Bacpacker Magazine award to Big Sky
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Brian Frankle
(bdf37) - F
Backpacker EC Award to BS on 03/06/2007 15:15:32 MST Print View

Just as a little added insight into BPM and how editors choice works...at least how it worked in '02.

When ULA received an EC Award in 2002, I was informed well in advance that the ULA P-2 was in "the running" for the award. At the time I was still sewing every pack that left my shop by myself and already had a 3 month backlog.

I was direct with them at the time and requested that they keep me posted and to give me as much heads up as possible in terms of whether ULA was awarded the EC...which they did...about 2 months in advance of the issue hitting the news stand. That gave me some time to do what I could to try to address the inevitable increase in order volume that was to come. One would think 'ol Bob would have the sense to do the same.

So...not sure how it works these days, but I've never advertised with BPM and still have not. While their bills are likely paid by glossy ads from big companies, I think it is a stretch to say that their editorial decisions are influence by ad revenue. I think it is likely a combo of "flavor of the month" (UL hiking for EX) and what happened to work for the majority of the editors at large.

My personal disappointment with BPM (and why I do not advertise with them, nor subscribe) stems primarily from their shift of focus from the "Magazine of Wilderness Travel" to the "Outdoors at your Doorstep." That is a fundemental philosophical shift in priorities and one that I do not care to support. Since that shift, the quality and breadth of writing has diminished significantly ... just another mag with soundbite features and articles with little if any depth.

What BPM does that is good is allow an easy, non-threatening introduction into backpacking. Condemning them for doing that would be like ULA condemning Jardine for advocating UL Backpacking. People have to start somewhere and BPM is place for many newbies to do so.

Lastly, since when can you have a factory(s)in Asia and be considered 'cottage'? Maybe I am off base, but 'Cottage' in my mind has always represented small scale manufacturing utilizing local resources. Not trying to hijack the thread or be elitist, but I find it difficult to consider BS a verifiable 'cottage' industry. I would hope that most people who have had or may potentially have a poor experience with BS (or any other company) would be rational enough not to condemn any other company. I guess we'll see.

Brian

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Scott, about your Posts & that Bacpacker Magazine award to Big Sky... on 03/06/2007 15:32:00 MST Print View

Hey Scott, don't sweat it (actually, i don't think you are, but just in case). I don't think most Forum participants are going to hold it against you. You voiced your opinion. It might not be my opinion, or others' opinion, but no matter. You're entitled to your opinion and to voice it. Generally, we all can learn something even from a Post we might not totally agree with. I've been "spanked" more than once for things i posted (sometimes b/c i wasn't clear in my writing; sometimes b/c i was just plain wrong; sometimes b/c somebody didn't like my opinion). Don't worry, it only stings for a while and it doesn't leave any marks.

Keep posting.

Edited by pj on 03/06/2007 15:40:21 MST.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: Re: BP and Big Sky on 03/06/2007 17:14:11 MST Print View

Scott:
When was the last time you went into an Backpacking Store and walked around listening to the customers and the questions they ask the sales people? I think you overestimate the knowledge level that many of these customers bring into the store or to backpacking as an experience. Shawn's point that many small cottage manufacturers will be hurt by an unwitting experience with BS is well taken IMHO. Many of these shoppers go to a Store precisely because they are so inexperienced. They are desperate for advice and are so grateful for any they recieve. I have also overheard many people on the line to return gear berate the store for recommending a piece of gear that did not turn out as promised. I have heard all manner of complaints that the salesperson "should" have known that this piece of gear was inappropriate, poorly made, etc. How do you think they will respond when they take an Editor's Choice award review and attempt to buy a product sight unseen and make the sad discoveries that so many of us have made about BS? Do you really think that they will be inclined to try a purchase from a Shires, or a Moak? I think the answer is clearly -- NO! They will flee to the mainstream makers that can be seen and touched at an outfitter's store.

No, I still feel BP did a real diservice to our community with this award to BS. I wrote to their new gear editor about my feelings and her response was interesting:
"Your letter doesn't come as a big surprise, as we were well aware of Big Sky's delivery problems before we went to press. We trolled backpacklight.com as well as other forums, listened to all the feedback, and had many phone coversations with Bob Molen, boss man at Big Sky. As a new company, Big Sky was having a hard time getting their production solidified, and they were in the midst of changing factories, which is how they explained the lag times that you referred to. All that has been taken care of, however, and Molen assured us that he was quickly catching up with past orders. He also assured us that future orders wouldn't have the same problems. We were satisfied with his answers, and have heard no complaints since the transition took place. In the end, we cut this company some slack for experiencing growing pains, as many upstarts do, and were so thoroughly impressed with their product that we went forward with the award. But you can be sure that we will stay up on their customer service track record and keep our readers apprised, as well."

