Can Massdrop become THE place for Scouts to buy gear?

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Home Forums Scouting Backpacking Light with Scouts Can Massdrop become THE place for Scouts to buy gear?

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    Danny Milks
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    Hey All

    I am the Ultralight Buyer for, which means it is my job to source the best ultralight gear for our community. I am not going to try to convince you that Massdrop is the best thing since titanium sporks, or to try to sell you anything. Rather, I'm here to ask for your help / guidance / wisdom.

    Massdrop is a platform for online enthusiasts, one of those being ultralight backpackers. The platform allows me to formalize the process that is going on here already – people asking what is the best gear for this or that, and where to get it at the best price.

    This is a service that the BPL Gear Shop tried to provide, but was ultimately unsuccessful partially because it relied on the traditional retail model. It's difficult to constantly stock awesome gear for a small, selective group of people. But what if you ask those people what they want, and then give them an opportunity to buy it several times a year?

    Massdrop is fairly unique in that we have polls and forum discussions around gear, enabled by our website but initiated by our community members. Then, I take those polls (plus what I see happening in other forums, like right here on BPL) and I go to the manufacturers and try to make the most desirable gear available for the best price. The community has one week to purchase during this 'drop', and the more people that buy in, the cheaper the price gets. At the end of the week, Massdrop charge everybody's credit cards, sends the order to the manufacturer, and then redistributes the products to our members.

    The process generally take 1-3 weeks (or more) until you get your gear – which in some cases might be a deal breaker. However, we're able to generally offer the best deals as we can maintain low margins (no physical store, don't have to buy goods in advance and try to predict what we might sell). An additional benefit is we're able to work with smaller companies that otherwise couldn't work with a retail outlet. And we're able to source goods that otherwise might not be able to sell well – like gear you'd want but the mainstream backpackers wouldn't consider.

    Where do you come in? Well, to me, scout troops seem like such an ideal partner. The threads here are all about getting lightweight gear, but you're really limited by budget, need for slightly better durability, and ability for your scouts to use the gear for many years (maybe even 'grow' into it). You also have certain gear rules/requirements, especially for big trips like Philmont.

    To clarify, I'm not looking for one or two scout troops to buy everything at once. I'm looking for your input on what is needed, so that I can go try to source it, and then make it available on Massdrop with the hope that scout troops all over the US will also want similar gear. There is no commitment needed by anyone to make this happen.

    For example, let's say you create a poll for the best budget rain jacket (under $100, less than 14 ounces) and the Marmot Precip wins. I would try to make that available for a drop maybe once every two months. When the drop is live, you can alert your troop that this is the jacket you'd recommend for most Scouts, and it's up to them to buy it or not, but there is no obligation by anyone. It could be a Klymit or Granite Gear backpack, a Kelty sleeping bag or an Enlightened Equipment quilt, a Borah Gear down vest, and so on. What is available on Massdrop is decided by your polls, and my ability to negotiate for you.

    The Ultralight Community on Massdrop has been around for less than a year, but we're growing quickly. We've had some hiccups and growing pain, but the overall trend is very positive and I'm able to work with more brands and source better gear. With your help, I can tailor some of our offerings to help your troops afford the gear that you want them to have.

    I'm open to hear your thoughts, concerns, criticisms, advice, suggestions… And feel free to PM me if you don't want to post publicly.

    Thank you for your help!

    Oh, and to see the site, you must register to log in. We must provide this virtual wall, because our prices are usually below what manufacturers' allow goods to be sold at. So we create a virtual wall, where Google and Amazon can't search our prices and we don't advertise our prices outside the site. I apologize if this deters you, but there is nothing we can do about it. We couldn't offer the prices we do, if we didn't build in this virtual wall.

    Adam Kilpatrick
    BPL Member


    Locale: South Australia

    Definitely an interesting concept Danny.

    As a Scout Leader I'm interested to see how this develops. In Australia we have poor access to quality, good value ultralight gear suitable for Scouts.

    Checking out massdrop now, never used it before. Definitely looks interesting.

    Michael Gunderloy
    BPL Member


    I've purchased several times from Massdrop myself (& been happy with the results). But putting on my Scoutmaster hat – with a middle-class Midwest city troop, the stuff that you've been running through the Ultralight community is too light and too expensive for our families to be interested in or our Troop to fund, for the most part. We're willing to trade off weight in order to get sturdier & cheaper gear. There are individual exceptions, of course, but for us the sweet spot has been things like tents from Hiker Direct and D-cell lanterns from Amazon.

