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backpack, external or internal frame?
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Jed Augustine
(jaugusti) - F

Locale: Appalachians/Rockies
REI on 02/22/2009 13:05:00 MST Print View

Now that the thread is sufficiently hijacked...

I agree that I am willing to pay more in order to have the insurance that I can return items that I can't or won't use. I love REI.

I have a scenario that I think would be interesting to discuss, as I am still unsure what the correct course of action was on it.

A friend of mine had had the same pair of hiking boots, bought from REI, for 4 or 5 years. The tread was well worn and she'd been many miles in them. The trouble was she had only ever taken at most 3 night trips in them, and at the end of each and every one of those trips she had developed tendonitis in her achilles, with the onset beginning as little as one day in. She just thought this was part of hiking. She tried to return them when I pointed out that boots shouldn't do that and was rebuffed by a young sales representative who didn't say they wouldn't take them but made her feel sufficiently guilty (you've had them for 4 or 5, etc) to leave. Do you think they should have taken the boots?

On a separate occasion I was at REI trying on boots to replace my previous hiking boots (pre-BPL days) and mentioned to the sales rep (who had worked there for a decade or more) that the shoes had caused circulation problems after a day of hiking, but that they would go away over night. The rep told me to return them. I didn't think this was a serious problem of the boots and I thought that it certainly was in the realm of reasonable problems to have after a day of hiking, but the guy insisted that I should return them. He said that the policy is to keep the costumer satisfied, no questions asked. When I protested, he said that a guy who had bent a kayak in half came to return it and they accepted it, no questions asked, so I should be able to return my boots.

I think this represents the position of the older generation, or the generation of REI staff with more years under their hipbelts. It is representative of a professional integrity that makes me want to go back to REI even after discovering MLD, ULA, GG, BPL, etc, because I know I won't be screwed with. THat isn't to say that there isn't misinformation or traditional backpacking dogma, but I prefer to think it is without malice. The trouble with such integrity is that it does open the company up to exploitative customers, but it is all the more impressive that they maintain the policy in spite of that. I'm sure people have been exploiting the policy since the REI Co-op was started and the fact that they haven't changed the policy as a result convinces me of their integrity.

However, I am worried about a shift towards profit, as indicated in the unpleasentness of the younger sales rep with my friend. Maybe that was a justified response or an isolated incident, I do not know, but I hope for great things from REI as they've become lighter over the years.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Rei's Return Policy on 02/22/2009 14:19:57 MST Print View

[edit] On re-reading this, I see that it is far longer than intended. My apologies, and I'll do better from here on out.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I understand your points, although I do not completely agree with some of them. Let's explore the limits a bit. I must say ... this is getting to be more of a discussion that I originally expected.

First of all, I see what should be returnable as gray -- not black-and-white. For example, if I was sold a stove and assured that it would simmer well -- there is no way to confirm that without trying it (at home or otherwise). If the stove turns out to not simmer, then I would feel I was misled and could return it. Note that is something I had no way to discover while leaving the item in new condition. (Assuming they did not have demo unit I could try -- if they did, then I should have taken advantage of that.)

Another example -- I cannot look closely enough at some things without damaging the packaging (e.g. shrink warp). I have no problem with damaging the packaging and then returning the product if I do not like what I discover. It is unreasonable to package things such that I cannot understand all I need to about the product before buying it.

Your zipper example -- I do not have enough information. It depends on whether the product was defective or not. I can imagine a defective or inferior quality product, in which case I have already agreed you should return it. OTOH I can imagine that I forced or otherwise abused the product, in which case I would certainly not be justified in returning it. The fact that people would make such a return ("I'm not satisfied -- I broke it, so it's not strong enough") is a good example of why REI cannot sell ultralight gear :( But the original example was more like deciding after the trip that you just did not like the sleeping bag as well as you had hoped you would. I do not believe you should return it for that reason -- you could, and should, have figured that out without going on the trip.

"How can you know if you're satisfied with an item unless you USE it in a real-world setting?" Well, several ways. Read, explore on line, published reviews, get opinions from people you respect, see others using it, inspect it carefully, think and analyze, try it out in controlled settings, ....