That last sentence struck me as interesting. I am just as sure that BP will not stay up on BS' track record. How would they be able to do that? It is clear to me that BP just punted when it could have looked elsewhere for great product and fell for the sales pitch that Molen seems to be able to weave at the drop of the hat.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
BPM & BSP on 03/06/2007 18:17:26 MST Print View

Wow, the more things change, the more they stay the same. How long has the BSP saga been going on now? 2-3 years? IMO. the only problem that Mr. Molen has is charging peoples' credit cards up front. Everything else could be considered "growing pains". Like one of the previous posters , I don't have a dog in this fight, having stopped payment on a check to BSP after a 2 month wait in late 2005.
I figure that one of these days, as the Karmic Wheel turns,
Mr Molen is going to stiff an attorney with an attitude and that'll be the end of the longest running soap opera in BPL
forum history. Stay tuned, all you faithful listeners.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Backpacker EC Award to BS on 03/06/2007 19:32:55 MST Print View

Brian Frankle wrote "Lastly, since when can you have a factory(s)in Asia and be considered 'cottage'? Maybe I am off base, but 'Cottage' in my mind has always represented small scale manufacturing utilizing local resources. Not trying to hijack the thread or be elitist, but I find it difficult to consider BS a verifiable 'cottage' industry. I would hope that most people who have had or may potentially have a poor experience with BS (or any other company) would be rational enough not to condemn any other company. I guess we'll see."

Of course you're right on this point Brian. Big Sky is NOT a cottage company. It was not fair for me to lump them into the category of the many small companies that work so hard and provide such great service to their customers.

The reason why I referred to Big Sky as a "cottage" business is that they are still in the formational stage of business. It actually seems that the true cottage industry folks in the UL world are turning out many many more products than Big Sky has in the last year.

As for the community of backpackers that frequent this online magazine and forum, they are generally very much of the type that Scott mentions, those who do their homework and research what is available. However, after 6 years of working at REI, I can tell you with confidence that the average REI customer does NOT fall into this category. More than half walk into the store with relatively little idea of what they want. I am often asked very basic questions from folks who've never heard of layering clothing, or who have heard of it but ask many questions because they don't really understand the concept. Many come in with horribly old trains of thought about bombproof gear and they proudly state that they've learned this by studious reading of (you guessed it) Backpacker Magazine.

When I try to offer other options, particularly those that are lighter, I'm greeted with suspicion because this isn't what they've heard from BPM. For those who ARE interested in lightening up, they are understandably hesitant to buy a product that they can't lay their hands on. But if BPM gives it an Editor's Choice award, it must be a safe bet. Herein lies the concern I offered in my earlier post. To many of my customers, a "cottage" company becomes a company too small to sell their products any where except online (for the most part - yes I know Ron Moak sells his products in a handful of brick and mortar stores as do some other true cottage companies). After a year's wait, they will be extremely unlikely to ever order a major piece of gear from a small "internet" company.

Thus my worry is that Big Sky will be grouped with all the folks whose gear is primarily only available online. For the hiker whose bible is Backpacker Magazine, this could become the case. If you believe I'm way off base about the rank and file customer, work part time for a year at an outfitter.

So I apologize for incorrectly naming Big Sky as a cottage industry. I just wish I could get my customers to look at some of the great companies out there. The great majority won't consider them (or even know about them) without the blessing of BPM.

Scott Peterson
(scottalanp) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Backpacker EC Award to BS on 03/06/2007 19:56:33 MST Print View

I appreciate Brian's view on this. He is a craftsman and I enjoy his product a great deal.

I appreciate PJ's diplomatic/comedic point of view as well.

I appreciate guys like Shawn who fight the good fight too. I have been present for a knowledgable sales person's pitch at REI to a single mother and her son's need to get something for Scouting use. In that light I suppose there are still a good deal of people who either do not have time or the inclination to get on the internet (the great equalizer of all info.)! I suppose too it is where you shop. While in Berkley or some of the Bay Area environs, more consumers seem to be savvy about what they want. I also wonder if you do not know what you don't know, can you really decide a piece of equipment is functioning up to snuff after using it? My guess is, the 13 year old whose mother bought him a pack or tent on a BPM recco., would be none the wiser if it was trash or not.