    That said, if something shows up at the right price at the right time, I'd happily pass the news on to our families.

    jimmer ultralight


    Scouts and their parents need HIGH VALUE gear. Thats always a tough gig in the Ultralight community where on one hand you have mostly small cottage makers using high end materials and workmanship along with low volume MGF..Margins van only be cut so slim.

    Its tough to find value priced UL gear that competes in price with sources like REI or Ebay discounters like Campsaver etc..Now you have the added competition from direct from Asia sources on Alibaba and Ebay etc..A good example of that is the BRS-3000T stoves..good luck beating HEARBEST's price a backpacking stove..

    As a buyer for Massdrop, you must understand that TIMING is everything in the UL cottage industry…Yes you might get the low hanging fruit and find a maker willing to discount slow sellers or discontinued models at a cheaper price, but to get cottage UL makers to sell current tip if the line stuff at a discount all the stars must align..Think of it like hitting a baseball, you have to time your swing ahead of the curve;)

    Lets say for example, you want to offer a gighquality superlight US mafe UL backpack..

    Looking at the marketplace a likely candidate is the new favorably priced CORE pack from MLD..The 1700 is a great UL size and at $85 Its already priced pretry HOW can a company like Massdrop get an even.BETTER deak for scouts etc?

    First of all, a guy like Ron Bell or amy of the US cottage makers is busy as heck this time of the year and I am sure certainly not interested in selling gear for lower margins right now and who can blame them?.

    But, Winter is a slow period for them and firms like MLD who do NOT lay off seamstresses in winter,offer discounts at that time to keep their shop crews busy. And ,the CORE is a great item for a Massdrop, because it was designed to be made cheaply due to its simplicity..

    Still, to get someone like MLD interested ,you would need to-

    1)Do the Massdrop just BEFORE Christmas for Jan-Feb delivery which is their slowest time..That way, scouts get cool UL Christmas gifts ordered for them and Ron and crew have more work already scheduled for the slow season .

    2)Schedule far enough ahead (like NOW) ti make sure he had the fabric in stock by Jan 1s.,

    3)Made the offer ONLY available to scouts and scout leaders (that way it does not poach on MLDs regular clientel who want to buy a CORE in the future .

    Everybody wins . MLD gets to sell UK gear to an audience it might not otherwise sell to. Scouts get a high quality, serious Ultralight US made pack at a great price

    Danny Milks
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    Adam, Michael, Jimmer – Thank you all for your responses. To sum it up very broadly, Scouts need gear that is affordable, durable and lightweight (in that order).

    It's funny, because what I hear from you is that generally the gear on Massdrop is too light and expensive for scouts, while most of the comments on Massdrop is that the gear is too heavy to be considered ultralight. My goal is try to work with all budgets, which includes more affordable gear that is the lightest in its price range, which still might be considered heavy by cuben-fiber enthusiasts.

    The issue I face is not sourcing – I can generally get the value brands (Kelty, Eureka, Slumberjack, Alps), but, it's sometimes not feasible to SUFFICIENTLY discount those products because shipping costs are high and competition is fierce. I have the flexibility though that might make things work. I could list bundles, like a sleeping bag and pad combo, which might help keep shipping and transaction costs down. I can also make bulk items available – like if every scout in your troop is required to bring a certain product (knife, headlamp, first aid kit?) then maybe I can sell a bundle of 3 or 5 or 20 of said item. Or I could build a beginner scout kit – spork, first aid kit, headlamp, knife.

    Another possibility is working with international companies that don't have great distribution. For example, I'm working with Kovea (known for stoves, but manufacture pretty much everything) and Fizan (trekking poles) – these may offer options that are better and/or cheaper than what's currently available.

    Finally, as Jimmer noted, I could work with the cottage manufactures in the off-season to make items available that otherwise wouldn't be possible. These could be stripped down packs from ULA or Zimmerbuilt or synthetic quilts from Enlightened Equipment. Have this available around Christmas time. Or well before Philmont.

    Basically, I can work on any or all of these possibilities. But I'd love to have direction from you all on where you see the greatest need. I certainly can't compete in every product category, but I can certainly investigate each opportunity. We have a chance here to think differently and get your Scouts a) the same gear at a better price, or b) better gear at the same price, compared with what you have now.

    Please keep the opinions coming!

    Stephen M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Way up North

    How about start taking lay away money from Scouts with a tight budget.

    The quicker a Scout pays might make it slightly cheaper or gets a free cheapo item.

    M B
    BPL Member


    Generally, scouts need low price, durable ,serviceable, easy to get gear.