It seems to me that, basically, the question comes down to where you set the limits. Should I feel free to return something that wears out after 5 years, because I expected it to wear 10 years? Should I return something that fails because I abuse it -- for example I pitch an ultralight tarp such that the wind can catch it and tear it? How about if I catch my crampon in my gaiter and tear my new gaiter -- should I feel free to be dissatisfied with the gaiter and return it (assuming the gaiter was not sold to me as crampon-proof)? Should I return a garment a six months or a year later because I have gained / lost weight, and it no longer fits as well as I want it to? How about when I have been using my purchase for a few months and then something newer-and-better comes out, making me dissatisfied with what I already bought -- should I return the item I bought? How about if I bought a Firesteel and then discovered that it does not throw as many sparks as I hoped, and it is harder to light my stove with it than I had expected?

Just where do you think the limits should be? Surely you do not think there should be no limits, do you? Surely, at some point, the purchase must be final (barring subsequent discovery of a manufacturing defect).

As to the shoes -- "top of the line" does not really matter unless they fell apart (in which case they were defective, and I have already agreed should be returned). Perhaps your shoes were in fact top of the line -- different shoes are best for different people; they just may not have been right for you. More to the point, how hard had you tried to be sure they were right before wearing them in your city hike? How much had you worn them around the house before that city hike? Up and down some stairs, etc? That is the traditional way to be sure about new shoes. Are you saying that you could not reasonably have detected the problem without wearing them outdoors? Since you detected the problem in mere hours outdoors, I would think it is likely it could have been found indoors first. (Granted house wear is probably not a lot of help for such things as downhill ski boots or plastic technical climbing boots.)

Used gear sale -- yes, they recover part, but not all, of their loss. I doubt it is "most", and certainly not "all". They may recover most or all for those few items they are able to move into their rental inventory (if they do that).

REI has set the policy -- true, REI has set a generous policy. There is an implicit deal: in return, the customer needs to behave responsibly, and not abuse the policy. Too many customers abusing the policy would be a good way to get it more restricted. I firmly believe that there must be *some* limits to my ability to declare I am not satisfied and get my money back -- so I'd like to know what limits you think a customer should observe.

Insurance policy -- I am not arguing with returning gear that legitimately fails -- i.e. is properly used and still fails when it should not. That sounds like a defect to me. I am also not arguing against returning gear that a sales person mis-represents to you. But not if I abuse the gear, I did not look into it well enough before using it, or if I simply change my mind. And I **certainly** cannot condone purchasing an item, expecting using it on the trail to be part of the decision process as to whether or not you end up keeping the item.

"So, in conclusion, don't blame those people who chose to take advantage of REI's policy." The operative issue is what "take advantage of" means. If it means to avail themselves of good protection from defective products or sales people, then I entirely agree with you. Unfortunately, in some cases, I believe the interpretation is closer to the undesirable "to take advantage of someone". Doing so just because they can is the type of attitude that leads to the restrictive policies and rules we all dislike. Ones that look as if a lawyer wrote them. Better that we all behave in a reasonable and responsible manner to begin with.

Basically, there have to be limits to the policy, and I would like to hear what you think they should be. Customers should take some responsibility themselves, and I would like to hear what that should be. Customers expecting perfection is unreasonable, and returning gear because they are "dissatisfied" with less than perfection is not a realistic way to do business.

One final thought -- I see the REI policy as a generous one that is intended to shield the customer from defects and problems. To the extent it is used for that purpose, I like it and I have no objection to a customer using it. My objections come from seeing customers believe that the policy should transfer all risk of making a decision they may later regret and all risk of the customer making a mistake to REI as well. I simply do not believe that the policy is intended to assume those risks. Customers need to take responsibility for their own decisions.

-- MV

Edited by blean on 02/22/2009 14:40:07 MST.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Hijacked thread on 02/22/2009 14:26:54 MST Print View

I guess I need to apologize.