I still forgive BPM even if they chanced it on the review. They clearly had nothing to gain and only something to lose. I sense they are understaffed in a relatively underpaid part of the publishing world. I reveiwed a GPS phone for them at one point and could tell the writers were also admin's and shipping clerks...and well, you get the idea. I imagine that is why "Jonathan Dorn", a relatively basic writer with seemingly average skills seems to increase his presence within the pages month after month, based primarily I'm sure on his rank rather than qualifications.

I just like to think this community avoids bashing REI, or Backpacker, or what we now percieve as "basic" just because we might be more advanced...and it gets me a little riled.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Bacpacker Magazine award to Big Sky on 03/07/2007 08:36:03 MST Print View

deleted

Edited by ken_bennett on 03/07/2007 08:36:37 MST.

kristin hostetter
(khostetter) - F
Re: Re: Re: BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 10:24:29 MST Print View

Dear Mitchell,

You beat me to the punch. After reading through this thread, I was going to upload my response to you ...thanks for taking care of it for me!

You asked how we will be able to stay on top of BS's track record. Pretty easily, I think, by continuing to monitor this thread and others like it to gauge customer satisfaction. Just keeping our eyes and ears open. Isn't that how you gauge customer DIS-satisfaction? I'm always grateful when I get letters, like yours, that share information like that.

By the way, I can't resist responding to some of the comments about Backpacker editorial being ad driven: That is simply not true. In fact, Big Sky has never advertised with us at all. Neither have a number of other Editors' Choice Awards winners from this year: Harmony House Foods, Celestron, or SheildZone. (I had to go back and look through the mags, because who advertises and who doesn't is not something I pay attention to.)

Our gear testing and editorial is driven by one thing only: to find the best stuff out there, regardless of how small or unknown a company might be. Obviously, many of the people on this forum have lots of experience, and they certainly like sharing their opinions. In that, at least, you folks are a lot like us at Backpacker.

Cheers,
Kristin Hostetter
Gear Editor
Backpacker

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: BP on 03/07/2007 10:28:10 MST Print View

Hi Kristin:

Thank you for sharing your "insider perspective" with us. This is very helpful.

We are not (or at least I am not) purposely picking on BS at all. The reason for our continued posting, however, is simply because BS is practically alone in the way it habitually strings buyers along -- after collecting the money upfront. Just recently, a poster (Brad Russell) wrote on this forum that he got his tent on 2/27/07 -- even though he paid up over a year ago (12/27/05)! BS' website, however, mentions absolutely nothing about delays -- but only a vague "deadline" of 4-6 weeks delivery time -- or the recently changed but equally vague "late Spring".

I believe that Backpacker will monitor this company. But I feel that a company that has jerked its customers so much worse than any other company around -- should not have made it to your magazine at all! Too late now, of course, but hopefully, this will serve as future reference...

Edited by ben2world on 03/07/2007 10:48:09 MST.

Gene .
(Tracker)

Locale: New England
Re: Re: BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 10:49:48 MST Print View

Kristen, Let's see Backpacker magazine do a couple of exposes' on the likes of Ron Moak, Henry Shires, ULA packs; these folks make gear, and deliver above and beyond in the areas of quality gear and customer service without any hype!With some level of care all of this gear is as 'bomber' as anything on the market, 'user error' isn't 'product failure' IMO.

The other thing is that the majority of Backpacker's reader's are'nt undertaking 'epic' journeys'; rather, most are just going out every few months for a week or less IME. Any of the manufacturers mentioned above sell suitable gear for such endeavors.

John Kays
(johnk) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Re: Re: BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 12:45:05 MST Print View

So Kristen, is BPM going to print an addendum in a coming issue warning subscribers of the widespread difficulty customers have had with delivery of BS tents? It was mentioned in several replies above that some people make purchasing decisions on BPM reviews, particularly with products that have received your award. You can bet BS will be using this award to take orders on tents. Posters to this forum have said that he charges their credit card upon the order and does not wait until shipping. Now that you have this knowledge don’t you think it would be the responsible course for your magazine to let subscribers and readers know they run the risk of not receiving expected delivery until over a year after they have paid for the order? I wonder if BPM has any liability on the basis of “failure to inform” subscribers of it’s knowledge of this risk while letting the record stand that BS is the recipient of your "Editor's Choice Award?"

