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Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/09/2009 22:01:09 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Well said Brad on 06/10/2009 02:16:54 MDT Print View

I found your article fascinating. Thank you.

I would only add that many retailers I have met do not seem to share your philosophies, being quite content to peddle out the dearest junk for the maximum profit. Which goes to show that the buyer needs to find reliable brands AND retailers. I knew about the former: you have taught me about the latter.


Tim Campbell
(wildside) - MLife
Backpacking Light in Australia on 06/10/2009 02:29:34 MDT Print View

You really need to visit Australia's only dedicated Lightweight Gear Store and check out some of the gear.
Backpacking Light

That may be so, but as this is your first posting here and the posting appears to be a disguised ad for a shop which some might think you are associated with, you should declare any vested interest you may have in the matter. We don't mind if you do have an interest, but BPL policy insists that you declare it up front.

If I am mistaken, my apologies.

Roger Caffin
Online Community Monitor
backpacking Light

Edited by rcaffin on 06/10/2009 05:03:27 MDT.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Well said Brad on 06/10/2009 02:36:49 MDT Print View

Agreed. Would be nice to have a store like that nearby! Especially for folk who are new to lightweight.

Gotta get myself a Hubba Hubba HP! 1 pound 9 ounces! Sounds great! Last time I looked they were a little heavier than that ;-)

I'm a little puzzled as to the advantages of Ti cookware compared to, say, AGG aluminium pots. The AGG pots are the same weight, just as strong, but much cheaper. No compromise necessary!

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Re: Backpacking Light in Australia on 06/10/2009 03:03:58 MDT Print View

This issue that I see is two parts, firstly Light weight here in Australia really hasnt taken hold for the typical hiker, there are those of us that are trying to educate others such as myself. Many times out on the trail I am mistaken for a day hiker when really I am out for a few nights. Most recently on a 60 km hike over two days several people stopped to talk and look at the gear I had or didnt have, the night time dinner around the campsite triggered some great light weight converstations.

Secondly the price of UL gear here is too high for most people, importing from US is still a lot cheaper.

Tim, I have actually been watching your store for a while and generally check there before I purchase Os, however prices are still an issue, which is more than likely out of your hands to an extent, nevertheless keep up the good work. I will be sure to add your site to my blog web link,


Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Re: Re: Well said Brad on 06/10/2009 03:11:03 MDT Print View

Nice article Brad. I think a lot of people end up carrying extra weight and bulk in clothing. A bit of education in using quilts or sleeping bags as camp comforters and washing/drying base layers helps.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Retailers on 06/10/2009 05:19:44 MDT Print View

Great article. I am sure a lot of retailers could learn from it, depending on their philosophy. Do they just want to maximise profit on each individual sale or are they trying to maximise long term loaylty by effectively meeting customer needs and hopefully make even more money in the long run. At times I am sure this can be a bit of a balancing act.

Edited by jephoto on 06/10/2009 05:35:52 MDT.

Thomas Tait
(Islandlite) - F

Locale: Colorado
Retailers on 06/10/2009 07:06:27 MDT Print View

I have noticed that many shops that carry light gear will only do so for a year or two. I have asked why and the reply has been "high return rates". Do most people equate weight with durability? I admit some light gear (packs) don't have the durability but I don't think sleeping bags fall into that category. Do retailers get burned on a few items and then condemn all light weight gear? I find I buy almost everything online.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 10:20:49 MDT Print View

In this failing world economy breathing some fresh ideas and fresh air into a retail location is an excellent idea.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 10:45:32 MDT Print View

Hi everybody-
Thanks for your comments so far, glad you enjoyed it.

Roger, you're right, many retailers don't share my philosophy or passion for education. I wish more did. Hopefully a few will read this and take an idea or two to heart...

Ashley, yeah, that'd be a really light tent... my hope is the typo will be fixed soon. 2# 9oz for the solo Hubba HP. As far as Ti vs Al, write about what you know, and I guess sell what you know. I haven't used the AGG pots; I know they're pretty popular here. I have used aluminum pots before and my personal experience has led me to believe that they are more prone to sticking and a bit harder to clean. Also, most aluminum cooksets are still heavier than some of the Ti options (ie, Snowpeak's Multi-Compact sets). FWIW, I've altered the display to include a Fly Creek now... 1# 14 oz!

