In January I bought my son a new backpack.
As the co-founder and editor of Trailspace, a backcountry gear community for outdoor enthusiasts, I’m well aware that the choices when buying a single piece of outdoor gear can be simultaneously empowering and overwhelming. Which brand? Which model and features? From whom to buy?
With a seemingly infinite number of options, how did I end up buying a Deuter Fox 30 backpack from Tahoe Mountain Sports?
That’s what TMS’s Dave Polivy wanted to know too.
Back in January, I stopped outside the Deuter tent at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow’s Demo Day. A man turned to me. “Are you Alicia, from Trailspace?” he asked. “You bought a pack from me.”
I was impressed. Though Tahoe Mountain Sports advertises on Trailspace, Dave and I had never met or communicated. I’d simply purchased a pack online earlier that month. But Dave recognized me as a customer, and even remembered which pack I’d bought.
“Why’d you choose Tahoe Mountain Sports?” was his next question. Dave is well aware that his customers have choices.
So, here’s how this gear editor successfully navigated from “what to buy?” to pack in-hand:
Knowing Our Needs
“I want to go backpacking with you, Mom.”
I was thrilled when my 7-year-old son said these words, and I mentally began narrowing down our pack options.
He already had several small daypacks, but he needed a bigger pack that could carry his sleeping bag, clothes, and a snack on family backpacking trips. He also needed a pack he could use to haul his ski gear to and from the mountain all winter.
Narrowing Down the Options
On Trailspace, we regularly encourage people to visit local outdoor retailers, like Tahoe Mountain Sports, if they’re so lucky as to have one nearby. Whenever possible, especially if it’s a first-time purchase, try the gear on before buying, especially packs and boots. Unfortunately, our rural Maine location is far from many specialty retailers, which means we often have to go online to find the items that meet our needs.
This time the selection process was sped up significantly because far fewer backpacks are available for kids than adults. I had plenty of options to choose from, but not too many to slow me down. Less was more, in this case.
My son and I considered:
- Brand: I’ve personally been happy with Deuter and Osprey packs, so we started our search there, but didn’t rule out others.
- Fit/Size: Though visiting an experienced pack fitter is best, we got out the measuring tape to find my son’s torso length.
- Features and Use: We looked for a traditional pack, designed for kids, suitable for overnight backpacking and hauling ski gear.
- Price: All the results were in a similar price range, so this wasn’t a significant part of the decision.
- Reviews: We read the user reviews of kid packs on Trailspace.
- Winner! We settled on the Deuter Fox 30 for its technical features (it’s a scaled down pack for younger kids), brand reputation, and good reviews. My son picked orange.
Where to Buy
If we’d visited a local specialty retailer, like Tahoe Mountain Sports, to try on packs, we would have bought the product in-store, supporting the local store and staff. While we buy a lot of gear online, we don’t use specialty outdoor stores as a showroom for online purchases. Not cool.
In our case, Trailspace’s page for the Deuter Fox 30 listed at least seven online outdoor stores under “Where to Buy.” All were selling it for roughly the same price.
So, how did I pick Tahoe Mountain Sports? Well, first of all, they were in the running just for stocking a good product I wanted at a good price.
Then, with all else being equal, I was inclined to pick the smaller guy, especially one with a physical store that is family run. I may not get to visit Tahoe Mountain Sports in person, but I like knowing there are specialty outdoor stores, staffed by experienced outdoorspeople, who help others gear up and get outdoors.
Tahoe Mountain Sports was the winner.
The order process was smooth. The Deuter pack arrived within days and has served us well so far, and even earned some compliments at our local ski slopes. It will make its backpacking debut in just a few weeks.
And back in January, amid the hoopla of a major tradeshow, Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports, remembered me and my son’s pack from one single online purchase.
It was nice to know that what felt like an anonymous purchase to me had caring and knowledgeable people on the other end. Whether it happens online or in your own local shop, that’s the value of outdoor specialty retailers.
Alicia MacLeay is the editor and co-founder of Trailspace.com, an online community for outdoor gear enthusiasts. Founded in 2001, Trailspace and its 13,000 community members share outdoor gear reviews and discuss backcountry gear for hikers, backpackers, climbers, skiers, paddlers, and trail runners.