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Re: BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 12:51:00 MST Print View

To Ms. Hostetter,

Thanks for the response. Another forum where you can see more discussion on Big Sky's issues is posted on The Lightweight Backpacker at Backpacking.net. The administrator sold Big Sky advertising space last Winter for a year and couldn't legally delete the link. However, as the complaints about Big Sky's service piled over the 150 post mark, Packlite (the admin) placed a very visible link to the concerned thread underneath Big Sky's advertising link so that forum members would be informed to the "buyer beware" nature of Big Sky's business practices. So there are clearly multiple backpacking forums where you can gain an insight over the next few months as to how well Big Sky is keeping up their promises.

To Scott,

I appreciate your candor and point of view. Normally, I'm the one saying "Let's all take a minute to calm down." so I understand where you're coming from . Yes, I too read Backpacker for the trip reports, commentary, and memories and feelings it sometimes evokes. I'll always dabble through the pages and find something I like. But since I noticed you're not a BPL member, I would make a suggestion. If you don't want to subscribe to the online magazine, consider the quarterly print magazine. It tends to be different in focus from the online magazine. It is not so technical, but offers wonderful trips reports and photos, commentaries and philosophy of backpacking in general, and great photos and artwork, with an occasional gear review. It makes me feel like a teenager reading Backpacker Magazine for the first time again.

If I came off as bashing Backpacker, that wasn't my intent. I was more concerned about the general public getting the word about Big Sky. I certainly wouldn't bash REI. I work there!;-) And please don't get flustered and avoid the forums. I had a bad experience here early on and avoided the forums for nearly a year. And I feel like I really missed out. Thanks for sharing Scott.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: BPM's Hostetter Reply on BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 13:03:34 MST Print View

Dear Kristen:
Thanks for responding in this forum to both my concerns and the concerns expressed by the many knowledgeable posters on this thread.

You state the following:
"Our gear testing and editorial is driven by one thing only: to find the best stuff out there, regardless of how small or unknown a company might be."

"Best" implies many things but I would consider the customer service of a company to be amoung the top criteria to be considered "The Best" in any evaluation process. Nordstrums comes to mind As an example. Promises of service, good thoughts and a new and improved policy really don't count in the real world. Mollen may have promised that his company has turned the corner on the many problems he has been plagued with in delivering on his product, but BPM should not offer him your top Gear Award based on a promise. Yes, I am sure you tested a tent delivered in a timely fashion to your offices for testing, but I am wondering how you would have responded as a customer if you had to wait 14 months for delivery of your tent while he had the use of your money for the entire 14 months? I can't quite believe that you would have given him an award of any kind.

Please understand, BPM's recommendations carry enormous weight with the casual Backpacking crowd. Your imprimatur and a very bad experience with a recommendation do not spell good things for the many cottage manufacturers looking to attract customers over the internet.

Do our community a favor and revisit your review in a month or two. Also do us all a further favor and only review products that are really available to purchase or state that they are not yet available: e.g. The Guyot Design Squishy Bowls.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Re: BPM's Hostetter Reply on BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 13:17:40 MST Print View

Dear Kristen,

After giving Bob Molen my credit card data I waited 373 days for my tent. After 365 days I emailed Bob that I was going to cancel my order and requested a refund. He sent my tent within one week. Until then I had gotten many promises but no satisfaction. What if we dissatisfied customers wrote letters to the editor of your magazine regarding our personal experiences with Big Sky? Do they publish letters?

Edited by redleader on 03/07/2007 13:51:55 MST.

Doug Latimer
(latimerdk) - F
Tent Received on 03/07/2007 14:26:14 MST Print View

I ordered the Evolution 2P2D2V tent with granite fly 3/31/06. As I have other tents and could afford to wait, I did. I received the tent last Wednesday and I have to admit I’m very happy with it. I can't wait to test it out in various conditions.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Re: Re: BPM's Hostetter Reply on BP and Big Sky on 03/07/2007 14:58:55 MST Print View

Denis,

Like most magazines, Backpacker does publish letters to the editor, possibly edited and/or condensed.

