My "helpful" gear store

10:17 p.m. on October 16, 2013 (EDT)
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First, I should clarify I'm a 90 minute drive to my nearest outdoor gear store (won't name the name, but you know this chain). So making a trip to look at gear is a treat for me. But this is the second trip I've had like this, and I don't know that I'll go back.


First, I sauntered into the backpacks. I told the sales associate I was in the market for a 65-ish liter pack coming in under 2lbs. He promptly shows me a 3lb 2oz pack, and tells me, "This is what you're wanting." When I restate I'm looking for something under 2lbs, he explains to me that those "Ultralight packs" don't hold up under long-term use, that'll I'll be unhappy with it, and that what I really want is a heavier duty pack like the one he is showing me. "Okay, thanks." and I move on to the real reason for my trip.

In the shoe department, I explain to another sales associate I have been using a lightweight hiker for backpacking for 7+years, but I've noticed diminishing quality in my Merrell's. "Can you recommend, a non-waterproof light hiker, similar to the Merrell, but with better quality?" Instead, I get an explanation about how I can't backpack without a full, waterproof boot, with a steel shank." When I restate that I've done hundreds of miles in the cheapest pair of shoes they have on the wall (the Merrell), he tells me "He won't say what he thinks of that." Fortunately, another sales associate came up and recommended I try the Pantagonia line of shoes. I ended up buying a pair I liked.


And finally...based on recommendations in the sock thread in TS forums, I decided to pick up a pair of lightweight Injinji toe socks to try to use as a sock liner. They didn't have my size. So I asked another sales person if they had size medium in the back. Instead, I get ANOTHER explanation about how toe socks simply won't work as a liner. He takes me around the corner to the traditional row of liners and tells me this is what I need. When I insist others have recommended this option, he reluctantly looks in the back, and then comes out to tell me they don't have any mediums in stock.

So I left the store with one thought...when I worked at a hardware store 20 years ago, I sold items I knew nothing about. If a customer asked me about plumbing, all I could tell them was what I had read on the package. Today (and last time I was there) was the same deal--sales associates who have been told certain things, with little, if any, real-world experience.

11:53 p.m. on October 16, 2013 (EDT)
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Yep.

I once listened to a "sales associate" lecture to a customer that the only way to stay warm in a down bag was to sleep nude...and the additional clothing made you colder, not warmer. 

 

Don't ask me why I resisted the temptation to correct him...i don't know to this day...but i did resist.

7:53 a.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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balzaccom said:

Yep.

I once listened to a "sales associate" lecture to a customer that the only way to stay warm in a down bag was to sleep nude...and the additional clothing made you colder, not warmer.

 LOL! That's what I was taught in Boy Scouts back in the 80's. I naively accepted that idea because we were told it was true.

10:03 a.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Goose,

Don't be discouraged. This happens to me all the time. When you get frustrated just go somewhere else. Some outdoor stores have gone thru a de-evolution in what they offer catering to beginners. It is about economics and selling what makes the most money. The sales people are often young and have experience with only one type of equipment.

There is a Sportmen's Warehouse store in Reno that I visit fairly often. There are retired people from Wyo Game and Fish, BLM, hunting guides and lots of other long time professional outdoors people. I consider them friends and value their opinions about equipment. We have discussions. They never try to sell me anything. Find a store where you are more comfortable with the salespeople or shop by catalogue/internet.

10:25 a.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I was a retail sales associate for a long time. It took me months to look beyond the cursory trainings and begin to actually listen to my customers and begin to learn. After a while - I was faced with the opposite problem - customers who insisted on products based on "conventional wisdom," and me trying to talk them out of it!

10:59 a.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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very opinionated salespeople - and out of touch, considering that lightweight gear is something of a trend.  maybe they were coached to upsell to more expensive gear, which they did to you in 2 different 'departments' in the store.  independent outdoors stores are hard to find in DC - a few closed the last 10 years.  now limited to the kayaking and water sport niche for the most part, due to the big kayaking community on the Potomac River, or rock climbing, which is reasonably popular here too.  our options for stores that specialize in outdoors are mostly chains where i live, other than more general purpose places like Dick's or Walmart, where you can find basic camping stuff. 

in one of the two chains in my area, a national one, it's pretty hard to get any employee's attention or help.  if you can get their attention, they generally try to be helpful.  most of them are not overly knowledgeable about the gear, but they have been trained to measure your torso length accurately and have basic knowledge.  most of them don't use most of the gear, though. 

the other chain is local, 5 stores confined to the metro area.  their people tend to be more attentive and helpful, and they tend to have more sizes on hand and a somewhat more interesting mix of brands.  their knowledge of the merchandise varies pretty widely from highly knowledgeable to...meh. 

 

11:16 a.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I tend to do my research prior to stopping in the brick-and-mortar stores, and when I come in, I've got an exact model (or two) that I'm asking for. Usually the salesfolk don't attempt to push me in another direction if I'm being specific. 

Far as lightweight packs go?

Not sure what they offer around 65L, but I just ditched the 78L Kelty for a 53L Mountainsmith Haze - it weighs 1 lb 15 oz (compared to the 5 lbs the Kelty weighed). Picked it up for less than $100 from backcountryedge.

Taking it on a solo overnighter this weekend, but from loading it up and walking around at home, the difference is night and day. I'll let ya know what I think.

