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contents / departments
1 5 I n d us t r y B u z z
31 fresh faces
45 The voice 50
Get certified against climate change.
Meet an artist, an activist, a trans camp founder & an entrepreneur.
Check out our rankings of the hottest new gear of the summer season.
1 8 Y o u r N e xt c u s t o m e r Adaptive athletes need gear, too.
1 9 n um e r o l o g y See which brands rule our polls.
2 0 s h o p ta l k Bone up on crucial math for retailers.
21 doing good Why haven’t B Corps caught on?
22 messaging Mainstream brands love our celebs.
24 In brief Transitions at adidas Outdoor, small trade shows grow up & more
26 show business We take on single-use plastic.
2 8 fa c e o f f Debate the fate of specialty retail.
34 un filtered
56 the trend r epo rt
Time to break the pro deal habit.
See what’s selling now—and what will be in the future— according to our panel of retailers and brand innovators.
36 nine to five Is the industry missing out by not embracing remote work?
37 the dirt Climbing takes over the silver screen.
66 ecofro nt Mountain Hardwear nixes toxic chemicals in tents; brands get up to speed on REI’s new sustainability standards.
40 hom age Love for used gear shops; the climate change politician; happy birthday, Dick Kelty; a retro pack comes back.
42 five hard question s Three PR pros dish on dealing with a crisis, media gripes, repping bad products & more.
1 04 raw talent Peek at a nature-loving Colorado artist’s portfolio.
“I would have taken that
job for free and pitched my tent in the parking lot. That’s how bad I wanted it.”
Money, sex, and race are typically hush-hush topics … which is exactly why we tackle them in this issue.
landed my first legit job in 1995 at BACKPACKER magazine. I was fresh out of grad school and had been slinging tents and fitting hiking boots part-time at an outdoor shop. My short, heavily padded resume had nothing even resembling an editing gig, and I was ecstatic to hustle my way into my dream job. My starting salary? A whopping $18K. But honestly, I would have taken that job for free and pitched my tent in the parking lot. That’s how bad I wanted it. My boss surely leveraged my eagerness. Negotiations? Hell, I said yes before he even finished his sentence. It’s the sort of scenario that still plays out today in outdoor companies around the country. We’re known as a passion industry: The outdoors defines who we are as people, not just what we talk about from 9 to 5. And then there’s the cool factor. The brands we represent, the shops we run, the “work trips” we get to take—we’re the envy of everyone at class reunions. Some of my teenage kids’ friends even follow me on Instagram (I’m absurdly proud of that). But with almost 25 years of hard work under my belt, am I really getting paid what I’m worth? It’s a question many of us ponder but nobody talks about, and there’s scant data out there about what we in the outdoor biz get paid. So we decided to find out. A few months back we launched a comprehensive salary survey on SNEWS. Nearly 1,500 people—from every corner of the outdoor industry—responded. We unearthed some surprising and not-so-surprising trends. Read our report
starting on p. 80, and check out the complete, 29-page quantitative summary at snewsnet.com/salary. Shocker: Women make less than men. The mean salary for women is about $15K less than men. But gender parity is not just about money. When women are outnumbered and not highly valued in the workplace, they face a heightened risk of sexual harassment and worse. Part 2 of our investigation into sexual misconduct in the outdoor industry starts on p. 72, and highlights how things can go horribly wrong when women are in the minority. We’ve covered the rocky road toward a more equitable and diverse outdoors extensively in our sister publication, SNEWS. The conversation continues beginning on p. 68, as James Edward Mills explores recent controversy through a personal lens and also looks at how the callout culture is scaring many would-be change agents into clamming up for fear of making a mistake. Progress on any of these issues is often messy and meandering; rarely does it take the simple, straightforward path. I hope that by covering these taboo topics we’ll spark meaningful conversations in the days to come … and ultimately, a brighter future for our industry.
Kristin Hostetter Editor-in-Chief
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
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“Gear is my passion,” says Holden. And though she has years of experience covering outdoor equipment, Holden notes she never gets bored while reporting the latest breakthroughs (“The Trend Report,” p. 56). “I’m always amazed at the amount of technology that goes into an outdoor product,” she says. “Whether it’s a special rubber for a trail shoe or an innovative and eco-friendly way to waterproof, the industry is constantly pushing the envelope and evolving.” The Boulder, Colorado freelancer’s work has also recently appeared in Elevation Outdoors. This summer, you’ll find me
Spending a month traveling via plane, train, ferry, and Uber across England with my husband and son First job in the outdoor industry Intern at BACKPACKER Next big project Backpacking with a toddler
Rachel Sturtz Sturtz, the Denver-based freelancer who wrote “Unsafe Space” (p. 72), has been covering sex abuse in sports since 2013. “I’m never surprised at the volume of stories that can come out of one industry, one sport, or even one town,” she says. “But the boldness of some of the perpetrators in these stories was impressive,” including a man who harassed his coworker before she even started the job and another who sexually assaulted his employee at a company dinner in front of her coworkers. “The list goes on,” she says. Sturtz’s work has also recently appeared in Outside, Men’s Journal, and Popular Mechanics. This summer, you’ll find me Running short distances on the Front Range’s flattest dirt paths First job in the outdoor industry Testing and writing about outdoor gear for Fitness magazine (RIP)
“Climbing has helped me be OK with my abilities and disabilities,” says Los Angeles-based Sanchez, who wrote a call for the outdoor industry to be more inclusive to differently abled people (“Time to Adapt,” p. 18). “I wanted to share that, and to get more people outside.” This summer, the nationally ranked adaptive climber will be training for the 2019 International Federation
of Sport Climbing Paraclimbing World Championships (for climbers with physical impairments) in July. “Wish me luck!” he says. Coolest new gear I’m testing An adaptive climbing foot from Evolv. The new foot will give climbers the edge they’ve been missing. First job in the outdoor industry Belayer at an indoor rock climbing gym
James edward Mills Madison, Wisconsin-based Mills has been working on diversity and inclusion issues for more than a decade, but as he examined high-profile controversies around DEI in the outdoor industry (“No Pain, No Change,” p. 68), he was still surprised by how destructive social media can be. “Despite the remarkable power of these platforms as a tool for communication, they can be weaponized and used to do great personal harm,” he says. Mills also teaches a course about DEI in outdoor recreation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
First job in the outdoor industry Sales clerk at REI in Berkeley, California, in 1989 Next big project Creating a story-sharing project that connects people in cities with free-flowing urban rivers and their headwaters in national forests
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Corey Buhay “I’ve always been fascinated by the traveling life and the ways that it can both enhance and strain your well-being,” says Boulder, Colorado-based Buhay, who wrote about remote work (“Remotely Possible,” p. 36) and independent sales reps (“Death of a Salesman,” p. 88). She can relate: After a year of living out of her Subaru, she upgraded to a Ram ProMaster van last year. “It lets me live and work in a lot of different places,” Buhay says. “Last week, I worked from Alaska, and this week I’m sending emails from Great Sand Dunes National Park. And I’ve brushed my teeth in many a McDonald’s
bathroom.” Her work has also recently appeared in Climbing magazine. This summer, you’ll find me Linking up alpine climbing routes in the North Cascades Next big project Learning how to fix my bike
Drew Simmons The president/founder of Pale Morning Media, who wrote about the overuse of pro deals (“Deal or No Deal,” p. 34), knows a hot topic when he sees one. “The idea came out of my work with the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance,” he says. “I heard it mentioned numerous times in passing over the last several months. When you hear a topic once, it’s interesting. When you hear it over and over, it’s a story.” Simmons writes from Vermont’s Mad River Valley, where “we have no stoplights and no Starbucks, but three ski areas, tons of mountain biking, and ridiculously good beer.” He also appears in 5 Hard Questions, p. 42.
First job in the outdoor industry PR intern for Coors International Bicycle Classic in 1985 Next big project Working with the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative to secure sustainable long-term funding for conservation and stewardship in the state
Los Angeles-based writer Salabert relished the opportunity to talk to other independent workers for “Dream Job Reality Check” (p. 86): “As a freelancer, I sometimes feel like I inhabit an island of one, so I was interested in how other freelancers and ‘dream job’ folks felt about their work—and their pay.” And in reporting the salary profiles (starting on p. 80), she learned one key fact: “Copywriters make a lot more money than journalists. Like, a lot more.” Salabert has recently published stories in SNEWS, SIERRA Magazine, Outside, and The California Sunday Magazine. This summer, you’ll find me Logging big miles in the Sier-
ra, sneaking in a few Colorado fourteeners, volunteering to lead several backpacking trips, and eating lots of cheese with my family in Wisconsin. First job in the outdoor industry Teaching environmental education at Wisconsin’s Camp Whitcomb/Mason
Kenji Haroutunian For 30-plus-year industry veteran Haroutunian, writing about adidas Outdoor’s transition to the brand’s Portland campus (In Brief, p. 24) hit close to home: “I managed the very store where Greg started out in the San Fernando Valley. And I’ve been doing business with adidas Outdoor since 1999, when the brand was housed in a dank (not swank) warehouse in Portland.” In his reporting, the Culver City, California resident discovered he and Thomsen have even more in common. “His lust for guitars is formidable, nearly matching my own,” Haroutunian says.
First job in the outdoor industry Adventure 16 salesperson in 1985 Next big project Getting my kids through college and officially launching a DEI implementation service to the greater outdoor industry
The outdoor industry introduces two new big ideas to fight climate change.
Carbon Crushers BY ELISABETH KWAK-HEFFERAN
REACHING OUT TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES / THE INDUSTRY TAKES ON SINGLE-USE PLASTIC / THE FATE OF SPECIALITY RETAIL PAG E
business / industry buzz
Climate Neutral, which officially launches at June’s Outdoor Retailer, asks brands to effectively erase their carbon footprints by funding sustainable projects through carbon offsets. The other, the Regenerative Organic Certification, urges companies to slash their total emissions by working with sustainable agricultural suppliers. But it’s not one approach versus the other: If we’re going to make a dent in the climate crisis, experts say, we have to embrace both. Offsetting to zero
“Carbon neutrality should be the new baseline of [corporate] responsibility,” says Peter Dering, founder of the bag and camera gear brand Peak Design and, along with BioLite’s Jonathan Cedar, the force behind Climate Neutral. “And there should be a consumer-facing indicator that shows that a company has offset. Have you paid to remove the carbon you’re responsible for, or not?” The idea for the certification grew from Dering’s efforts to turn Peak Design into a carbon-neutral business. That meant he’d first figure out how much carbon the brand was responsible for emitting through its operations—including everything from its buildings’ energy use to product shipping to the mining of the raw materials used to make
its camera clips. Then, he’d make up for them by purchasing carbon offsets. After a consulting firm calculated the brand’s total carbon footprint to be about 20,000 metric tons in 2017, Dering was shocked to realize he could buy offsets for about $3.50 per ton, for a total expense of $70,000. “I didn’t expect to be able to afford it,” Dering says. “And it made me question, why isn’t everyone doing this?” So last year, he got together with Cedar, whose business has been carbon neutral since 2012, to hatch a plan for encouraging other companies to do the same—and Climate Neutral was born. Here’s how it works: Climate Neutral guides brands to calculators that allow them to figure out their carbon emissions. Then, the program points the companies to verified carbon offset projects to invest in. To date, 13 other brands have signed on to the certification, including Klean Kanteen, Miir, LifeStraw, and Sunski.
What is a carbon offset?
Cutting carbon from the supply chain
The Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), on the other hand, focuses on one key way that apparel and food brands can cut carbon emissions from their supply chains: partnering with certified farms that use regenerative agricultural practices to restore soil health and actually sequester carbon. Patagonia, along with Dr. Bronner’s and the Rodale Institute, helped develop the standards; two of the brand’s cotton suppliers in India are now part of a pilot program to earn certification. In this program, individual items earn ROC status, not brands—so consumers would buy an ROC-cotton T-shirt, much like they can already snap up an organic cotton one. Patagonia’s work on the ROC is part of its overall strategy to be carbon neutral by 2025, says Environmental Responsibility Manager Paul Hendricks: “We feel like we need to do the hard work up front, to get as much of our operations and supply chain to a point where we’ve reduced as much carbon as we can. Then we’ll look to make carbon offset investments in new, meaningful renewable energy projects.” PrAna is also looking to participate in the pilot, as one of its cotton suppliers is working toward ROC status. “When we look at addressing the issue of climate change, we believe ROC can affect that in a really big way,” says Director of Sustainability Rachel Lincoln. She predicts the first certified products will join the prAna collection within a few years. Working hand in hand
Some environmentalists are suspicious
It’s an investment in a project that reduces or sequesters carbon—it might fund reforestation or the construction of new renewable energy systems, or capture greenhouse gases from landfills. Offsets are sold as credits, with one credit neutralizing one ton of carbon emissions, to “make up for” a company’s carbon footprint. Not all offsets are equally effective at fighting climate change, which is why third-party verification is so important.
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
nough talk. Enough waiting around for the government. Climate change is an emergency—and now’s the time for businesses to step up and do something meaningful about it. ¶ That’s the idea behind two new certification programs aimed at getting companies to voluntarily tackle their carbon emissions. Both have roots in the outdoor industry, but are available to brands in any field. Both aim to have a much bigger impact than simply slapping a feel-good logo on a hang tag. And each confronts the challenge of carbon emissions from a different angle.
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
business / industry buzz
of carbon offsets as a means to reduce overall impact. Brands should be focusing on cutting carbon emissions in their supply chains, the argument goes, not just buying offsets without trying to improve operations. Dering emphatically rejects this: “The answer is, do both! We make things, and things cause pollution. I don’t care how much effort you put into reducing your footprint, until we have a globally electrified system based on solar and wind, you’re putting out carbon.” “Very few companies have the ability to drive emissions reductions inside of their supply chain in a meaningful way,” Cedar adds. “It might not be cost-effective for BioLite to open its own iron mine and use wind turbines to power it. But it may be practical for someone else to do that”— someone else that the brand can support by investing in its offset. It’s worth noting that for this strategy to work, the offset projects must be high quality and bring “additionality”—that is, the project wouldn’t have happened without funding from the offset program. The Climate Neutral certification aims to ensure this by requiring members to buy offsets that have been approved by one of five independent verification agencies. Patagonia’s approach differs in that it essentially reverses the order of operations: Rather than offsetting its footprint immediately, the brand is first trying to reduce emissions as much as possible. In the end, both strategies are crucial, says Peter Miller, director of the Western Region, Climate & Clean Energy program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It may be possible, over the longer term, [for a brand] to invest in regenerative organic agriculture,” he says. “Until then, it can buy carbon offsets. If a company says, ‘We’re just going to throw some money at this problem by buying offsets and not deal with our sourcing,’ that’s a shortcut that doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Driving change
Climate Neutral’s ambitions don’t stop
“Very few companies have the ability to drive emissions reductions inside of their supply chain in a meaningful way.” -JONATHAN CEDAR, BIOLITE
at simply getting brands to buy offsets: Dering and Cedar point out that their certification demonstrates companies are willing to voluntarily pay for carbon. “When the world decides to take serious action on climate, a price on carbon will be part of it,” Cedar says. “Rather than wait to be forced, the first companies [to join Climate Neutral] have the opportunity to step forward and be thought leaders.” If, say, hundreds or even thousands
of brands sign on, their collective force could help push a reluctant U.S. government toward federal action to fight climate change. “We can hold this example up in Washington and say, ‘It’s time for carbon regulation,’” Cedar says. “It’s an extremely strong message to our government that this doesn’t kill business.” Indeed, both founders hope a Climate Neutral certification does the opposite— grows business by giving increasingly environmentally minded consumers what they want. They predict at least some buyers, when choosing between two water filters (or mattresses, or boxes of cereal), will prefer the one with the Climate Neutral bona fides. That, in turn, will spur more brands to sign on, building momentum. “As an industry, we have a great history of public interest activism around the environment,” Cedar adds. “It’s a point of pride for me to feel like we are out in front on this issue.”
business / your next customer
Time to Adapt People with disabilities are getting outdoors—can you catch up? BY JAKE SANCHEZ
ive years ago, I was involved in a hit-and-run accident. After three months in the hospital and 13 surgeries, my left leg had to be amputated. It felt impossibly hard at first, and I didn’t have a positive outlook. Who would? At age 25, I had just become disabled. It wasn’t until I started climbing at my local gym that things began to change. For one birthday, my brother took me on an adventure where we did a bunch of activities, including climbing. Climbing was all I could think about the next day. Almost instantly, I was hooked, and it became my life. I even started to compete regularly. By 2018, I was ranked second in the nation in my adaptive category. Climbing helped me realize that I was more than my disability. I was still capable of anything—I just had to adapt. Losing part of your body can make you feel less than human, like you don’t really belong. I especially felt that I didn’t belong outdoors. Nature’s uneven terrain was tough on my residual limb. It blisters, swells, and sometimes bleeds. However, I was in love with rock climbing and I knew
that if I wanted to be great at it, I had no choice but to get out there. My gear now included walking sticks and blister bandages, but I was doing it. Still, I didn’t feel fully embraced by the larger outdoor community and industry. I couldn’t find brands that were making products for the differently abled. I also didn’t see much encouragement or interest in our community. It felt like no one was looking out for people like me. Beyond issues of inclusivity, this lack of attention is also a missed business opportunity. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2014, 85.3 million people living in the United States had a disability; 55.2 million of those had a severe disability. The National Organization on Disability estimates that Americans with disabilities represent more than $200 billion in discretionary spending. The fashion industry has already started targeting this market with several clothing brand collections. Recently, Tommy Hilfiger launched a full line of adaptive apparel featuring adjustable hems and swapping buttons for Velcro and magnets, making it easier to put on and take off clothing. The outdoor industry should also be part of this movement. As a climber, I know that companies like Evolv Sports*, Petzl, and The North Face have started taking initiative. These companies are collaborating with differently abled athletes to create products like adaptive climbing feet for leg amputees and ice tools for one-handed climbers, and partnering with nonprofits like Paradox Sports. And they’re creating lifelong customers along the way. These brands are doing far more than expanding business options: More importantly, they’re empowering a big and often disempowered community. We’re asking for a seat at the table, a place at the crag, and a spot to set down a tent. The right gear isn’t the only thing we need—but, along with access, it’s a start. And for many differently abled people, that first barrier is the biggest one of all. *The author is sponsored by Evolv Sports.
PHOTO BY KATIE JO MYERS
THE AUTHOR ON THE ROCK OUTSIDE BISHOP, CALIFORNIA
business / numerology
gear Popularity contest Every month, our sister publication, SNEWS, asks its readers which brand makes the best gear. Here are the companies topping everyone’s list over the past year. BUZZ FACTOR A BIT
COOLERS OtterBox (469 total votes) RovR (151) YETI (104) TENTS Hilleberg (964) Eureka! (306) Big Agnes (297) TRAIL RUNNERS Salomon (36) Altra (31) HOKA ONE ONE (14) LANTERNS MPOWERD (1,346) Goal Zero (745) LuminAID (99) WATERPROOF/BREATHABLE TECHNOLOGY Gore-Tex (280) Polartec NeoShell (226) eVent (202) HAMMOCKS Grand Trunk (519) Trek Light (310) ENO (281)
DUFFEL BAGS Osprey (180) Patagonia (49) A different brand (37) SLEEPING PADS Therm-a-Rest (86) Exped (36) NEMO (28) SUNGLASSES Zeal Optics (145) Smith (98) Optic Nerve (94) CLIMBING HARNESSES Black Diamond (60) Petzl (51) Edelrid (48) OUTDOOR GROWLER Hydro Flask (124) Stanley (58) YETI (20) SLEEPING BAGS A different company (91) Western Mountaineering (84) Marmot (50) BACKPACKS Osprey (425) Granite Gear (235) A different company (135) TREKKING POLES Montem (464) LEKI (242) Black Diamond (56) SOCKS Darn Tough (1,150) Smartwool (882) Farm to Feet (370) PREPACKAGED MEALS Packit Gourmet (318) Backpacker’s Pantry (167) Good To-Go (119) HYDRATION PACKS Gregory (398) Osprey (332) Ultimate Direction (243) WATER TREATMENTS Grayl (185) MSR (180) Katadyn (59) HEADLAMPS Princeton Tec (147) Black Diamond (146) Petzl (114) CLIMBING SHOES La Sportiva (464) Scarpa (132) Evolv (120)
The polls are still open: Go to snewsnet.com/tag/poll to weigh in. PAG E
business / shop talk
Numbers Game To run a successful outdoor shop, you need to know gear. But you’d also better have a basic knowledge of retail math—or you’ll crash and burn. BY AMELIA ARVESEN
t doesn’t take an MBA to know that if a business isn’t profitable, it’s doomed. So says Geoff O’Keeffe, who’s worked for Patagonia, Lowe Alpine, Mountainsmith, and Kelty, and currently consults with brands and retailers through O’Keeffe Consulting. Dust off your calculators, campers. If you’re in retail, you need to know these crucial equations. Just remember, cautions O’Keeffe, “Calculations and metrics don’t tell us what to do—they simply inform our decisions.”
1. The Floor Plan Strategy Yearly net sales ($1 million) ÷ Square feet of the shop (2,500) = Dollars per square foot ($400) Knowing how much money you get out of each square foot underscores how crucial it is to have a strategic floor plan. For example, a dense accessory fixture likely produces higher dollar sales per square foot than the giant tent display. Accessories are cheaper; therefore, more people will buy them. O’Keeffe says this equation can inform where you allocate dollars and how you set up the store. Find balance.
2. Order, Reorder, Repeat Yearly net sales ($1 million) ÷ Average annual inventory ($250,000) = Stock turn (4 times per year) This equation measures a store’s efficiency, but not profit per se. A turn is the number of times inventory turns over (necessitating a reorder) within a time period. Three to four stock turns is a good target. Less than that could mean you have too much money sitting in inventory. “Achieving higher turns depends on having a muscular buying department and a reliable source of supply,” O’Keeffe says. Keep track of turns and set higher goals to boost efficiency.
FIGURES ARE HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLES.
3. The Profitability Equation Yearly net sales ($1 million) – Cost of sales ($550,000) ÷ Net sales ($1 million) = Gross margin (45%)
WHAT ABOUT OVERHEAD? To calculate what you should be spending on wages and payroll, travel, utilities, rent, marketing, supplies, and the like, multiply your gross margin by net sales. Take out profit and what’s left is the cap for your Selling, General, and Administrative (SG+A) Expenses. A good way to manage SG+A is to set a percentage goal for each specific expense, such as 8 to 12 percent for payroll. “Know what the numbers are and watch how they change, and review them each month,” O’Keeffe says. Watch for trends before they become problems.