I seem to recall Backpacker featuring Big Sky's Evolution tent in a previous magazine...possibly last year's gear issue. Perhaps someone will correct me if I'm mistaken. If I am remembering correctly, I find myself questioning the decision to give them the award this year, after the all the difficulties Big Sky had in 2006. They would have had to have some idea of the severe delivery delay issues as Big Sky was already on thier radar.

As a reader of Backpacker for years, I do agree with previous posters' comments about novices giving the magazine's recommendations favorable consideration. I've bought gear I saw featured there. I quickly came to accept that "Editor's Choice" for backpacker didn't equate to "Best Option" in any way. But this is my take. As we all know, many experienced backpackers do not consider lighter weight to be better.

I do think the suggestion to have a feature on cottage industry manufacturers would be a great idea. I'd even expand it to a series of articles. Who wouldn't love to see Backpacker visit some of these shops and give us an expose on how they design and produce their products? It certainly would beat another article on how to survive lightning stirkes.

Edited by rswanson on 03/07/2007 15:04:43 MST.

Dennis Thompson
(Dennis1994) - F
Re: Bacpacker Magazine award to Big Sky on 03/07/2007 16:06:27 MST Print View

Ok, so what are the issues with Big Sky? I am looking at getting a new tent and am considering the double wall 2 person at 3.5 lbs.

Are there quality issues as well as delivery and or customer service?

Dennis T- Calif

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Re: Bacpacker Magazine award to Big Sky on 03/07/2007 16:15:34 MST Print View

"Ok, so what are the issues with Big Sky? I am looking at getting a new tent and am considering the double wall 2 person at 3.5 lbs.

Are there quality issues as well as delivery and or customer service?

Dennis T- Calif"

Everything I've read about the quality and performance of the Evolution tents has been very positive. I don't own one myself. But I think one can safely say that the sample size of Big Sky tents being used on a consistant basis is relatively small so it might not be possible to get a good read on this. Additionally, if Big Sky is indeed switching manufacturing facilities, this might have a quality effect as well.

Maybe of bigger concern is that if you do have an issue, counting on Big Sky to follow up might be problematic in and of itself.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Concerns with Big Sky on 03/07/2007 16:50:44 MST Print View

Currently the biggest issue is that most customers have had to wait for about a year to get one. This isn't an exaggeration at all. Dozens of posters on multiple forums have experienced this.

As for service once you get your tent, there is none. There are no facilities for repairs that any one can point to, and there is certainly no long-term warranty.

That being said, the folks who HAVE gotten them have had universally positive first impressions (at least from the handful I've seen posts from). So far it doesn't seem like there are enough folks with long-term field experience with this tent to know about durability, though with normal reasonable UL-style care, I don't get the feeling there are any immediate concerns.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Concerns with Big Sky on 03/07/2007 19:29:03 MST Print View

Big Sky Evolution 2P 2D2V rel.E Tent: As far as the quality of the tent is concerned, mine is first rate. The finish is very good, the seam work is well done, the panels set up taut, and the fly fits perfectly. I used the tent two nights in the rain and it didn't leak a drop. The humidity was probably 100%, with heavy fog and rain. There was very little, if any wind. The vents in the fly worked very well and there was very little condensation on the under side of the fly. In the morning, before climbing out of my bag, I shook the tent vigourously and no water droplets appeared on the tent body netting. The only thing I'll be modifying is the fly tie-outs that come standard. I'll be redoing them so they are adjustable without resetting the stakes. As with all Silnylon the fly sags when damp and, after a rainy night, the fly was touching the tent body in a few places. I got one of Bob's Silnylon footprints and they are just too delicate and easily punctured or scuffed. I want something tougher protecting the tent floor. I've cut a piece of Tyvek and will try that. If it doesn't work to my satisfaction I'll use some PU coated nylon and add light weight nylon tape with grommets. At the cost of these tents, the long wait for delivery, and the probable lack of any aftermarket repair by Big Sky, I want to protect my investment.

It may be that Bob Molen is getting his act together but the only way to find out is to purchase a tent. If you get the tent instead of months and months of excuses (or complete silence) you will probably like the tent. It took me 53 weeks to get my tent and there is a post here that took 14 months.

Good luck

Evolution 2P at Sky Camp 2-23-07

Evolution 2P at Sky Camp, Point Reyes National Seashore, California February 23, 2007

Edited by redleader on 03/07/2007 19:45:57 MST.