    Many parents spend the bare minimum for their kids stuff. Think bass pro, dicks, walmart, etc. Some go for alps from scout direct(or whatever new name is )

    Kids get gear for birthdays and christmas,and when needed for upcoming trip, advance planning isnt widespread.

    Few have even heard of clearance sites like sierra trading post.

    Steofan M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Bohemian Alps

    Massdrop would be a nice fit with my evil plans to lighten up the troop.
    Package deals might work out even better! A cooking package with a stove, pots and utensils (for two to share) would be great. Additional package deals with a backpack and sleeping bag, and maybe another with a 2 person-sized tarp and net would be just the things take the over-priced and heavy gear choices away from the parents. I always camp with lightweight equipment and get lots of questions from new parents and incoming scouts when we host Webelos. That would be a great time to pass around the upcoming MassDrop deals.
    This could really be a great place to buy gear!
    Steven M.

    Adam Kilpatrick
    BPL Member


    Locale: South Australia

    One of the biggest problems I see with Scouts hitting an approximately ultralight kit list, is not so much finding the odd thing that would make it so, but most things. For example its easy to save weight with a lightweight frameless pack and they aren't that expensive (eg GG G4), but that pack will be terrible if everything inside it is relatively heavyweight.

    However, if they have a mat, quilt, pack, tent that are all ultralight, together, things start to quickly become viable. All three could come from the one manufacturer or from a couple of them, then packaged by Massdrop.

    Eg, GG G4 (lower volume version)(maybe down to $100?) with GG Nightlight Torso Length ($15)(critical for good frame, also saves big weight and good comfort for a CCF pad). Synthetic Quilt 30F Rating (Eg EE Prodigy, or MLD)($110). A WPB Thigh Length Jacket (lots to choose from here, I think Sierra Designs Cagoule could be good or a Silnylon knock off of it…or something from say Luke's ultralight in Pertex or Paclite).($70-90). Total Maybe $300ish?

    If you hit these things, the Scout gets a cheap polyeseter fleece jumper, set of thermals, beanie, plastic mug, spoon, small LED headtorch (cheap and easy to get these days), they are pretty much there. This ancillary stuff is all cheap, locally sourced, useful outside of just a backpacking trip.

    Tent; perhaps the best thing is for Troop buys here, and Silnylon pyramids are probably the go. MLD or Oware USA.

    Cooking: shared aluminium pot, gas stove, Troop bought.

    Jerome H.
    BPL Member


    Love the idea of a group buy, and I think that is the way to go to outfit scouts! Maybe you can categorize these buys as: the big three, the essentials, 3-season clothing, etc. The 2014 Scout Fieldbook should give you an idea of what many troops consult when deciding what essentials scouts should carry.

    From a personal perspective based on what I've seen in my sons' troop, the biggest need for our scouts is the sleeping bag/quilt. I can't tell you how many new boys come in with huge Walmart-bought sleeping bags that can only fit into large duffle bags, so on troop outings, that's what they carry!

    The second thing they would do well to have is lighter weight clothing and rain gear.

    However, as someone else mentioned, most troops have their own shelters, cookware, and stoves so I don't know how attractive a group buy would be for those items.

    As a Cubmaster, I am highly interested in what kits you can pull together for our Cub Scouts, specifically a mess kit and pocket knife. Every year our Bears earn the Whittlin' Chip and so we need a steady supply of quality pocket knives, the Victorinox Climber being my favorite.

    Furthermore, many pack and council outings in our area now require Cubs to bring their own mess kits as part of the Leave No Trace ethos, so a deep bowl/dish, spork, cup, etc. would be a welcome group buy.

    Jacob Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: The Soda

    BPL 900 Firelite 900 pot with the spout.

    If you can convince Firelite to remake that pot, I'd be all over it.

    Danny Milks
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    Jacob – thanks for the comment about the old BPL pot. I see a lot of opportunity with Massdrop to bring products like that back. I'll search around and see if I can find a manufacturer who is already making this, or would do it again for us.

    Questions I have: does it matter that the pot has a wood handle? Would an insulated rubber handle suffice?
    Would this be better with pot handles? Or is that part of the appeal – it is lighter (and probably cheaper) without.


    Bob Shuff
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    Hi Danny,

    Old thread, but hopefully my response is still relevant.  I’ve purchased quite a few things on Massdrop, two ULA packs, socks, knives, lights, etc.  I’ve had a good experience in most cases, but two complaints.

