Waiting for the seasons to change is kind of like watching paint dry, isn’t it? To help you while away these longer evenings, I’ve come up with a list of Web sites for outdoor gearheads to explore while waiting for the ice to freeze or the snow to fall (or melt).
Looking for advice? Check out Outside Magazine’s site at www.outsidemag.com. You’ll find advice on a number of topics from the Gear Guy, from dressing for the cold, to what type of stove to take on a camping trip to waterproof camera bags – you name it. For example, you could learn why cotton is a killer in the wet (water fills the air pockets that, when dry, give the fabric its insulating quality). Or that wool isn’t all that bad (it doesn’t stink after an hour of aerobic activity, good-quality wool doesn’t itch when worn next to skin and looks great. And we don’t have to rely on Mideast oil to make it.
And you’ll find information on new trends, such as snowboard kiting – using kites to grab winter winds and pull you across open spaces on a snowboard (there are already competitions for this sport!).
If you’re looking for a bargain, check out Outdoor Gear Exchange at http://gearx.local.net/ which promises that you can save 20-50 percent off used, closeouts and seconds. You’ll find winter gear, climbing, backpacks, tents. sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing, footwear, travel, books, maps, doggy doodads, accessories, consigned (used) goods. Each category is broken down into several more specific ones. Tents, for example, includes four-season (seven from $145 to $300), bivy sacks (four from $85 to $140), three-season (seven from $45 to $225), tarps, family tents and accessories. Each listing has a link to a description and picture of the item listed.
Under the “resources” button you find a gear review (not an extensive list), tips and opinions (tips on buying and fitting a pack, packing and dehydrating foods), and a library of articles from past newsletters on topics such as backcountry skiing, trekking and climbing in Ecuador or things to do in New England when it’s cold, (in this case, ice climbing).
Gear.Com at www.gear.com/ offers daily specials and regular buttons for the outdoor shop, team sports, cycling, racquet sports and golf, fitness and exercise, water sports, snow sports, surf and skating and clothing. Each category has its own “home page” with daily or weekly specials, as well as a list of activities further broken out. For example, the outdoor shop has categories for backpacking and hiking, family camping, climbing and fly-fishing. Backpacking is further broken out into packs (28 listed), tents, apparel, footwear, sleeping bags, kitchen and other. These in turn have their own breakouts and product descriptions. Or you can browse and shop by category, name, price, brand, men’s first, women’s first etc. If you know what you’re looking for, click on a button at the bottom of the page for brands. This will give you a list of brands carried and what, within that line, is stocked. Some categories have limited sizes in stock.
You’ll see some interesting pricing as well. For example a men’s Palm Equipment Alaska Sea Extreme paddle top with a suggested retail price of $495 is listed for $169. A great deal, at first glance, but size small is the only one listed. The same is true for other listings, but occasionally you’ll stumble over a good deal.
Mountain Gear at www.mgear.com is a Web site for the company’s retail store in Spokane, Wash. Find the item you’re looking for under categories (backpacking, climbing, clothing and footwear), or select a brand name from an extensive list of manufacturers.
Say you were looking for a Princeton Tec light, for example. Hit the shop by brand pull-down and scroll down to Princeton Tec, click on it and up pop six different lights and their prices. You can click on each for a product description. Look for the Hotsheet button and see what special is being offered. When I last looked there was an Atlas snowshoe package with its Model 1025 shoes, a backpack and poles for $359.
There is a product review section in which readers rate products. Select a category, click and read what someone has to say about the MNSR Dragonfly stove, for example – two loved it, one wasn’t sold on it, claiming his MSR Whisperlite was quieter.
You can even get live help on this site between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. “The Live Help system provides a way for a visiting user to request live interaction with a customer service agent on this Web site. The agent will be available to work directly with you to answer any questions that you have about the products or services offered on this site,” the instructions say.
Then there’s Sierra Trading Post at www.sierratradingpost.com. There are lots of factory closeouts throughout this site. If you’ve ever seen the company’s catalog, you’re familiar with how they operate. There seems to be a good selection of sizes and variety of items available. I checked out paddling gear, for example, and found 4-millimeter-thick Camaro brand Farmer John wetsuit for $97 and another heavy-duty model with abrasion-resistant 4 mm Sharkskin neoprene with Diamond-Tec neoprene inserts on knees and seat for $119. They were 30 and 40 percent off retail prices, according to the Web site.
On this site you can shop by departments (men, women, general outdoor, special sports gear, footwear, kids, home furnishings), or do specialized searches under “catalog quick shop, size, percent of savings, vendor, key word, bargain barn, Web only or new items.” Punch up bargains, fill in the boxes for your sizes, and up pops a list of 100 or more items on sale! Cool!
And then there’s retailer Recreational Equipment Incorporated – REI – which you’ll find at www.rei-outlet.com/. REI began one day in 1938 when Seattle mountaineer Lloyd Anderson sent away for a new ice ax. Upon picking it up, he had an unwelcome surprise: The ax was nearly twice the price advertised, and about half the quality. Vowing not to be fooled again, Lloyd found his own source, buying a top-quality Austrian Academ Pickel ice ax at a lower price! His climbing friends begged him to get this ice ax for them, too. He did. Word spread, and the company got its start as a cooperative and remains one today. It operates on a satisfaction guaranteed policy, so should you become dissatisfied with any item you may return or exchange it at any REI store.
When you get on its Web site you’ll find daily specials such as I saw last week: Manzella wool gloves at a closeout price of $4.43. Compared to suggested retail of $16 that’s 72 percent off. Other bargains that jump out at you are savings on socks, hats and gloves, Redfeather Backcountry Snowshoes at a special price of $149 (compare at $240) or 30 to 60 percent savings on clothing from Helly Hansen, Moonstone, REI and The North Face. And then you’ll see specials on other gear recommended by staff. Like other sites you’ll be able to shop by category such as camping, climbing, cabin, fishing, or by brand name via a pull-down list.
After a quick sampling of listings, I felt as though what was offered on the Web was not the selection you’d find in the store, but you’d have to drive a way to find a store near us. The closest two are in Reading and Framingham, Mass. The site has a bargain sleuth that will do shopping for you. Let him know what you’re looking for and he’ll e-mail you when and if the item becomes available at outlet.
Last, but by no means least, there’s Maine’s own L.L. Bean, founded in 1911 when Leon Leonwood Bean invented and field tested his first, and now famous, hunting boot, the Bean Boot. The store was opened on Main Street in Freeport in 1917 and the doors have been open since -the doors literally have been without locks for the past 50 years. Its customer service is renowned and perhaps the main reason annual sales have grown to $1 billion. The company employs 4,000 people, offers 16,000 items for sale, and ships 12 million packages annually.
Start out your electronic visit by typing www.llbean.com/ and be prepared to explore for a while. I found it easiest to click on the button for the site map. Here you’ll fine a no-frills list of everything you need to know, and more. In addition to items for sale, you’ll get background information you need to shop for an item. Under kayaking safety equipment, for example, you get a list of items you should have if you’re going out on the water.
Again, you won’t find everything you would in the store, but then again nothing can replace that adventure, can it?
If instruction is what you’re looking for check out the Outdoor Discovery School for classes on winter sports, outdoor photography, fly fishing, canoeing and kayaking as well as professional development.
Jeff Strout’s column is published on Thursdays. He can be reached at 990-8202 or by e-mail at email@example.com.