Tent Opinions

9:51 a.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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I have a new tent on my xmas list. My final 2 choices are:

The North Face Meso

or

Black Diamond Mirage.

I'm looking for some opinions on the two: the good, the bad, the better, etc. 

Thanx....

9:53 a.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Forgot to mention that it will be used as a solo tent.

5:45 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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IMHO TNF is more fluff than funtional anymore. Stear clear.

5:57 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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And you might what to pay attention to this topic. Alot of info is being passed aound. http://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/108366.html

6:31 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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What is the application of the tent besides being solo. assault, snowboarding, etc.?

I agree with Mike TNF is quickly loosing it's appeal esp. since I’ve found all of the really cool Euro tents and with the plethora of quality vintage gear out there.  TNF vintage is still way at the top of my list, but not there new stuff.

If the Black Diamond is anything like the BD Firstlight I just got I would think twice about using it in more than a heavy 2 season or very, very light 3 season tent. 

6:40 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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I have seen much gear rated for 4 season that I wouldnt trust for two seasons. It seams if they have 3-4 poles they are now rated 4 season. Even if the poles are FG. LOL

7:43 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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mikemorrow said:

IMHO TNF is more fluff than funtional anymore. Stear clear.

 Thats kind of a hollow, blunt statement. Care to elaberate?

What is it about TNF that some are against these days? Is it the fact that every soccer mom and dad are wearing TNF fleeces and vests? The TV ads I've been seeing a lot? To commercial? To trendy? IDK. I always thought of TNF gear as pretty good stuff. I have some older model TNF tents and sleeping bags that have always performed well. I know for a fact that they have a good warranty and really back up there stuff well.

The materials on the TNF Meso seem nice and durable, right up there or even better than the competition.

How would you compare the TNF Meso with quality/durability say to the MSR Hubba HUbba or the Big Agnes Seedhouse  or Jack Rabbit?

I don't know much about Black Diamond tents. I have read mostly good things about them. The materials and design look nice on the Mirage, and the ventilation looks excellent.. Only bummer with BD is that their tents only hold a one year warranty.

8:01 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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There's more tent discussion on this here board than you could read in a weekend.  Dig in (and prepare for the mass confusion and frustration it will create).

8:08 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Like I said IMHO, But if you check out the reviews on thier newer tents they fall short. And the good ones seem to be from homers. Just bacouse it says TNF no longer mean its all that good. I have a 11 year ould Canyonlands that I do love. But some of thier newer tents seem to fail alot. Might just be a QC poblem but I wouldnt tust the name alone anymore.

9:06 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Since a company's product lines are often designed and made in various locations, I would take any blanket statement regarding quality with a grain of salt.  Inspect these models first hand if concerned about quality.  Neither BD or TNF are what they used to be, but I find most of both company's products are plenty fine for three season use.  You don’t need a humvee to negociate a few pot hole along the drive to work.

That said I would prefer the BD model over TNF, because of head space, plus it offers greater length when used as a 1 sleep.  Otherwise they seem analogous in all other aspects.

Ed

9:44 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Thing I have found over the past 15-20 years, since they were sold to VF Corp, and particularly since they shifted manufacture to SE Asia is that the quality control has dropped significantly, though it is uneven. Some things seem to be ok. For example, when I look at the VE-25 in the shops, the stitching often is not straight, but wanders. But the VE-25s I see the guide services using seem to have better quality control - better finish, better fit to the poles, zippers properly aligned, etc. Same thing for a lot of their clothing. I have two TNF Goretex parkas, one quite good, though it is pretty old now and is 2nd generation gtex, the second still old, but only about 12 years old. Even though the gtex is a later generation, it doesn't hold the DWR treatment as long as a Marmot that I got a year later. Plus the stitching is not as good - irregular wiggles, among other things.

These days for clothing, I would look to Marmot (SE Asia manufacture, but good quality control), Patagonia (more expensive, but excellent quality control, though I like the Marmot features better), Rab (especially the designs they took over from Integral Designs when they bought them last year), or Wild Things Gear (order direct from their North Conway, NH shop - excellent design, excellent quality control, really good features).

For tents, I place Hilleberg as my top choice, except that the State of California where I live, won't permit Hille tents to be sold in the state. My two main tents for winter and expedition are my Bibler (Black Diamond has changed the labels to the BD label) for 2-person use and and my Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 for long-term 2-person or for 3-person use. For summer use, I use a couple of Sierra Designs tents - not quite up to the BD and MH, but quite serviceable over the 9 and 14 years I have had them.