Gross margin shows you whether sales are sufficient to cover costs. Say you buy 100 fleece jackets at $50 and sell them all for $100. Your sales are $10,000; your gross profit is $5,000 at a gross margin of 50 percent. But if you buy 125 jackets for the same $50 and only sell 115 at full price, then sell the remaining 10 at zero margin, your sales are $11,500, and your gross profit is $250 more. “Dollars go in the bank, percentages don’t,” O’Keeffe says. “You rarely get it exactly right, but the holy grail is buying enough to fulfill your customers’ needs and selling it at full price.”
4. Buyer-to-Browser Ratio Number of transactions (75) ÷ Traffic (300 people) = Conversion rate (25%) Every retailer should invest in a traffic counter because they reveal key info, such as how you should staff your store and when to open. Conversion rate has a lot to do with location. If you’re a destination store, you may not see a lot of foot traffic, but people are likely seeking you out to buy. If you’re located downtown, lots of customers walk into your store—but not necessarily to buy. This provides insight for assessing effectiveness of marketing, sales, and other changes. “Watch how these metrics change and ask why,” O’Keeffe says. Maybe a newspaper ad brought in a lot of traffic but didn’t drive sales. Was the ad worth it? That’s what you decide.
business / doing good
Business, Better Why aren’t there more B Corps in this industry? BY JILL SANFORD
here’s plenty of talk about sustainability and social justice in the industry these days. But when it comes to real commitment to better business practices—legal, money-whereyour-mouth-is certification as either a benefit corporation or B Corp—most players still have cold feet. So what’s the holdup? First, a definition: Certified B Corps meet the industry’s highest social and environmental standards. They offer things like on-site childcare to employees, use an ethically sourced supply chain, or pay employees to volunteer. Certified B Corps earn their accreditation through B Lab, a nonprofit that uses a rigorous assessment tool to evaluate how a company’s operations impact its workers, community, and environment. One step down are benefit corporations, which don’t quite meet B Lab’s standards but have still written ethics into their legal structure. They’re allowed in 34 states (and confusingly, might colloquially call themselves B Corps, too). In an era when a brand’s values matter more and more to discriminating shoppers, either status sounds like good strategy for businesses interested in purpose over profit. And after Patagonia registered as a certified B Corp in 2011, many assumed the rest of the industry would follow. “But we’re
still waiting for that domino effect,” says Andy Fyfe, who oversees community development at B Lab. Of the roughly 2,700 certified B Corps worldwide, a mere 3 percent are from the outdoor/ fitness/sporting goods sector—including sunglasses brand Bureo, hammock maker Kammok, and fly-fishing brand Fishpond. A major factor: Earning B Corp certification is just plain hard. While other sustainability bona fides have attracted more interest—1% for the Planet, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Higg Index—each represents only a piece of the full B Lab requirements. “Our certification is a lot more holistic,” says Fyfe. “It looks at everything from employees to governance to board structure to the environment.” NativesOutdoors, an apparel company that incorporated as a legal benefit corporation in 2017, is one of many up-and-coming brands that haven’t yet met B Lab requirements. “The benefit corporation was the best sort of business arrangement for a person who is very skeptical about being a business owner, and even about capitalism,” says founder Len Necefer. “It was a way for me to ensure that my values are always a part of NativesOutdoors.” Eventually, Necefer plans to pursue B Corp certification. “It’s a little bit unattainable for companies as small as ours,” he says. “Which is fine: It gives us a milestone to shoot for.” And the process is rigorous for a reason: It makes the B Corp label really mean something. “I hope it creates an environment where we can cut through shallow sustainability marketing material and get a clear read on which companies are fully, legally committed to doing business better,” says Lindsey Elliott, co-founder of retailer Wylder Goods, a legal (but not yet certified) benefit corporation. “This industry is fundamentally dependent on ecosystem health, so I think it’s the perfect place to see B Corps gain momentum.”
Poster Children The question isn’t why brands tap outdoor celebs for endorsements—it’s why not?
hen you think of Conrad Anker— conqueror of summits from Alaska to the Himalaya, silver screen star of Meru, avalanche survivor—his baby-soft skin is perhaps not the first attribute that comes to mind. So last February, when he posted a couple of photos of himself smiling with his family and fellow climbers alongside a shout-out to Dove Men+Care on Instagram, we initially scratched our heads. “I’m proud to be partnering with @DoveMenCare, a staple in my post-climbing routine, to celebrate all dads crushing their double-duty life at work and at home,” read one. “Our skin goes through a lot out there which is why it’s important to help skin rebound with products like @DoveMenCare that hydrate and cleanse,” noted the other. Then again, what brand wouldn’t want to associate its goods with someone like Anker? By linking its men’s line with him,
Dove sends a clear message to mainstream consumers: Here’s a cleansing facial scrub for tough guys, men who sleep on glaciers and haul packs that weigh as much as a fifth grader and stand at 29,000 feet without silly little extras like supplemental oxygen. And likewise, the brand also reaches out to Anker’s core followers, a bunch of dirtbags who perhaps had never considered the need for mineral sage body wash—until now. Dove Men+Care is hardly the first mainstream brand to seek out outdoor personalities for endorsements. Outdoor athletes and other luminaries have a proud history of shilling for everything from batteries to tablets to banking apps, each company hoping that a bit of the celebrity’s determination, bravery, and all-around badassery will rub off on their products. Can you match the wilderness superstar with the brand he or she has endorsed? A.
1. Melissa Arnot Reid, mountaineer B.
2. Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder
C. BY ELISABETH KWAK-HEFFERAN
3. Sasha DiGiulian, climber
D. 4. Ed Viesturs, mountaineer
E. 5. Erik Weihenmayer, mountaineer
Answers: 1. B, 2. D, 3. E, 4. A, 5. C PAG E
PHOTOS BY (FROM TOP): COURTESY; KRISTIN HOSTETTER; TIM DAVIS/ PATAGONIA; MARV WATSON/ RED BULL CONTENT POOL; EDDIE BAUER/ KYLE DELEU; SKYLER WILLIAMS
business / messaging
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business / in brief
Adidas Outdoor’s Greg Thomsen Moves On The industry veteran says goodbye to the franchise he helped build in the U.S. BY KENJI HAROUTUNIAN
he clock is ticking on Greg Thomsen’s time as managing director of adidas Outdoor. When the brand officially leaves its West Los Angeles headquarters to join the adidas main campus in Portland,
Oregon, in January 2020, Thomsen won’t be joining. Thomsen took the helm in 2010 with the charge to build an authentic outdoor business under the adidas athletic brand umbrella, adding Five Ten in 2011. After his team grew the books roughly 25 percent each year, the top brass in Germany decided it was time to bring management and distribution of the American business under the global team’s control in Portland. Five Ten will also integrate with the new structure, possibly in a co-branded approach. Thomsen will work with the new general manager, Michael Kadous, on the transition over the next 18 months, with plans to step down in December 2020. As for what’s next: Thomsen is keeping his options open and looking forward to having more time for guitar and fly-fishing. “I’m excited for the future and feel blessed that our team has had great success with adidas,” he says.
Smaller Trade Shows on the Upswing ore and more retailers report they’re looking beyond the juggernaut trade shows like Outdoor Retailer to a new crop of smaller, regional, and more focused events. Shows like RVX (RVs), IRCE (technology), Capsule (women’s fashion), and the Outpost Trade series (the “outdoor lifestyle space”) attract outdoor retailers looking for a business edge, a more curated selection of brands, immersive brand storytelling experiences, or simply to stretch their trade show budgets. Many smaller trade events are growing quickly, even as new ones launch. With Interbike on hiatus, alternative cycling shows are picking up the slack: California’s Sea Otter Classic cycling festival reports attendance is up 30
It’s time to annoy them for a change.
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business / in brief
percent in 2019, and the CABDA Expo, once limited to the Chicago area, has expanded to five regional shows. The watersports-focused Paddlesports Retailer debuted in 2017, and the specialty running event RIA Kick Show launched in Denver in early June. “I’m here to try to connect the dots in these industries and find where the opportunities are,” said John Mead, president of California’s Adventure 16, at last March’s RVX show in Salt Lake City. Indeed, the show inspired him
“I’m here to try to
connect the dots in these industries and find where the opportunities are.” - JOHN MEAD, PRESIDENT OF ADVENTURE 16
to add a #VanLife Village to his shop’s annual swap meet sale last May, featuring vans and small RVs loaded up with outdoor gear. –KH
Catapult Accelerator’s First Class Debuts n-demand hot showers (p. 49). A safer, stronger bike pedal made with rare earth magnets. A gear rental platform built to boost brick-and-mortar revenue (p. 31). These three new products and their creators are making the rounds at Outdoor Retailer’s Summer Market and will debut as exhibitors this fall, thanks to a new collaboration between Active Interest Media (publisher of The Voice, SNEWS, BACKPACKER, and Climbing), Moosejaw Mountaineering, Outdoor Industry
Association, and Outdoor Retailer. Last summer, these organizations launched Catapult Accelerator, a small-business training program that’s unusual among incubators in that it doesn’t take any equity from founders in return for the mentoring, networking, and marketing support it provides. The program will begin accepting applications for its second cohort later this summer. The members of Catapult’s first class—Geyser Systems, Hustle Bikes, and Gearo—spent 12 weeks last spring shuttling between Gunnison’s ICELab entrepreneurial hub and Boulder, where they collaborated with the AIM, OIA, and Moosejaw teams. “We founded the accelerator to support innovation, pure and simple,” says AIM CIO Jon Dorn. “We’re thrilled to give back to the industry by fostering creative, passionate entrepreneurs, and everyone is stoked to see orders already being written.”
Steve “Doom” Fassbinder
down to get dirty since 2000
Award winning Tents, Sleeping Bags, Pads and Camp Furniture
FOUND AT OUTDOOR STORES GLOBALLY AND AT BIGAGNES.COM
Andrew Burr ponders options along the 200 mile Great Salt Lake loop. 6 days of bikepacking, packrafting and living in the dirt.
business / show biz
kick the habit The outdoor industry unites in an effort to make the ubiquitous single-use plastic bottle extinct. BY CHRISTINA ERB
he outdoor industry’s exodus from Utah to Colorado over Bears Ears National Monument was a reckoning for both the industry and corporate politics. It might have been the industry’s first collective flexing of its muscle, but it’s not its last. To wit: the crusade to make single-use plastic bottles obsolete at Outdoor Retailer and beyond. More than 190 brands (see p. 38) have joined the Plastic Impact Alliance to reject single-use plastic bottles on the show floor and, instead, host water stations. Another 700-plus attendees have pledged to bring their own reusable vessels to this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. It’s a big moment—one long overdue. The outdoor industry is built on the back of brands that prioritize sustainability. While many of them take bold environmental stands and invest money and resources into greening up their supply chains, we have largely failed to do the little things, like stop using plastic keg cups at our happy hours.
At our gatherings, the same people who’ve touted sustainability and environmentalism have regularly contributed to one of humankind’s most dire problems: It is not hyperbole to say that our planet’s plastic problem has reached pandemic proportions. “We can’t recycle or upcycle our way out of this problem because only 9 percent of the single-use plastic bottles ever makes its way into recycling,” says Kelly Blake, vice president of Catapult Creative Labs and co-creator of the Plastic Impact Alliance. “There’s no amount of recycled fleece that can create an upside there. That’s why we created this call to arms.” Reusable bottle companies CamelBak, EcoVessel, Hydro Flask, Klean Kanteen, Nathan, Stanley, Ultimate Direction, and United by Blue, alongside five other outdoor brands, immediately answered. Since then Blake and her co-founders, colleague Kali Platt and Kristin Hostetter, editor of The Voice and SNEWS, have been inundated with companies wanting to get involved. “It’s about time the industry has come together on this,” says Michelle Fleming, marketing manager for Stanley. “It’s just a no-brainer. There’s just no excuse anymore.” Fleming invited a half-dozen water bottle brands to share the Outdoor Industry Association breakfast sponsorship with Stanley
this year to underscore a unified front. “It’s a power in numbers game, and now there is a rallying point in the Alliance,” says Damien Etchaubard, marketing manager for Helly Hansen Canada. And change begets change. The Colorado Convention Center is now limiting the sale of single-use plastic bottles to one under-the-radar location. Outdoor Retailer is making sure it’s impossible to go thirsty by adding more water stations and providing every registered attendee with a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. Floor maps and signage will feature icons directing attendees to Alliance member water stations. It’s even removing single-use aisle carpeting from the hallways. And more change is in the air: OR is doing a rigorous sustainability audit at Summer Market. “Brands have been advocating for this for at least a decade,” says Jennifer Pelkey, senior marketing director for Outdoor Retailer. “Push, push, push,” she adds, “and eventually the rock gives.”
Will you join the anti-plastic movement? To join the Alliance or request more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is creative services director at Catapult Creative Labs.
business / face off
Will Specialty Retail Survive? Two industry players go head to head on the future of iconic gear shops.
not through wholesaling. BY MIKE GLAVIN, FOUNDER OF ZENBIVY
Wholesale-supplied specialty retail as we’ve known it in outdoor is unsustainable. The almighty preseason wholesale model, where retailers buy product prior to production, then ultimately resell it to consumers, is fundamentally and fatally flawed. Our industry has traditionally treated retailers as though they were the customers. But in reality, the buyer’s opinion about what’s going to sell next year is often uninformed and consistently inaccurate, and yet our whole industry is based on that conglomerated guess. The
crowdfunding model has already made the entire outdoor industry preseason-buying-selling-tradeshow system obsolete because you can pre-sell directly to the true customer and get an exact read on what to build, right down to the precise size and color mix. (I have proven it now, twice.) This model also forces brands and retailers to compete. They both own duplicate inventory that they’re trying to sell to the same customer. They are, by definition, direct competitors that are pretending to be business partners. Worst of all, it forces retailers to be buyers, owners, and managers, when they could be selling and creating compelling customer experiences. And it kills innovation. Since retail buyers have no idea what will sell next year, they mostly buy the same stuff that’s selling this year, ensuring that your “specialty” product mix is always backward focused. Countless times buyers have told me how great a new idea is, only to buy a “test” assortment that’s dwarfed on the shelf by their commitment to yesteryear. Then they wonder why it fails.
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business / face off
yes, if we do it right. BY KRISTIN CARPENTER, CEO/ FOUNDER OF VERDE BRAND COMMUNICATIONS AND HOST OF THE CHANNEL MASTERY PODCAST
The wholesale model might need to modernize, but it’s crazy to think physical retail is headed for an apocalypse. The bigger picture is that outdoor consumers demand choice, and that will always include brickand-mortar stores. The hybrid model of both physical and direct-to-consumer retail is de rigueur from formidable organizations like Amazon, Warby Parker, and Target. These are the companies training our consumers to expect frictionless research and commerce experiences. They continue to invest in
physical retail because consumers demand it as a channel. The trend of consumers researching online, then picking up or buying from a store isn’t going anywhere. Outdoor specialty brands and retailers are adept at selling through experiences. Whether it’s boot- or pack-fitting, consumer events or clinics, bike repair or ski/ snowboard mounting, our physical retail is part community and part helping prepare consumers for adventure. The key is to stay on top of what customers want from your store, and create the experience they expect. That builds trust and loyalty that can’t be mimicked with an online-only business model.
Glavin Rebuttal While it’s true that some retailers “offer experiences,” that’s not the foundation of the outdoor specialty model. Unless specialty retailers dramatically evolve their role, they will continue to diminish in importance until they are obsolete. Retailers need to stop buying like mass merchants and investing in inventory, and start focusing on creating those experiences.
WILL SPECIALTY RETAIL MAKE IT? SNEWS readers weigh in. 18% Yes, it’s alive and well 3% I don’t know. 9% It’s dead. 71% It needs to modernize, but it will survive.
Carpenter Rebuttal Shop owners can provide exceptional retail experiences by focusing on what they’ve always done best—serving their communities. The problems start when shops rely too heavily on the gear itself to create that experience. But if a shop is completely focused on serving a community, and product is just a part of that (curated to provide a unique experience), then it will thrive.
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Fresh Faces Our industry is changing— and you don’t have to look much further than these four. They’re already pushing the boundaries of representation, inclusivity, creativity, and gear, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish next. Welcome to our future. BY RONALD GRISWELL
JUST SAY NO TO PRO DEALS / WORKING REMOTELY / CLIMBING’S BIG MOMENT SHOUT-OUTS AND LOVE /PR FOLKS TELL ALL PAG E
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (TOP LEFT); COURTESY
culture / fresh faces
32 1 2
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (TOP LEFT); COURTESY
culture / fresh faces
Latasha Dunston 26, FREELANCE ILLUSTRATOR
Baltimore-born artist Dunston trained in scientific and preparatory medicine illustration in college. But when the Denver resident discovered en plein air painting—the full-on French Impressionist kind—it was an epiphany. “I didn’t know it was a thing people actually did,” she says. She built her own mobile setup and started to take it on hikes, leaving the four walls of her studio behind (see p. 104 for a glimpse at her portfolio). But it wasn’t until a trip to Lodged Out, an off-the-grid retreat in Leavenworth, Washington, that her style and voice came together: As a black woman, she realized that people of color are underrepresented in the outdoors. Whether she’s illustrating herself as the subject or making sure that her hand is represented in a photo of her paintings, she’s injecting her distinctiveness into the work she creates. “I want to showcase myself and the people like me who spend time on trails,” she says. “We are a reflection of nature, and nature is a reflection of us.”
3 In 2015, while Reinhold was on a road trip, a receipt flew out of his car window—and he was haunted by the accidental littering. His penance? A vow to pick up 100 pieces of trash. The #TrashTag project was born—a social movement to inspire the masses to clean up. It didn’t stop there. As an ambassador of UCO Gear, Reinhold brought his promise to the company, and they upped the ante by pledging to pick up 10,000 pieces by the next year. Then it caught on globally: An Arizona man shared a cleanup photo and asked “bored teens” to take before-and-after pics of a public area they’d cleaned, and the hashtag—also known as the #TrashTagChallenge—hit the big time. “All of a sudden,” Reinhold says, “it started spreading like wildfire.” As of May, #TrashTag has been mentioned 92.5K times on Instagram—and counting. “It’s evolved from just picking up trash to a vehicle to talk about environmental issues,” he says. “It’s really cool that one flyaway receipt can have such a ripple effect.” [ACTIVI S M]
Steven Reinhold 34, FOUNDER OF #TRASHTAG
[SAFE S PACE S]
Rocco Kayiatos 39, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF CAMP LOST BOYS @ROCCOKATASTROPHE
As a transgender man, Kayiatos has put his identity front and center for a while: He’s a hip-hop musician (stage name: Katastrophe) and he co-founded the first print publication dedicated to trans male culture, Original Plumbing. In 2017, he met two guys who’d gone on a retreat for trans men but didn’t find the transcendence they were seeking. So they built it: a rugged, summer camp–type weekend retreat called Camp Lost Boys. It’s the type of adventure that trans guys didn’t get to have as kids—or, if they did, didn’t experience as boys. (And most adult camps aren’t queer or trans friendly, says Kayiatos.) Though campers participate in the usual—archery, hiking, fireside chats—they also detach from a false sense of connection via social media and reengage with real people outdoors, forming deep bonds between themselves and the land. For some, says Kayiatos, attending Lost Boys is a “lastditch effort to save themselves. They undergo a profound shift through the brotherhood they find in nature.”
One day last year, Barone and her husband, Andrew, wanted to get outside for an adventure; they googled paddleboard rental in Denver and had to call scads of shops for pricing, availability, and product details. Ultimately, they gave up in frustration. “That’s when we realized the outdoor gear industry hadn’t transitioned to the 21st century,” she says. After a few conversations with retailers, it became obvious to Barone that there was no platform to adequately manage rental transactions—so she launched Gearo to fill that void (see p. 25). Its goal is twofold: equip small rental shops with tools and software to manage their inventory, and provide adventure seekers with a single place to view bookable rentals. “Retailers can increase foot traffic and revenue because about 50 percent of all bookings are done online right now,” she says. Through Gearo, “I just want to take rentals to a whole new level,” she says. “We’re giving shops the ability to run like a Fortune 500 company.”
Justine Barone 33, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF GEARO @OUTDOOR_GEARO
4 PAG E
culture / unfiltered
Deal or No Deal It’s time to self-police our pro form habit. BY DREW SIMMONS
s card-carrying members of the outdoor industry, we’re wellknown for our self-reflection and self-awareness on the trail. We’re in tune about the impact left behind by our footprints, our vehicles, our trail trash, our manufacturing waste, our dog poop … and that’s just the short list. As a community, however, we have an additional impact that’s frequently overlooked. We don’t just make stuff and use stuff. We buy it, too. We choose it wisely and wear it proudly in our hometowns and on our home trails. And when we do that, we influence the people around us who look to us for ideas, for tips—and even for purchasing recommendations. “What did you see at OR that was cool?” “What should I get for my big trip?” “Can you help me get a deal?” It’s awesome that the outdoor industry (OI) is so into being the OI. We win every time our trade show disperses, sending home thousands of energized outdoorists with a full dose of stoke. This natural spreading of influence is a longstanding tradition. But there’s a difference between sharing a little industry knowledge—and permanently propping open the back door to insider deals. The practice of pro forms or pro deals has long been a staple of the outdoor
industry. And, to a certain extent, the lure of cheap gear is what drew many into the fold. But it’s time to admit that those deals are in full mission creep. They have a real-world impact, and we can all do a better job of treading lighter in this delicate zone. There’s no official industry-wide data, but even a quick cruise through your email and social media feeds will clearly show that the scope of insider deals is big and getting bigger. The idea has stretched far beyond its original concept—and audience—expanding from an occasional perk for legitimate industry professionals into a seemingly constant fire sale for anyone even remotely associated with them on Facebook. This permanent discounting is a red flag for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its direct impact on your friendly neighborhood outdoor shop. On the whole, widespread industry discounting is a negative downward spiral that feeds on itself as it trains our best consumers to only buy outdoor products when they’re off-price—and only at cerSIMMONS, SPREADING INFLUENCE ON THE RIVER
“There’s a difference between sharing a little industry knowledge—and permanently propping open the back door to insider deals.”
tain times of year. We should think about outdoor gear in the same way we think about our favorite restaurant: Even the dirtbaggiest of dirtbags will happily contribute an extra 20 percent or more for the kind words, the efficiency, the aboveand-beyond of a good server. Your local outdoor shop, in contrast, never asks for a tip (or expects one), yet in many cases their service goes far further than the pouring of a double skinny wet chai latte. The flat price for a great piece of gear— well-fitted and properly chosen—always includes the hidden discount of that missing gratuity. We all know that online is only going to get bigger—and the best shops are going to stick around, too. But what will be the balance between the two? It’s like an election right now, and every purchase we make is our vote. Look. I’m not high. I’m not standing on a soapbox saying that everybody— including me—should go cold turkey and never accept a pro deal. That’s not realistic, and that’s not my point. What I am saying is that if we actually want to proclaim our love for our community, and we want to support its long-term health and growth, then we need to check ourselves on how much we tap into this privilege—and the extent to which we share it around. We need to wrap our heads around the impacts of unnecessary discounting, embrace the duty of paying full retail, and keep tabs on the not-so-subtle influence we each have on the behavior of the consumers closest to us.
COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU BACKPACKER Ambassador extraordinaire, Randy Propster, returns to host the 19th year of this national traveling Tour. Whether you are an experienced backcountry traveler, planning your first overnight trip, or simply want to upgrade your current hiking and camping skills, the Get Out More Tour is for you.
UPCOMING EVENTS JULY
9 10 16 18 19–20 24–28
Quest Outdoors Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters REI - DC REI - Boston Mount Washington Observatory FloydFest
Photo: Katie Yarborough
AUGUST 1 7 8 13 14 16–18 20 21
REI - Overland Park Sunlight Sports The Basecamp REI - Spokane REI - Olympia PCT Days REI - Eugene Redding Sports LTD
Louisville, KY Blue Ash, OH Washington, DC Boston, MA Conway, NH Floyd, VA
6:30 PM 6:30 PM 6:30 PM 6:30 PM All Day All Day
Overland Park, KS Cody, WY Billings, MT Spokane, WA Olympia, WA Cascade Locks, OR Eugene, OR Redding, CA
6:30 PM 6:30 PM 6:30 PM 6:30 PM 6:30 PM All Day 6:30 PM 6:30 PM
Look for the Get Our More Tour in your area April–November 2019. For tour schedule, dates and details visit BACKPACKER.COM/GETOUTMORE
culture / 9 to 5
Remotely Possible The outdoor industry could be missing out by not embracing remote workers. BY COREY BUHAY
red Perrota and Jeremy Cohen were friends from different cities. So when they started an adventure travel backpack company together in 2011—but reached a stalemate on who should move—they decided to found Tortuga as fully remote. A work policy that started as necessity became a new worldview: Tortuga’s employees now live all over the globe, and the company has no traditional home base. Says Taylor Coil, Tortuga’s marketing director, “Your life should dictate where and when you work, not the other way around.” Gaia GPS, the backcountry navigation
app company I work for, is much the same. I’m one of 17 full-time employees working in 11 states. The geographic spread allows us to share and test use cases for the app across different parts of the country—ideal given that factors like cell service availability, public land makeup, and recreational preferences vary by region. For Tortuga, remote is a way for the adventure travel company to ensure that their employees can use the gear the same way their target audience would: traveling. Tech is one industry that has been quick to embrace the idea of a fully remote staff—and sales, nonprofit, and PR firms are also increasingly jumping on board. In fact, according to a 2018 study by Virgin Pulse, a global health and well-being technology and services company, one-third of employees always or very oftenwork remotely, and a number of studies show the number is only increasing. For companies, giving applicants the option to work remotely broadens the talent pool. It also makes a strong statement about work-life balance, which is ideal for employee retention. In an increasingly crowded market, authentic brand image is rising to the forefront of marketing priorities—so remote work seems like a clear benefit for outdoor brands. And for an industry tied to the health of the planet, eliminating the carbon cost of daily commutes is an added bonus.
But the reality isn’t quite so simple. Take Outside magazine’s job postings: You’ll see that most specifically discourage remote applicants. Outside’s Digital Editorial Director Axie Navas acknowledges that this might affect their hiring pool. Despite that, one of the biggest reasons for Outside’s policy is that proximity begets spontaneity. “We have standing meetings where we just spitball,” she says. “Free-flowing idea generation is a little more challenging when you’re on a conference call or Zoom link.” According to Jeremy Town, VP of finances and operations at the Outdoor Industry Association, the hesitation extends beyond outdoor brands’ unwillingness to give up ties to their geographic roots. A lot of the apprehension comes from the unfamiliarity of the remote work system, which requires a thoughtfully implemented support structure to build a seamless communication flow and strong company culture. “There’s definitely a learning curve,” he says. Typically, remote employees are expected to ensure that at least a few of their online hours overlap with those of their coworkers. That way, spontaneous conversation can occur via communication platforms like Slack—or even during informal video “lunch hours.” What’s more common is a hybrid: Some companies have a few remote employees (such as nonprofit SheLift and PR firm Bold Brew), and others offer flexible work policies. At Big Agnes, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, employees are expected to take half days every Friday and can participate in company programs that give them paid time off outside of their allotted two weeks of vacation. However, the vast majority have to work in town. As of now, Tortuga, Komoot, and Gaia GPS are still among the few outdoor brands that have gone all-in with remote policies. But Town says they’re likely just the start of a growing list. “Overall, we’re seeing a trend toward remote in the industry,” he says. “It’s coming. And the more you fight it, the more you’re not going to have access to the talent you need.”
PHOTO BY LOUISA ALBANESE
THE AUTHOR, IN HER OFFICE
culture / the dirt
Starring: Climbing Is the growth of the sport fueling a golden age in climbing films? It might just be the other way around. BY SHANNON DAVIS
ecently, a climbing flick won an Oscar—an award generally reserved for, like, real movies. Movies with Meryl Streep in them. But you already know this. You’ve followed Tommy Caldwell as he scouted the Dawn Wall for seven years and finally topped out with his partner Kevin Jorgenson amid a media frenzy. You’ve seen Alex Honnold, fueled by sautéed veggies and the world’s most uncluttered psyche, free solo El Cap. At this point, even your dad can probably articulate the differences between free climbing and free soloing. So how did climbing films become so mainstream? Maybe it’s this simple: More people are climbing. “I’d attribute the rise in climbing’s popularity to bigger demographic trends, not just to films,” says Honnold. “Growth in urban gyms and bouldering gyms has done more for the sport than any movie ever could. A film might pique interest, but it’s generally the community in a gym that keeps people in the sport.” I tend to agree. I was editor-in-chief of Climbing from 2012 through 2015. During roughly that same stretch, the growth of climbing gyms outpaced the growth of traditional gyms and fitness clubs by 39 percent. The Climbing
Wall Association predicts that indoor climbing revenue is poised to break the billion-dollar mark in 2021. Climbing Business Journal has reported growth so widespread that it can’t even decipher regional patterns. Even small towns like Cody, Wyoming, can support a gym. This broadens the climbing community and creates a national lift in climbing interest. But the steady rise of climbing films, from annual stoke-reels to award-winning, feature-length art pieces, is inseparable from this growth. If you could overlap bar graphs of total climbing numbers and the revenue and total reach of films like Valley Uprising (2014), Meru (2015), The Dawn Wall (2018), and Free Solo (2018), I’d bet they’d look about the same. “The mainstream media coverage of climbing—Hondo on 60 Minutes, the Dawn Wall’s media blitz—opens it up to a world of people who otherwise would have no idea what it is,” says Julie Ellison, a producer on the upcoming all-women climbing film Pretty Strong. “But they want to try it, so they go to the gym and get hooked.” And, in Ellison’s opinion, increased attention has changed the identity of the sport—what it is to people, how they do it, and how they talk about it (and by
Early videos were really made for hardcore fans, but we’ve learned how to make stories accessible to everyone. Climbing has such inherent drama and so many metaphors for life.” –JOSH LOWELL, BIG UP PRODUCTIONS
“talk about it,” she means “post on social media”). “Climbing used to be a subculture of nonconformists,” she says. “Part of that was not broadcasting your accomplishments, not having anyone else know you were living in a cave in Yosemite Valley and eating cold beans from a can.” Now, climbers are just as likely to be “the computer programmer who developed the Siri function on your phone.” Josh Lowell, director at Big Up Productions (Dawn Wall, Valley Uprising), sees another upside to climbing’s huge coming out. “When I started filming in 1997, if I said I was a climber, people immediately asked me about Everest,” he says. Now, for filmmakers, there’s a much larger potential audience for climbing stories. At the same time, the ability to capture dramatic climbing footage and tell compelling human narratives around it have greatly improved. Climbing films are getting way better, period. “Early videos were really made for hardcore fans,” he says, “but we’ve learned how to make stories accessible to everyone. Climbing has such inherent drama and so many metaphors for life.” Not only have filmmakers raised the bar, but so have the athletes. And that might be the biggest factor of all. “What Honnold or Tommy pulled off should be mind-blowing to anyone, whether or not they’ve ever set foot in a gym,” says Nick Rosen, partner at Boulder-based Sender Films. “Now that we have lightweight camera technology and dedicated storytellers to bring those feats to the screen, why wouldn’t people watch?”
MEET THE FIRST CLASS OF CATAPULT 2019 BY MADY KOLLER
If you were hanging from the edge of a cliff, a new business venture would probably not be at the top of your mind. But for Craig Payne—founder of Hustle Bike Labs and creator of the REM Pedal—it was a relevant thought. The mountain biker was enjoying a ride when he hit a boulder patch too hard and couldn’t unclip his shoes from his pedals fast enough. He was sent careening over the edge of a cliff. Luckily, he survived to tell the tale, but all it took was that moment for him to realize there was a problem that needed solving. Payne shared his story and pitched his startup on May 12, 2019 during the inaugural Catapult Outdoor Recreation Accelerator. Outdoor Retailer, Outdoor Industry Association, Moosejaw Mountaineering, and Active Interest Media (AIM, parent of SNEWS) teamed up with ICELab@ Western to present a revolutionary 12-week program for entrepreneurs in the outdoor industry. This program gave
three startups—Gearo, Hustle Bike Labs, and Geyser Systems—the opportunity to grow their company from inside the industry with specialists, mentors, and resources at their disposal. After presenting their products, the founders were questioned by a group of panelists Bruce Dotterrer of
concerns, company goals, and more.
These innovators are paving the way for the future of the outdoor industry, pushing boundaries and offering up creative solutions in their respective niches.
Gearo founder Justine Barone saw a need for an outdoor gear rental booking service when, upon searching for paddle-board rentals in Denver, was met with a mountainous list of options. Her mission is to “simplify the rental gear discovery and booking process” by connecting users to local mom and pop rental shops, streamlining the process both for customers and retailers. Gearo is unique in that it is the sole rental booking service that encompasses all interests in the outdoor industry, from mountain biking to skiing and beyond.
Ballesteros of Geyser Systems was faced with this very problem while spending a year living out of a van in Australia. his body with only a washcloth, he wished for a water pump system that had an attachment to make showering outdoors Systems—“the world’s best hot portable shower.” Using one gallon of water that weighs only 11 pounds when full, it’s no wonder they are up for Outside Magazine’s 2020 Gear of the Year Award. Of the $1.4 billion in mountain bike sales during 2018, over $50 million of that was spent on pedals. Craig Payne, founder of Hustle Bike Labs and an avid mountain biker, wants to settle the biggest debate in mountain bike enthusiast, the decision can often be neither option provides both the performance-driven and safe send craved by all. So Payne created the REM Pedal, a revolutionary magnetic pedal system that he says will change the way you bike.
culture / homage NENA, ANITA, RICHARD, AND DICK KELTY IN THE EASTERN SIERRA
shoulder straps. Some credit Kelty, who would be turning 100 this year, with the growth of backpacking after World War II. (In short, he made the sport less painful.) Says Richard Kelty, his son, “He recognized that the lighter your pack was, the more fun you were going to have.”
Cutting Down on Cutlery
hird-party food delivery isn’t a new idea. (Exhibit A: UberEats.) And neither is feeling guilty about the extra plastic cutlery that comes with your gyro. Delivery Dudes, which operates in close to 70 cities nationwide, has a spin we like: As of May 7, anyone placing an order can opt out of receiving single-use plastics. According to DD, they receive up to 5,000 orders a day. If every customer declined utensils, 7.3 million spoons and knives wouldn’t end up in landfills or the ocean every year.
lovefest Paying respect to outdoor awesomeness
A Century of Dick Kelty
efore former carpenter Asher I. “Dick” Kelty came along, backpacks were made of canvas bags and heavy wooden frames (ouch!). But in 1952, while tinkering in his garage in Southern California, he came up with the external-frame pack and a laundry list of firsts: light aluminum frames, nylon compartments sewn together from military parachutes, hold-open bars at the top of the bag, and padded
Tilting at Wind Turbines
K, so chances are slim that Washington Governor Jay Inslee will become president—in a field of more than 20 Democratic candidates, he polls at the bottom of the
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
culture / homage pack. But from the moment he launched his campaign at a solar power firm, he’s audaciously gone all-in on climate change as the issue that connects us. And that’s going to push other Dems to address it, too, and commit more than lip service. “This marks an important moment in the evolution of climate change in American politics,” says Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
told us. “But top young climbers are really excited too,” he added, laughing. “It might be the retro look.” Klettersacks are already in production, and should be available on wildernessexperience.net by July.
Love Letter to used Gear Shops
The Klettersack is Back
rothers Jim and Greg Thomsen, along with Jim’s wife, Laurie, started a guide service called Wilderness Experience (Wild X for short) in 1971. A few years later, they debuted the Klettersack—a leatherbottomed pack that became a favorite of legends like Fred Beckey. In 1986, Wild X became the first outdoor company to go public, but the ’sack slowly disappeared. Flash forward to today: Jim recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the classic (see it on p. 50), and as of press time, he’d exceeded his $20K goal. “Older climbers love it, of course,” Jim
By Patricia A. Cameron y first camping trip would never have happened if not for a low-lit, warehouse-like secondhand gear shop called Gearonimo in Colorado Springs. When I first walked through the door, I was hit with that thrift store smell of affordability. After feeling out of place and overwhelmed by all the expensive gear at other retailers, the hand-labeled racks at Gearonimo gave me the confidence
to start asking questions. The owner had all the time in the world to explain the pros and cons of tents, footprints, and tarps, and didn’t judge me when I chose the cheap tarp option. When I finally splurged on a new sleeping bag, it was because I’d bought multiple used bags to try all the options—without putting holes in my bank account. So let’s shout out to all the used gear shops out there. Thanks for making the outdoors accessible to this single mother with recreational dreams bigger than her budget. You nurture people’s passions and grant them access to their outdoor ambitions. Your unpretentiousness and inclusivity inspires me, and I’m paying it forward: I started a wilderness expedition company for low-income folks, Blackpackers, and I aim to subsidize the costs. Remember all those used sleeping bags? I kept them as inventory for my business. I hope to help others in need discover their own outdoor adventure.
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The Companion Spark can ignite a fire even in the worst conditions. Housed in the handle is a Swedish Ferrocerium Rod capable of 3,000+ strikes. The high quality Scandi stainless-steel blade stays sharp, is easy to maintain and features a 90-degree spine grind that throws sparks from the ferro rod with minimal effort.
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culture / 5 hard questions Who’s talking
Flack Talk We sat down with three PR pros to grill them about their jobs, from the nitty to the gritty.* *CONVERSATION HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED FOR SPACE AND CLARITY.
Drew Simmons (@WickedOutdoorsy) President and founder of Pale Morning Media. Clients include Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, Dogfish Head Brewing, and Oboz Footwear.
1. What do you do when you have to promote a product that … sucks? Massimo Alpian: I’m very transparent with my clients; I try to prevent it from getting to that point. If I’m at a sales meeting before the product goes into the world, I ask hard questions, test it, and let them know that, listen, it does suck. My goal is to be with them through design, marketing, everything. Elana Rabin: Getting your hands on a piece early is important—sometimes I even give it to a journalist I trust for feedback. In the end, the brand is going to push out what they want, and you can only go so far with certain products. Drew Simmons: Even if you’re holding
product X and it’s not everything you hoped it would be, try to see the context: Why did it get to market? What’s the story behind it? Working with a product that’s mainstream, or affordable, rather than a rock-star item, is how to figure out whether PR is really for you. 2. How do you tell a client they’re wrong? DS: It’s not how you tell a client they’re wrong, but how many times. You can’t bow down. No one hires a PR agency because everything is working perfectly. They hire us because they need some help. MA: Each brand has its own specific culture, communication method, and in-house dialogue with different protago-
Get Heard iN TO ADVE RTI S E C ON TACT CAS EY VAN D E N OEVE R CVAN D E N OEVE R@ AI M M E D IA. C OM
culture / 5 hard questions Massimo Alpian (@massimoalps, @outsidepr) PR director at Outside PR. Works with brands such as HOKA ONE ONE, Backcountry, and CamelBak.
nists. We have to navigate those and talk to the right people in their own language. 3. What if a client gets into deep shit? ER: From a PR perspective, it can be fun! (Thought that’s probably not what brands want to hear.) We have a crisis plan that goes back to the core values of the brand: Are the people who got upset really the people we’re trying to reach? If they’re not, you have to ride it out—and maybe lose some customers. DS: If a client did something that was ethically questionable, you could say, “I have a client conflict,” PR code for wanting out. I was doing PR during earlier economic crises, and I learned that not all news necessarily has to be told.
Elana Rabin (@mountngoat, @haytercomm) Senior account manager at Hayter PR. Represents Helly Hansen, Danner, and Myaderm.
MA: PR’s job is to protect the client—and advise them. If it’s really deep, we’d say: Be accountable, recover, and move on. 4. Is PR worth it in the age of social media? DS: Traditional media is in a challenging place right now, but social media is way worse off in terms of trust. Key publications and websites continue to have the faith of consumers. The idea of earned media in the era of social media is still really powerful. MA: I’d even say that PR has become even more relevant. Consumers are extremely savvy about the monetization of social— they know what’s paid and what’s earned. And that makes the earned side more im-
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portant. On press trips, I even give writers a social media kit explaining how to post. ER: Social media is often how people learn about brands. So we need to embrace new ways to tell brand stories that include imagery, digital, and video. 5. What annoys you about the media? DS: When they get on social and complain about bad PR people. It happens with disturbing frequency, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a PR person on social grinding about a bad media person. ER: Last-minute, non-critical requests: Hey, can you overnight something tomorrow for my girlfriend? And because the relationship is important to you, you do it!
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The voice 50
The hottest products of the season, ranked. BY RYAN WICHELNS
aahhh, summertime: our industry’s annual renaissance of cool new stoves, sleeping bags, backpacks, and trail garb. Combing through the onslaught is a real project. But with the help of our veteran team of highly opinionated gearheads, we plowed through hundreds of PR pitches, Kickstarter videos, product shots, emails, and news articles. We discussed and debated. We heckled and hurrahed. Then we pulled together our 50 favorites, and ranked them according to their stoke factor.
ALSO IN THIS SECTION: RETAIL SALES TRENDS / TENTS DITCH TOXIC CHEMICALS / REI’S SUSTAINABILITY MANDATE
gear / the voice 50 1. Primus Firestick Ti [$120]
THE PROMISE This ultralight
stove sheds ounces without sacrificing function. THE DEETS That elusive balance is thanks to air-intake holes and a pressure regulator to improve fuel efficiency and cook times, regardless of the weather. When stored, the pot supports protect the burner and eliminate the need for a case. And it weighs just 2.7 ounces. Stoves don’t come much lighter than that. THE STOKE Our ouncecounting top chefs are eager to fire this one up.
2. Big Agnes Torchlight UL
[$380-$420] THE PROMISE An all-new
suspension makes heavy loads comfortable. THE DEETS A rotating hipbelt—and a strong aluminum frame—helps keep the AMG centered on the iliac crest during climbing or scrambling. Foam of varying thicknesses along the shoulder straps and backpanel keeps things comfy even under big loads (up to 80 pounds). THE STOKE Could this be the load monster we’ve been waiting for?
[$399] THE PROMISE This bag has
it all: thermal efficiency when you need it, and extra roominess when you don’t. THE DEETS The DownTekstuffed Torchlight has expandable panels along the torso, hips, and legs: Just a few zips and it converts from a traditional mummy to a roomy semi-rectangular (warm down to 20°F), all for just 2 pounds, 1 ounce. THE STOKE One sleeping bag to suit all moods. Smart.
3. Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Shirt
4. Mountain Hardwear AMG 105
5. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe [$140] THE PROMISE It’s a beefier,
more comfortable take on Therm-a-Rest’s best seller. THE DEETS This 4-inch-thick mattress has two stacked layers of triangular baffles that create a stable sleep surface while minimizing heat loss (R-value is 3.7). The new, larger one-way valve makes inflating three times faster. THE STOKE Sounds downright dreamy.
6. Edelrid Swift Protect Dry 8.9
THE PROMISE This alpaca
fiber shirt will be your new favorite adventure tee. THE DEETS Made in North Carolina from 100 percent alpaca fiber, this tee is naturally moisture managing, temperature regulating, odor resistant, lightweight, flame resistant, and hypoallergenic—not to mention super-comfy. THE STOKE As far as we know, it’s the first-ever alpaca wool hiking shirt, and it’s
THE PROMISE This skinny
rope is twice as tough as the competition. THE DEETS High-strength aramid fibers—traditionally used in aerospace and the military—are woven into the rope sheath during the braiding process. THE STOKE Durability and stretch are usually mutually exclusive, so this tech is potentially a big advancement.
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR); COURTESY
awesome stuff—like merino but maybe a little better.
PHOTOS BY LOUISA ALBANESE (MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR); COURTESY
gear / the voice 50
8 7. Zamberlan 3030 Eiger Lite GTX RR BOA
11 can get on board with the latter, but not the former.
[$679] THE PROMISE No time is the
8. Big Agnes Salt Creek
wrong time to adjust the fit of these supportive mountaineering boots. THE DEETS The BOA lacing system on the inside of this integrated-gaiter boot is adjustable from the outside (via a watertight hole in the Cordura fabric), meaning climbers can tweak the fit even in the middle of a route, without opening the gaiter. Weight remains low for a boot of this caliber, thanks to a carbon fiber midsole. THE STOKE Zamberlan likes long product names but quick-adjusting boots. We
[$299] THE PROMISE This two-per-
son tent has three doors and pitching options galore. THE DEETS Set it up like a traditional two-door-andvestibule arrangement or a wide-open, vesti-plus-awning chill zone. Steep side walls maximize living space, and the whole thing weighs just under 4 pounds. THE STOKE All that versatility at a low, backpackable weight. We’re sold.
9. Tecnica Origin [$170]
THE PROMISE It’s the very
first truly custom-fit trail running shoe. THE DEETS The Origin allows retailers to thermo-mold these shoes, creating a one-of-akind fit for each customer. THE STOKE Our testers loved Tecnica’s moldable hiking boot, the Forge, and we expect to fall in love all over again with these babies.
which makes for a 2-inch-tall, supportive, and cushy sleeping pad that packs down tiny. THE STOKE Self-inflator or air pad? This could be the best of both worlds.
