Big box or local outfitter?


LEED, anyone?

REI, EMS and Patagonia retail centers sure do have a lot offer. REI’s co-op membership even offers a sweet refund every year of a small percentage of your annual buy. Pretty solid.

But do the larger outdoor retailers leave service behind? How about knowledge of local destinations, trail access or climbing routes?

I think your level of service can vary, really. I’ve visited some small local shops only to feel like some sort of interloper. Now, I should note that sort of reception is more common in the surfing culture, especially when it comes to local breaks (there will forever be debate in the surfing world about the role of localism) but there can be an equally negative vibe in gear shops near highly coveted climbing locales.

For the most part, I’ve almost always had good service in an REI, for example, but have occasionally been challenged by a customer service rep or two about returning an item. Hey, it’s in your policy.

Anyway, what’s your take?

How’s your rack? Gear rack, I mean.

There is a lot to be said about organization. There are entire retail chains that sell aisles of items just to help you sort your butter knives from your rolling pins. (But if you obsess over sorting those particular items, you should be shopping somewhere else, like the pharmacy. And why on earth does a person need multiple rolling pins?)

When it comes to your outdoor gear, the importance of being tightly organized simply can’t be over-stated, especially if you’re a multi-sport junkie like myself. If you have your rain fly in with your dry flies or Nikwax next to your surf wax, don’t be surprised when it’s time to dash out for the weekend and your half-day at work turns into a gear closet caving expedition. And where the hell is your headlamp?

What I hate most about organizing is organizing. Follow that? What I mean is that to be properly in order, you need plan for it. How will you sort your stuff? In boxes? By individual sport? Or category of sport? For example, by water sports (fishing, boating, surfing) and snow sports (snowboarding, snowshoeing). Bottom line: getting organized takes time. But it’s time well spent.

After about a year of trying to create a gear closet in an upstairs third bedroom, I realized that it separated a lot essentials from their core gear. It doesn’t make sense for my bike helmet to not be adjacent to my bike. And carrying my fly rod down a flight of stairs and through the house? Yeah right; talk about how to find yourself browsing an Orvis catalog for rod repair kits. No thanks.

Thus, I acquiesced to create a gear storage center in the most common-sense component of any contemporary, mass-produced, energy-deficient suburbanite home: the garage.

Unlike most in our neighborhood however, we can actually park a car in our garage. Odd, I know. Man, people love stuff. And instead of bobbing and weaving around your accusations of hypocrisy, I’m happy to simply take one on the chin: yes, my recreational pursuits encourage the proclivity to accumulate material goods. Just wait until I start lead climbing.

However, and I’ll go into this more in-depth in future posts, I buy only after thorough research, focusing strictly on eliminating usage redundancy and regularly, despite my wife’s willingness to go in front of a congressional committee to testify otherwise, get rid of things. Which, is another terrific benefit of organizing your gear. You can finally discover the things that serve better as tests of your pack’s shoulder strap strength than viable contributions to a comfortable weekend in the woods.

I took a rather old but “man-was-it-trendy-at-the-time” entertainment shelving system holding up a Sears-bought socket set, a mismatched set of tools (sorry dad) half-filled bags of yard lime and leveling sand and a roll of what I think is landscaping fabric (wtf?) and turned it into a well-organized outdoor gear display. As of now, it seriously looks like a Yakima ad.

I organized mainly by sport with a dash of category. Above the rack itself is a wall-mounted shelf holding mountain bike items. The rack’s top shelf is surfing with a couple of snowboard items, so I’m calling that level “board sports.” Middle is climbing and backpacking where my packs, shoes, helmet, Camelbacks and other related items reside. Lower middle holds my tent, pads and bags (which are down, so they are in their larger cotton bags, un-compressed.) On the bottom is the car camping stuff, which calls home its own storage bag, which is a large, open-top duffel that holds a number of individual units, which are filled according to cooking, dining and site gear. If you don’t have one of these, here are some alternatives. They are fantastic. I also have a Rubbermaid Action packer (get one of these, too) holding an array of miscellaneous items like stuff sacks, first-aid supplies and a couple of flashlights.

I even added some old floormats from my rig and a piece of rubber garage flooring at the base of the stand as an area to sort and prepare gear as I pull it down, similar to how you would use your ground cloth to keep your pack items in one spot when packing/unpacking at camp.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: I can’t fix anything, that’s why my tool collection is sparse and now relegated to some hard-to-reach shelving above the seed spreader and below my dog’s overnight bag. I don’t need anymore grief on that topic, thanks. My friend’s six-year-old knows his way around under the sink better than I do. But he can’t reach my pedal wrench.