I originally just made what I thought was a throw-away remark, and that started the hijacking.

Once it escalated, what was the proper thing to do? Is there a straightforward way to split a thread?

-- MV

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Hijacked thread on 02/22/2009 14:38:50 MST Print View

You could always start a new thread in the Chaff section...

Sean Walashek
(caraz) - F

Locale: bay area
threads are organic on 02/22/2009 15:01:15 MST Print View

They will take on and adapt to fit the need of the members on bpl.
To the original poster, it will be very hard to find any external frame with weights as low as the lightest offerings from zpacks, mld, gossamer gear, etc. Those that are will be more expensive and still 2 or thress times the weight. Osprey and gregory 0ffer vented back panels and if they fit will be a nice compromise. If you are intent on going "ultralight" any of the smaller internal frame packs will save weight and money.

To the thoughts on the policy. I no longer represent REI so can only offer what I believe to be the reality of the situation. While working there I learned that less than 1% of items were returned. Those that were make it to a used gear sale. Those used gear sales attract a huge ammount of revenue in new item purchaces after they are in the door.

The employees may have a personal problem with the return but as a customer you don't have to put up with that. If you are a coop member it means its your store. The returns policy generates so much money that it will never change. To question the company's stance on the subject is to question the company's judgment to serve its owners and attract new members. For every item you buy within a store, barring electronic and certain other high end items, you are paying at least twice what the store paid for the item. For a dedicated person with the malicious intent and will to exploit and hurt REI's livelyhood will never take away more money than they have invested in the system. The most they can hope to do is damage as many products as possible before law enforcement is asked to step in. REI makes money, if it stopped making money there would be change. The reason being that at the end of the day it is a corporation with the ultimate purpose of returning a profit to its owners. The policy attracts more money than it will ever lose and so it is there to be used in whatever capacity a customer/member sees fit. On a personal note I have returned a number of items I have not been satisfied with. I have spent around 7k at the store and returned around 1.5k in merchandise. All items returned were pieces that I decided I would rather have the money than the piece and so was not satisfied. Through the used gear sale REI was able to recoup at least half of that money. Using the gear sale as a lost leader REI will attract new members who in turn will spend more money than they had intended too on all the wonderful gear this world holds.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Thread Hijacking on 02/22/2009 15:02:09 MST Print View

Well, I created a thread in Chaff regardless:

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: REI on 02/22/2009 15:02:18 MST Print View


Agreed on how good REI's attitude is. As to what should be, how about:

* REI is responsible for, and stands unconditionally behind, its actions and the products it sells. If any of those is faulty, REI absolutely will make good.

* The customer should accept responsibility for their own actions and decisions. The customer should not expect REI to compensate them for the customer's mistakes and judgment errors. The fact that REI *will* take something back does not make it *right* for the customer to take advantage of that.

* In some cases, REI may find it appropriate to go beyond its basic responsibilities. I suspect this is especially true with inexperienced customers. Perhaps that was, or should have been, the case with your friend's boots. But the customer should not depend on this.

* As you said, this does open the company up to exploitative customers. As long as that is at a low enough level, it may be tolerable -- life is not always fair. The customer returning the kayak he bent around a rock sounds like a gross abuse of the REI policy.

* The question then becomes "What is exploitative"? For example, (to me) the idea that multiple days on the trail is a legitimate part of one's decision-making process is clearly exploitative.


Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: threads are organic on 02/22/2009 15:05:41 MST Print View

"To question the company's stance on the subject is to question the company's judgment to serve its owners and attract new members."

FWIW: I do not question the management; I question those who would abuse their generous policy.

-- MV

dan mchale
(wildlife) - MLife

Locale: Cascadia
abuse on 02/22/2009 15:32:33 MST Print View

I don't think you have to worry about REI. You are maybe mixing up the ethics of yesteryear with modern business. The Mom & Pop shops are pretty much gone. If anything you should be irriated at REI for having such a generous policy because of it's affect on what small businesses are left. I am sure it is cheaper for REI to have a generous return policy rather than a policy where they make everyone 'try a pack before buying kind' of policy, or a policy of 'you buy this and it yours'. People empty their wallets there at a rate that totally erases any effect the errant loser imposes on them. Fortunately, most people are good. When things are returned, there is always something to learn from it. REI has learned that a generous return policy accelerates the rate at which people shovel money at them. I prefer to shop at the smaller shops like Feathered Friends and Marmot, Second Ascent.......

