Best company for great gear

1:20 p.m. on January 7, 2016 (EST)
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There are a lot of little startup companies making some great backpacking and survival gear - from packs to tents to knives to stoves, etc.  I am curious to see opinions on what companies you feel are the most innovative, what new gear you can't do without and where you like to go to purchase your gear (online or bricks and mortar).

We all know the big guys, but if you feel any of major manufacturers are doing a great job with innovation, give a shout out for them too.

1:43 a.m. on January 9, 2016 (EST)
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T.A.D, Armoralleather, Helm forge and Helm grind, Winkler II, swamp rat and Scrapyard knives, Mike Deibert Knives,,, that's all I got right now.

9:06 a.m. on January 9, 2016 (EST)
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Just some I respect and in many cases use: Zpacks, Enlightened Equipment, Six Moon Designs, Mountain Laurel Designs, Lawson Outdoor Equipment, Luke's Ultralight, LightHeart Gear, Trail Designs, Tarptent, Elemental Horizons, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Gossamer Gear, McHale, Zimmer, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Zelph Stoves, HikeBikeDale, Sawyer, Wild Ideas, TentLab, StickPic.

Here are a couple of links to directories of cottage online gear manufacturers:

It's hard to compare many of these companies directly because a lot of them specialize in only a certain area of outdoor equipment.

9:46 a.m. on January 9, 2016 (EST)
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Jr gave you a great list..I have gear from 9 of the ones listed like he said not one has everything....good luck on finding what you need,,,,

7:48 p.m. on January 9, 2016 (EST)
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not much to add.  limmer boots has been around a really long time.  small but good if you like all-leather boots.  FITS socks are great merino woollies for your feet. 

though patagonia can sometimes feel like it's aspiring to The North Face status as fashion-wear, i think they deserve credit for continuing to innovate with the gear you actually want to wear on hikes and trips.  after years of trying and (in my opinion) missing the mark, some of their current merino baselayer offerings are just outstanding.  the lightweight t's are blended with capilene; they fit great, they feel great, they perform outstandingly.  their merino air bottoms are amazing for cooler weather as a standalone, or as a base layer in cold weather.  i wore both on a pretty raw (damp, low-mid 40's) hike this morning.   their nano air jackets, which hit the market last year, are among the most versatile mid/outer layers i have worn in recent years. 

11:35 a.m. on January 10, 2016 (EST)
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Hey good topic Joe Brown

and thanks JR...I had not heard of some of those; very cool info to share.

10:26 a.m. on January 11, 2016 (EST)
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Awesome feedback everyone.  I love to hear about the little guys doing great work and the innovation they provide.  I am now checking these companies out since there are many I hadn't heard of.  Need to stock up.  As always, not enough time or money to do it as quickly as I would like.

10:06 p.m. on January 11, 2016 (EST)
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Some lesser known brands this side of the pond:

Force Ten: really good experience with their tents and winter down bags.

Berghaus: huge product line, basically the British equivalent of the North Face. Just like TNF they have lifestyle items and true high performance gear. Their EXTREM series is excellent, top end gear for mountaineering.

Lightwave: excellent tents and backpacks.

Montane: everything they make is fantastic!

Rab: again, excellent top end gear.

Paramo: interesting stuff made with proprietary Nikwax fabrics. Not to everyones tastes, but the quality is good and most of their offerings are very robust.

Integral Designs (now owned by rab): excellent tarps

Mountain Equipment: great clothing, especially their waterproofs.

Haglofs: a lot of interesting pieces with really nice cut, and great quality.

CAMP: crampons, climbing helmets and general mountaineering gear... their ultralight ice axes are particularly innovative.

Meindl: top end German hiking and mountaineering boots

Fjallraven: because they are expensive, theyve become somewhat of a fashion brand here, but a lot of their items are really nicely put together. Very hardwearing stuff, especially those made with G1000 fabric.

10:55 a.m. on January 12, 2016 (EST)
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add Norrona to the list of european companies worth looking at.  Norwegian brand.  was impressed with one of their down jackets across the board.  they run narrow - so do many RAB clothes.  

3:01 p.m. on January 12, 2016 (EST)
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Emailed the folks at Limmer a few questions this morning and an hour later Pete Limmer himself responded with answers including a crack about Monday being a white collar holiday so of course they are open :)

Have to love dealing with the small businesses!

5:00 p.m. on January 12, 2016 (EST)
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Hi Joe, I like to support small, local "mom and pop" business anytime I can, but I cannot say enough about the great customer service at REI. I have been a member for over 25 years and NEVER had a negative experience with them.

I bought a very expensive racing bicycle from REI a few years ago.  It's hard to tell from a short test ride around the building if it will be a good fit for me in the long run. Well, they told me I had an entire YEAR to ride it as much as I wanted to, and if I didn't like it, I could return it for a full refund within a YEAR!!! Really??? Yes!

Shoes and boots?  Try them out for up to a year and then return them if you don't like them for a FULL REFUND!!!

This spring, I will be purchasing a very nice kayak from REI. I have not had an opportunity to "demo" this particular boat, as it is a relatively new model. It is highly recommended to demo a boat and try it on for size before you buy.  I can only read reviews and watch YouTube.  I have a very good feeling that this boat will be a great fit for me, BUT, if it's not, I get a YEAR to decide! With a price tag of $2,500, I would be nervous buying this boat from any other retailer out there.

One of my favorite things about REI is they actually have an 800 number right there on their home page. When you call the number, you actually speak live with someone whose first language is English!!!  Wow, what a concept!

Customer service at The NorthFace is equally outstanding!

In the modern age of emails and live chats, the 800 number is still king when it comes to customer service.

I will go out of my way to AVOID doing business with companies that do not have a telephone number on their website. My time is very vaulable, and to me, looking around the FAQ section of a site, or typing in a search is a waste of my time.

REI makes it easy.  You don't even have to go to the "Contact Us" part of their site to find the number, it's right on the home page! It's not rocket science, it's just good business, and taking care of your customers.

12:11 p.m. on January 13, 2016 (EST)
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Lee, totally agree with you about REI.  Great store, great culture, great company.  Thanks for the good info.

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