As a ancient dirtbag climber, I don't care whether "soccer moms" or college students wearing the latest fashion on campus are using something or not. Who cares when you are out in the woods and hills or in the Andes or Antarctica what some fashionista is wearing? The only question is how it performs. My experience is that over the past decade or two, TNF quality has been spotty. Some really good things, some really poor things. The bottom line is to inspect the particular item you are buying, accept it if the quality of that particular item that you will be using in the field passes your quality criteria, reject it if it falls short. Of course this means buy it at your local climbing shop or be prepared to spend time, effort, and money sending it back to the on-line warehouse your ordered it from on the web (or maybe accept being stuck if you bought it on Craig's List or eBay). Oh, yes, I can tell you an internet shop that sells gear cheap, but read the fine print - it says "seconds" and "closeouts". If that's ok, then the "half-price" may be a good deal.

10:27 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Bkuti said:

mikemorrow said:

IMHO TNF is more fluff than funtional anymore. Stear clear.

 Thats kind of a hollow, blunt statement. Care to elaberate?

What is it about TNF that some are against these days? Is it the fact that every soccer mom and dad are wearing TNF fleeces and vests? The TV ads I've been seeing a lot? To commercial? To trendy? IDK. I always thought of TNF gear as pretty good stuff. I have some older model TNF tents and sleeping bags that have always performed well. I know for a fact that they have a good warranty and really back up there stuff well.

The materials on the TNF Meso seem nice and durable, right up there or even better than the competition.

How would you compare the TNF Meso with quality/durability say to the MSR Hubba HUbba or the Big Agnes Seedhouse  or Jack Rabbit?

I don't know much about Black Diamond tents. I have read mostly good things about them. The materials and design look nice on the Mirage, and the ventilation looks excellent.. Only bummer with BD is that their tents only hold a one year warranty.

Care to elaborate? OK.

Do you have a TNF store near you? I do. I've thought of.…….with my own money, buying new signage for the TNF and getting them a sign that says “The North Face boutique“ “America's over priced clothing store“. I went to their Seattle Store last year and all they had set up were three tents,  two of their lower price tents and one med price tent............. not very proud of their tents. Huh. They did however have rows & rows&rows&rows of clothing with their Logos on them. And tons of urbanites sucking there stuff up as Americans are prone to do.

So what was the once a proud TNF store/company that was the cutting edge of outdoor equipment is now a store full of urban garbage. Trash, the stuff that I pass up at the Goodwill store everyday now. Everyday. Look at their history and who owns them. Their not an outdoor store, there a clothing store that has retained some of there older designed tents and other minor equipment to keep the illusion alive that their a mountaineering store. Yea, if your idea of mountaineering is climbing to the top of the Space Needle.

I was sickened by what I saw. They don't make there own stuff but cause it has the TNF logo on it it commands a higher price than if you go even to REI store and look at at least some stuff that has a little value, and don't get me started with the Wal-Mart of the outdoor industry, REI.

It should tell you something when you yourself say "Is it the fact that every soccer mom and dad are wearing TNF fleeces and vests?" Yes it is, can you say clothing store? If you want to buy your tent at a clothing store from kids who are making $8.42/hr and know nothing about what there selling let alone what being in the outdoors is all about, than that is up to you.

I just bought a foo-foo tent or as Mike said fluff tent made by Black Diamond. But I’m going to a place where it's 70-85 during the day and 70 at night. What I needed was a foo-foo tent. It's a two pole tent that "they" rate as a 4 season tent. Yea if you want to die in it in the fourth season. I bought a tent that was made by the same company that bought one of the finest tent companies in the world, "Bibler",  and ran with it as long as they could to make money of off the Bibler brand name and then run it into the ground by doing nothing more than just keeping the same tent designes that they bought years ago.  Years ago Bibler was cutting edge, now there just another tent company bought by a larger company for brand name recognition.  I would never buy a new Bibler now with all of the other fine products out on the market.  I would and have picked up used ones for good deals. 

There are so many good tents our there, even the vintage TNF but if you want to pay thrice what a tent is worth then walk into a TNF store and hand them your money. The stock holders will be thrilled.

If you want to make sure you make the right tent choice then listen to the people here who know tents and know what there talking about.

But if you want an overpriced tent with a brand name made by a clothing company then might I suggest you go shopping at “The North Face Clothing Boutique” "America's over priced clothing store” and buy a tent. It is your money after all.

 

Oh yea, like I asked up above "

What is the application of the tent besides being solo. assault, snowboarding, etc.?

I agree with Mike TNF is quickly loosing it's appeal esp. since I’ve found all of the really cool Euro tents and with the plethora of quality vintage gear out there. TNF vintage is still way at the top of my list, but not there new stuff.