11. The North Face Ultra Traction Futurelight [$155] THE PROMISE Say goodbye
to sweaty feet. THE DEETS It’s the first shoe
10. NEMO Flyer Self-Inflating [$119] THE PROMISE Combine the
thickness of an air pad with the plush durability of a foam mattress. THE DEETS The Flyer’s foam has a hollowed-out core,
using The North Face’s new (last season) Futurelight membrane, which renders the mesh upper both ultrabreathable and waterproof. THE STOKE The shell version tested well, so we may finally see some competition for Gore Surround in footwear.
gear / the voice 50 13. Ortovox Westalpen Softshell Pant
THE PROMISE A unique
THE PROMISE Skip the
second zipper keeps things ultrabreathable. THE DEETS This ultralight (just 7 ounces for the men’s), three-layer, 100-percent recycled nylon waterproof emergency shell has an innovative second zipper opposite the offset main one that lets runners easily access food, water, and supplies stored in the chest pockets of their running pack/vest, while also doubling as ventilation. THE STOKE The double chest zippers look a little funny, but with the extra breathability, the last laugh might belong to you.
gaiters; they’re built into these stretchy Schoeller softshell climbing pants. THE DEETS The Westalpen’s hem adjusts in three increments to perfectly fit over any boot. The strap—made of abrasion-resistant Dyneema— wraps under your boot sole to keep the pants down, then neatly stores away when you don’t need it. THE STOKE Gaiters are so yesterday. There, we said it.
[$849] THE PROMISE Meet Oru’s
lightest-weight, most compact, and least expensive
14. Oru Kayak Lake
kayak ever. THE DEETS The 10-foot-long
Lake, designed for casual, near-shore paddlers, origamis down to the size of a small rolling checked bag—and only weighs 19 pounds. THE STOKE Minimal space? No problem. Three or four of these fun boats can fit in the trunk of a hatchback.
15. Peak Design Travel Tripod [$350-$600] THE PROMISE This profes-
sional tripod fits into your pack’s side pocket. THE DEETS With nesting parts and a slick design, this ‘pod is all about efficiency. The legs—available in either aluminum or carbon fiber for ultralighters—extend to create
a full-size, pro-worthy tripod that’s sturdy enough to handle a DSLR and big lens. THE STOKE “Yes! Yes! Yes!” says our staff photographer.
16. Gregory Paragon [$200-$250] THE PROMISE It’s the
ultimate multi-day load-hauler: dialed for comfort and convenience. THE DEETS The dynamic suspension system has free-floating hipbelt panels for a smooth ride, and the packbag is built for life on the trail. Available in three men’s and three women’s (the Maven) sizes. THE STOKE. It’s an old favorite made even better: the bread and butter of the backpack world.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
12. Patagonia Storm Racer
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
gear / the voice 50
17. Geyser System [$350]
THE PROMISE It’s the
world’s most advanced portable hot shower system. THE DEETS A typical camp shower uses 7 gallons of water and gets you kinda clean. The Geyser uses only 1 gallon—pumping it electronically through a sponge— letting you scrub as you go for a complete, home-like clean after just a few minutes. THE STOKE The price is hard to swallow, but this gizmo seems like a big win for #vanlifers.
18. Sierra Madre Hot Pocket [$139-$179] THE PROMISE It’s an adven-
ture-ready heating pad that doubles as a compression sack for your sleeping bag. THE DEETS Lithium-ion batteries crank out up to six hours of heat on a single charge, perfect for pre-warming your sleeping bag (right in the sack), or for inside your bag as an emergency boost when the temps drop. THE STOKE Multipurpose gear makes us happy. And for cold sleepers, this could be an answer to your prayers.
19. Snow Peak Kojin Grill [$730] THE PROMISE It’s an elegant
solution for camp cooks who take their craft very seriously. THE DEETS This packable stainless-steel charcoal cooker features three adjustable zones that let you grill a ribeye steak, roast a lemon and garlic stuffed chicken, and bake a pineapple upside down cake — all at once. THE STOKE Here’s to next-level cookery at the campground this summer.
20. Osprey Archeon 30 [$TBD] THE PROMISE A minimalist
design hides features galore. THE DEETS Osprey’s latest
daypack has the technical chops we’ve come to expect— a top-loading main compartment, raincover, reservoir sleeve, fixed top lid pocket, and dual ice axe loops—all built into the minimal look.
Available in men’s and women’s models and multiple volumes. THE STOKE This clean pack is a breath of fresh air from the company known for its bells and whistles.
21. United By Blue Bison Trail Sock [$28-$32] THE PROMISE Keep your
feet comfy and warm while sparing landfills. THE DEETS Made from bison wool scraps that would otherwise end up in the can, these socks perform like your favorite traditional woolies: warm, wicking, and durable. THE STOKE Repurposing trash into performance socks? Sounds like a good plan to us.
gear / the voice 50
THE PROMISE This burly,
weight-hauling pack is now even lighter. THE DEETS This pack is made for long, self-supported treks deep into the backcountry. Thanks to a new mesh backpanel system, redesigned pockets, and new materials, the pack is a full pound lighter (at 6 pounds, 11 ounces) than its predecessor. An integrated daypack supports shorter jaunts from basecamp. THE STOKE When you’re carrying a heavy load, the weight of your backpack shouldn’t rub salt into the wound.
[$130, including four attachment “mods”] THE PROMISE It’s so much more than a water bottle. THE DEETS This Kickstarter sensation is a 1-liter, widemouth collapsible bottle with a series of interchangeable caps, which morph it into a water purifier, a camp shower, or a hands-free drinking system. It’s double ended for versatility when it comes to changing the caps, and tough silicone mounting loops let you attach it just about anywhere without ‘biners. Made of BPA-free, food-grade silicone, it’s dishwasher and boiling-water safe. THE STOKE The price is pretty steep, but we’re curious about this. Jack of all trades or master of none?
24. Vasque Breeze AT GTX [$190] THE PROMISE Bring on the
rough terrain. THE DEETS Taller and
stiffer than the wildly popu-
lar Breeze, the AT GTX has a reinforced, waterproof leather upper and a Vibram MegaGrip outsole aimed at load-carrying backpackers. THE STOKE We love the original’s comfy-out-of-the-box fit. If that holds true for this version, it will be a winner.
25. Wilderness Experience Klettersack (2019 Edition) [$125-$150] THE PROMISE A true classic
makes a comeback. THE DEETS In the 1970s and
’80s, the Klettersack was a staple of the golden age of climbing. But when Wilderness Experience died off years later, so did the pack. Original founders Jim and Greg Thomsen are relaunching an exact replica (see the deets on p. 40). THE STOKE A good comeback story, handsome retro looks, elegant functionality, and bomber durability. Want.
26. Condition 1 Nutrition Bars [$40-$45 for 10] THE PROMISE These handcrafted, organic meal replacement bars have more protein than any other on the market. THE DEETS This company was conceived in a combat zone by a U.S. Marine who dreamed of a meal replacement bar that doesn’t suck. He came home and developed these. Each oversized bar weighs about 3.5 ounces and has 25 grams of protein to provide lasting sustainable energy while rebuilding muscle and fighting fatigue. Available in three flavors. THE STOKE We tasted them: Even bar-haters enjoyed the soft, cookie-like texture and homemade taste.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
22. Deuter Aircontact Pro 70+15
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
gear / the voice 50
31 27. Outdoor Research MicroGravity [$249] THE PROMISE The line
between hard and softshells gets a little blurrier with this stretchy, super-breathable option. THE DEETS The electrospun membrane is now even more air permeable, making it ideal for athletes on the move. THE STOKE Stretchy shells are the new norm, but next-level breathability might up the ante.
in mind, the Veloce is as comfortable as a beginner shoe but aggressive enough to work hard climbs, thanks to a narrower, downturned design, a stiff midsole in the front of the shoe, and Scarpa’s new supersoft and sticky S-72 rubber. THE STOKE Comfort or performance: Usually there are tradeoffs, but perhaps Scarpa has found the magic bullet.
[$139] THE PROMISE This soft,
form-fitting climbing shoe doesn’t skimp on performance. THE DEETS Built with a variety of different climbers
30. Helly Hansen Odin 3D Air Shell Jacket [$350] THE PROMISE The 3D Air
29. Innova Thaya [$1,199] THE PROMISE It’s an
28. Scarpa Veloce
chambers, to let you dance through class 2 rapids. Packed, the 13.5-foot-long kayak easily fits into a small closet or an SUV and weighs just 39 pounds. THE STOKE A rollable inflatable? This we gotta try (after we learn to roll, of course).
inflatable kayak that you can actually roll. THE DEETS The Thaya goes from compact bag to bay in less than 10 minutes. Inflated with an ordinary foot pump (not included), it’s rigid enough, with seven individual
has the wispy weight of a 2.5-layer rain coat combined with the durability of a three-layer shell. THE DEETS Traditionally, if you want a lightweight, budget-friendly rain jacket, you get a 2.5-layer shell. But if durability is your thing, you go with three-layer. Helly’s new, thick 3D-printed backing pro-
tects the membrane without the weight of a full extra layer of material. THE STOKE The weight savings of this 11.4-ounce shell will need to carry the day since it costs about as much as a three-layer.
31. SOLE Jasper Eco Flip [$85] THE PROMISE It’s the
world’s most environmentally-friendly sandal. THE DEETS Every part of this flip is green: The knit strap is ethically sourced merino and recycled PET; the carbon-negative footbed comes from recycled wine corks; and the anti-microbial silver chloride treatment is recycled. THE STOKE These sandals already make us feel like better people.
gear / the voice 50 32. Stanley Adventure Even-Heat Camp Pro Cook Set [$140] THE PROMISE One cook set.
Everything you need. THE DEETS All the tools
for prepping, cooking, and serving a feast while car camping—it’s all included in this efficient and space-saving nesting package: two three-ply stainless steel pots (4.5 and 1.8 liters) with vented lids, a frying pan, cutting board, silicone trivet/pot holders, spatula, and serving spoon. The whole enchilada weighs 8.2 pounds. THE STOKE Grab your spork and ket the feast begin!
33. Trail Fork Spicy Grits [$8.50]
THE PROMISE Thought
you didn’t like grits? Think again. THE DEETS Made with finely ground cornmeal, cheddar cheese, whole milk, and a secret spice blend, these Spicy Grits are easy to prepare and tasty any time of day. Cool: Trail Fork offers a thru-hiker support service, shipping boxes of food to resupply points along the AT, JMT, or PCT. THE STOKE Maybe we can skip the hot sauce?
THE STOKE It doesn’t
THE STOKE We’re ready to
get more nichy than solo, four-season, ultralight tree-dwellers. But that elite group is sure to be stoked about this one.
put this bad boy to the test this summer.
34. Tentsile Gen3 UNA [$279] THE PROMISE Meet the light-
est four-season tree tent. THE DEETS This solo
all-weather hanging tent weighs just 5 pounds and keeps you and your gear
36. GoLite Men’s 9-inch ReActive Boxer Brief [$32]
35. MSR Habitude Tent Series [$500-$600] THE PROMISE It’s the ideal
crash pad for families. THE DEETS Vertical walls and
75- (or 78- for the six-person) inch peak height give families plenty of room to move around, lounge, or stand up to change, and a big vestibule adds even more storage space. Beefy, 68-denier ripstop polyester throughout the body ensures the Habitude will stand up to a good old
THE PROMISE This breath-
able and moisture-wicking underwear is just as good for the planet as it is for your nether regions. THE DEETS One pair of these undies keeps two plastic bottles from the landfill. The soft, stretchy, stink-proof fabric has open-weave stripes that add ventilation (and style), and a wide, soft elastic waistband for comfort. THE STOKE Does that 9-inch inseam mean no more riding up? Hope so.
36 PHOTOS BY COURTESY
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
gear / the voice 50 37. Hillsound BTR Stool
[$55-$59] THE PROMISE It’s a new
twist on the classic lightweight camp chair. THE DEETS This 14-inch camp stool packs down tiny and weighs only 14 ounces, making it a good choice for backpackers. With telescoping legs and a triangular seat, the BTR will get your butt off the ground and make every camp nicer. THE STOKE BTR stands for “better than a rock,” but that may be an understatement.
38. Smartwool Women’s Merino Sport UltraLight Hoodie [$130] THE PROMISE A cozy merino
merino jacket, only better. THE DEETS Made from
superlight recycled nylon, the outer shell fabric has the requisite DWR coating to provide weather protection, while bodymapped panels of merino mesh offer breathability and temperature control on the inside. THE STOKE If it pans out in testing it could be the new go-to layer.
39. Stromer ST3 [$7,499] THE PROMISE It’s the sports-
car of commuter e-bikes—fast and luxurious. THE DEETS The new ST3 offers just the right amount of support, comfort, stability, and thrust (up to 28 mph in just a few pedal strokes) to get you to work feeling fresh and road-rage free. Cruise for up to 110 miles on a single charge. Plus, built-in lights keep you seen and a rack holds your lunch. THE STOKE Because sweat stains on your office attire are so unseemly.
40. Hala Rado [$1,349] THE PROMISE Built with
whitewater and adventure in mind, this inflatable SUP is the big daddy of overnight expeditions. THE DEETS Suited for larger paddlers, this board has some hefty rigging ability so it can schlep mega gear. It features Hala’s Stompbox, which is a retractable fin system that
allows for smooth sailing in technical rivers. THE STOKE Load her up and paddle her down the Hala Rado! Get it? (Say it fast!)
41. Wraapit [$168-$181] THE PROMISE This smart-
watch was born to be wild. THE DEETS Rather than
forcing you to dig under jackets or take off gloves,
the Wraapit’s oversized band snaps over sleeves like a ’90s slap bracelet, making it easier to see your messages, control music, get directions, and more. Big, glove-friendly buttons, an operational temperature down to -4° F, and a 30-day battery life keep it ready for any adventure. THE STOKE For those of us inclined to wear smartwatches, this is intriguing.
gear / the voice 50
45. HydraPak Flux Flexible Bottle
THE PROMISE It’s fea-
THE PROMISE Specifically
ture-rich and affordable. THE DEETS This 314-lumen lantern offers both bright white and soft amber illumination. It sports a carabiner clip for hanging and a dual-purpose, light-diffusing storage bag, all in a package small enough for backpacking. THE STOKE A neat little lantern at a decent price.
designed for hikers, this soft-sided water bottle is as easy to use as those hard-sided ones. THE DEETS The newest addition to HydraPak’s soft-sided bottle line stands up on its own (with water in it), but packs down as tiny as ever. It features embossed welded soft walls that provide durability and a grippy texture and a spill-proof cap that’s compatible with most filters for easy refilling in the backcountry. THE STOKE No more spilling water while you try to filter.
43. Merrell MTL Long Sky [$130] THE PROMISE When condi-
tions change, this trail runner knows how to adapt. THE DEETS Merrell’s latest has a tear-resistant, breathable mesh and TPU upper, reflective details, a molded TPU heel counter for stability in rocky terrain, an internal bootie that locks in the fit, and a Vibram MegaGrip outsole that sticks on both wet and dry surfaces. THE STOKE Looks like a solid pick for serious, long distance trail runners.
44. Eagle Creek Caldera Luggage [$249-$569]
47 PAG E
THE PROMISE These high-
tech bags will reward you for flying with them. THE DEETS With a computer chip (à la Apple Pay) built into these rugged Cordura bags, users can sync to their phones to track mileage, activate a lost and found tracking functionality, and even unlock rewards (exact rewards TBD). The line includes bags of all shapes and sizes, rollers, and duffels. THE STOKE It’s like traveling social media built into your duffel bag.
46. Costa Rinconcito [$259] THE PROMISE Behind the
style, you’ll find durability and sweet optics. THE DEETS This new edgy curved frame is made from a bio-resin material with integral spring hinges, and comfy nose and temple pads. Available with a variety of lens colors. THE STOKE We wear our sunglasses at night.
47. Arctic Zone 30 Self-Inflating Cooler [$37] THE PROMISE It keeps your
beer cold when you need it, and folds up flat when you don’t. THE DEETS Packed, this cooler is the size of a loaf of bread, but with the turn of a valve, it self-inflates in under 15 seconds and can hold up to 30 cans. It keeps drinks cold for two days, has comfy carrying straps, and it floats. THE STOKE Bye bye to the bulky coolers taking up space in your gear closet.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
42. NiteIze Radiant 314 Rechargeable Lantern
gear / the voice 50
48 49 48. LEKI MCT 12 Vario
THE STOKE Losing the need
THE PROMISE This trekking
to buy separate hiking and trail running poles might be the key to justifying the Vario’s price.
pole is ideal for both hikers and trail runners. THE DEETS The Micro Cross Trail (MCT) 12 Vario features a new hybrid grip with the lightweight ergonomics needed for trekking and the close, secure fit of a powertransferring trigger and strap for trail running, making it comfortable and efficient for
49. Chaco Sidetrek [$100-$110]
trist-approved arch support, but adds a hydrophobic mesh upper for ventilation and sidewall ports for water drainage. Comes in low- and mid-cut. THE STOKE We never want to take our Chacos off. Now, with a more versatile option, we don’t have to.
THE PROMISE Classic
Chaco comfort meets a do-it-all shoe. THE DEETS It’s built around Chaco’s standard podia-
50. YETI LoadOut GoBox [$250] THE PROMISE This gear
box is a versatile fortress of
secure organization. THE DEETS Organize and
store your gear in a waterproof, dustproof, YETI-tough cargo box made out of the same injection-molded plastic as some of the brand’s super-tough coolers. THE STOKE Overbuilt? Very likely. But if you want to upgrade from your Rubbermaid bins and trick out your life on the road, put this on your list.
SEEDING SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH THROUGH A MENTORING AND MARKETING COLLABORATION The Catapult Outdoor Accelerator is a business-mentoring program that nurtures startups by providing training, marketing, operational support, and networking. Our mission is to support innovation and business diversity in the outdoor industry by supporting businesses with exciting new products and retail solutions. We challenge entrepreneurs to create solutions that enable enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors with a higher degree of comfort, safety, and satisfaction. We’re especially interested in startups led by women or minority ownership and those focused on promoting sustainability and diversity through their products.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Retailer in November later this year. We’re looking for our next group of cohorts to enroll in the 12-week intensive mentoring program for Fall 2019. Be a part of a great thing! Contact Jon Dorn at email@example.com to learn more about Catapult or to be a mentor.
PA R TNER S
Gear / forecast
What’s selling this summer—and what’ll be the next big thing? We consulted top retailers across the country and got the scoop on brands’ most exciting upcoming innovations to find out. Here’s what to look for in packs, bags, tents, and more. BY COURTNEY HOLDEN
THESE 10 LEADING RETAILERS SHARE WHAT’S HOT RIGHT NOW ACROSS THE COUNTRY. JAMES DONG, founder of the four-yearold Last Minute Gear 1 in San Francisco, recognizes the catch-22 of introducing the outdoors to new people: Rookies can’t always afford the best gear, which can impact their experiences. Solution: Let people rent a selection of quality items for a great price—and then buy it new if they like it.
At The Kayak Centre 2 of Rhode Island, “We can ask customers, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going? How are you going to use it? Who’s going to use it?’” says store manager MATT BOSGRAAF. “Then we give them three or four options to choose from.” Pine Needle Mountaineering 3 has been a fixture in downtown Durango for more than 40 years. And the shop is as committed to its Colorado community as residents are to it. In addition to specializing in quality mountain equipment and apparel, the shop and owners, ASHLEY GONNELLA AND JEREMY DAKAN, donate thousands of dollars in goods and services to local organizations each year. Want gear and beer? Outdoor 76 4 in Franklin, North Carolina, is your one-stop shop. The service-driven store not only outfits Appalachian Trail hikers with topnotch outdoor products, its 2,000-squarefoot taproom quenches their thirst. Co-owner ROB GASBARRO wagers their craft beer selection is “the best west of Asheville.” JIM FRANK, owner of Ozark Outdoor
Supply 5 in Little Rock, Arkansas, dubs his nearly 50-year-old company a “quintessential gear shop.” Started in 1971 by an “old dirtbag hippie,” Ozark specializes in mountaineering gear but sells everything. “If you want to climb El Cap or do a safari in Africa, we’ll outfit you.”
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
The trend report
Meet the Panel
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Gear / forecast
In addition to selling, servicing, and renting gear, Rutabaga Paddlesports 6 in Madison, Wisconsin, also leads a flatwater paddling school and hosts Canoecopia, the largest consumer paddle show in the country. DARREN BUSH, who took the helm 17 years ago, says, “The only thing I like more than paddling is seeing a new person get in a boat and light up. It’s a stoke, a total stoke.”
Where Gear is Going
THE THREE OVERARCHING TRENDS DRIVING PRODUCT THIS SUMMER
The New Breed of Customers
The staff at Outdoor Gear Exchange 7 , based in Burlington, Vermont, takes pride in their wide selection of gear and ability to cater to any customer’s needs, says retail buyer MELISSA MCNELL. OGE also has a significant online sales department run through GearX.com and Amazon. The store has a sister company, Gear Experience, dedicated to fulfillment by Amazon and overseen by AMANDA HANCOCK. Owner TODD FRANK credits the success of his Missoula, Montana-based shop, The Trail Head 8 , to the mix on his staff. The team includes both committed, newer faces and 20-year industry veterans. “Having that balance of fresh new energy with the longer institutional knowledge allows us to be a better community partner,” he says. After all, “At the end of the day, the store is the people.”
ASHLEY GONNELLA & JEREMY DAKAN
Versatility Across outdoor categories, brands continue catering to consumers with a minimalist mind-set. Blame it on Marie Kondo or chalk it up to the Millennial movement toward urban living in smaller spaces— it’s clear that today’s consumer wants to do more with less. “Consumers want one piece of gear that serves multiple purposes and offers a lot of bang for the buck,” says Candyce Hedlund, marketing manager of Kelty. That trend now applies to packs, sleeping bags, and especially apparel, where Tayson Whittaker, founder/designer at Outdoor Vitals, says, “There isn’t a line between daily wear and hiking wear.”
The outdoors is no longer only the realm of limit-pushers and endurance athletes: To today’s new outdoorspeople, hitting the trail in the local park or setting up camp in a parking lot pre-concert is equally respectable. And brands are responding, both by offering tamer product lines at more approachable price points and, importantly, by not taking themselves so seriously. “The younger kids coming up already inherently understand that 90 percent of the time, you don’t need Lycra and Gore-Tex to have fun outside,” says Kavu founder Barry Barr.
Eye for Eco-friendly
1 3 4 5
Green materials and processes are only getting more popular. “The nice thing about these sustainable materials is that as more and more brands use them, the manufacturers put more R&D behind them, and they get both higher quality and less expensive,” says Kyle Thackray, Therm-aRest’s category manager for insulation and pillows.