Edited by wildlife on 02/23/2009 10:58:48 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 15:39:24 MST Print View

Never tried the Luxury Light but for trail use (IE not bushbashing/scrambling) it makes a lot of sense to me if a sweaty back is your problem.. I have corresponded with Bruce making it plain that I was not a customer, just exchanging some ideas, nice guy.

That line "service/knowledge" is not what it used to be is not correct . Again that is used in my trade too (photographic) , I can tell you that my junior sales people now know more than I did when almost 30 years ago I was the shop manager.
Keep in mind that 30 years ago I had about 2 dozen cameras to sell, now a good shop has over 200 between compacts/DSLRs and camcorders.
Same for REI, I am pretty sure that their product range is a lot more extensive than it used to be.
What happens is that a customer as he acquires knowledge, IE from venturing into a shop the first time to ending up looking at products on the net for hours, forgets what he did not know. IE at the start the salesman seemed to be well informed, now he knows less than you do.
The same happens if you spend a few weeks looking up all the available info on an obscure disease, you will know more about it than your GP ....
To put it another way , as you get older , your policeman looks younger.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 16:00:21 MST Print View

I use the LuxuryLite frame to hold my GoLite gust. Not the *lightest* pack, but it feels lighter since there is no weight on my shoulders. I had to anchor the hipbelt though as it was not suited to bush-bashing and boulder hopping. Now I'm very happy with it.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 16:37:04 MST Print View

Do you have the LL hook? How did you anchor it?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Franco -- on 02/22/2009 17:16:10 MST Print View

"To put it another way , as you get older , your policeman looks younger."

You are probably right, in a lot of ways.

I still buy stuff from REI; after doing my research. The dividends are nice. But normally, I can get a much better deal from other Internet retailers and not have to pay sales tax. My REI member number has 6 digits, so I have been with them a long time. Actually their retail stores are becoming becoming more of a clothing botique these days.

Had an interesting REI experinece last December. My wife decided that we needed to spend two weeks in Las Vegas to visit her relatives. At the last minute I decided to take some gear and do a 4 day trip in the middle of our visit. No time to plan on exactly where, or go through my check list carefully. When I got ready to go, there were a couple items I needed. Ran over to the Vegas REI store and... they didn't have a scale. Salesperson looked at me incredibly, :)


Earlier in that month I took my college age son on a trip, as he is now interested in backpacking. As a Christmas present, I set him up with a complete set of gear. Bought most of it online from various places. He drove down from Central California, and we met at the Rancho Cucamonga REI store to fit some boots. The sales guy was outstanding. While helping us, and while my boy was wandering around the store trying the boots, I listened to him help other customers. Very sharp guy. And he does a lot of hiking and climbing, so he knows his gear.

Then I went over to another part of the store to get a double-walled Ti cup, so my kid could enjoy his hot chocolate. The guy working that department did not know what I was talking about. He did find a single wall cup for us. After he left us, I found a cup that had "REI Double-wall Mug" plainly printed on it.

- caveat emptor

Edited by ngatel on 02/22/2009 17:16:54 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: backpack, external or internal frame? on 02/22/2009 17:53:35 MST Print View

Dennis, yes I have the hook. It would require a photo to explain the involves some velcro on the hipbelt strap of the Gust....that mates with the velcro on the LL hipbelt. It stops the frame from sliding around and unhooking, but still allows a great range of motion (and stops the hipbelt from blowing away when you take the pack off, like happened twice to me before I made the modification).

rob wil
(AUradar) - F

Locale: FL Panhandle (aka LA)
thanks for the repsonses on 02/23/2009 06:22:10 MST Print View

thanks for the response guys.