If the Black Diamond is anything like the BD Firstlight I just got I would think twice about using it in more than a heavy 2 season or very, very light 3 season tent"

5:52 a.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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I hope that you do not think that my rant was directed at you. My rant was directed at the fact that one of the finest if not the finest and certainly the most iconic gear maker in America in my life time is now a clothing company selling fleeces logo'ed to w/TNF to soccer mom’s rather than cutting edge equipment to out door enthusiasts. But it is what it is. The reason I went into the TNF store was to talk to them about a new Gore-Tex shell that I have in which a zipper went bad. It went bad due to the use of crappy materials used. It had nothing to do with the fact that it was made in China as TNF tells the factories in China what materials to use in the production of their items. After being in the store for 15-20 I could stand it no longer and have not even enquired as to fixing the zipper. The Gore-tex shell has not moved from the back of the chair it was on since that day out of disgust. I often think of cutting up and using it as patches for my other Gore-tex gear. As you can tell by my rant I was not happy as the most cutting edge outdoor company has ended up being a clothing company. There are still some good products there but they are few and far between as far as I'm concerned. The same thing happened a few years ago to a outdoor cutting edge company called Eddie Bauer. They as well have become a clothing store with a few good products lurking here and there. I bought my first tent at TNF and I bought my first expedition down parka at Eddie Bauer. That was then and this is now.

I'm not a light tent guy but after looking at the two tents that you asked about I feel the Black Diamond is a better quality tent than the TNF based on everything I know of both those companies. Both the tents you listed are have almost the same specs with exception of the BD being longer and the TNF having 10 sq ft in the vestibule. Unless you need the extra 10 ft in the vestibule of TNF, I would say that the fact that the BD is longer and that you are a large guy along with the quality issue I think BD would be a better tent regarding the two.

I think there are better tents than either though, in regards to the tents in the price range you are looking at. I would myself look a the tents of these companies in this order myself. Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Big Agnes. I read a lot about tents and do my best to pay attention to what's going on in the gear industry and what people on Trailspace have to say about certain products but most certainly do not know it all.

If you have done your research and decided on the first two tents in the original post I would go with the BD.

6:23 a.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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Only one person has to be happy with the tent you buy. That's you. Compaired to most people here, I'm a low end buyer. What I do is look at all (yes all) tents. At all price ranges. I have many tents that I have enjoyed rangeing from $25-$160. Many of those tents would be poo pooed by members here. And that's fine. I use them for differant reasons and different seasons.

I do shy away from some of the big label tent. The reason being is that I think they are making you pay as much fo the name as the tent itsself. Just my Buck two ninty five.

9:10 p.m. on December 3, 2011 (EST)
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Hey Bkuti,  I know exactly what your looking for.  A solid solo shelter that you can carry yourself.  Me too.  Unfortunately over the last couple years I have found it difficult to accomplish that for less that $400+.  I have been eyeballing that Mirage tent from BD for a couple months.  It was available on Craigslist at a great price brand new last month here in VT.  My only reservation about that tent is the PU coating of the floor.  2000mm isn't very much.  Unless BD utilizes some amazing advancement in fabric or coating, which I don't think they have, its a deal breaker.  2000mm is not sufficient for sitting out a storm, period.  Not in my world anyway.  It doesn't take long for that too seep.  I don't see any reviews of it here on TS yet so I am going to remain skeptical.  

I've seriously come to a conclusion if you want a solid shelter at a good price your going to have to make allowances for weight or money. Unless you can spend $500 on a new tent or find a great deal on a used tent.  I saw a Hilleberg in excellent condition go on ebay for $400 last month.  Had I guessed it was going to go so cheap I would have watched it closer and made a bid.  The six P's come to mind there.  Piss Poor Planning Prevents Proper Performance.  

I have dropped almost the cost of a Hilleberg quality tent the last few years trying to save a couple of bucks.  Only to have a couple of tents I'm not really satisfied with.  I'd hate to see someone else learn that lesson the hard way.  I wish I would have just gotten an 8 or 9 pound tent made solidly or a high dollar tent with all the best materials.  

Just my experience over the last couple years.

Hope yours is better

MoZee

4:49 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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Wow, I really opened a can of worms with the mention of TNF. It's all good, and I like to hear the thoughts and opinions.

My thoughts on TNF. I always thought they made pretty good gear (tents, packs, sleeping bags). I have some TNF gear that I like. As far as their cloths, I don't own any, but I can understand why we all see so much of it around. It's the trend right now. Macy's, Nordstoms and all the other mall stores (and outfitters) are stocking them like crazy, because they are in demand. And why not pump them out to anyone who will sell them? I'm sure it's a simple phone call to whatever country in Asia that is making them and telling them to pump out thousands of more fleeces or whatever, because they will sell, and retailers will stock them, because it's the trend. But it's not going to last. I remember a few years ago ever other person was wearing Tommy Hilfiger or A&F. Their logos were everywhere. But, you barely see them anymore. The trend has passed. And on another note, look at all the competition that has sprung up over the past few years with gear. Lots. But I stlll think they offer a good product and are still being inventive. They just came out with the new "Drywall" tents. I've heard good things about that material, though I haven't really used one myself, it's a new step that no one else is doing (that I know of anyway). So they are trying. Also, I would think (and hope) that TNF wants to keep a good reputation for gear. It's what got them started, and when the TNF cloths trend is over, they will still stick with a certain quality of gear, like they have been (IMO). It's the "trend setters" that are messing up the TNF name. I really don't blame TNF for cashing in on the trend. Wouldn't you if you could? If you had a desire to succeed in that way. At least in some way TNF is providing more jobs and more money flowing through the American economy. Better a "outdoors company" than a fly by night cloths brand that will just disappear in a few years (anyone remember the Cavarichi pants in the 80's? Gone, trend over). But TNF has the ability to stay afloat.