Gear / trend report
tents Retailer Report
it is out. Campers, particularly new campers, are willing to simplify their camp life, but are less inclined to truly ‘rough it.’” -PAUL LEONARD, EUREKA! CAMPING’S BRAND AND PRODUCT MANAGER
HOT OR NOT Tent trends from Pine Needle Mountaineering, Durango, CO
Big, family-sized car camping shelters
KELTY TALLBOY TENT ($230, SIX-PERSON)
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
OVERALL TENT CATEGORY SALES IN THE CORE OUTDOOR CHANNELS*
ALL-NIGHT PARTY: EUREKA! COPPER CANYON TENT ($300, SIX-PERSON)
WHAT’S SELLING in the tent category? It’s all about location. On the West Coast, where Coachella has inspired a rapidly growing festival culture, the answer is tents with a bigger footprint to house more people, and more creature comforts. “The market is tending to skew more toward people who want to camp versus rustic backpacking,” says James Dong of Last Minute Gear. Head inland toward Boundary Water Country and tarps, which provide additional sun and rain cover beyond a tent, are trending. “Cooking in a vestibule is the worst,” says Darren Bush of Rutabaga Paddlesports. “A tarp is like being outside, except you’re covered.” He adds that while tarps are far from new, the “heavy, clunky” designs of yore have become more sophisticated—and they pack down to the size of a mayonnaise jar. Just off the Appalachian Trail in Franklin, North Carolina, customers at Outdoor 76 want one thing in a tent: “Light, light, light,” says Gasbarro.
SMALL IS BIG: GREGORY WOMEN’S JUNO H20 ($150 FOR THE 30L)
ON THE HORIZON Recycled Threads
Retailer Report WITH THE INFLUX of people getting outdoors for the first time, smaller packs in the 12- to 30-liter range are flying off the shelves. Jim Frank of Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock, Arkansas, points out that the size is also suitable as an airplane carry-on. Also, the relatively low price point feels approachable. “It’s easier to buy a smaller pack or a daypack more frequently,” says Ashley Gonnella of Pine Needle Mountaineering. “A bigger pack is a more conscious purchase that consumers do less often.” Concern for grams varies. Of course, many prefer lighter-weight options, but in Montana, where backcountry hunting is big, Todd Frank, owner of The Trail Head, sings the praises of brands like Mystery Ranch that focus on stable load carrying, sometimes at the expense of weight. “Packs that are designed to carry heavy loads simply work better than lightweight packs,” he says. Osprey continues to be a sales juggernaut with many retailers, both for its quality products and its lifetime warranty.
POPULARITY CONTEST: OSPREY MEN’S ARCHEON 70 (SERIES $190-$340)
GROWTH IN FANNY/WAIST PACK SALES IN CORE OUTDOOR CHANNELS*
Synthetic materials get a second chance at life in many of this season’s packs, and the technology will continue to improve. Mountainsmith’s product line manager, Jeff Popp, suggests keeping an eye out for a new generation of material innovation that mixes lightweight, ultradurable materials like Spectra with recycled nylon and polyester fibers—just give it a couple of years. “The blend of these two fibers will create a new generation of eco-friendly fabrics that are also incredibly strong and lightweight,” he says.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Gear / forecast
*YEAR-OVER-YEAR, 12 MONTHS ENDING FEBRUARY 2019 (SOURCE: THE NPD GROUP) PAG E
Gear / trend report
sleeping bags Retailer Report FOR THOSE HEADING into the backcountry, both down and synthetic insulations have their advocates. In Montana, Todd Frank has the best success with high-end down bags like those from Western Mountaineering, “the ones few of our competitors are willing to stock.” On the other hand, in wetter climates like Arkansas, synthetic bags are his customers’ favorite, says Ozark’s Jim Frank. Sleeping bags prove to be another category where regional differences come out loud and clear. Festival-goers and their glamping brethren seek out more comfortable, double-wide
options that “create more of the at-home feel,” Last Minue Gear’s Dong says. For Outdoor 76’s Gasbarro, The North Face’s The One Bag (with its combination of down and synthetic insulation) has been, well, the one. “That bag has been an absolute game-changer,” he says. “We’ve never had one sleeping bag dominate our bag rack like that.” His customers love it because it fits a wide range of people and hits a great price point ($290). Quilts are also on the upswing, though one retailer has heard grumblings from customers unhappy that the product didn’t keep them as warm as promised. He blames the lack of standardized ratings for quilts, à la the EN rating.
HOT OR NOT Bag trends from The Trail Head, Missoula, MT
Price-point synthetic sleeping bags
ON THE HORIZON Synthetics Step Up As manmade insulation improves in loft, compression, and weight, next-gen synthetic bags are approaching down in performance cred, too. Advancements, like reflective materials to bounce body heat back to the sleeper and siliconized fibers, contribute to insulation that packs
smaller, stays warmer, and weighs less. “Synthetics used to be relegated to the low end of the product spectrum, but new technologies that bring them closer to down are elevating synthetic bags into the high-performance arena,” say Andrew Day and David Kauffmann from the Sierra Designs product team.
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
LIGHT & COZY: KAMMOK BOBCAT SYNTHETIC TRAIL QUILT ($129)
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Gear / forecast
ON THE HORIZON Long-Haul Shoes In the coming years, Innov-8’s Brendan Murray, U.S. sales and marketing manager, expects to see footwear manufacturers create longer-lasting products using more recycled materials and fewer harsh chemicals. With their G-Grip technology, the brand infuses über-durable graphene into the outsole, which not only makes the shoe last longer, but does so without compromising on grip. Brands like Oboz, KEEN, and adidas Outdoor, all of which already incorporate recycled plastic into their collections, are also ahead of the curve.
Retailer Report TECNICA’S custom-moldable Forge hiking collection is driving sales at Pine Needle Mountaineering, where the general buzz about the boot has brought in new customers from outside its southern Colorado area. Gonnella says the molding process attracts those with hard-to-fit feet and gear junkies alike. Thru-hikers, however, are gravitating toward fast and light boot alternatives. “Do we still sell boots? Absolutely, but at a much lower rate than previously,” says Outdoor 76’s Gasbarro. Now that trail shoes are “almost equally as stable as a boot,” the weight savings are worth it. In socks, bland, oatmeal-colored options are out, says Rutabaga’s Bush. Instead, customers are snapping up bright, funky patterns for their feet.
HOT OR NOT Boot trends from Outdoor 76, Franklin, NC
FLEET FEET: HOKA ONE ONE SPEEDGOAT 4 ($145)
$1,122,968,821 OVERALL FOOTWEAR CATEGORY SALES IN THE CORE OUTDOOR CHANNELS*
Heavy leather boots
*YEAR-OVER-YEAR, 12 MONTHS ENDING FEBRUARY 2019 (SOURCE: THE NPD GROUP) PAG E
Gear / trend report
performance apparel Retailer Report
WIND SHIELD: COTOPAXI TECA MIRA HALF ZIP ($90)
IN RAINWEAR, light is right. Gasbarro says his customers are opening their wallets for ultralight shells as the category improves in performance and durability. And Gonnella’s Colorado clientele has gravitated toward lightweight, wind-resistant shells. She’s loved seeing new options from Flylow, The North Face, and Stio round out her previously Patagonia Houdini-heavy rack. “[Customers] want to be able to throw one more layer on over that T-shirt, but it has to be lightweight, so they won’t overheat in it,” she says. In apparel, the UPF category is also cranking up as research continues to point to the danger of extended sun exposure.
Undies Revolution Under performing? You bet your boxers. Brands like SAXX and its patented BallPark Pouch technology have pushed the underwear category to new levels, but Runderwear cofounder Jamie Smalley believes we’ve only scratched the surface: “Very much like the development of
the technical sock market over the past 10 years, whereby consumers have shifted from a general cotton sports sock into sport-specific designs, the sports underwear market is quite possibly on the same trajectory.” The brand is currently looking into new technologies like solar fiber, a foam used in bra cups, which
provides support, comfort, and antibacterial benefits.
Greener Fibers Performance apparel brands continue to push the envelope with eco-friendly advancements. Helly Hansen and Carve Designs think outside the proverbial box by infusing coffee grounds
(for their UPF qualities) and coconut fibers (for their strength) into pieces with 50+ UPF ratings. Meanwhile, Outdoor Research is pursuing dye methods that use less water but still provide broad color options and better color registration (a printing method that aligns overlapping colors).
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
ON THE HORIZON
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Gear / forecast
lifestyle apparel HOT OR NOT
Retailer Report FOR MONTANA’S TODD Frank, managing this category is a matter of balancing the staples that sell well every year with “new, fun, fresh” options. Many retailers mix it up with prints, especially for men. This summer, small, repeating patterns are doing well, as are bold (verging on obnoxious) prints. For women, rompers are on the rise. “They’re a functional (except when you must go pee) and cute one-piece,” says Amanda Hancock at Outdoor Gear Exchange in Vermont. “You can stay cool and still look great.” Overall, crossover products that bridge the gap between trail and town or outdoor and office continue to surge. “People don’t want to buy a bunch of different products,” Gonnella says. “They want something they can wear a bunch of different ways.” In that vein, KÜhl has been “crushing it” for both men and women of all ages, at least for Bush at Rutabaga.
Apparel trends from Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT
WEAR EVERYWHERE: ECOTHS REYNOLDS SHIRT ($75)
Women’s rompers & jumpsuits
LOUD & PROUD: CARVE DESIGNS FLETCHER SHIRT ($72)
TOAD&CO WOMEN’S TAJ JUMPSUIT ($120)
ON THE HORIZON Open Arms As the industry continues to grapple with JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) topics (see p. 68), brands will also work harder to welcome customers “who have been overlooked or silenced by the previously narrow-minded view of what it meant to be ‘outdoorsy,’” says Paige Harvey, Toad&Co head of men’s design. Brands like Columbia, Kühl, and prAna are expanding apparel size offerings (in some cases up to 3X) to help more customers find the right fit.
Gear / trend report
paddlesports Retailer Report SURE, USERS don’t have to carry a boat on their back for miles, but retailers are still seeing their customers opt for lighter-weight floatables that are easier to get off a car and into the water. Plus, these shorter watercrafts are more playful, easier to maneuver, and tend to do well in a wider range of conditions. Matt Bosgraaf, manager at The Kayak Centre of Rhode
Island, has seen sales of fishing kayaks trend upward for roughly a decade, ever since the economy crashed and “a lot of people started selling their power boats when they realized the cost of maintaining it compared to the cost of maintaining a kayak.” The hype of stand-up paddleboards seems to be cooling, but within the category, Bush has seen inflatables do better than so-called hard boards. Why? They’re durable (sometimes more so than hard boards), portable, and easier to store in the off-season.
lighting Retailer Report WHILE STILL A SMALL category dollar-wise, the infusion of new technology—think rechargeables, longer-lasting batteries, and more lumens—into lighting options has pushed the category to the forefront for retailers across the country. Many have noticed customers buying new models to replace their old. “Eventually, it has
to plateau, but if you told me that next year there would be a 900-lumen light with a battery that lasted a month, I would not be surprised,” Outdoor 76’s Rob Gasbarro jokes. And thanks to the relatively low price point, customers are willing to upgrade their old models. Multiple shops also report success with solar Luci lanterns from MPOWERD, noting that the brand’s goal to bring affordable lighting to three billion people worldwide without reliable access to electricity is resonating with consumers.
“We predict all electronics will LIGHT & STRONG: INNOVA TWIST 2+1 ($599)
move to USB rechargeability, so you can bring a single USB energy source and power all your devices. This will completely replace wasteful alkaline batteries in your kit.” -JONATHAN CEDAR, FOUNDER OF BIOLITE
Kayak included, are innovating around the idea of keeping your hands free for fishing, taking pictures, or holding your favorite craft beer or margarita.” -RYAN LILLY, BRAND MANAGER AT JOHNSON OUTDOORS WATERCRAFT
CHARGED UP: BIOLITE HEADLAMP 200 ($40)
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
“Many companies, Old Town and Ocean
PHOTOS BY COURTESY
Gear / forecast
ON THE HORIZON Safer Pro
Retailer Report INTEREST IN CLIMBING is on the rise, thanks to the trendiness of indoor climbing gyms and the media spotlight on films like Free Solo and The Dawn Wall (see p. 38). And retailers have seen a spike in sales of beginner-friendly gear. Dong of Last Minute Gear has noticed more people picking up beginner shoes, and Pine Needle Mountaineering’s Gonnella points to steady sales in smaller purchases, like chalk bags and finger tape, thanks to the ease of getting into a gear-light sport like bouldering.
Cleaner Carry Ryan Holm, director of marketing for Mystery Ranch, points out that the wide-mouth entry and lack of interior pockets in a typical climbing pack make it difficult to keep cams and ropes organized on the way to the crag. So the brand’s new Tower 47 pack features a zippered, flay-open design and internal webbing along the back panel to hang gear.
Black Diamond Equipment introduces the RigidFlex Trigger, a single-stem cam that stays stiff in-hand for faster, easier placement. Once in the crack, though, it flexes again to reduce walking.
HOT OR NOT Climbing trends at Ozark Outdoor Supply, Little Rock, AR
Entry-level shoes with comfy toes
PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: MYSTERY RANCH TOWER 47 ($275)
Expensive, high-performance shoes
eyewear Über-light Shades LIGHT IS RIGHT: ZEAL OPTICS MANITOU ($219)
Kiss bulky frames goodbye: The next wave of sunglasses will feel ever-lighter on the face. Zeal Optics shaves weight with its Z-Lite thin injection frame material, which incorporates air into the frames to make the material featherweight. New models clock in at less than an ounce, including the lenses.
Gear / eco front
cutting out chemicals Mountain Hardwear takes a risk in removing toxic flame retardants from its tents. Will the rest of the industry follow? BY HEATHER BALOGH ROCHFORT
his year marks Mountain Hardwear’s 25th anniversary, but that’s not the only major milestone for the brand: With its Spring 2019 line of redesigned and new tents, it becomes the largest player in U.S. tents to completely eliminate toxic fire-retardant chemicals from its shelters—for good. “One of our core values is environmental optimism, and we evaluated where we could do better,” says President Joe Vernachio. “Fire retardancy chemicals rose to the top. We don’t like them in the finished product, but we’re more concerned about the workers who have to apply them.” That’s because common flame retardant compounds have been linked to a host of serious health issues. A 2016 Duke University study found that the chemicals used in backpacking tents have direct links to cancer, altered hormone function, and neurological problems. Exposure doesn’t take much, either: The scientists detected flame retardants in the air inside
the tents and on the hands of volunteers who set them up. Still, the vast majority of camping and backpacking tents on the market are doused in the stuff, in large part thanks to a 1972 standard by the Canvas Products Association International known as CPAI84. Created to address the fire risk in large event tents, the standard (which is adopted by individual states, not federally mandated) grew out of a 1944 circus tent fire that killed 167 and injured 700. The scope broadened in the ’80s to include all tents, including camping shelters. Currently, California, New Jersey, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Canada adhere to the standard—and because California is such a huge market, brands often follow its regulations for all their products. So Mountain Hardwear’s stand is a bold move: By nixing fire retardants, the brand can’t legally sell its tents in those places. Mountain Hardwear hopes the move will inspire the rest of the market to follow suit. But the choice isn’t as simple for smaller brands, which might not have the financial ability to remove individual states from their distribution systems. THE NEW, CHEMICAL-FREE TRANGO II
Some larger brands have been working on the problem since 2015, when the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) formed a working group with companies like Big Agnes, MSR, and NEMO. This OIA Flame Retardant Task Force aims to update the standards to better reflect the 21st century, or better yet, match the European standards that don’t require such chemicals at all. But as with all legal changes, the red tape is time consuming and costly. “Regulations that have been on the books for a long time are almost harder to remove because there is an inherent fear of the risk,” says Jessie Curry, manager of sustainable business practices at OIA. (As of May 2019, Health Canada was also in the process of updating its regulations). In the meantime, Mountain Hardwear is forging ahead ( joining Fjällräven and NEMO, which both also offer tents without flame retardants). “I understand that any majority tent brand is likely to look at the risk and say ‘I might go out of business if people don’t come along,’” Vernachio says. “But I’m a firm believer of core values, regardless of the result. To effect change, someone has to take the risk to lead.”
Gear / eco front
Clearing the Bar Brands stretch to meet REI’s new sustainability standards before 2020. BY ELIZABETH MILLER
n April 2018, when REI announced mandatory sustainability standards for the 1,000-plus brands it stocks, many partners felt overwhelmed. But in the year that followed—through webinars, OIA-run sustainability bootcamps, and even one-on-one phone calls—Greg Gausewitz, product sustainability manager for REI, says, “Brands have started to realize that, yes, these are meaningful and impactful standards, but they’re also achievable.” For partners, that’s meant learning the ins and outs of REI’s new requirements about the Higg Index, banned chemicals, fair labor, and animal welfare—as well as looking at aspirational targets around fair trade, bluesign certification, and land stewardship. We checked in with three partners to see how their compliance efforts are coming along.
Founder of Kavu, a Washington-based apparel and pack company, which attended a sustainability bootcamp held at REI in Seattle
What was your first response to these standards? When I first got that email it was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” To me the hardest thing on that was the Higg Index, but everything else, we’d already been doing. I came away from the bootcamp like, Boy, we’re really ahead of the game. What’s the most challenging part? Fabric—knowing where it’s woven and dyed. We went all the way back to chemicals for dyeing. Did the fair labor components come as a surprise? We audit [our factories], and we’ve been doing business with most of them for 15, 20 years. We know them. It’s when you’re outsourcing and trying to get cheap stuff that it can get dicey.
Sourcing assistant at Big Agnes, which is working with REI on a pilot project to add a hardgoods component to the Higg Index What changes will these standards bring to Big Agnes?
The most significant impact is how the standards precipitated a comprehensive internal review of all our materials, in some cases opening us up to new material opportunities that we wouldn’t have known about without this external motivator. Have you needed additional help?
We haven’t hired new staff or consultants. We have strong design and sourcing teams who are in the trenches translating our internal goals and part-
ner commitments into everything we make and how we do business. How difficult has compliance been? This isn’t a tack-on, one-time deal for us. It’s helped us crystallize what matters most to us as a business, and as citizens of this world. And when it’s hard—that’s a good thing. It means we’re finding the levers that will guide us forward.
Director of sustainability with The North Face, which helped craft one of the policies now written into REI’s standards How is adoption going? We didn’t have to make many changes in order to meet the minimum standards. Really, they highlight some of the good work we’re already doing: We helped create the Responsible Down Standard, and we’re increasing the amount of recycled materials and using some organic cotton. Which requirements do you think will be the hardest for the industry to meet? If some brands don’t already have a restricted substances list (RSL) or a manufacturing code of conduct, that might be difficult. How will these standards make a difference? It makes it a lot easier to have conversations with our suppliers. If every brand is saying, “We want to meet these standards,” it makes it clear that this is just part of doing business with the outdoor industry.
Higg Index Explainer / The Higg Index is a sustainability-focused supply-chain self-assessment—an online tool set that guides companies through examining their energy and water use, chemical management, transportation, packaging, labor, and product end-of-life. The Higg scores responses to questions about how products are made, helping brands and retailers assess their impacts and identify places to improve.
no pain, no change
On the way toward a more diverse outdoor community, mistakes will be made. But one 30-year veteran of the industry sees progress where others see only problems. BY JAMES EDWARD MILLS
SIGNS OF THE TIMES, FROM LEFT: THE AUTHOR (FAR RIGHT) WITH THE NORTH FACE SALES AND MARKETING TEAM IN 1995; THE AUTHOR (FAR LEFT) JOINS A GROUP OF OUTDOOR DEI ACTIVISTS IN 2015, WHICH WASN’T AN OPTION 20 YEARS AGO.
ike a lot of people who work in the outdoor industry, I got my start in retail. It was 30 years ago this summer, at the REI in Berkeley, California. I’d just graduated from college. I was 23 years old, and it didn’t take long to commit myself to a life of work and play in the outdoors. Over the next three years, I also took a few odd jobs as a backpacking guide and a wilderness first-aid instructor. I got into backcountry skiing and rock climbing and enjoyed life as an overeducated dirtbag. I thought I’d really made it when I landed a job as a sales rep for The North Face in 1992. I showed up in Utah for Outdoor Retailer as a complete stranger to just about everyone. I had yet to meet many of my customers; thus far we had only spoken by phone. I planned to meet one of them at the on-snow demo, in the lodge at Alta.
“How will I recognize you?” she asked. Over the phone, I chuckled and said, “I’ll be the black guy.”
We’ve Come a Long Way Three decades ago, I was among a very small handful of people of color in this field—and the only black sales rep for a major brand. After working with companies like Sierra Designs, Montrail, and Trango, I decided that my skills might be better applied to storytelling. So in 2003, I made a career change to become a business reporter, and also began working for SNEWS. Since then, as a journalist, my job has literally been to observe the outdoor industry and report on it. Over that time, I’ve witnessed a change. When I started my career, the industry’s images, ads, stories, and videos were almost completely devoid of people who looked like me, and diversity was rarely, if ever, discussed. Today the
issue is recognized as one of the highest priorities we face as an industry and has not one but two acronyms (DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion and JEDI for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion). Corporate leaders uniformly agree: The business of outdoor recreation must adapt to the country’s changing demographics and culture. But that doesn’t mean we always agree on how to do it. In the last six months, we’ve entered a new phase on the path toward a more diverse future. And the way forward doesn’t always look pretty. We have disagreements. We have anger. We have rancorous social media feuds. We have calls for resignations and boycotts. But I’ve watched this issue evolve—through both a personal and professional lens—for 30 years, and I see no reason to be alarmed. In fact, where others see setbacks, I see progress.
Mistakes Will be Made Progress can be messy. If you’re just tuning into the discussion of diversity in the outdoor industry, you’ve missed some false starts, wasted opportunities, and abysmal failures. Six months ago, Camber Outdoors, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote equity for women and underrepresented communities in the workplace, announced a CEO Equity Pledge. Problem was, then-Executive Director Deanne Buck, a white woman, described the pledge as “the first of its kind.” It wasn’t. The pledge, intended to help bring more people of color into the industry, captured much of the spirit and language of a nearly identical enterprise called the CEO Diversity Pledge, initiated several months earlier by Teresa Baker, an African-American environmental justice activist. In the aftermath of an online uproar— with claims of cultural misappropriation, theft of intellectual property, and the attempt to erase the accomplishments of a black woman—Buck stepped down from her leadership position. To Camber’s credit, it has aimed to learn from this incident and taken steps to make amends. Under the guidance of interim Executive Director Diana Seung, an Asian-American woman, the organization has suspended its DEI initiatives pending the review and participation of outside consultants with training, expertise, and lived experience in addressing these very complex issues. They opened a dialogue with Baker to incorporate her vision into their plans for the future. Still, Camber has no expectation of getting off the hook anytime soon. “I don’t know if we should be forgiven,
This is the number of people* who make up the Facebook and Instagram audiences of these organizations (right) which promote justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the outdoors. Engaging with diverse affinity groups in their own spaces is a positive step for your business for many reasons. *AS OF MAY 14, 2019
“There can be no path forward if we fail to communicate.”
to be quite honest,” says Seung. “We made a pretty big mistake and we need to own that. We recognize how emotionally impactful that was to the community of people of color and why. And it’s unacceptable.” That’s a remarkable statement considering where we’ve come from. Back in the mid-’90s, most organizations didn’t acknowledge that the lack of diversity in the outdoors—both in terms of participation and employment—was even a problem. I personally tried for years, to no avail, to convince the clothing brands I represented to more directly market our products to underrepresented minorities. Today, many of those same companies are now scrambling to acknowledge the changing demographics of the U.S. population. Indeed, this whole episode came about because we have not just one CEO pledge, but two.