12:03 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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That is pretty ridiculous Goose.  Maybe a letter to a manager would help others from having similar experiences with bad sales reps.  Definitely get your hands on a pair of those Injinji sock liners though.  They are worth it IMO.  

I quit purchasing items from the big retailers.  I have a couple online retailers that I prefer.  I often times use EBAY as well.  I research what I want extensively and then buy online.  That is one of the reasons I rarely have a bad review for a product.  My product research is what led me to this site.  Often times I avoid tax by doing this and the online retailers I use typically have free shipping on purchases over $50.  There has been a couple times I wanted to see the product I am considering and I will go to the retailer and physically check it out only to ultimately buy it online.  This is kind of shady but it is my $$.  

12:30 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I'm with Jason, Goose - deliberately unhelpful sales staff trying to up-sell you instead of offering what you want? Merits a letter. Who knows, they may even offer you a discount or coupon for your trouble.

No shame in doing your homework. I'd only consider it shady if you walked into a store - full well knowing you weren't buying anything - and took advantage of their sales associates. You walk in there, help yourself, and make your own decisions, you really haven't put the store out anything.

I'll even bust-out the Amazon bar code scanner on my phone and compare prices - you'd be surprised how many times something was on "sale" in a store, only to find it cheaper elsewhere. Conversely, sometimes it truly isn't cheaper anyplace else, and I'll go ahead and buy it from the store.

Want the best of both worlds? 

Buy it online and have it delivered to your local store, free of charge. This is becoming more common with the big chains. I like doing this because there always is a larger selection online and items are almost always in-stock.

1:19 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Well, I've gotten to the point where I feel I need "less gear, not more." So much of what they sell is useless dribble.

But I hate buying hiking shoes on line. It's such a pain to return them if they don't work out.

The socks shouldn't have been an issue...why wouldn't they have a common sized sock in stock?

1:28 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I hear ya! I go to REI mostly for food, or when I'm stuck buying something last-minute and can't wait on the mail truck.

Try 'em in the store - buy 'em online. I firmly believe retail shouldn't be paid for anything. 

Socks? Beats me, brother. Murphy's law of retail stock: it's only available when ya don't need it. I had to hop around towns to find a place with a Delta Mug in stock, once.

8:18 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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There is a Co-Op that started in Seattle that I go to a lot.  You probably can figure out which one.  But I have to agree that the sales associates are getting worse and worse.  By worse, either less knowledgeable or just less helpful.  Once is a great while I will actually find someone that is of help. 

I would skip 90% of the location retailers when shopping for UL or just Light gear.  I doubt that they even had a pack, in stock or on line, that was close to 65L and 2 lbs.  From my experience the vast majority of the gear sold in stores is geared to the masses that either don't care or don't know. 

I personally have been working on going Light and other then the Down bag I got I have gotten nothing from a brick and mortar store, all the rest online.  The reason I got the bag, was I had returned something else and I need to make sure that it fit, hard to do online.  Same goes for shoes, in my experience.

10:11 p.m. on October 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Hey Wolfman!

I believe we are talking about the same retail chain.

I bought one of their discontinued Flash 65L packs a year ago. They call it "ultralight" at 3lbs 4oz. By the time I got done modifying it (i.e., getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff) I had it down to 1lb 13oz. I'm still carrying that pack. I just keep waiting for them to open their eyes to the true UL market.


But like I said before, the key to UL backpacking is having less gear, not more.

2:04 a.m. on October 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Have you checked out any of the Cuben Fiber packs? Expensive but the ones from HMG get pretty good user reviews. They have a 3,400/55 w/an additional 600 in the outer pockets that weighs 31.4 oz/890 grams... and a 4400/70 w/an additional 600 in the outer pockets that weighs 35.4 oz./1,003 grams.

11:25 a.m. on October 18, 2013 (EDT)
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I'll often try to share some insights with retail staff - for example, I learned that when I sold customers "more boot" than they needed, they would come back with a return. By selling lighter boots (even though they cost less), I made happy customers, and fewer returns.

Often, clerks appreciate the insight. I can sympathize when they don't though - the look in their eyes says "Mister, I make 7$ an hour. That's not enough to listen to your ranting about ultralight sneakers!"

11:25 a.m. on October 18, 2013 (EDT)
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ondafringe said:

Have you checked out any of the Cuben Fiber packs? Expensive but the ones from HMG get pretty good user reviews. They have a 3,400/55 w/an additional 600 in the outer pockets that weighs 31.4 oz/890 grams... and a 4400/70 w/an additional 600 in the outer pockets that weighs 35.4 oz./1,003 grams.

 Just to reemphasize, I was simply looking at packs, not actually planning on buying one at this time.

I have looked at all the UL packs, including Cuben and Dyneema. I like what I see, but I'm not quite ready to spend $200-$300 just to shave 2-3oz of my modified Flash 65.

The way I see it, is eventually the market will dictate a semi-UL pack at a lower price. Cuben fiber will eventually drop in cost.

NorthFace is now marketing a "synthetic down" that's already cheaper than regular down and stays warm when wet.

I keep reminding myself that when I hike the AT in 2023, gear is going to look considerably different than today's gear. It will be lighter, more durable, and priced at regular market rates.

October 31, 2014
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