TNF has a pretty good warranty department as well. I have their Quartz tent (which I reviewed). The mesh on it seemed to have runs in it (yea, a QC issue). I called them about it. They emailed me a shipping label right away, I sent it out to them. A week later I got a post card from them just saying they received it (nice touch), then a phone call after the issue was resolved (they labeled it as a defect and replaced the tent body with a new one with perfect mesh). Got it back in less than a month. I found the ordeal was handled well in a timely manner. And the way a company backs up their product, no matter what it is, is very important. As I mentioned before, BD only offers a one year warranty on their tents. Kinda weak. (and as MoZee mentioned, you would figure they would have better than a 2000mm floor). But yea, it does seem that TNF can have some QC issues, but they will make good on it.

Anyway, there are a few reasons that I am looking into a TNF tent. First, I think it's an interesting design. Something about it grabs me. It has what I am looking for in a tent - two person, under four pounds (no I'm not in anyway into the whole UL thing, but would like to lighten up for certain trips to an extent), good size vestibule and decent materials. I feel that the Meso tent has these things. A 70D floor with a 5000mm coating, 40D silnylon fly with a 1500 mm coating, and 20D mesh. I don't think that bad at all for what I will be using it for (3 season, long weekend solo trips with a 70 pound dog sometimes). Compared to some of the Meso's competitors, I think it's alright, if not better. The MSR Hubba Hubba is close but with a 3000mm coated floor. And Big Agnes, well they don't even want you to know to much about their materials. Not much info on their web site or in their catalog. Take the Seedhouse SL2. Yea it's a pound lighter, but that comes from using 30D floors and 20D fly, with a 1200mm coating on both (I had to search for this info, not provided by BA). Weight is lower but the price is higher. What tent would you rather be in, own and expect to have for many, many trips in good working condition? I'm more about what TNF offers in materials. But, as mentioned, thats what works for me (I am not gentle with my gear). I have no interest in babying my gear. So not looking at what TNF is doing with their cloths line, concentrating more on the specs and materials, and finding them online for under $200, I think it's the way I'm going to go.

I met a guy on the trail last summer who was using a TNF Meso. He let me check it out a bit and it seems really interesting. He was very happy with it. Thats what got me started on this tent. Seeing pictures of it doesn't do any justice and I never gave it a second look. But seeing it in person with someone who was very happy with it, kept it in my mind. And when I started looking seriously to get a new tent (remember Santa's getting this for me), I couldn't get this one out of my mind. And I do like the fact that it was only one door, I don't need two for going solo and it could also help out as to where I pitch it (space). Kinda makes the tent a cozy little cave. I know the dog will like the darker, doorless side.

So to each their own on the whole subject. I like to hear all the opinions.BUt when the TNF trend is over, some other company that is more gear oriented (for now) could jump on it. Marmot comes to mind.

@mikemorrow: I wasn't trying to be a jerk with my reply, I just wanted to hear why you felt that way. Felt like I was getting the ever annoying "because" answer.

@apeman - It's all good. I like to read the rants and thoughts. Kee it up!

And thanks for all the replies.

4:54 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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I have 2 pair of TNF convertible pants(Horizon Peak I think/lightweight) and a few sleeping bags. I haven't had any problems with any of my TNF items. 

I think one of the big putoffs is if I walk through an area like downtown Pittsburgh I can guarantee that I will see no less than 10 TNF fleece tops/jackets within a short time frame while I am out. 

I think people want "different." When ya see something repetitively it can get old after awhile.

I myself do not own any TNF tops. Definitely not interested in their boots(thats just me.)

Me personally? I wear/use what works. I don't care whose label is on it. I even have a few items from Wally World in my kit. 

7:18 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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I was very impressed with TNF warranty department . I bought my Canyonlands used off of Ebay. The rainfly was sticky, not covered, But the windows were cracked and ripping. They didnt ask any questions, and replaced for free. I paid $60 for the tent and got a new rainfly! Though last winter it did start dripping on me, after 4-5 days of non stop rain. It is still my go to tent in the spring and fall.

