# range. Not bad, but still, very heavy by standards over here…..Jun 11, 2009 at 7:25 am #1507457
Brad, very nice setup in the store. I think that would be great for people to see – I wish it was around a few years back for me! Sounds like you would be a good guy to talk to if I was walking into an outfitter for the first time.
If I go to my local MEC, I don't even bother talking to any of the sales people. My opinion is that most of them are really not experienced at all. In reality, you could put together a pretty slick gear list with off the shelf items at MEC (ie. WM bags, Hubba tent, ID Poncho/tarp, pocket rocket etc) but the staff do not have the knowledge to do this for you.
Much like buying a car (you wouldn't buy based on the salesguy?!), those who take it seriously will do their research before purchasing.Jun 11, 2009 at 9:00 am #1507481
Thanks for the continued comments! A few responses and general thoughts…
James, along with the question "Why," I think, is the comment/question "Really?" as phrased on some SNL skits. Do I really need that?
Paul, key employees are, well, key. It's awesome to hear of a great shop guy like yourself who did it the right way. It's an admittedly small brotherhood. When I started, overall sleeping bag sales went from about 10-15% Western to over 50% Western… but I doubt sales will stay like that once I leave. I'm trying to train everyone around me, but who knows if that training will stick without the daily reminders…
George, thanks. Your comment about brick and mortars leaving so much to chance strikes a chord with me, I'll expand on that in a bit.
Nick, you're right in many ways. However, I'll say that essentially none of the UL gear I have displayed requires any sort of special care–beyond, perhaps, not airing out the sleeping bag over a thorn bush. Much of the UL approach, especially as people are getting into this or for those whom UL isn't a form of religion, is more about making smart and limited choices than purely gossamer fabrics. I've actually tried to pick up 3 or 4 of the companies you mentioned, but it didn't work out with any of them. Part of the reason you won't find those companies in retail outlets is that they simply can't make enough to do it. There's also the fact that on their relatively limited production scale, they just don't have enough margin to sell things wholesale and still turn a reasonable profit for their efforts. All that said, I've updated the solo kit display and it comes in at 11 pounds even now, all with stuff easily available at a reasonably well-stocked shop.
Roy, I notice the same lack of interest in lightweight and UL here, too. I actually have a number of employees who don't like the Exos simply because it's "too light," never mind that it's incredibly comfortable to them. What I do, though, is talk about lightweight to everybody, regardless of whether it's something that they think they're interested in… because even if they're not interested in it, if I educate people consistently, they'll come to have at least a degree of appreciation for UL philosophy (or at the very least, won't mind carrying a lighter pack). Much like you did with your clinic (awesome job, by the way), but something I keep up with every day and nearly every interaction. Not in a pushy way, but matter of fact.
Ross, yup, those who do the least could almost benefit the most. Weird.
Roger, when you can make anything you want, I can see why going to a shop isn't a high priority for you… but there is still a bunch of new stuff in the shops to investigate and reverse engineer to some degree.
Nate, I guess it's a start, eh?
Steve, thanks for your appreciation. Come on, man, I'd be a good guy to run into even if you were walking into the store for a 100th time! 'Course, it'd be a mutual learning experience that might well devolve into a session at the local pub if you came into my shop… You're right, many shop employees aren't experienced. It's a shame. I have a philosophy about that…
Regarding poorly stocked stores and untrained sales staff, I think there's a bit of a problem stemming from online sales. Quite a bit, actually. In my region alone roughly 60% (?) of specialty outdoor shops have closed in the past 10-15 years. Why? They're not getting enough traffic through the doors, not generating enough sales. Why has traffic dropped so dramatically? Certainly not stock inadequacies… many great, very highly respected shops have closed. Not to get overly dramatic, but several of them were bastions of local society. Online sales have effectively closed those shops. The sad thing is, when you had those really good mom and pop-ish gear shops, they were frequently staffed with really knowledgable, passionate packfitters. I do some shopping online, too, but buy at local shops as often as remotely possible. If I can keep them open, I know I'll have and support a better resource right in town.
BradJun 11, 2009 at 9:43 am #1507492
Come on, man, I'd be a good guy to run into even if you were walking into the store for a 100th time
Hey, that came out wrong! ;)
Years ago there was a smaller shop not far from here – great place. One of the staff there was actually the one who gave me this website. Back then I was normal and now I'm a freak (thanks guys).
Anyway, good job with educating people. Surely they appreciate it. I think it is also important to realize that most people do not want to go too light – this kind of catches on to why you don't recommend tarps to most and I tend to agree with that. If they are ready for a tarp, then they have probably done their research/experimented.
If people do ask me for advice, I tend to not really recommend everything that I use just because I know that I'm a little bit more on the lighter side then probably people would be comfortable with…and at the end of the day, the goal is to get them out there and have a good time!
Michigan, eh? Not too far from me…I'll have to stop by for that beer. :)
p.s. Nice gesture, supporting local business is VERY important. If they have what you want, definitely a good place to spend some money.Jun 11, 2009 at 10:25 am #1507506
Sorry, I couldn't resist! ;)
RE: "One of the staff there was actually the one who gave me this website. Back then I was normal and now I'm a freak (thanks guys)." Yup. I used to be normal, then some guy came into my shop and referred me to BPL. Sheesh.Jun 11, 2009 at 12:46 pm #1507557
Can you give a breakdown by price of each item and what the total price for the equipment listed would be for a group of 10 Scouters and two adult leader's going to Philmont for two weeks? Do you have a volume discount? What would be the price for just one scouter or adult leader for the entire equipment list?
Institutional Program, Scouts, Assistant Scoutmaster,
Troop 326, Fort Worth, Texas.
RobertJun 11, 2009 at 12:55 pm #1507561
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
>> I've actually tried to pick up 3 or 4 of the companies you mentioned, but it didn't work out with any of them. Part of the reason you won't find those companies in retail outlets is that they simply can't make enough to do it. There's also the fact that on their relatively limited production scale, they just don't have enough margin to sell things wholesale and still turn a reasonable profit for their efforts.
Yep. And what usually happens is that they go offshore for production, lose control over product quality, and the products evolve into heavy gear.
I could go into an REI and put together the majority of what I need for around 10lbs. But I am sure no one there could help me do it. And the last one I went to didn't even have a scale. The other thing is that as Roger C mentioned, most of these stores are becoming clothing boutiques.
My hat is off to you Brad for providing options to you your customers. I would bet that a lot of people might want to try going lighter, but there is no one or few retailers out there to guide them. This is what customer satisfaction and customer loyalty is all about… outstanding product knowledge, and that is an ancient art in most retail businesses today.
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