Why shop your local outfitter?

There are many trends happening in today’s world that are making life easier and more convenient, one of which is online shopping. This trend is far from new but I think still in early development and we are seeing the effects of it now.  Many mass merchants are closing malls and reinventing themselves as shopping and entertainment destinations, adding tattoo shops and specialty food spots to keep up with changing demands. I’m not writing this blog because I’m trying to say that this is a good or bad thing; I’m just writing about a specific experience that I had that will hopefully let some people realize that shopping local still does fit into many of our lives, especially when choosing outdoor adventure gear.

I do my shopping either online or locally based on my needs.  I try to purchase things online that I have already purchased before or I have a hard time finding locally.  For example, I’m searching for a book on Red River Gorge for an upcoming trip and I can’t find a book anywhere locally. However, I also wouldn’t expect any merchants here in Utah to have such a niche book in inventory for rock climbing in Kentucky.  

I’m not going to lie; I have done this probably more than once and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  In fact, on my most recent purchase I found myself doing what I feel is the worst thing you can do.  I went to a local outdoor outfitter on a fact-finding mission so that I could later make my purchase online.

I’ve been planning for an upcoming trip to Kentucky and started going through my very slim inventory of camping gear when I realized I’m not nearly prepared enough for a three-day rock climbing trip while tent camping in Kentucky in late October.  I have plenty of gear for summer and early fall camping in Utah, but not nearly enough for the much colder fall nights in Kentucky. With that in mind, I knew I would need to find a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, as well as a tent, for this trip. I tend to do a lot of research and shop online, and   generally I’m pretty happy with the results. Sometimes I get an item that isn’t quite what it seems, but in most cases these are relatively low cost items;. This time, I’m making a somewhat substantial purchase for gear that I’m hoping will last quite a few years.

My plan was to go to the local adventure store and research the different products that I was interested in.  I wanted to touch, feel, try on, get dimensions, and worst of all ask the opinions of the sales people on what they thought I needed.  I had every intention of gathering all this information and then going home later that night to purchase everything online. But, as I was lying on the floor of the store in a sleeping bag on a sleeping pad, something struck me. What the hell am I doing? This guy is taking maybe forty minutes to go through all of the different features of different sleeping bags and pads and letting me try them out here in the store, and I have the nerve to use their space and their sales people and their inventory so that I can save $15 dollars on a sleeping bag online?

This didn’t make sense. I’m an instant gratification type of guy anyway; when I get my mind set on something, I want it.  The worst part about shopping online is waiting for the shipment. I realized that I need to do the right thing and buy my items at this store.  Yeah, it might be a little bit more expensive, but you know what? It was worth it. I discovered a sleeping bag that I missed even after hours of online research.  It was also much less than what I had mentally budgeted for myself, and I had it in my hands right then and there. So I had my sleeping bag; now I needed to finalize the sleeping pad. Again I tried out and came across one that I wanted that I didn’t find online.  The funny thing is that after the salesman helped me out, I didn’t have the slightest urge to grab my phone and look up the brand and model of sleeping bag to see if I got a good deal.

I wasn’t even curious about how much money I could have saved if I bought this stuff online because if it wasn’t for this salesperson, I would never have found any of it.  Additionally, his time and effort were worth money to me. He gave me knowledge and insight on gear that I was going to use for at least the next few years, and that was valuable .  And if you say that paying for that information is crazy when it’s all right there online, I would say, “Yeah, you’re right,- but then what are all of these college kids paying to go to brick and mortar schools for?”

The benefits of shopping local doesn’t mean just tangible products either.  When booking or planning trips to an area that is new to you its always a good idea to get some insight from somebody that lives and works where you are going to visit.  Many times I’ve noticed that by stopping at a local outfitter or guide shop they are happy to share a little knowledge to help provide you with the best experience while visiting their area.

Some of the information they can provide is how busy certain areas will be based on time of day or week or even year.  Getting this information will create a more fulfilling experience and not put you amongst the hoards of people that tend to flock to the latest “InstaSpot.”  You may also benefit from the rare instances where a local shares one of their secret spots if you can manage to keep it on the low. Usually these secret spots are accompanied by hand drawn maps and will be a magical experience.

Anyway, this isn’t a knock on online shopping or online trip research; one of my favorite ways to get gear is online, and I’ll still use it.  It’s more of a reminder to remember the people at the local shops that are trained, knowledgeable, and passionate about what you do and what they sell.