Diversity is … Diverse In recent years, with the expansion of social media, grassroots DEI advocates and other passionate individuals have made an impact across the outdoor industry. It doesn’t take long scrolling through Instagram to find evidence of a new generation of avid enthusiasts climbing, skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and paddling all over the planet. That’s great, and so is the social and political influence that comes with the growing visibility. Activists have drawn attention to the lack of diversity in
Brothers of Climbing, Brown Environmentalist, Brown Girls Climb, Brown People Camping, Color Outside, Fat Girls Hiking, Flash Foxy, Girl Trek, Indigenous Women Hike, Latino Outdoors, Latinx Hikers, Melanin Base Camp, Native Women Wilderness, NativesOutdoors, Out There Adventures, Outdoor Afro, Outdoor Asian, Queer Nature, She Explores, Unlikely Hikers
mainstream media, as well as the limited number of black and brown folks who work in retail stores, as backcountry guides, on nonprofit boards, and as corporate executives. And of course, they can help find flaws in well-intentioned but ill-conceived diversity initiatives, as with the Camber CEO Equity Pledge. But as with any thriving, dynamic community, diversity also means diverse opinions. And this can lead to conflict, even among people who are working toward the same goal. Such was the case in November of last year, during the 2018 SHIFT Festival in Jackson, Wyoming. At the event, which “explores issues at the intersection of outdoor recreation, conservation, public health, and cultural relevancy,” several members of the Emerging Leaders Program alleged to have experienced racial discrimination, tokenism, and emotional trauma. The program is intended to train culturally diverse leaders to support SHIFT’s mission, but Executive Director Christian Beckwith, a white man, was accused by a group of participants of creating an environment that was unsafe and insensitive to the needs of marginalized minorities. “It is clear that Mr. Beckwith is underprepared and ill-equipped to lead an organization that seeks to center equity work in the outdoors,” the group declared in an open letter on the website Medium. A social media campaign was launched to demand Beckwith’s resignation from SHIFT and the Emerging Leaders Program. Beckwith acknowledged his errors but rejected the idea that he should step down from the organization he created. “I would also like to express that the depth of my remorse is matched by my commitment to ELP alumni and future participants to create a better, safer program, one that helps us develop a movement of people working in concert to protect these places we all love and need so dearly,” Beckwith wrote on the SHIFT website. To that end, he turned the management of the Emerging Leaders Program over to Morgan Green, an African-American pediatrician with experience in social justice and conflict resolution. Though well short of a resignation, Beckwith was effectively removed from the position where, by his own admission, he did more harm than good.
The 4-Step Plan
Here’s what your company can do to be more inclusive. 1) Make a statement of intent. It’s like an internal promise to stay on track. For an example from the Ice Age Trail Alliance, go to bit.ly/statementofinclusion. 2) Get professional help. It’s not enough to hire minorities. Invest in diversity training. Nicole Browning from REI says the brand is working on universal inclusion and unconscious-bias training for all coop employees. Start here: The Arvana Group, the Greening Youth Foundation (GYF), and The Center For Diversity & the Environment. 3) Build relationships with diverse communities. Through content sharing, sponsorships, and co-hosting events, engage with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), NAACP, Urban League, 100 Black Men, and outdoor industry affinity groups (see left). “Through our Explore Fund, we’ve searched for and supported organizations to help remove barriers and create community for nearly 10 years,” says Eric Raymond of The North Face. “It’s a simple idea that’s helped us learn and thrive together.” 4) Be intentionally inclusive in your marketing strategy. Your marketing needs to represent the individuals you want to reach and reflect the values of their communities. “The most important thing is that our creative partners share our belief in nature and the trail as a unifier,” says Strick Walker of Merrell.
Personal Attacks are Not Progress Despite this leadership change, the people calling for Beckwith to step down remained unsatisfied. An onslaught of online personal attacks were waged against several members of the SHIFT board, who did not agree that Beckwith needed to go. Len Necefer, a Native American scholar, the SHIFT board chairman, and
the founder of the NativesOutdoors, an apparel brand, says these online “callouts” only stifle the prospects of a constructive conversation. “This episode showed me the toxic underbelly of what callouts are,” he says. “They’re incredibly dehumanizing and they strip any ability to have dialogue.” There can be no path forward if we fail to communicate. And there’s nothing like personal attacks to stop the conversation (attempts to reach individuals behind the online callouts were declined or ignored). But I understand that positive communication sometimes takes work. I’ve experienced public shaming on social media myself, and got sucked into the angry rhetoric and name-calling. For that I humbly apologize (and asked for forgiveness both publicly and privately). Personally, all I’ve ever wanted is to see more people who look like me enjoy the same opportunities I have had to spend time in the outdoors. And now that it’s happening—now that I see so much advocacy and so many vibrant voices where before there were none—I worry about the tone of the conversation. I worry that in order to avoid being drawn into controversies they have no ability to control, industry professionals like Necefer will reconsider their involvement. “I don’t even know if it’s worth trying to think of this as a bigger movement or to even be part of it,” he says. “I feel like I just have to defend my own at a certain point because if I go outside of my lane, I’m just going to get torched.” Seattle-based activist Frances Lee recognizes the insidious nature of online confrontations in social movements. They write about the harm callouts can cause from their personal experience. They illustrate how even those who stand up against institutions that marginalize minorities can be guilty of perpetrating that same behavior among their own group of supporters. “Terms like ‘oppression,’ ‘tone policing,’ ‘emotional labor,’ ‘diversity,’ and ‘allyship’ are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of ‘minoritized’ people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude,” Lee writes in an essay for Yes magazine. But even this detour into callout culture can be seen in a positive light. It’s like
we’ve reached a critical mass, and have to contend with some of the unfortunate realities of the larger world. But we have a choice in how we deal with them. “We don’t want to do what the oppressor has done, which is often to marginalize a group of people and in different ways to legislate that marginalization, to make it culturally appropriate to marginalize,” says Dr. Carolyn Finney, the author of the book Black Faces White Spaces and a nationally recognized expert on environmental justice. “True reconciliation and redemption only come from owning up to our mistakes and asking for accountability and embracing a spirit of forgiveness.”
The Path Forward Despite all that has happened in recent months, activist Teresa Baker insists that the only course of action toward a brighter future is to share the work of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion among those with whom we don’t always agree. In a recent statement, Baker formally accepted the apology of Camber Outdoors and recommitted herself to working with industry partners toward the creation of a community in which everyone is welcome to participate and be recognized for the cultural value they represent. Perhaps now, as we enter the 2019 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, she says, we can engage in a constructive dialogue and walk the pathway forward together. “My purpose is to do this work as a collective,” Baker says. “We need Camber Outdoors to help. We need SHIFT to help. I want these people to understand that they have an obligation not just to this work, but to these outdoor spaces that we claim to care about. If we care about them, really care, we have to keep fighting through our mistakes.” Yes, I’ve seen much change in the outdoor industry in the last 30 years. But one thing remains constant. The people of our community share an enduring love of the natural world. It’s where we all work and play. Despite our differences, we can all agree that the outdoors should be open and available for everyone to enjoy. In our work to get there, we’ll make plenty of mistakes. But we should trust each other and have faith that we’re all doing the best we can every step of way.
s p e c i a l r e p o r t
Three days after her gang rape, Sarah, feeling alone,scared, and a burden to the rest of the camp, drove herself down the mountain and away from the place that had once been a refuge, but was now a trauma zone. PAG E
SEX AND POWER IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY P A R T I I
BY RACHEL STURTZ
Unsafe Space A disturbing look at the outdoor industry’s dark side.
n 2005, Sarah* was wrapping up her fifth year as a seasonal guide for a wilderness camp in the South. Normally awkward and shy, she had blossomed there, growing into a gifted leader and teacher. She had spent the last five years fixing trails and teaching her young charges how to make fires and hang bear bags. The camp was more of a home to her than anything from her childhood. After her first trip there, she cried when the bus pulled out of the parking lot to take her back to Louisiana. Even deep into a night of heavy drinking at a local bar off of camp property, Sarah trusted her coworkers. It was easy. She said she considered them like-minded, laid-back outdoor guys—and completely non-threatening. By the time the bartender began wiping down tables, she was staggering from too many Long Island Iced Teas and flirting with a couple of them. At the end of the night, she walked out with Scott, a fellow guide she’d known for a couple of years. The two clambered into her crayon-blue Toyota Corolla. Sarah remembers that they started making out, but when she began to feel sick and dizzy, she pulled away, and from what she figured happened next, she passed out. When she woke up, she was lying in the backseat and Scott was pulling off her pants. Sarah says she was in and out of consciousness as he folded her body into different positions, raping her. She remembers him leaving the car and coming back several times, which, even in her drunken stupor, she recalls thinking was odd. The car door was open and the temperature outside was in the 40s. Scott covered her naked body with her car’s metallic sunshade and drove her back to camp. In the camp parking lot, he raped her twice more. When he began to enter her anally, she screamed so loudly that he stopped. He later told the police that he’d initiated sex with her back at the camp to “warm her up.” After he helped her to her tent, Scott placed her in her sleeping bag and wished her a good night. She recounted her story for a state trooper two days later. But it wasn’t until years later, as often happens with trauma survivors, that Sarah thought back to the night and realized that Scott wasn’t leaving and re-entering the car. Sarah had been raped by three, maybe four, coworkers. Over time, she began to remember the physical differences between them.
*All the names in this story have been changed to protect the sources. PAG E
SEX AND POWER IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY P A R T I I
ARAH WAS ONE of ten women who reported being raped while on the job in the survey conducted by SNEWS and #SafeOutside last fall. Of the 992 responses analyzed, one in two women and one in five men said they had been sexually harassed or assaulted during work-related events. The survey revealed several prevalent—and disturbing—patterns: an increased risk of sexual harassment in a male-dominated workplace, laissez-faire sexual harassment policies and procedures, retribution stemming from reporting harassment, and the prevalence of alcohol in nearly every instance of sexual misconduct. Several women acknowledged that they had to leave their jobs in order to end the harassment. Over the last few years, surveys, reports, and lawsuits began a reckoning in the outdoor industry (and in the culture at large). In January 2016, the U.S. Interior’s Office of Inspector General finished an investigation of misconduct among employees of the Grand Canyon’s River District, finding evidence of a long-term pattern of “discrimination, retaliation, and a sexually hostile work environment.” In 2018, the Outside article “Hostile Environment” explored the rampant sexual harassment and assault among the river guiding community. Last August, 5,000 people responded to a survey by a grassroots initiative, #SafeOutside, which found more than 31 percent of men and women had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in a climbing environment. In January of this year, Camber Outdoors released the results of its survey of 1,364 professionals in the outdoor industry, finding that 47 percent of women and 15 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment and discrimination, but that only 31 percent say their company would handle it correctly. The problem, in part: There’s no overarching regulatory body that oversees or institutes “best practices” for the $887 billion outdoor industry, which employs 7.6 million people. #SafeOutside stepped up last year and began offering a tool kit for companies to combat sexual abuse and harassment within their ranks. While the kits were received enthusiastically, no one knows whether or not they’ve been implemented seriously. Taken together, the surveys from SNEWS, #SafeOutside, and Camber paint a picture that resembles the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) findings that 60 percent of women experience “unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, or sexually crude conduct or sexist comments in the workplace.” The predictors of sexual harassment on the job read like an outdoor industry checklist: male-dominated, boutique companies with fewer than 50 employees; a culture where locker room talk goes unchecked; and any office where you’d find a kegerator or decent happy hour.
LIKE MANY WOMEN in wilderness camps, Sarah was outnumbered by the guys. She learned to laugh off the inappropriate comments, because camp leadership laughed along with the men who made them. She learned to be diplomatic and firm when an adult male client balked at being led by a female ranger. She remembers the frequency with which male staff mentioned needing to visit the “water tower,” which was code for hiking to higher ground in
order to spy on the teenage girls bathing in the uncovered backcountry showers. To the female employees of the camp, this behavior came with the territory. Indeed, seven women in our survey used a version of the phrase “boys’ club” to describe why it was so hard to get a fair shake in their careers. Several women in our survey reported wage disparities, being overlooked for promotions, and blatantly being ignored (see p. 87 for our report on the gender gap in the outdoor industry). The reason male-dominated workplaces come with such a high risk for gender and sexual harassment on the job is because of the atmosphere it sets up in the first place. Some women told us they were left out of mountain biking trips or dinners or other key work events that ended up being just the men from their company. “When someone leaves women out of activities that improve client relationships or keeps them from showing leadership skills that might demonstrate their worth to a supervisor, it serves as a barrier to career advancement,” says Elizabeth Tippett, associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. “It’s gender harassment. Title VII was created to prevent discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion, and protect advancement in the workplace.” Immediately, gender-skewed workplaces set up an “in group” and an “out group.” According to a 2008 study in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (which has been backed up by several more in recent years), in homogenous, single-gender-dominated workplaces, the people in the minority group are perceived as intruders, which leads to less support, more critical evaluations, and harassment. They’re deemed less competent. And even if they prove successful, their majority peers tend to dislike them and view their accomplishments negatively. Alice spent a year putting together a big event for the outdoor sports association she worked for, and it was a hit. When she found herself in a hotel room celebrating with male executives later that night, they discussed the improvements to the conference, but when she tried to chime in, they ignored her. Only when Alice began to put on her coat did a sponsor perk up, and ask, “Why are you leaving so soon, sweetheart?” before blowing her a kiss. The irony, Alice says, is that one of the key improvements to the conference was adding events about diversity and gender equity. When a company devalues the efforts of women and sequesters them into an out group, it sets the stage for harassment. Acceptance of unequal treat-
ment or the inability to see it as a problem is the largest indicator for sexual harassment in a workplace, according to the EEOC. If employers write off the behavior as part of the company’s culture, it often leads to far bigger problems down the road as their female employees are forced to continue working with the men who are chronic harassers. Gender harassment begets sexual harassment begets assault. But too often, companies only focus on the assault and not the behavior that breeds it. “The partners at my company were good at protecting women, but they always fell short of empowering them,” said one woman.
It wasn’t until years later, as often happens with trauma survivors, that Sarah thought back to the night and realized that Scott wasn’t leaving and entering the car. Sarah had been raped by three, maybe four, coworkers.
HE MORNING AFTER HER RAPE, Sarah woke up in her cot, vomit on the floor. She told one friend what had happened, as well as her female supervisor. She was in shock. Her body was sore everywhere. Sarah couldn’t eat or drink from the nausea, and every time she fell asleep, she woke from nightmares. She was so exhausted, so dizzy, that doing anything other than lying down felt impossible. Neither her supervisor nor any other senior camp official or friend checked in on her for 24 hours. She was completely alone. By the evening of the second day, the director of the camp finally got involved and insisted that Sarah file a police report. In all, the state trooper interviewed Sarah, Scott, and six other coworkers who were with them at the bar that night. All of them remember Sarah and Scott flirting and eventually leaving together. The next morning, the director told Sarah it would probably be best if she left the camp so that people wouldn’t ask questions. He asked if she had somewhere to stay. She said yes, even though both of them knew she was estranged from her family. Three days after her gang rape, feeling alone, scared, and a burden to the rest of the camp, Sarah drove herself down the mountain and away from the place that had once been a refuge, but was now a trauma zone.
OUR SURVEY REVEALED a multitude of issues when reporting problematic behavior to HR or senior management. Often, the report was acknowledged and then ignored. Other times, the accused received a stern talking-to, but little else. A few women told us that they watched as the perpetrator got a promotion or a new title at another company before he was eventually let go for the same abusive behavior they’d tried and failed to stop. In the majority of cases, if there was a response, it was bungled. That’s despite the fact that the companies often had a sexual harassment policy in place. “Policy in itself is meaningless unless you implement it,” says Tippett. “You need to behave in a way that is consistent with the policy and discipline people who disregard it. If no one practices the policy, it won’t protect the company, employees won’t feel confident reporting, and it certainly won’t stop or prevent harassment.” According to a 2008 meta-analysis of a decade’s worth of sexual harassment studies, approximately 70 percent of employees don’t complain about their harassment to their employers. Instead, they avoid their harasser, downplay the harassment, or ignore and endure the behavior. The reasons are numerous: fear of humiliation, ostracism, blame, and indifference; worry about damaging their careers or reputations; or after all of that effort, inaction by management. Sometimes, they don’t report because they haven’t even started their job yet.
SEX AND POWER IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY P A R T I I
Maria had just nabbed her dream job as an island guide and was a week away from moving her whole life to her new, tropical home when a future coworker called to let her know the start date. “Then he asked if I had big boobs,” says Maria. “I didn’t respond. I figured if this guy’s a problem, I’ll deal with it when I get there.” Turned out, dealing with it was a full-time job, she says. Her coworker always took two pictures of his female clients: one for the company files and one for himself. But his behavior was explained away by his superiors and her coworkers as being juvenile, and she said she followed other women’s leads and “gave him a wide berth.” “I didn’t know I had freckles on my butt until he told me they were his favorite part of me when I bent over to wash gear in my bikini,” says Maria. More often than not, women won’t speak out because they know the repercussions. In fact, the study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that 75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation. And men are not immune from it. As Bill and his wife were leaving his company Christmas party, the vice president of his company grabbed her ass when he hugged her goodbye. She didn’t react in order to not make a scene, but in the office on Monday, the VP called Bill into his office to let him know that what happened was “an accident.” Still, Bill reported the incident to the owners of the company. They were shocked and said they would put the incident in the offender’s file, but the owners sheepishly admitted that they were non-confrontational people. For months, nothing happened, but Bill says a “switch flipped” when it came to his boss’s satisfaction with his work. Then, out of the blue, Bill was put on probation and issued a 60-day performance improvement plan. He felt betrayed—he knew didn’t deserve it—and let upper management know that his boss had assaulted his wife. The next Monday, he walked into work with a resignation letter in his hand. The blinds were drawn in the conference room, where he soon realized upper management was talking about him. Someone had changed the password on his computer. They were planning on firing him that morning. An EEOC task force found that “employers often make a wrong cost-benefit analysis when faced with allegations of harassment against a highly valued employee.” That’s why they tend to ignore or downplay misconduct: fear of cost to the business. Often, companies worry about a lawsuit from the accused, but the EEOC found that the cost of allowing harassment to continue is far higher. Between 2010 and 2015, employers paid $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment during EEOC’s pre-litigation enforcement process. “Even if it doesn’t end in a lawsuit or public scandal, your employees will know what happened,” says Tippett. “Your response will have an impact on your culture and your workplace: how employees feel about you and the integrity of your business.” In our survey, Jillian said she watched as one of her young female coworkers was sexually harassed and then intimidated by a supervisor at the ski resort where they worked. He continually asked the young woman out and each time, she said no. Eventually, he began to send her graphic photos and text messages saying he was going to kill himself and started rumors that
she was sleeping with another employee. Jillian was concerned for the young woman’s safety, so, following company protocol, she reported the harassment to HR. The next morning, HR called Jillian in for a meeting. “They told me I wasn’t seeing the big picture and that I needed to keep this quiet,” says Jillian. “They told me, ‘Sometimes snowflakes hear ‘sexual harassment’ and immediately jump on it.’” Bullied for weeks afterwards, Jillian eventually quit. She was seven months pregnant. “I’ve been skiing on that mountain since I was five years old,” says Jillian. “I can’t go back. They destroyed my favorite place on earth.” Other women told us that the nature of their outdoor job meant that their call for help might go unanswered in the wild. Cassie worked for the U.S. Forest Service Hotshots crew, fighting fires in the ’90s. She said she dealt with the typical misogyny that comes with being the only woman on a fire crew and once had to threaten a coworker who gave her “purple nurples,” telling him that at the next fire, her Pulaski might slip. But it wasn’t until Cassie signed up for a mountaineering course that she felt threatened and demoralized. She was 20 years old and had to share a tent with two Chicago firemen who she said were “sexist and racist.” The pair spent their time talking about their experiences with Filipino prostitutes. When Cassie mentioned that her mother was a person of color, the men asked how much for her services. Sharing the tent felt especially unsafe when the men went out to the bar and returned drunk. The days weren’t much better, though. She says they sexually harassed her as they belayed her. “I wasn’t a high-income person,” says Cassie. “I took this course to build my skills as an investment in myself, but I wasn’t getting the same experience because it was hindered by these guys. The Hotshot crew might have done things that were inappropriate, but they had my back. My course instructor at the mountaineering school did nothing. When I wrote a letter to the school about my experience, they never replied. If you don’t have a way to respond to women’s incidents in the field, you put them at emotional and physical risk.” She went on, “As a woman, when you walk into a dark parking lot, you’re conditioned to be on high alert. When we’re in a place that should feel safe and welcoming, but it’s not, it’s overwhelming.” Cassie says it was the climate of “accepted hostility” that turned her away from pursuing a career in the outdoors. Instead, she became a scientist and eventually found a way to become an outdoor educator. Currently, much of her research focuses on the idea of belonging. “People spend a lot of cognitive energy looking for social signals that they belong,” says Cassie. “The out-
door industry should send signals that everyone belongs. You’ll finally get a diverse set of people who want to be outdoors and they’ll spend their time enjoying it, not puzzling out if it’s a place for them.” In the U.S., 43 percent of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people, which means the majority of them don’t have an HR department. Most people have no idea what to do in the face of sexual misconduct, especially when the accused is their boss or mentor or friend. It turns out that simply writing a code of ethics won’t eliminate the problem. There needs to be training, procedures, swift enforcement, and repercussions. And it only works if leadership models it. But even with an HR department, Claire Harwell, attorney and legal director for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (NMCSAP), says she’s seen good people repeat the same destructive actions executed by the U.S. Olympic Committee or the Catholic Church. They protect the institution, protect its reputation, protect its accused. As Harwell sees it, the actions have more to do with our inability to handle bad news. “We don’t want to believe bad stuff happens,” says Harwell. “We want to believe that we live and operate in a safe space, and we will discount anything that proves that wrong—even if it means disbelieving women and children who say otherwise.” That’s why policies are necessary to correct the kneejerk human response. Not only to correct for biases or ignorance, says Harwell, but because a company’s mishandling of a sexual assault response can cause victims a second round of trauma symptoms.
