Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight

The interactions between retailer and consumer can have a dramatic influence on the gear carried and experience had by a consumer. We examine the tools both retailers and consumers can use in evaluating gear and determining the best lightweight options for individuals.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Brad Groves | 2009-06-09 00:00:00-06

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight

Introduction

At some point, when people decide they'd like to give backpacking a try, they generally head to their local shop to get outfitted. Because specialty outdoor retailers are the front line in consumer education, it makes sense that retailers first need to fully understand ultralight philosophies themselves for the greater public to develop an ultralight consciousness.

Regular visitors to Backpacking Light know precisely the type of gear and base pack weights that tend to come out of outfitting sessions at most retailers: heavy! Start out with seven-pound tents and six-pound packs... the rest of the gear adds up quickly, and don't forget all those quick-dry, wicking, multiple layering pieces! To some degree, this is a function of what manufacturers are making available. At the same time, product offerings are influenced by end-user purchases and sales figures - if "Tent X" sells a lot of units, then the likelihood is that you'll be seeing more like "X" in the future. I think that products ultimately sell based on what the sales staff likes - or what they find easy to sell. So it becomes vitally important for retail staff to understand how and why virtually everyone can benefit from some aspect of an ultralight philosophy.

Sales are based in no small part on familiarity. If we assume that a novice backpacker has a passing familiarity with traditional backpacking, then we know what kind of expectations they have when they go looking for gear. And frankly, most of them expect to be pack mules! I think it is important for retailers (and their consumers) to realize just how much impact a retailer can have on a person's limited vacation time. Proper guidance in gear selection can really help make or break someone's trip.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 1

The UL Soft Sell

That's why I've found - and find with increasing frequency - the vital importance of retailers educating themselves to the point of truly understanding ultralight backpacking, along with more traditional approaches. With that understanding, they can apply ultralight philosophies to backpackers at any interest, age, or intensity level. It is important for retailers too (or especially) to understand that UL isn't about sawing toothbrushes in half. Toothbrush handles are pretty insignificant. Ultralight is about taking less gear and making significant weight changes in the gear you do select. Understanding UL can be a powerful tool for the business of specialty outdoor shops, sure. But it's also an important tool and educational component for each consumer who walks through the doors of an (ahem) enlightened shop.

There is no one who wouldn't benefit from carrying a (relatively) light pack, but many people dismiss UL altogether! Youngsters scoff and say they don't mind the extra pounds. Other people smile and say they think it's a bit ridiculous to cut the handle off toothbrushes (they may have a point). Still others say health problems prevent them from doing any backpacking. A packfitter might just accept these comments and sell them heavier gear or let people walk away. However, I think it's necessary for packfitters to call people's bluff, to show them in a respectful way how easy it is to lighten a pack, and to show them why and how it can benefit anyone.

People are a bit incredulous when I tell them it's a simple matter to have a base weight in the fifteen-pound range - and I point out that many book bags on campus weigh more than that. So I developed a straight-forward display that I use as a launching point for many of my outfitting interactions. Part of this is enthusiasm on my part that I hope translates to excitement on the part of my customers. Part of it, frankly, is the pleasure of seeing the proverbial lightbulb click on when people realize ultralight really is possible, easy, realistic - and simple to do comfortably without sacrificing safety.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 2

For the Visual Learners

What I did in my shop was arrange a display on and alongside a shelving system. The shelves are floating and located under a window in hopes of accentuating the airiness of the system. I developed a basic three-season gear list suitable for cold and wet Michigan weather, then went through the shop and grabbed some of my lightest examples of each. I didn't always grab the lightest, though! I wanted a gear list that would not leave someone feeling as though they were compromising anything. I've found that the biggest source of resistance to UL is a perceived need for sacrifice, so I made it a point to grab a full length 1.5-inch thick self-inflating pad, a double-wall free-standing tent, an insulated mug, and other such "luxuries." All told, I still ended up with a base weight of only 13.16 pounds.