7:56 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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I had an interesting and lengthy conversation with my next door neighbor yesterday about the whole quality control, off-shore manufacture, small specialty company sell to giant conglomerate thing. He is a professor in the Engineering school at Stanford. One of his major courses is about new product development and building companies. Many of his students have gone on to found innovative companies, some of which have been sold eventually to conglomerates. Part of his course consists of visiting companies in the SFBay Area with the students in the class meeting with the execs and chief engineers of these companies.

One of his students, Perry, was the inventor of Atlas snowshoes. Perry did the design as part of his class project. Atlas had great snowshoes until Perry decided to sell the company to K2 and move on to another project. A number of his recent students are building the Tesla company - the electric car people, with the first really successful modern electric car - expensive for my taste, but an excellent concept and excellent quality control.

Our discussion included TNF and their history - what happened to their quality control and their products when the originator sold the company to VF Corp, which moved production oversees (TNF has been the subject of several of his case studies in the course over the years). A lot of the changes came when the originator (one of several people who had worked at the Berkeley Ski Hut, home of the Trailwise brand) sold the company and VF dismissed several of the chief concept people. It seems to be all too common that when the founder and others who have the vision leave for whatever reason or pass away, the nature of the company changes, often for the worse. Eddie Bauer was THE supplier of gear for major US-originated climbing expeditions, but became a Yuppie clothing company when Bauer retired. The company is currently trying to reclaim its heritage. Gary Ericson, son of Clif and founder of Clif Bar is still active in the company he founded, with the products still improving. Yvon Chouinard still plays a role in the holding company for Patagonia, with their products and environmental involvement still to a large extent reflecting his vision. Gerry (Gerry Cunningham) and Holubar (Roy and Alice Holubar) were sold to other companies as their founders retired (Holubar eventually ended up as part of The North Face), with the brands and products no longer in existence (the Gerry name still appears on a few products).

One of the factors is the difference in producing products by mass production and producing them by "lean" production (custom-made is an example of lean production).  A lot of verbiage is spent on condemning Chinese (and SE Asian) production for multiple reasons. According to the studies of my neighbor, the Chinese are quite good at mass production, but not at lean production. And the mountaineering world is very much a small market with much gear almost custom designed. Note that the companies that get praised a lot here on Trailspace and elsewhere in the outdoor world are (or were) small shops - Western Mountaineering, Integral Designs, Hilleberg tents, Valandre - particularly when the items are specialty items, such as expedition tents and expedition sleeping bags. Black Diamond climbing gear is used by a small number of people, although some items (carabiners, for example) are used in moderately large quantities. BD in many ways is a small shop, but with some items used in large quantities being made overseas. Hilleberg's top quality tents are made in small quantities in Europe.

With the demise of Steve Jobs recently, a look at Apple's history is instructive. When Apple was a small company, hardly out to the garage, the vision of Jobs was the driving force, creating almost a religious cult (in the autobiography that is now a best-seller, Jobs is quoted as saying something close to that). But as the company grew and outsiders who were more number-crunchers than visionaries, Jobs got bounced out. Over the next few years (the NEXT few years, yeah it's a pun), Jobs changed in many ways, eventually coming back to Apple, which was foundering, and resurrected it. The question is what happens now, without the charisma and vision of Apple's co-founder?

Most people's camping in the US is car camping, with gear for the car camping being made in large quantities, suitable for mass production. Hence, you can make use of the mass production capabilities of SE Asia. Few people in the world do more extreme camping and backpacking, dictating something closer to custom making. The big problem arises when a company becomes popular because of their reputation for quality, the demand increases, and they have to make the transition to large-scale production. The vision of the owner has to shift to dealing not with skilled enthusiasts, but with the general public. Some companies successfully make the transformation, others do not. General Electric today is a totally different company than when Edison founded it. IBM is hugely different than when Watson founded it. Despite the outcries of the environmental community (me included), the "oil" companies are quite different from what they were in the early 20th Century. Even the banks of today are a very different beast than the banks of 100 years ago.

This is all very rambling and a bit off-topic. But the point is that companies change. A company that had the vision and was very much an outdoor company 40 or 50 years ago may be a very different company today, having only the name in common with the founders' vision.

So what do I, as a woodsy person, do? Simple. I look for a different company that is more in line with my weltanschauung, and buy their products. I go by what works for me. If it works for you, fine, you can take my recommendations. If my opinions/biases/bigotry don't match yours, fine, go with what works for you. And if it doesn't live up to your expectations, that's fine, too. Your problem, not mine.

8:26 p.m. on December 5, 2011 (EST)
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Very well stated Bill. Hey lets face it things change. I guess in a sense its all part of evolution. Sometimes the change is for the better, other times not so much. 