N OUR SURVEY, respondents name-checked outdoor industry trade shows like Outdoor Retailer, the now-defunct Interbike, and other sport-specific events as places where alcohol and sexual harassment go hand-in-hand. Usually, the drinking begins on the trade show floor before the day is wrapped. The drinks often continue right into dinner with clients or coworkers, and they keep flowing late into the night at music shows or after-parties. Best case, it’s a good night filled with new friends and contacts and maybe some business deals. Worst case, it leads to harassment or assault. “In nearly all sexual violence cases, alcohol is involved,” says Callie Rennison, PhD, professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. Rennison’s research has examined violence against women and minority groups and how survivors interact with the criminal justice system. She, along with director of program operations at the University
“ We don’t want to believe bad stuff happens ... We want to believe that we live and operate in a safe space, and we will discount anything that proves that wrong—even if it means disbelieving women and children who say otherwise.” - CLAIRE HARWELL, NEW MEXICO COALITION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT PROGRAMS
of Washington School of Medicine, Charlie Lieu, created and conducted the #SafeOutside climbing survey. She says that company leaders must limit alcohol at work and outside work-related events. “Nobody is saying no alcohol,” says Rennison. “But it should never be a freefor-all, anything-goes kind of night. When people see their friends overdoing it, they should step in. If someone says he’s going to ‘hit that person’s tent up’ because he’s pretty sure she’s interested, stop him.” Last November, Google announced an important policy change because alcohol was the most common reason for sexual harassment complaints among its staff: “Excessive consumption of alcohol is not permitted when you are at work, performing Google business, or attending a Google-related event, whether onsite or offsite ... The onus will be on leaders to take appropriate steps to restrict any excessive consumption among their teams, and we will impose more onerous actions if problems persist.” While alcohol is correlated with sexual harassment and assault, it’s not a cause of the bad behavior. That old adage that a few beers make some people more “handsy?” Several studies have found there is no relationship to the amount someone drank and their aggressiveness. In some cases, the desire to harass or assault someone may cause him to drink more in order to justify the behavior. Lindsey told us that while working as a project manager at a cycling event, she had fallen asleep in her shared hotel room. Unbeknownst to her, her roommate had given the other bed to an inebriated male journalist attending the event. Lindsey woke up to him trying to kiss her and take off her clothes. She threw elbows and managed to get him to stop. “He stopped because he wanted to,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to overpower him if he’d decided to continue.” Sadly, society tends to apply a sexist double standard when alcohol is involved: We often see a drunk perpetrator as less responsible for his or her actions and a drunk victim of assault as more responsible. According to a study
SEX AND POWER IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY P A R T I I
published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, more than 50 percent of victims who “experienced an alcohol-related sexual assault” are told it was his or her fault for making the decision to drink. That’s exactly what happened to Sarah. When she eventually reported her rape to the camp director, he told her there was a lesson to be learned in all of this. Maybe next time, he said, “you won’t drink so much.” “I’d never even considered blaming myself until that moment,” says Sarah. “It changed everything.” When Sarah returned home to Louisiana to recuperate after her rape, she received notification that the District Attorney’s office had enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for Scott, if she wanted to pursue a case. Sarah’s first thought was about Scott and how he wouldn’t fare well in prison. (That’s not an uncommon sentiment: According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of 14 survivors say they didn’t report the sexual crime to police because they didn’t want to get the perpetrator in trouble). Her second thought was about the camp director’s insinuation: that it was her own fault because she had been so wasted. She decided to forgo the charges for fear of being humiliated in court.
HE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY’S LAID-BACK atmosphere—stemming from the fact that so many brands were formed by friends who met on the mountain, crag, or river—is part of the problem. “It’s a passion-first industry,” says a former outdoor PR rep. “A lot of the big brands today were started by a few friends in the ’90s: a handful of climbers want a better carabiner, and you’ve got a climbing company. Five or ten years down the road, you’re growing and still hiring more of your friends. Then you’re employing 25 people and suddenly, that mix of relationships and boundaries gets tricky, fast.” Finding that line—how to go from selling gear out of your garage to managing a workforce—is where the outdoor industry needs to grow up. “Just because you’re a great climber, doesn’t mean you’re a great leader,” says Rennison. “More companies are getting their act together to train their leaders to be just that. You don’t get to say, ‘It’s 5 o’clock, let’s get drunk.’ Once you’re a leader, employees will always look to you to see what’s allowed.” But the collegiality and camaraderie of the outdoor industry is also what may drive its best attributes. Usually when Rennison conducts sex and violence surveys, hate mail is just part of the job. When she worked on the #SafeOutside climbing survey, more than 50 percent of the people who reached out to her were men who wanted to say thank you for bringing the issue to light. “Every other industry has addressed this topic after a big crisis, when they were forced to deal with a situation they’d known about,” says Rennison, who’s a recreational climber. “The outdoor industry got ahead of it. We weren’t afraid to turn over the rock and see what’s under it. Maybe it’s because we see each other on the human level because we participate in activities that come with a high chance of dying. On the subconscious level, we’re each other’s keepers.”
SARAH SAYS THAT SHE applied to work at the camp three separate times after her rape. It seemed nonsensical, she agrees, but the camp was the only home she knew. Each time, her application was rejected. In 2011, Sarah decided to pursue a civil case against her attacker. In the six years since her rape, she’d coped with PTSD, survived an amphetamine addiction and eating disorder, and gotten therapy—making it to the other side of trauma in a way many people will not. By 2011, she felt healed, healthy, and ready to finally pursue justice. But at the time, the state had a three-year statute of limitations on civil lawsuits stemming from sexual assault and battery and had destroyed the evidence in her case. Reaching out in our survey seemed like one way to tell her story. “It’s been eating away at me for a long time,” says Sarah. In 2005, when the state trooper interviewed Scott, she says he acknowledged that while they were having sex, Sarah said that it hurt. He shrugged it off, telling her it was because she hadn’t had sex in a long time. “When you drink, you normally do things you wouldn’t when you were sober,” Scott stated in the police report. During an interview for this story, the state trooper said that even 14 years later, this case has stuck with her. Her intuition that night was that Scott had done this before and that he was guilty. She thinks that if Sarah had pursued charges, she would have won. While the trooper didn’t suspect multiple perpetrators at the time, she said that some of the statements she collected from others that night were suspiciously vague and brief, and that when a woman is as drunk as Sarah was that night, there’s the potential that multiple men will take advantage of it. Sarah says that in the years since, she’s heard of other incidents of rape at the camp. “I started crying when I found out about them because I feel like all of this stuff is preventable with proper training,” says Sarah. “I was sexually harassed just about every day there. After my rape, it was clear that the camp’s risk management didn’t come from a place of love, but from fear of litigation. Does that culture still exist there? God, I hope not.”
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the money issue This industry might be filled with people who got into it for the sheer love of the outdoors—but we all still have to pay the bills. From our industry salary survey to reports on fair wages, the gender gap, and the realities of dream jobs, here’s a close look at what it really means to make a living in this biz. ILLUSTRATION BY EMMANUEL POLANCO
A CLO S E R LO O K SURVEY RESPONDENTS
Money Talks The Voice’s exclusive outdoor industry salary survey reveals who makes what—and a whole lot more. How do you stack up? BY ELISABETH KWAK-HEFFERAN
oney: Like politics, religion, and bodily functions, you’re not supposed to discuss it in polite company. And we get it. How much hard-earned cash your labor brings home can feel like an intensely personal detail, affecting everything about how you work and play. But when wages are shrouded in secrecy, and job offers include an awkward salary dance where nobody wants to throw out the first number, it’s hard to know if you’re being paid fairly. How can you tell how your paycheck measures up if you don’t know what anybody else is making? So we asked. Our online salary survey grilled outdoor industry members—from corporate bigwigs to entry-level retail clerks—about their take-home pay, benefits, companies, job types, and much more— and how everyone feels about their paychecks. Fair pay and job satisfaction start with shining a light on how salary plays out in this industry. Go ahead, break that taboo. Let’s start talking money.
We received 1,405 complete responses to our online survey, representing a mix of demographics, fields within the industry, and experience levels.
INDUSTRY OVERVIEW Over and over, survey respondents called this a “passion industry” that draws in people who love the outdoors and want to spend their workdays immersed in the culture. Turns out, there’s a lot to love about this industry when it comes to paychecks, too. Though respondents reported salaries ranging from $0 to $200,000, the average overall salary was $75,236—well above the U.S. average of $51,960 for all jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And of our respondents, almost 40 percent make more than $75K. But although a majority love their careers, many also reported feeling tension between the benefits of having a “cool job” and the realities of making ends meet. Some of us are struggling. “I jokingly say I’m taking a pay cut to live in paradise, but it’s still not right,” says a retail staffer in California. “Dumpster diving has been a way of life at times just to eat. Try explaining to your parents why you hold a
Demographics: Most respondents were male (57 percent), from the West Coast or Rocky Mountains (58 percent), and white (89 percent).
CHECK OUT THE FULL REPORT AT SNEWSNET.COM/SALARY.
Job roles: We heard from people who worked with retailers or gear manufacturers most often (20 percent each). Job-wise, the most common roles were in management (25 percent), sales (21 percent), and marketing (14 percent).
Negotiating tips from Sue Wyman, director of Business Career Connections at the University of Colorado Denver
the money issue
Show Me the Money
BA in business but can’t afford dinner.” Others feel their employers take advantage of the very passion that drew them to this business. “Outdoor industry professionals put their heart and soul into highly coveted jobs,” says a manager at a climbing school in Maine who makes well under the average industry wage. “It’s unfortunate that because we love our jobs, we get stuck with smaller salaries.” Some respondents felt that the chance to work in a field close to their hearts was worth the tradeoff: “I have a rich quality of life, regardless of whether my bank account reflects it or not,” says a Colorado rafting company employee. “If you want to get rich, be an investment banker or tech developer,” adds the owner of a shoe distribution company. “If you want balance between pay and life, stick with this industry.” For others, it’s not so simple. “The company is wonderful and treats me well,” says a Nevada respondent who works for a clothing manufacturer.
OUR SALARY BELL CURVE MODE*: $50,000 MEDIAN: $60,000 MEAN: $75,236
$25K >$25K 8%
$50K $25K-$49K 25%
$75K $50K-$74K 28%
$100K $75K-$99K 16%
$200K $100K+ 22%
FOR RICHER OR POORER
EACH OF THESE FACTORS** IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE HIGHEST AND LOWEST SALARIES IN OUR SURVEY. HIGHEST SALARIES DIFFERENCE LOWEST SALARIES (IN AVERAGE SALARIES) IN MANAGEMENT $63,922 IN CUSTOMER OR DEALER SERVICE WORKS FOR CONGLOMERATE CO. $58,523 WORKS IN OUTDOOR/SPORTS/ADV. IN HIS/HER 50S $54,172 IN HIS/HER 20S 20+ YEARS OF EXPERIENCE $49,340 5 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE OR LESS WORKS FOR A PUBLIC COMPANY $40,684 WORKS FOR A NONPROFIT WORKS ON THE WEST COAST $20,395 WORKS IN THE SOUTHEAST MALE $15,617 FEMALE MASTER’S OR PHD $13,755 HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA OR LESS
“Work-life balance is amazing. But I have to have a second job to pay the bills. I can’t feed my family with fleece.” See “Our Salary Bell Curve,” below, for an overview of outdoor industry paychecks according to our survey. HIGHS AND LOWS What kind of employees make the most money—and the least? Certain factors turned out to be associated with significantly higher or lower salaries, in some cases by large margins. Some are no surprise: Older workers with more experience and/or education tended to make more money, and larger companies with higher earnings paid higher wages. Which corner of the industry you work in also made a sizable difference in take-home pay. On the top end of the spectrum, large conglomerates or parent companies paid, on average, $58,000 more per year than the lowest-tier category, the outdoor/sports/adventure field (which includes outfitters and travel guides). And our survey found a significant pay gap between men and women (see page 87). (Wondering if there’s a pay gap associated with race or ethnicity in this industry? We did too, but we didn’t hear from enough people of color to run a meaningful analysis.) See “For Richer or Poorer,” left, for a breakdown of the significant factors affecting salary. WHERE THE MONEY IS: JOB TYPES If the biggest possible paycheck is your goal, then start climbing the ladder at a larger conglomerate/parent company or shoe manufacturer—on average, those employers pay more than double the amount you’d earn from the industry’s least lucrative fields. Clothing and gear manufacturers, distribution, and sales also end up north of the industry’s average salary. Middle-of-the-pack employers included nonprofits, public relations, media, and the self-employed (a catchall category that ranged from wholesale sales positions to gear designers to freelance writers), all of which landed in the low $60Ks to low $70Ks. The bottom rung of our salary ladder belonged to retailers and the outdoor/sports/adventure category, with average wages in the $50K range. See “Earning Potential,” right, for more. Across all company types, people in management netted the highest average annual salary,
**Factors are individually associated with salaries. Not a comprehensive profile. PAG E
*Mode: Most frequently occuring number. Median: Middle number in a range. Mean: Average.
Don’t automatically take the first offer. Some 85 percent of companies expect new hires to negotiate.
Research the typical salary range for the position ahead of time on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn Salary.
$98,936, followed closely by the product/engineering/R&D/manufacturer product distribution department. Jobs in sales and marketing, PR, design, and writing came next, in the high $60K to low $70K range. Another step down you’ll find gigs in operations, logistics, information technology, human resources and purchasing/finance (high $50K to low $60K range). Customer and dealer service positions bring in the lowest wages at $35,014.
PAYING YOUR DUES: EXPERIENCE Like anywhere else, patience pays off in the outdoor industry. Though the average salary across job types for people in their 20s is $45,018, our survey found that by their 40s, the average worker doubles her compensation (to $90,134). Salary peaks in the 50s at $99,190. The same pattern holds true for an employee’s years of experience, with average salaries doubling after 20 years of work. Sticking with the same company also pays off over time, though not necessarily with steady increases. Our survey found that within one employer, salaries rise after about two years on the job, then continue to increase moderately in years three and four. After five years, average salaries finally jumped by about $22K; another 10 to 19 years of commitment to the same place was worth another $11K.
WHO’S THE BOSS?: COMPANY TYPES Whoever is issuing your paychecks makes a big difference in salary, too. Annual take-home pay, on average, is significantly higher at publicly owned companies than anywhere else: $93,040. Privately owned companies, on the other hand, come in with an average of $73,606. Nonprofits pay significantly less: $52,356. Companies with more than 250 employees pay about $17K more per year, on average, than those with one to four employees. If your employer hauls in more than $1 billion in annual revenue, that’s worth about $34K more in your salary than employers that make less than $5 million.
ANNA GUTWIN MANAGER, OUTDOOR GEAR EXCHANGE, BURLINGTON, VT
“My partner and I are lucky because we were able to find this house that nobody else wanted to live in. It has seven-foot ceilings, it’s 900 square feet, and it’s right next to a busy road. It’s still tight making the mortgage; we have a roommate. We’re able to make it work, but I do have a second job. [The store’s] starting salary has definitely become a barrier to attaining good employees. It’s frustrating because I interview these fantastic candidates, and then I tell them the salary and I can see on their faces that they’re not interested. I say, ‘We’re working to change it,’ but that doesn’t mean that it’s changed right now. It’s hard to know that our starting salary is lower than what people can make at the bagel shop down the street.” —as told to Shawnté Salabert
WHICH FIELDS HAVE THE HIGHEST— AND LOWEST—BASE SALARIES. MEAN
$120K 100K 80K 60K 40K 20K
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Negotiating doesn’t end with your salary. Also discuss benefits like vacation days or flex time.
the money issue
Show Me the Money
GETTING SCHOOLED: EDUCATION Was that degree worth it? While how much your educational attainment matters will vary depending on specific fields and job responsibilities, in general, those with higher degrees brought home higher pay—but the difference didn’t become significant until you hit a master’s degree or PhD. Those with advanced degrees earned an average of about $8,600 more per year than those with a bachelor’s degree, and $13,700 more than those with a high school diploma or less.
Salary Snapshot MIKE MOOE RS COPYWRITER, SELF-EMPLOYED, YUBA CITY, CA
A CLO S E R LO O K THE GEAR PERK
THE RICH GET RICHER: BENEFITS Compensation is about a lot more than just the zeroes on your paycheck: Benefits like employer-subsidized health insurance, paid vacation, stock options, bonuses, and flexible work structures are worth plenty, too. Most respondents get health insurance and 401(k) matching from their employers; the option to work from home or bring a dog to the office were also popular benefits. Perks like a gym membership, unlimited vacation, and tuition reimbursement went to the lucky few. Employer-supplied or –subsidized childcare was
“I recently saw a job [posting] and they wanted to pay $25 an hour. We’re worth more than that. When you’re the second connection to the consumer (or to the buyer, if it’s B2B) after imagery, you’re the first person talking to the customer, and you’re the one bringing them in. That’s super-important. If you’re generating income for a brand, be it in the immediate term or over time, that’s a valuable commodity. I don’t screw my clients over. I do everything on a project basis because I think that’s way more fair for the client; they shouldn’t be paying for writer’s block or when I get distracted by Twitter. But it’s also fair for me; if I knock it out of the park on the first draft, I shouldn’t be penalized for that.” —SS
the rarest benefit of all, with just 18 people (1 percent of the total) reporting it. And the people who snag extra compensation on top of their regular wages tend to already be bringing in top dollar. Employees with stock options (6 percent of the total) have an average salary of $106,616, and those who receive 401(k) matching funds and performance-review or sales bonuses are generally already in the $80K range. The highest-paying company types, parent/conglomerate companies and shoe manufacturers, also paid out the most perks. Overall, 36 percent of employees get no additional money on top of their wages, while 57 percent take home at least $1,000 per year in extra compensation (12 percent get $20K or more). GIMME MORE: JOB AND SALARY SATISFACTION The good news: Most of us love our jobs, no matter what kind of money we’re making. A full 87 percent of us are at least moderately happy with our careers, with almost half reporting high job satisfaction. And money isn’t everything: Interestingly, people who work for conglomerate/parent companies are the least happy with their jobs (19 percent say they’re unsatisfied), even though they make the highest average pay. And though the outdoor industry pays fairly well compared to the overall U.S. job market, we almost universally agree that we’re at least a little underpaid. Only 16 percent of respondents said they’re happy with their compensation, while nearly three-fourths think they should be making more. Fourteen percent felt extremely underpaid. Those who said they’re “somewhat” or “extremely” underpaid do make less than the industry average. But if you felt “a little” underpaid or “wish I made more,” take heart: Your salary is likely above average. Those who reported feeling that their paychecks were “just right” tended to earn more than $100K.
Free and discounted gear comes with the gig for many respondents, an undeniably cool benefit—but it’s a mixed blessing. “The outdoor industry needs to stop pretending that access to pro deals makes up for unlivably low salaries,” says a Colorado employee of a nonprofit. “I’ve worked in the outdoor industry as well as tech, hospitality, and ad agencies, and the difference in salaries is disgusting,” notes a manager at a conglomerate/parent company. “The industry thinks that the perks of pro deals makes up for it, but you can’t pay your mortgage with a new puffy coat.”
When asking for a raise, give your boss specific examples of how you’ve contributed to the company.
A CLO S E R LO O K MASTERS OF THEIR UNIVERSE The happiest people in our industry? The self-employed. Freelancers are the most fulfilled workers in the biz (65 percent report high satisfaction). Maybe it’s the perks: Though they’re unlikely to have standard benefits like health insurance or 401(k) matching, they’re the most likely employees to count “unlimited vacation” among their blessings (39 percent have it), and 65 percent can work from home. Being your own boss also comes with a heady dose of freedom: Though you often do without income stability, the ability to answer to no one but yourself more than makes up for it.
Salary Snapshot BE ATY J A CKSON OWNER/FOUNDER/ PRESIDENT, THE TAKU AGENCY DAMASCUS, VA
“We sell tools to create an experience, and that experience is in your heart and mind forever. It stays with you, it inherently makes you better—for yourself and for other people. That’s why I’ve stayed all these years, because it’s truly a great industry where you feel good about coming to work every day. I’m comfortable that I don’t have the biggest lines (such as Gear Aid, Opinel, and Minus 33), that I don’t have the biggest income coming in—I’m comfortable with life as it is. I’m not looking for a lot more. I’ve always said that if I made lots of money, I’d just give it away, because money is power—and it’s not power to control, but it’s power to make positive change.” —SS
Making Ends Meet
Can you really make a living in outdoor retail?
BY LAURA ONSTOT
our years ago, Marie*, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, turned her passion into a full-time position at a Vermont outdoor retailer. But now, even after being promoted, she still finds herself taking dog-sitting gigs just to make ends meet. Marie started her retail job on salary, earning the equivalent of less than $12 per hour. But you’d need to make at least $17.69 per hour to afford to rent even a studio apartment in her hometown, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “I definitely think we should be paying people what it takes to live in their area,” Marie says. Despite being a manager, she adds, it’s still not enough. “And I don’t even have a kid.” But boosting wages can be easier said than done. Dana Davis, who owns Tucson’s Summit Hut, says Arizona’s recent increase in minimum wage, to $12 (by 2020) from $8.05, has proved a financial challenge for her shop. That’s partly because they already started employees out above minimum wage. Davis notes that if new employees are coming in at $11, which had previously been the pay rate for more senior employees, more senior staff will understandably expect a raise: “It ends up being an across-the-board increase, which is difficult to sustain.”
Davis emphasizes that she wants to pay employees well, but balancing that with profitability can make weathering wage bumps like the one in Arizona tough to manage. On the other hand, argue some retailers, higher wages can pay off in the long run. Jim Frank, whose family has owned Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock, Arkansas since 1986, says he’s found that competitive wages translate to loyal staff with low turnover. When Arkansas voters approved a state minimum wage hike to $11 per hour last year, Frank wasn’t too concerned. “We rarely start anybody out below $9.50 or $10 per hour,” he says, which means he has a stable of experienced employees and doesn’t lose time and money training new workers. Townsend Bertram & Company, a retailer and outfitter in Carrboro, North Carolina, is an early adopter of a local effort to certify businesses for paying a wage high enough to allow employees to afford to live in the cities where they work. The program is administered by Orange County (NC) Living Wage, which partners with businesses to help find ways to increase payroll while still staying solvent. To get the certification, TB&C needed to get all of its employees to $13.70 per hour. General Manager Taylor Dansby, who has worked there for nearly twelve years, led the charge. He says longtime employees were already above the required pay, and the shop freed up cash for the rest by limiting his and other leaders’ hours and consolidating back-office roles (no one was fired to do so.) One more perk of the living wage certification: When employees make higher wages, they also have more cash to spend at restaurants, coffee shops, and other local establishments, says Brand Manager Betsy Bertram. “You’re investing not only in your own team, but also in all the local businesses around you.”