I went to Bass Pro Shop this weekend. THey are the only local store that would have packs, and they didn't have much. I tried a external frame verses a internal frame. To me, the external frame seemed to fit nicer. However, the internal frame seemed to fit higher (but it was a huge sack, 6000 CI I believe). Not much selection so a good comparsion was limited

Other pro's on the internal frame I read about was it hugs better making hiking through dense vegation better. And of course lighter.

I'm really leaning towards an external frame though. Here are my thoughts, tell me if I'm wrong.

1) ventaliation. Its not so much the sweaty back I'm worried about as much as just being hot. There are alot of trails here in the panhandle, and its hot and humid here. You can loose a great deal of water just standing outside. So ventaliation seems to be important. I'm weighting this pro for the external very high.

2) Weight. Yes, this is important. But I'm down grading this for hte time being. I want to hike with my son (7). So we won't be doing long walks. They will be shorter and easier. Probaly famous last words, but it sounds like packs are something you go through a lot. So as he expands his range I'll probably look into upgrading. But for now I'm resigned to the fact I'm going to have a heavy load regardless. I will have to tote his stuff plus some extra things a 7 yr old will need. Good light, decent food, full tent, water, games, etc.

3) dense forests, climbs, etc. I'm throwing this pro for the internal packs out. Again, with my son we will be doing easy walks. And I don't think the local trails are that dense anyway.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: REI Double Wall Mug on 02/23/2009 07:20:54 MST Print View

Got a chuckle from that. A few years ago I stopped in the Santa Rosa (California) store to replace a pair of boots that had self-destructed the week before, on the Lost Coast. The salesman (boy) said I had made the right choice because "All the local firemen wear that one."

I mentioned this to the store manager and he told said "I hire the best that apply for the jobs, and that man is always on time and works hard.". He asked about my backpacking experience, and offered me a job on the spot.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: external on 02/23/2009 11:32:43 MST Print View


I do a lot of hot weather hiking. Here is a list of the packs I own and how I use them:

Gregory Whitney 95 - long winter trips with lots of snow when I need to carry tent, warm gear, snow shoes, etc. I love this pack. I sleep very cold, and need lots of warm stuff.

Mountainsmith Frostfire - was my main pack for the past 20+ years.

ULA Conduit - has replaced my Frostfire as my main pack, and required with some new UL gear. I could do a very long hike in summer with this pack. Probably could do the PCT, since I have the right gear now.

Kelty Serac (external) - used in hot desert when I need to carry more than 2 gallons of water.

Deuter Futura Pro 42 (internal frame, mesh back) - used in hot desert when I need to carry 1 - 2 gallons of water.

REI Venturi 30 (internal frame, mesh back) - used in hot desert when I need to carry up to 1 gallon of water on day hikes.

Next purchases --

If ULA still made the Amp, I might buy it for most day hikes, but I don't like the thin shoulder straps. I will get something similar this summer.

ULA Ohm or something similar, for longer trips in cold weather. With a change of gear, it might even do me in winter. I still need to do some research.

Bottom line is that no single pack will universally fit all our needs. When you hike with small kids, you are going to carry a lot more gear, and you are going to stay on easy trails, and you are not going to do a lot of mileage, so an external does make sense.

When my kids were little, I took the Kelty. I needed to carry more weight and hike shorter distances. When I hiked alone, I took the Mountainsmith. Hey, it is great for the equipment manufacturers.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
old frame on 02/24/2009 12:07:33 MST Print View

I just got back from a long weekend trip. One pack I used (don't ask) was an old Gerry "internal," with two aluminum stays shaped in an upside-down "V," and 4 horizontally zippered pockets. The stays are completely exposed. The hipbelt is a piece of webbing. There are no load lifters. It was marvelously comfortable and kinda nicely compartmentalized.

EDIT: Forgot to mention, even with all those zippers and old-time heavy fabric (500D PU coated nylon?), leather patches and all--the pack weighs 2# 1oz.

gerry front

gerry back

Edited by 4quietwoods on 02/25/2009 13:24:56 MST.