Mark, UL and lightweight haven't really taken hold here, either. Perhaps more so? But it can be a tough sell, which is frustrating, because carrying a lighter pack ultimately makes for a more fun trip.

Rog, yep, I shed a ton of pack weight when I started taking a good look at my layers. One pair of socks a quarter pound? This is the hardest habit to break for a lot of people: "I don't want to get cold." I've been trying to put things in practical terms, as in "Imagine yourself around a bonfire at a campground in summer... What are you wearing? A t-shirt? Flannel shirt? So why would you need more than a midlayer and a poofy down vest or jacket for a backpacking trip at the same time of year?"

Jason, I hope that some retailers do learn from this... and I also hope that consumers can learn from this.

Thomas, I think that the real reason shops only carry light gear for a year or two is the staff doesn't know how--read, isn't interested in selling the stuff. Sometimes a shop will pick up lightweight lines because they have a select staff who does have an interest in the approach; given the turn-over rate in many shops, once they leave the remaining people or newbies quite likely have no idea what the lightweight stuff is all about. This is a problem that starts at the top. Traditional backpacking gear distinctly has a place and a reason for being. But people need to truly understand how UL principles apply to backpackers of any ilk. I think it's doing a disservice to customers by not incorporating UL principles into a shop's approach to sales. A couple of our biggest challenges are institutional programs such as Scouts or NOLS; the equipment requirements can be quite rigid. I recently fitted a very small 12-year old in an 85 liter (!) pack for a multi-week mountaineering trip he was doing with his Scout group. More stunning? His Scoutmaster made him return the pack because it was too small!!!!! It's effectively the largest pack made in his torso size; we tried on other similars, this had the best fit, and an accessory pocket or two could have bumped up the volume... but that's beside the point. Why is it mandatory that a 110 pound, skinny pre-pubescent kid carry a 95+ liter pack? I think that as a retailer I bear the responsibility of consumer education. It is my duty to educate consumers, and I do my best to get people to lighten up. However, the responsibility is on us all... as Mark mentioned, spreading the word on the trail. I don't believe that UL is always right or preferable, but I do believe that many principles of it apply to just about everybody. One thing we can all do? Share the website with other backpackers, just tell them to check it out, and acknowledge that they might not want to use everything they learn there, but there's a ton of great info to get them started toward having more fun on the trail... or for those who think they can no longer hike, great info for carrying a daypack-sized, comfortable load and getting back out there. In short, I guess I'm saying (I can't believe I am, but that's another story) that we need to spread the gospel... not like the guy on the street corner screaming about evil sinners, but more of a mention in passing, perhaps mentioning a benefit or two you've seen from making the UL transition.

Sorry, a bit of a long-winded response...


Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Thanks on 06/10/2009 11:43:51 MDT Print View

Great article.

Brad, it's awesome that you have a representative gear shelf. I've only ever been into one retailer that even compares to what it sounds like your shop is like; Santa Cruz Down Works. There's another guy who understands UL and is happy to educate people, He doesn't have a shelf like you, but he does have a checklist for various 'skin out' weights' and a representative gear list for each that would get you there.

As Mike Clelland said on a recent gear list thread,(paraphrasing) the dumbest reason to do something is because 'that's the way you've always done it.'

The best way to approach a gear list is to be like an annoying two-year-old; "Why?" (Maybe this should all be under Dr. Jordan's "Why" post)

Last year my base packweight was 30lbs or so. This year, it's about 11lbs. Sure, I bought a lot of new gear, but aside from one obvious piece (my 3.5lb, 15 degree sleeping bag was just too warm for Sierra summers), I could've dropped it to 15 lbs by just packing better.

Why cut off yourtoothbrush handle? Why trim tags and excess cords and straps? Just last year I was thinking like that. But why not? What does it cost you? What purpose do they serve?