This may very well be a small thing to some but one of the things that struck me about Hille was that the individual who actually put it together has their name inside of your tent. 

That is pretty good quality control in my book. The fact they they are made in Estonia and have not outsourced much has earned quite a few points with me as well. 

I was talking with a Scarpa rep in regards to the whole outsourcing thing. On their lighter weight footwear they do outsource(to meet demand) but on their heavier weight boots, etc they are made in Italy. 

Kinda made me wonder if the lighter weight footwear was popping off the shelve at such a rapid pace that they had to do this to meet demand or was it that the higher end boots demanded a better attention to quality that could only be administered by in house production.

Yes, I think about this kinda stuff lol.

I was told that they(Scarpa) are slowly trying to do away with the outsourcing on their lighter footwear. 

8:14 p.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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Some of the posts in this thread concerning The North Face are quite amusing, in that they display a huge ignorance of TNF's history and current corporate status. A few tidbits, many of which I am personally familiar with, as a climber who developed in the 1950s through 1970 in California, then kept in close contact with friends who were still in California (including visits to do particular climbs), then moving back to California in 1984. Plus reading the books by the principals in TNF, The Berkeley Ski Hut (Trailwise), Sierra Designs, and others, plus lots of other stuff from the financial world -

The Ski Hut was one of the early mountaineering shops in the US, along with Gerry and Holubar in Boulder (CO). Doug Tomkins had a shop called The North Face that had no manufacturing, but sold gear and clothing from the Sierra Designs people Marks and Swanson, who had worked at the Trailwise manufacturing side of The Ski Hut. Tomkins sold his shop and along with his wife started Esprit, a clothing company. In 1968, Dick Klopp, who did the major transformation of The North Face into manufacturing leading edge climbing gear and clothing, bought TNF from the 3 people who had bought it from Tomkins. I might note that when I was a professor at Boston University in the early 1970s, a large fraction of the BU, Harvard, and MIT students (along with most students in the other approx 100 universities and colleges in the Boston area, were wearing TNF parkas and carrying Kelty packs to and from classes). Somewhere about 1980-1, while we were living in Mississippi, TNF acquired Holubar, which I happen to recall because we were in Boulder in the summer of '81 and wanted to stop by Gerry to get a Gerry Kiddie Carrier to carry Young Son, and found that Gerry and Holubar had both vanished. In the late 1980s, not long after he wrote his very interesting book about how he built TNF and his philosophy (I have an autographed copy), Klopp sold the company to Bill Simon. Under Simon, TNF became in many ways a very different company, something I witnessed at the TNF stores and their outlet stores here in the SFBay area in the early 1990s. During this time, TNF took over Sierra Designs, only to spin it off to the SD employees shortly thereafter. At one point, within 5 miles of my house, we had a "boutiquey" TNF store on University Avenue, a Sierra Designs shop in Menlo Park (next town up the Peninsula), and a TNF Outlet on Alma, just a few blocks from the University Ave store - This along with two other TNF Outlets in the SFBay Area (Berkeley and San Jose - the SJ one being HUGE!). A nagging question was (and still is), how could North Face have so much stuff to sell in 3 outlet stores just in the Bay Area? And every item in the TNF line was to be found in those outlets at a fraction of the nominal retail price. I could have gotten one of their one-piece down suits for $100, for example. I did get one of their -10F bags for $99, this in 1992. But the majority of the gear for sale in the outlet stores was clothing, mostly fleece and Goretex hardshells, along with a fair variety of pants and shirts.

The quality had clearly suffered, and many of us climbers and backpackers were changing to other companies' gear because of the quality control question. TNF was clearly struggling, while at the same time, there were a number of other companies who made excellent gear. By the mid-90s, Simon had left TNF and VF Corp. took it over as they grew their huge conglomerate. Originally VF was just Vanity Fair, a women's "intimate apparel" company (which generated lots of jokes about what TNF would become). But VF also has a lot of other clothing companies, including jeans (Wrangler, Lee's), Jansport, Eagle Creek, Timberland, Smartwool, and Eastpak among other names well known in the outdoor world. VF has been working on bringing the quality back to North Face, since it is one of their flagship names. My feeling, based on seeing their gear in use and using some of it myself is that they are not where they were when Klopp was running the company. In part that is because, as I said in an earlier post, Klopp had a vision, and when he left, he took the vision with him. And in part Klopp had conveyed that vision to the TNF employees.

One important point to be made here - several posters have said (and unfortunately I implied) that TNF transformed from a hard-core mountaineering company into a fashionista Yuppy clothing company. To some extent that is true. But clothing was part of The North Face from its very origins. What happened was that the philosophy and vision changed with the ownership changes, and the business model along with it. The original North Face was a small, specialized company. It became part of a large, multi-faceted conglomerate with a very different business model governing it. It was not just a simple change from gear to clothing.