    1. I wish you would drop ship from the vendors to avoid the double shipping – I don’t see how that reduces the cost of the shipment, when most of these companies are probably shipping small packages to most customer and especially for those on the West coast it is a shame to pay double shipping and packaging to NJ.
    2. Also, many of the cottage or other quality outdoor gear vendors offer excellent return and exchange policies, but my perception is that Massdrop voids these policies in some if not all cases.  ULA packs come to mind – and there is a lot of discussion online about a change to their mesh characteristics.  I have two Massdrop packs now that probably don’t have the resale value they would have with the stretchier mesh, and consensus is Massdrop or ULA will not exchange it.  Discerning adults value the exchange/warranty policies – it may not be as useful to scouts who move through gear for one reason or another more quickly.

    That all being said, I’ve seen some good value equipment for scouts.  If you can start matching the return/exchange policies – I would suggest pushing it back on the vendors, and drop ship whenever possible, you will have a much  better service.

    Slbear, ASM T777

    Danny Milks
    BPL Member


    Locale: SF Bay Area

    @slbear – Thanks for the input Bob. Glad you’ve checked out Massdrop and found some things you like.

    I hope to get more budget-friendly items up there for scouts, college students, and whoever else wants affordable lightweight gear. The challenge with the scouts, from what I am hearing, is getting affordable, light AND durable gear. I think of UL gear as very durable under my use (I’ve had the same pack and quilt for 10+ years), but it seems like that can’t be expected of most scouts. So that is a challenge for me.

    As for the two issues you bring up, I hope to shed a little light.

    Shipping from the manufacturer (aka “drop-shipping) can save time and money, but not always, and there are a couple of reasons why we do tend not to do this.

    1. The manufacturer does not drop ship, which is true of most of the companies we work with. The exceptions are the small UL cottage companies – ULA, EE, BlackRock Gear, and so on
    2. Some outdoor companies  (even several UL cottage companies) hire another business to handle shipping (aka third-party logistics or 3PL). The fees for us to drop-ship are far greater than if we ship to our facility and fulfill from there.
    3. The cost and time of shipping to our fulfillment center is not actually as great as you might think. For Vargo or Klymit to ship to our facility takes 1-2 days. Costs vary, but for Vargo items, it could be around $0.25 per item to ship to our facility.
    4. Some companies do dropship, but can only ship a few items per day. We only order large quantities, which may overwhelm their capacity. Or, they could ship our items, at the expense of their normal customers being delayed. So, the benefit of them working with us is that we get the discount, but Massdrop has to take care of the shipping and handling.

    When things are relatively large, and the companies have capacity, then we’ll dropship. This works with ULA and Enlightened Equipment for example. But for us, we prefer to ship things through our fulfillment center. And if you think about the tens of thousands of items that Massdrop ships every month, we have a lot great capacity and shipping rates than smaller UL companies.

    Super big drops certainly take a while to completely fulfill, like when we sell thousands of items from Darn Tough or ExOfficio. We’re always trying to improve the speed and accuracy of our fulfillment. And sometimes we get something wrong, like the type of mesh used in a certain ULA pack. That was completely my fault – I was the one who changed the Specs without consulting ULA. I am very sorry that expectations were not met.

    Bob, to your second point about warranty – all manufacturer’s warranty are valid, and Massdrop matches the original manufacturer’s warranty, so you’ve got a second source in case you run into an issue. However, exchanges are limited as that’s one of the reasons we all are able to get the discount – our members get the best price as a result of ordering the same items at the same time, so the manufacturer can operate super efficiently. This is the same reason that we cannot offer customization like that original manufacturer can. If you want custom, or if you’re unsure about the product, then stick with buying straight from the manufacturer. Otherwise, as you’ve seen, Massdrop can be a good place for all these UL items.

    Monique Schaefers
    BPL Member


    Locale: PNW

    I am late to this party.  I find it valuable though.  My family has been purchasing UL gear and games! from Massdrop for a couple years now.  We love it!  It is a bummer that it is so hit and miss but we work around it.  When I spot great gear at a great price on Massdrop I share the link with the troop email list.

    Our troop would interested in a basic package for the boys.  Packs, tents, sleeping pads, stoves/pots and maybe sleeping bags/quilts.  Are you still looking for a troop to work with?



    Locale: Washington DC

    Recommend you take the Scout Packing list and build a specific Philmont Gear Landing page on on MassDrop for adults, scouts and UL gear option price options, that are much more frugal than we can get going direct. A good example is the Revelation Quilt that is 800 down made in china for $219, perfect for scouts!!!

    Here are some links with all the gear required for crew, adult and Philmont optional gear verses the heavy (but durable) gear Philmont provides.

    Philmont Adult list:
    Troop required gear you take to Philmont:
    Philmont Issued with UL options:
    Scout Required Pack List:

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