Sacrifice is having aching shoulders and legs because you packed an extra set of clothes when one set would do, because you wore 5 lb hiking boots because you were to narrow-minded to explore the possiblity of wearing 2 lb trail runners, because your first aid kit weighs 2 lbs, even though you wouldn't have a clue how to utilize 1.75 pounds of what's in it.

It's nice to know there's a few retailers out there who understand this.

Paul Gibson
(pgibson) - F

Locale: SW Idaho
Owner/Employee preferences on 06/10/2009 12:05:19 MDT Print View

Years ago when Golite first came on the market my favorite shop started right off the bat carrying some of their gear and after checking it out and reading up on the basic principals I was on board. There really was a better way. Then they got away from it to a large extent. They almost totally quit carrying any products that could be considered light let alone ultra light. About that time I cam into need of a job and they came in need of a new employe (they had some one walk out one day). So as I began to sell I pushed for more and more light gear, I set up a display much like the one described in the article. I put together a 4 day 3 season kit that totaled out at about 20 pounds full skin out with food and fuel. We made large signs with the items and weights of everything. It was a huge success. We even did a demo night for the local search and rescue team with this kit to help show them that they could cut down significantly. I worked hard to keep increasing the selection of lightweight gear in the store, the management was very skeptical of some of the gear that I insisted we start stocking - at least until I had sold items as soon as we had them on the shelves. But after I left that job the knowledge of using and functionality of lighter choices went with me. At present that shop carries nearly no gear that promotes the light weight selections on the market. They no longer carrie any products from Golite, the selection of sleeping bags only contains one or two Western Mountaineering versus the 8 models stocked during my time there. A huge factor in a shop doing anything light is the knowledge and interest of the people selling and promoting the products.


George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 16:23:26 MDT Print View

Interesting article. Good work.

BPL has been the best source for knowledge about UL gear and the use of it for me.

I suppose most of us bought our first gear from a brick and mortar retailer. This leaves so much to chance. Odds of the clerk having any backpacking experience, odds of UL experience, etc. So far I have run into one traditional retailer sales clerk that practices UL. It was funny - we discussed home made can stoves and the clerk spoke slightly above a whisper. : )

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 17:13:34 MDT Print View

We forget that UL backpacking is a niche in the backpacking world. Even after nearly 20 years after Jardine published his first book.

There is a lot of experience that goes with the ability to use a lot of the UL gear.

Also, UL gear probably has a high return rate, based on the lack of experience by the purchasers. Not good for a retailer.

Additionally, a lot of the gear we buy is not available in any retail store, or only at selected retailers.

Some examples (and I may be wrong):

SMD = direct
MLD = direct
JRB = direct
Tarptent = direct
ULA = 2 or 3 retailers, but mostly direct
GG = direct
Trail Designs = 1 retailer
BMW/BPL = direct
zPacks = direct
Nunatek = direct
Dirty Girl Gaiters = direct
Simblisity = direct or 1 retailer

Of these 12 (there are others) I have purchased the majority of my gear, and the high ticket items from 9 of them. I would think that many people here can say the same.

There are not a lot of mainstream options for UL equipment.

For other lightweight equipment, I have found that the people in the stores who do hike, have not used the light weight products they sell.

Lastly, the bomber gear has more gross profit dollars than most of the lighter stuff, and very few returns.

But it is refreshing to see a retailer offer options to his customers.


Locale: South West US
Re: Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 17:46:17 MDT Print View

I used to work at REI. I can honestly say that a vast majority of customers that I encountered had no interest in lightweight or ultra-light weight activities. Even those that knew a thing a two about it; there was little interest it. Every great once in a while, I would talk with a few customers who did have a genuine interest in the ideas. I would tell them what I knew and still keep in contact with many of them even though I haven’t worked at REI in well over a year.

I guess there’s too much misinformation out there.

Once I volunteered to do a free ultra-light clinic for REI when I worked there. They gave me the materials they had for the clinic but I laughed when I saw it. It was just a small list of gear and wouldn’t even be considered lightweight. I asked the outreach specialist if I could give the clinic using my own materials and got the okay. I made up a nice powerpoint and a sample gear list (with multiple examples for each item) for the customers to take home. I brought my own pack and showed everyone how it fit together.