8:30 p.m. on December 6, 2011 (EST)
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Well said. Things go back, and circle back again. Or end.

12:02 a.m. on December 7, 2011 (EST)
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Great Info and history on TNF OGBO, by the way do you know when or if TNF acquired Walrus (Tent Maker).  If I remember correctly they were the one to buy them up, but I am far from sure.  I think it was mid 90's.  Not a huge deal, more just personal interest.

Wolfman

10:03 a.m. on December 7, 2011 (EST)
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TNF never owned Walrus as far as I know.  I think REI bought both Walrus and Moss during the years the tents were made in Seattle.  I also think REI owned MSR for a short time before spinning it all back off into a separate company.  The early MSR tents were simply redone Walrus and Moss designs.

Bill is right about TNF making lots of clothing even back in the day.  If you look through an old TNF catalog you will see as much clothing as gear.  I suspect for most companies selling gear generates the image, selling clothing generates the profits.  Lots more people buy a down jacket as buy a tent.

7:03 p.m. on December 7, 2011 (EST)
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Wolfman said:

Great Info and history on TNF OGBO, by the way do you know when or if TNF acquired Walrus (Tent Maker).  If I remember correctly they were the one to buy them up, but I am far from sure.  I think it was mid 90's.  Not a huge deal, more just personal interest.

Wolfman

 I do not know the answer to that off-hand. But when we moved back to the Left Coast/SFBay Area, the TNF Outlet in Beserkeley had Walrus tents on the floor pretty much the first time or two we stopped in. So it could have been in the mid-1990s. I didn't make any notes, so I could be off a few years. I did wonder about why TNF would be selling Walrus tents, though. They never had them in the Palo Alto Outlet shop. They also had a few other brands of outdoor gear in the shop, which was also a bit strange.

Along a similar line, When Marmot (manufacturing) spun off the retail stores (Marmot Mountain Works), Western Mountaineering (the super quality sleeping bag folks, still headquartered in San Jose) spun off their retail shop, which became part of the Marmot store chain. The WM shop kept the name after they moved from near downtown San Jose to Stevens Creek Blvd, even though it was part of the Marmot store group. The Marin Peninsula store used the Marmot name as did one of the Washington state shops. The other Washington state Marmot shop had some other name, so 5 Marmot shops at their peak. The Marmot shops carried a full line of climbing gear, including other brands of tents and clothing, plus ice axes, ropes, pro, etc etc. The Marin store closed first, then the Western Mountaineering shop (at the time the most fun people to work with), then the other Washington State shop closed, leaving the Bellevue (WA) and Berkeley (CA) shops as the only Marmot Mountain Works stores still in existence. The Berkeley shop and the Sunrise Mountaineering shop in Livermore are the remaining 2 specialty mountaineering shops in the SFBay area. Yeah, some of the 10 REIs and a couple of the Sports Basements around the SFBay area carry climbing gear, and some even have knowledgeable staff. And a few of the climbing gyms carry rock gear. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL STORE!

If you are interested in the history of mountaineering gear, here is a timeline, although it is still a work in progress, plus has a few errors. It does keep improving, though.

Oh, yeah, Sunrise is having Fred Beckey give a talk tomorrow night (7:30, Livermore).

7:46 p.m. on December 7, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks Bill S!

I find the topic(s) of your posts here very interesting especially the conversion of small cottage or custom shops into large companies with mass production.

I  buy from a couple of gear makers who are struggling with meeting a growing demand for their custom gear and I have watched as they change gear design, manufacturing processes, etc.

I guess at some point companies who want to grow have to either invest in their own manufacturing expansion or they have to outsource.

11:19 a.m. on December 8, 2011 (EST)
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So I did a little digging and It was MSR not THF that gobbled up Walrus and Moss, and maybe others.   I not sure how REI fits in to this, I had never heard that they were in the acquisition business, I always thought they just copied others. :) 

I still remember the original REI store on capital hill.  They started with one building and just keep adding more building and floors as they grew!  It was always so fun to walk through that store as a kid, lots of ramps, steps, split level floors, and of course all the gear everywhere!  But then that was back when REI really was a Co-op. 