I hung the sleeping bag and pack next to the shelves, then displayed the entirety of the gear list on the shelves. I made up a large print sign highlighting the complete pack weight, then printed off several smaller signs itemizing everything with corresponding weights. Cook gear, for example, is all displayed together on the shelf and has a sign over it with a description of each item, brand and model, and the weight. Okay, I admit, it looks a little train-wreckish, but people regularly stop and peruse the display. This area of the store is an important launching point for discussions about outfitting needs.

My favorite people to encounter are those who see backpacking as something they'll never be able to do again. They have back or knee problems, or they're too out of shape to carry a fifty-pound pack. When I tell them they can get everything they need for a solo trip - even a plush two-inch pad and a camp chair - for about fifteen pounds, they really perk up. The display allows me to show them exactly how it's done. It also seems to help people process the low pack weight as a tangible reality.

Comfort, Safety, and Cost

The thing is, you don't need to carry more to be more comfortable, and this is the point many folks miss. There's really not much you could add to my list to improve comfort. There's also no dangerous lack of safety margins. These points seem to escape a lot of people when you talk about lightweight backpacking in general; they assume you're doing without and bordering on dangerous. I try to reinforce the comfort and safety possible - and expected - within the framework of lightweight backpacking throughout my discussions with people.

It is important to meet individual needs, not to outfit people based solely upon your personal philosophies. In other words, someone might be doing longer trips with infrequent or non-existent resupplies, in which case a heavier framed pack might be their best option. Just because that person's using a heavier pack, though, doesn't mean all of their equipment could or should be heavier. On the contrary, it calls for more emphasis on cutting weight of the other items in their pack. As we discuss gear options, I make it a point to talk about the importance of cutting weight when adding weight in other areas, and the fact that adding a couple pounds here and there suddenly adds up to ten pounds.

It's also important to work within the real-world constraints of budget, desire, comfort, and priority. If someone already has a heavy pack but no tent, then the outfitter's priority needs to be finding a lightweight tent that fits the person's needs. A conscientious approach in doing so will help form consumer habits and experiences when it comes to their next gear list or upgrade.

Think of Ounces in Terms of Pounds

I take pains to reinforce the importance of ounces - save three ounces here, two ounces there, and you've saved yourself half a pound. Save only two ounces each on eight items in your pack, and you've saved a full pound. The stuff adds up quickly. Heavy hiking socks weigh nearly a quarter-pound. Within this framework, I address pack volume as a place to save ounces. This can be tricky footwork for both consumer and retailer. I explain that the same pack model in a smaller volume can save, say, a pound. However, if their gear doesn't all fit in the pack it won't carry as well (with gear strapped outside) and the weight benefits are lost. I then show people some demo stuff sacks displayed fully filled out so they can see exactly how much space difference there is between two models - for example, when referencing the difference between a 60- and 70-liter pack, I show them a roughly 10 liter stuff sack. I then explain that the 10-liter sack could easily represent the difference between a synthetic and down bag - reinforcing (a) the potential necessity for them to have a larger pack or (b) the potential importance and interconnectedness of choosing smaller and lighter gear in as many purchases as possible.

60 and 70 liter?! Yep. The reality is that people tend to start out with at least some kind of equipment, it's usually not the smallest or lightest, and it usually takes them a while to whittle down their kit. There's also the matter that many people might take trips with no resupply, unlike typical ultralight thru-hikers, and might need some more volume for chow. I still recommend 80- to 90-liter packs for some people who'll be doing longer trips and winter trips - you have to keep an open mind and fulfill a person's needs, not your biased interpretation of their needs. Back to those stuff sacks, I also show people how much difference in food volume there can be. For one week, I consume 10 to 15 liters of food. For about two weeks without resupply, I consume about 30 liters of (repackaged) food. Since many sleeping bags take up 15 liters in themselves (and let's face it, some bulkier synthetics push 30 liters), if you add two weeks of food with an average bag you've got 45 liters of pack volume between two key factors. You've still got to add shelter, clothes, cook gear, and more. This is why I say to base your recommendations on ultralight philosophy, but to not restrict yourself solely to that philosophy. Help a consumer make a reasonable transition to UL!