The clinic went well. I got lots of comments from the customers on how much they had learned and how they didn’t think it was possible but now do, etc. Felt pretty good overall to really show people how it’s done.

The clinic went well however, I was nearly fired because of it. The reason being that the gear list I had prepared. Some of the items that were on the list (not many mind you) weren’t available at REI. The managers apparently didn’t like that at all. They informed me of the fact that the point of clinics was to sell products. That was news to me. I talked my way out of getting fired and left with a big fat write up. Whatever, I never did another clinic.

Edited by oiboyroi on 06/10/2009 17:47:25 MDT.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 18:00:00 MDT Print View

I find it interesting that most of the folks who are into ultralight backpacking do it a lot, while those who backpack very little may benefit the most. This may take a little convincing, but consider how the casual backpacker might go on a trip. Such a backpacker is more likely to go on a weekend or three day trip. A casual backpacker is more likely to just cancel the trip if it looks like the weather will be bad (or change destinations). Thus, a casual backpacker will carry a rain jacket, but will probably not use it. Propore rain gear or a poncho make a lot of sense. Down also makes a lot of sense (less worry about losing loft due to moisture). A single walled tent provides plenty of bug protection (which is probably all that is needed).

Contrast this to what you would take for a week long trip to the rain forest that also involves a bit of bushwacking. Only the most optimistic would venture out on a trip like that with down, propore and a single walled shelter.

If I was selling gear, I would assess what type of backpacking the people hope to do, combine that with what sort of monetary compromises they are willing to make, and I might end up selling them a lot of very light gear. As the author said, for a lot of these folks the question isn't what gear they will bring, but whether they will backpack at all. Since most backpacking sites are free, you can pay for a gear with the money you save over a motel room.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 18:13:14 MDT Print View

Nick makes a very good point, which is why you don't see that many ultralight shops. However, we have one (or close to one) in Seattle, in Pro Mountain Sports. This is an interesting little shop, which caters to hikers and climbers. It may be that the climbing gear got the owner into ultralight equipment (probably the down connection).

For some of that gear, it would be nice if a retailer like that could just sell the equipment via the shop. In other words, the retailer would buy one model, display it, sell it and then have the product delivered to the customer (for the usual postage) or delivered to the shop (where it would be available later for pickup). I would think that both the maker and the retailer would be OK with that arrangement (little risk for both) while the customer would get a chance to try out the equipment. I would love to have that option for tents.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/10/2009 19:01:01 MDT Print View

> Contrast this to what you would take for a week long trip to the rain forest that also
> involves a bit of bushwacking. Only the most optimistic would venture out on a trip
> like that with down, propore and a single walled shelter.

Depends rather more than you think on the person. I don't think 'optimism' is the right word either.

I take down, silnylon and a single-walled shelter on week-long trips in dense rainforest with jungle. But then, that is the gear which I have. Sometimes that counts.

As to the major retail shops ... I haven't been to one for ages. Most of them now sell to the street fashion market anyhow.


Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Video on 06/10/2009 19:30:40 MDT Print View

Anyone see this video:

The tag line is "This Retailer Knows how to Lighten Your Load"...but then you watch it and he's getting people from the 50's down into the 30# range. Not bad, but still, very heavy by standards over here.....

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 08:25:02 MDT Print View

Brad, very nice setup in the store. I think that would be great for people to see - I wish it was around a few years back for me! Sounds like you would be a good guy to talk to if I was walking into an outfitter for the first time.

If I go to my local MEC, I don't even bother talking to any of the sales people. My opinion is that most of them are really not experienced at all. In reality, you could put together a pretty slick gear list with off the shelf items at MEC (ie. WM bags, Hubba tent, ID Poncho/tarp, pocket rocket etc) but the staff do not have the knowledge to do this for you.

Much like buying a car (you wouldn't buy based on the salesguy?!), those who take it seriously will do their research before purchasing.