2:46 p.m. on December 8, 2011 (EST)
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Original REI was in Seattle on Pike Street, not far from the current Seattle "flagship" store. Funny thing is that the history as given on Wikipedia and the REI history on The Funding Universe page are different from one another. The Funding Universe page is a lot closer to what I always understood the history to be, namely that a bunch of climbers in the Seattle area (all members, as I recall, of the Seattle Mountaineers, which among other things, has a book publishing arm called Mountaineers Press) formed a cooperative to import climbing gear from Europe sometime in the 1930s. At the time I joined in the late 1950s, they still had the one retail store plus they had a warehouse to handle shipping. I ordered gear from them from the time I joined (I have a low 5-digit member number, while my spouse's parents had a low 4-digit number, which Barb tried to claim as an inheritance, which REI refused to do, though the number was available for a couple years after her mother passed away). My first purchases in the store (on Pike) were in summer 1969, when Barb and I were on our way back from climbing in the Bugaboos (I still have the Chouinard purple pile jacket I bought there, though not the Reeveair cagoule). A lot of climbers in Southern California were ordering gear through the Co-op (as we long-time members still call it). So about 1975, a second store, the Berkeley store, was opened. By that time, REI was selling a lot more "outdoor" clothing, a mix of REI-labelled stuff and gear from other companies.

In the 1960s, REI-labelled gear was basically their own designs. Barb still has an REI down sleeping bag which is very good for 3-season use, though she has used it for winter backcountry trips. I will agree, though, that a lot of the current gear with their label is very similar to other brands, though usually with some modifications. It is pretty much all SE Asian made. Still, they have a lot of high-quality clothing from TNF, Marmot, Patagonia, etc, and high quality climbing gear. Their bikes (Navaro brand, based on design suggestions by Sue Navaro, one of the top US women bike racers during the time Barb was actively racing in the 1970s and '80s) are very good designs and quality. The REI tents are ok, if you want something less expensive. The big problem is that way too many of the staff are not knowledgeable about what they are selling. The knowledgeable staff are well aware of this and my friends who work there work hard at educating the less experienced ones.

MEC is the Canadian version of REI, being a cooperative as REI is. EMS is a corporate version, mostly found east of the Rockies.

To add to the Walrus history - Walrus was founded in 1984 by a couple of the original Sierra Designs folks, when SD was part of TNF. A company named Edgeworks (part owned by REI) took over Walrus, Moss, and Armadillo somewhere in there, with Walrus et al being acquired by Cascade Designs in 2001. Cascade is the parent of MSR, Platypus, Thermarest, Seal-Line, Tracks. Here is a time-line for Cascade Designs.

3:40 p.m. on December 8, 2011 (EST)
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QC is a major problem with offshore manufacturing. I just bought a pair of Grandoe gloves from STP, retail price $160. I had to send them back for an exchange because a seam on one of the liners was ripped about an inch long-something that should have been caught before the liner was stuffed into the mitt itself. STP took them back because they have a good return policy, but it cost them money that should not have been spent. They waived the return shipping for me and another pair is on the way, but this was totally avoidable.

On the other hand, had I been in a store paying full price, I would have noticed this and not bought them. I wonder how much money UPS and FedEx generate from returns due to poor QC alone. Must be millions. That would make an interesting study.

As for the original question, there are a lot of lighweight tents out there. Big Agnes tents get good reviews, so do Henry Shires' Tarptents. Henry has a small company, so if you have problems, you may find yourself talking directly to him or someone at the company, not a call center somewhere out of the country.

7:07 a.m. on December 9, 2011 (EST)
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Bill S said:

..The big problem is that way too many of the (REI) staff are not knowledgeable about what they are selling...

Yes I remember when the REI in my area had knowledgable folks…

My wake up call that something was amiss with REI was in the early 1980s, when my local store significantly cut back on floor space dedicated to XC skiing and technical climbing.  About that time the store hired a somewhat corpulent individual.  I am always willing to learn from most anyone, so at some point we end up discussing some outdoor related gear topic.  I was not impressed.  He defended his position claiming to be “experienced,” yet funny how his advice and lack of photos on the bulletin board of employees doing their own outdoor thing didn’t belay his assertions.  Nowadays the vast majority of this store’s employees are only a little more qualified to advise would be shoppers about camping and hiking than the clerks at Banana Republic.  That aforementioned employee still works at that store.  When I asked one employee a question, he referred me to their “resident expert.”  He is still none the wiser; worse he now poors sales rep Kool Aide down fellow store clerk’s throats, passing it off as sage field experience.  I have no patience for fools, and have on occasion injected myself into Q&A chats between store staff and customers, attempting to debunk whatever myth du jour they are using to influence the hapless greenhorn.  Someday they are going to kick me out of that store.  Lol.

Ed

9:31 a.m. on December 9, 2011 (EST)
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My biggest frustration with REI is the store closest to my house frequently does not have in stock some fairly basic items that a store selling outdoor gear should have; replacement parts, spares, etc.  The store is probably undersized relative to most REI stores and too much of the floor is given to clothing.  More often than not I mail order what I buy from REI due to frustrations of driving to the store and what I am looking for is not in stock.

Through the years I've found the house branded products to be of decent quality and design, about on par with what you would get from LL Bean.

I did buy my wife a Novara bike which she loves, not likes, but loves.  Coming from her that is high praise.

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