One Piece at a Time

Cookware and kitchen stuff can be a great place to examine the balance between UL and more traditional gear. One of the techniques I use with customers is a sort of ratio, typically between price:weight savings. In other words, if a difference of $40 can save you a pound in a cookset, but that same $40 saves you eight ounces in a sleeping pad, get the cookset. (Incidentally, when I want to emphasize the importance of ounces, I speak in terms of pounds. Instead of two ounces, for example, I might phrase it "an eighth of a pound.") I rarely sell anything other than titanium cookware. I suspect that's unusual for most retailers; I believe that many people simply sell less expensive product because (a) it's easier to sell and (b) that's all they think the consumer wants. Spending just a little time and effort to explain the benefits of Ti cookware usually helps people see why it's a better choice, resulting in a happier customer and shopowner.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 3

On the other hand, alcohol stoves aren't for everybody, nor are canister stoves. The reality is that liquid fuel stoves are simply more versatile, functional options at times, despite their greater weight. If I have someone who wants to split their time between winter and three-season weather, I'll probably sell them a broad-bottomed Ti pot and a white gas stove, while explaining why I made those recommendations. I also then suggest considering an upright canister stove for lightweight summer use.

I steer clear of single-wall tents or tarps as primary shelter considerations. The vast majority of complaints I hear from people about any camping experience is that their tent leaked or they otherwise got soaked while in their tent. In fact, it's not uncommon for bad experiences in a tent to be a major reason people dislike traveling the backcountry. Many of these negative experiences are the result of condensation problems in single-wall tents... so I never sell them. Frankly, this is an area of major sacrifice for many folks that sometimes wouldn't make sense for them anyway. Not everyone wants to push the edge. Some people like being warm, dry, and comfortable without having to futz or fiddle. And in my area, with plenty of sustained storms and steroidal mosquitos, double-wall tents can significantly help maintain and retain one's sanity. We have far too much humidity here, too much weather and cold and bugs. In my neck of the woods, finding someone a lightweight double-wall tent is the name of the game.

No One is Always Right

We could talk about how retailers can best serve consumers all day long (which we might well do in the forums), but the last major point I'd like to make is price point. Some ultralight stuff is cheap, some quite expensive. Many retailers shy away from the more expensive products, perhaps afraid of being some sort of predatory horrible sales guy. Maybe they assume that people won't want to spend the extra money for a superior quality or lighter weight product. Let me just say that I've sold $400 sleeping bags to people who were trying to get by with $50 ones, and they were happy to be leaving with the much more expensive bag. Those same people regularly come in to thank me and tell me how much they've enjoyed the things I've sold them, or how happy they are they spent the extra money.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 4

People are never disappointed to find out that they own a quality piece of gear that works as advertised. They'll invariably take a great deal of pleasure and pride in that piece of equipment. A truly warm, 20 F down sleeping bag that weighs about a pound and a half? And will last twenty years or more? Awesome! Price is often secondary. So: Sellers, buyers, don't back away from the bigger-ticket options. They can prove to be money well spent.

It is important to be upfront with customers about your opinions, beliefs, and approaches to equipment, and to realize that those are your opinions, not the one truth for all backpackers. Openly stating your biases as you work with someone is important both for their benefit and to remind you of the lens with which you view the backpacking world. I relate personal experiences. Let's be real. I didn't start out with a ten- to fifteen-pound base weight. No one really does. I started with well over a fifty-pound base weight, but I've learned. So I take people through pertinent parts of the journey. Your way won't work for everybody, but by lightening their pack, your ultralight knowledge can help people of all backgrounds and interests by making their time outside more enjoyable.


Citation

"Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight," by Brad Groves. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/selling_ul.html, 2009-06-09 00:00:00-06.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight


Display Avatars
Sort By:
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.

Cheers

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

Roger,
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,

Cheers
Mark

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Locale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!
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...

Cheers-
Brad

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.

Paul

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.

R K
(oiboyroi) - M

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.

Cheers

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

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

Anyone see this video:

http://thebackpacker.tv/2009/03/22/winton-porter-knows-how-to-lighten-your-load

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.