*Marie asked that we not use her real name, as she is still an employee. PAG E
the money issue
dream job reality check Salary Snapshot ROCÍO VIL L A L OBOS PROGRAM MANAGER, WESTCAVE OUTDOOR DISCOVERY CENTER AUSTIN, TX
Pressure, hard labor, poop: the truth about the gigs you fantasize about BY SHAWNTÉ SALABERT FI LM MAKE R
Sarah Menzies: Let Media, Seattle, WA The paycheck $40,000 The gig Shooting documentary films and commercial projects (The Mirnavator, Afghan Cycles, A Steelhead Quest); running a production company Perks Connecting with humans that I’d never meet otherwise; forging intimacy with people through the camera; going to places that I could barely dream of as a kid
“My background is in social justice and advocacy work around education and immigration. I’m making the same amount now that I was at my previous job, and decided to accept that because I was interested in beginning in this [outdoor] field. But it’s just my husband and myself—I don’t have any kids to worry about. It may have been more of a dealbreaker for me if I was in a different situation. I would like to see folks get paid more—especially those of us who are bilingual or multilingual, and people who are being asked to do racial equity work, because there’s a lot of emotional labor that’s involved. It’s something that I care about and work that I signed up to do, but it does take a toll in a different way that is less visible.” —SS
stuff that I would do anyway Bummers Dealing with human impact; poop and paperwork about poop—I spend an incredible amount of time figuring out how much toilet paper to order. SARAH MENZIES
F R E E L A N C E P H OTO G R A P H E R
Bummers Hustling up work and finding funding; unstable income (and experiencing sweaty fits of anxiety, wondering how I’m going to be able to pay my bills this summer) M O U N TA I N G U I D E
Hannah Smith: RMI Expeditions & Sierra Mountaineering International, lives out of her truck The paycheck $25,000 The gig Guiding clients on Denali, Rainier, Mt. Whitney, and Aconcagua; serving as a leader, teacher, coach, counselor, cheerleader, and drill sergeant Perks My office is a gorgeous mountain; flexible schedule; the people—you don’t become a guide for the climbing, you do it because you like climbing and love people. Bummers The wear and tear on my body; I deal with a lot of shit, as in literal feces; having to tell people they will not get to the summit they want so badly—it’s hard to crush someone’s dream. S U P E R V I S O R Y PA R K R A N G E R
Jeremy Martin: Bureau of Land Management, Monticello, UT The paycheck $45,000 The gig Monitoring natural resources, archaeological sites, trails, and OHV use across 2 million acres of public lands Perks Working as a steward of the land; exploring, hiking, canyoneering, rafting, and doing the
Matty Wong: Los Angeles, CA & Honolulu, HI The paycheck $60,000 The gig Shooting for commercial clients in the outdoor and fashion industries (Hydro Flask, Old Navy, Phenix Baits, Brown Folks Fishing); serving as a photo assistant when work is slow Perks Working with fish (unlike human models, they don’t talk back); opportunity to change perceptions of fishing and the outdoors; being able to preserve special moments in time Bummers Lots of time staring at a screen; work ebbs and flows; brands sometimes don’t want to pay for professional imagery. FOUNDER & CEO
Jen Gurecki: Coalition Snow, Reno, NV The paycheck $25,000 The gig Running a women’s snowsports hardgoods company and media platform that includes a newsletter (Lady Parts), podcast (Juicy Bits), and quarterly print publication (Sisu Magazine) Perks Creating something that adds value to people’s lives and challenges mainstream thought on what it means to be a woman outdoors; I get to be creative and problem-solve; serving as a role model and change-maker. Bummers I’m on 24/7; I spend most of my time behind a computer; it’s stressful to stay cashflow positive; a ton of pressure to say and do the right thing
Show Me the Money
Serious about DEI? Stop expecting interns to work for free. BY CAROLYN WEBBER ALDER
Listen up, outdoor industry leaders. It’s time to start paying your interns. I know: There’s no shortage of eager young people willing to work for nil. Hey, I was one of them. I accepted a threemonth unpaid internship at an outdoor magazine a few years ago, hoping it would be a launching pad for my journalism career. (Turns out, it was.) I don’t regret the decision to work for free—despite thousands of dollars spent in steep rent and university tuition for an internship course that legalized my unpaid labor. But I was lucky. I had scholarships and family to help me afford it. Plenty of talented potential employees can’t say the same. What about the students punching in at two or more summer jobs to fund their college education? They can’t consider an unpaid position. Students from higher-income families snatch the jobs instead, and we lose voices the industry so desperately needs. An internship at a major company can be a crucial foot in the door for a young employee. So if we’re serious about improving diversity in this industry, let’s start opening that door to everyone.
the Gender Gap Why women make less than men—and what we all can do to fix it. BY KASSONDRA CLOOS
urns out, the outdoor industry isn’t immune to overarching trends in income inequality. Our survey revealed a significant pay discrepancy between men and women—a finding that’s about in line with the average pay gap nationwide among all industries, says Chandra Childers, study director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In the U.S. in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, the average woman made about 15 percent less than the average man. This doesn’t mean women doing the same job for the same company are generally paid 15 percent less—rather, it’s “occupational segregation,” Childers says, which means that jobs in positions and industries where men are more prevalent typically pay more, while the reverse is true of more female-dominated positions. Women do often make less than male counterparts for the same type of work, but that gap is generally less dramatic—about 5 percent, she says. And in our survey (and in the country overall), men also
Ask for a raise at the right time. Try right after you’ve pulled off a big project, or midyear, before your performance review (budgets might already be set by then).
dominate the higher-paying C-suite leadership jobs. How do we close it? Pay transparency is a great first step, says Childers. Men are much more likely to negotiate their salaries, and if women don’t know what their coworkers are making, they may not even realize they’re being underpaid. She also suggests companies do away with negotiating altogether in favor of setting a specific salary for a given position, regardless of who fills it. Some states have also passed laws prohibiting employers from asking candidates about their previous salaries, which is also a step in the right direction. “[That question] allows inequality to follow you through the rest of your career,” she says. “Therefore, every pay raise you get is based on a lower number than it should be, so you’re never going to catch up.” Finally, Childers argues for not only enacting family leave policies, but also encouraging men to take advantage of them. Women often do take it when they have children, “and that’s where they really get hit,” Childers says. Even after family leave, research shows that salaries of women who have children lag significantly behind men and childless women. One theory: Women are more likely to be (or be perceived as) primary caregivers, making them underrepresented in high-paying jobs that require long hours or lots of travel.
UNEQUAL SIGNS THE SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE EMPLOYEES, ACCORDING TO OUR SURVEY
average male salary (median is $65,000)
average female salary (median is $55,000) SALES AND MARKETING The fields in our industry with the biggest gender gaps in salary. Women in sales make an average of $19,000 less than men; the difference is $15,750 in marketing.
Women who reported feeling underpaid
(compared to 70% of men)
Respondents whose employers provide childcare as a perk
TWICE AS MANY MALE AS FEMALE RESPONDENTS HOLD THE MOST SENIOR EXECUTIVE POSITIONS. COMPANY OWNERS/ FOUNDERS/PRESIDENTS
EXECUTIVE, C-LEVEL, AND PARTNER POSITIONS
ALL THE GLAMOUR: “AS A REP, SOMETIMES I HAVE TO SLEEP IN MY CAR THE NIGHT BEFORE A CLINIC, AND BRUSH MY TEETH IN A McDONALD’S BATHROOM—AND I DON’T EVEN EAT McDONALD’S,” SAYS ONE REP.
death of a PAGE
From behind the windshield, the future can look pretty grim. But independent sales reps are fighting to stay relevant. BY COREY BUHAY PHOTOGRAPHY BY LOUISA ALBANESE
n the beginning, the dream was simple: Just you, the gear, and the open road. You’re somewhere, it doesn’t matter where. Between Colorado and Wyoming, say. You’ve got a truck full of next season’s climbing gear. Your next appointment isn’t until tomorrow, and there’s a crag and a pancake diner between it and you. During the early days of the industry, the life of a sales rep was glamorous, and not only for the adventurous lifestyle it offered. Reps served as catalysts and pollinators, stoking the fires of fledgling markets by scurrying between brand headquarters and gear shops, educating retailers on emerging technologies, and spreading the word about sales trends and new ideas. The industry is what it is in part because these folks built a network of relationships that unified it. That was in the beginning—20, 25 years ago. Now, American retail is changing, and those reps who helped build the industry are at risk of losing their jobs and legacies.
The dream of the early days is done.
The original outdoor reps were selfmade. If you had the gift of gab and a serious adventure résumé, then you were pretty much in, says All Mountain Group’s Al Diamond, a former climbing guide who now represents brands in the mid-Atlantic region. Over the past 20 years, the industry has matured. For companies, the growth has been good, leading to more jobs, better salaries, and more money to throw at conservation and advocacy. But it also means consolidation—think Walmart buying Moosejaw, or the string of Vail Resorts acquisitions—and these new, bigger companies aren’t looking for a retired athlete with a Tacoma to represent them. Brands want the high polish and professionalism of established rep agencies, Diamond explained. And agencies increasingly expect a business background. “It attracts more traditional reps who don’t participate as much in the activities that they’re selling,” says Kurt Smith,
owner of Top Gun Sales, a small agency based in the Southeast. Newer reps tend to be businesspeople, not first ascensionists or ski bums, a shift that threatens the authenticity and core knowledge of the outdoor industry’s front lines. The lonewolf sales rep is going extinct. Yet, romance and pedigree aren’t the only things at risk from corporatization. The changing face of the rep force could tip the balance of our outdoor ecosystem.
Pulling work in-house threatens reps and retailers alike.
There are two types of sales reps: independent and “in-house,” or brand reps. Independents work on a contract basis for commission. They come in the form of solo operators (less often) or agencies comprising several reps working together. In-house reps do the same work of building relationships, educating sales associates, and selling product lines to retailers, but only for a single brand and on a salaried basis. “As more consolidation happens, I’ve seen more and more of those companies create [in-house] positions for repping,” says Brad Bates, a sales director for Wigwam Mills. This trend threatens the
livelihoods of even established agencies, but it could spell trouble for retailers, too. For one thing, independent reps often provide a different level of service than brand reps. “We love our brand reps, but independent reps are true liaisons,” says Dana Davis, owner of Summit Hut in Tucson, Arizona. “They see what’s going on with hardgoods as well as apparel, what our customers are looking for across brands, and what trends are happening regionally and nationwide. That knowledge and understanding is really valuable.” The other issue with pulling the rep work in-house is that independent agencies typically maintain a delicate balance of accounts: Commissions from big brands subsidize their abilities to service and grow the up-and-comers. When big brands withdraw from the balance, or radically cut commissions for high-growth accounts like internet resellers, the system teeters. Without big-brand funding, independent agencies can’t thrive. Without independent agencies, smaller brands, which can’t afford in-house reps, stagnate. So if independent reps go extinct, the outdoor industry stands to lose small brands, and with them the scrappy entrepreneurial spirit that pressures bigger brands to innovate. However, as the industry matures, markets saturate, and brands continue to search for growth, more reps are facing slashed commissions and high turnover as brands seek better deals. Rather than feeling like part of the brand’s team, says one rep who elected to remain anonymous, “I feel like we’re all disposable.” The revolving door is tough on everyone. Training new reps takes
PHONE HOME: REPS SPEND 75 TO 200 DAYS ON THE ROAD EACH YEAR.
time. And whenever a fresh face comes in, the brand is represented differently, which disturbs continuity, Bates says. Some independent agencies try to shore themselves up by taking on more accounts than they can handle. As for those who don’t? If one big brand cuts commission, suddenly that agency can’t make payroll. “I know those people and I watch it happen and I think, oh man, you’ve got kids—what are you going to do?” says Sam Hoyt, a rep at Colorado-based Maple Street Associates. “It’s just hard.”
Technology takes a bite out of business.
Before email, social media, and brand websites and blogs, information flowed from brand to rep to retailer to customer, and feedback flowed in neat reverse. Nowadays, the connectivity of the modern world muddies that line. Brands and retailers are both communicating directly with the consumer, and competing messages can mean chaos for those caught in the middle. “I went onto Instagram on the Fourth of July and I saw that one of my brands had posted, ‘Get 30 percent off—go to our website!’” says one rep, who elected to remain anonymous. The sale, which the brand did not announce to its rep or retailers beforehand, siphoned revenue from brick-and-mortar during a holiday that’s typically a critical moneymaker for shops. “Vendors are competing directly with their retailers,” the rep says. “It’s happening more and more.” Technology gnaws at the edges of the job market in other ways. The robustness of direct-to-consumer sales, both through brand websites and platforms like Amazon, hamstrings specialty retailers, which leaves reps with fewer avenues to make commission. For a while, reps were able to make up those losses by working with independent entrepreneurs who were running Amazon resell shops. “A bunch of us were having a lot of success with that,” Diamond says. “It was becoming a big portion of our business.” Now, brands are cleaning house, either cutting off wholesale streams to resellers in an effort to get price variation under control, or selecting only one or two
ROAD OFFICE: ANY PLACE IS A WORKPLACE FOR INDEPENDENT REPS.
long-term partners. All other resellers effectively get a cease and desist, once again pinching cash streams for reps and making it harder to make a living.
Life on the road has its romance—and its strain.
There are clinics and grand openings. Product demos and store events. Meetings and trade shows. That amounts to anywhere between 75 to 200 days on the road per year, with endless calls and emails in between. One rep (who was on vacation during the interview) says she gets up to 45 emails an hour. “You miss your family, and you have to watch your kids growing up without you to a degree,” Leta Kalfas says. She’s president of the agency MtnStuff, which serves the Rocky Mountain region. Adding stress is the fact that reps tend to be extroverts. For people who need a lot of human interaction to be happy, all that time alone on the road can build into a festering loneliness. One rep called alcoholism and drug use among reps “rampant” for this reason. Yet, most reps say that if you spend long enough in the game, you find ways to achieve balance—whether that’s by getting outdoors, eschewing the hotel room for a friend’s couch, or simply commiserating; rep agencies are known for their camaraderie. Then there are the other hazards of the road. In 2017, Hoyt was on his way to an appointment when he hit a semi. He broke his “entire face,” several ribs, and three vertebrae. His wife was eight months pregnant. “It was a crazy time for us,” he says.
“One of my retailers picked me up in the hospital.” Hoyt says he was fortunate— his retailers, brands, and the rest of his industry peers stepped up to support him and his family while he recovered.
This isn’t the end of rep work—but maybe rep work as we know it.
In a connected world, reps have more responsibility to put on consumer-facing events, Kalfas says. “If a rep doesn’t find a way to connect with the consumers, then that rep is going to go away.” Some agencies are bringing on marketing and social media managers in an effort to become a one-stop shop for brand building, or establishing showrooms to add value for retailers, who can come to a central location and see several lines at once. Reps can also endear themselves to brands by serving as a source of market analysis. Bates says he looks for reps who can separate themselves from their region and look ahead to the long-term needs of the brand and where consumers are heading. Thinking of yourself as a brand’s business partner and providing that intel, he says, is an easy way to make yourself invaluable. Those interviewed—across brand, retail, and sales positions—say there will always be a place for independent reps, albeit perhaps fewer of them. At the end of the day, says one rep, the greatest threat isn’t consolidation. It isn’t Amazon. It’s nostalgia. “Are we going to be obsolete if we don’t change? We will,” Kalfas says. “You can’t do things the way you used to. But you can do them differently.”
PHOTO BY C2 PHOTOGRAPHY
BOB WADE IS SLOWLY SELLING THE UTE MOUNTAINEER TO HIS DAUGHTER, MAILE SPUNG.
PHOTO BY C2 PHOTOGRAPHY
generation W Don’t have a clue what will happen to your business when you’ve moved on—or you’re gone? You’re not alone. BY TRACY ROSS
hen Ron Gregg went for a ski tour in the British Columbia backcountry in 2003, he left behind a ticking time bomb. For 22 years, the 54-year-old skier, climber, and nuclear physicist had poured his love of the outdoors—and passion for building high-quality climbing and camping equipment—into the $10 million business Outdoor Research. Gregg was also married and had 200 employees. By all counts, it looked like he, his company, and his benefactors were pointed toward a prosperous future.
But on March 16, Gregg and his ski partner, James Schmid, were caught in an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park that killed them both. Beyond devastating his wife, extended family, and friends, the loss carried additional consequences, according to Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. For all of Gregg’s zest for adventure, business acumen, and technical brilliance, he had failed to take one of the most important steps in business ownership: tackling the unglamorous, often grueling work of paving a path for his company to continue operating in the event of precisely the kind of tragedy that ended his life. For Hill, who was friends with Gregg, it was a wakeup call for brands, as well as outdoor retailers, to the importance of succession planning. In general, that means making sure you’ve prearranged for the
how and where to obtain financing. Even though Ron Gregg poured his heart into Outdoor Research, it was “small and fragile,” says Dan Nordstrom, the minority owner and CEO emeritus of the company. When he emerged in May of 2003 to buy OR, its succession shortcomings were major. “The balance sheet was threadbare,” he says, “and the systems underpinning it were ancient.” Gregg also “just wouldn’t pay people,” adds Nordstrom, so the brand’s employee talent pool could have been stronger. By not taking time to plan for the company’s future, Gregg put his own legacy in danger. Years of innovation might have been lost had Nordstrom not possessed the capital to purchase OR outright—and get to work updating its systems, such as changing out the antiquated email platform for Outlook. “Modernizing was a mind-set,” he says, a step into the future. Over the next few years, Nordstrom grew OR to six times its original size. To be sure, passing the torch from one shop owner to another likely won’t be such an exceptional financial boon. And retailers aren’t exactly brands. They’re not inventors or manufacturers. But the same principles apply: You can’t deflect conversations about succession due to lack of know-how, lack of motivation—or a refusal to talk about your own mortality. You have to be ready to nurture people in your company into leadership roles. You must be willing to pay them fairly—and give them responsibility. And, if you play your cards right, they might become instrumental in the long-term survival of your dream. Says Hill, “At the end of the day, your shop is an extension of you.” On the next four pages, we profile seven retailers, seven stories of succession, and seven versions of success. Your job? Start organizing your own dream.
WHAT’S THE VALUE OF GOODWILL?
When you think about the worth of your business, what likely comes to mind are concrete things: the real estate the store sits on, the current inventory. But there’s another factor to consider: goodwill. It’s the nebulous value of the shop’s name, positive customer relations, and other intangibles, and it’s commonly listed on balance sheets alongside non-physical assets like trademarks. “Goodwill represents all the time you put into building the business,” says Dana Howe of Grassroots. “Like a brand value.” Putting a price on it is complicated, and there are different methods—such as subtracting the fair market value of the business’s tangible assets from the total business value—but sometimes it’s simply what the buyer is willing to pay.
1 Gifting the Shop to Staff Carolyn Crook
PACK RAT OUTDOOR CENTER, FAYETTEVILLE, AR “I think talking about succession planning is difficult in that you have to plan for being dead, and that’s not fun for anyone,” says Carolyn Crook, 75, who co-founded Pack Rat in 1973. Crook and her husband, Scott, opened the shop at a time “when you could get $20,000 worth of gear and build from there,” she says—and what they built was a thriving business with a culture that attracted impassioned employees. When the time came to think about letting the shop go—in part because Scott’s health began to decline—they realized their longtime staff cared deeply. “We had to figure out a way for them to invest in the store without it costing them any money,” says Crook. “They were living on the wage they earned working in the store—and that wasn’t a lot.” In the early 2000s, they asked their attorney if they could gift stock to certain employees. He said yes—if they stayed below the government limit of $10,000 annually. They did. “Now it’s figuring out how to gift the actual store, including the building,” to the two staffers who want it, says Crook. For her, the process “wasn’t complicated at all,” but she recognizes that succession planning isn’t easy for everyone. “If you care about the future of your store, then you have to find the right new owners,” she says. “Or you might walk in the door six months from now and it’ll be so different it’ll kill you.”
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEFT): ROBERT TUNG; SCOTT ROKIS; BEN HERNDON
ongoing success of your business, and, equally, he says, “tending to your legacy.” Of course, contemplating “unexpected life events”—death, illness, a surprise partnership breakdown—isn’t enjoyable. But to Hill, planning ahead is nonnegotiable. “Leaving it up to your friends, family, and staff to figure out is unacceptable.” In the years after Gregg’s death, Hill worked with various companies in the outdoor industry, gaining “a seat at the table to watch business owners cry through the succession planning process.” He also saw what happened when their plans weren’t complete: the breakdown of continuity can threaten the overall safety of a business’s heritage. And so, when he took on the leadership role at Grassroots, he began having the “worst possible, stickiest conversations” with shop owners, trying to impress upon them the need to go through it. “A lot of people think it’s just about selling their business,” he says. “That’s a piece of it, but not all.” Grassroots’s retailer relations manager, Dana Howe, adds that many of the industry’s longtime shop owners “have a lot of pride and want to see their legacy continue.” The trouble is that many don’t know how or where to start. That’s why Grassroots created a nine-page guide distilling the succession planning process into relatively simple steps. One of the biggest challenges is finding a new owner to take over a store. “For some, it’s a family transition,” says Howe. “Or a group of long-term employees want the business. Or a shop owner has one person who’s a standout and wants to take over. But identifying what succession looks like can be very difficult for an owner as well as a buyer.” For the owner, it involves some hope of permanancy—will what he or she nurtured live on? And for the buyer, it’s often a practical question of
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEFT): ROBERT TUNG; SCOTT ROKIS; BEN HERNDON
2 Selling to an Employee Outright
Brendan Madigan and Don Fyfe ALPENGLOW SPORTS, TAHOE CITY, CA
When Don Fyfe opened Alpenglow in 1979, his main focus was trail running, Nordic skiing, and backpacking. But when Brendan Madigan became an employee in 2002, “he brought a whole new sensibility, which aligned with trends in the outdoor industry,” says Fyfe. “Alpine touring and backcountry skiing were taking off, and Brendan was on it.” After 30 years at the helm, when Fyfe was ready to look for a successor, Madigan expressed interest. “It was obvious to me that the store needed to grow, and Brendan could make that happen,” says Fyfe. “But it was worth more than a small amount of money. And everyone wants to come away with a fair deal. We talked about different things, including me holding a percent of interest over time, but Brendan wanted a clean break.” In December 2008, Madigan assumed all the accounts payable. He and Fyfe notified their suppliers, and Madigan paid $250,000 for existing inventory. He tried to get a small business loan, “but I didn’t quite know what I was doing and they turned me down,” he says. In the end, he borrowed the cash from his parents; now, eight years later, he’s starting his own planning process. “As a proactive businessperson you’d be remiss not to, because the shit could hit the fan tomorrow,” he says. “You have a responsibility to the heritage of your shop and to your employees, some of whom have invariably committed themselves to your store and your mission. If something goes sideways, the only person you can blame is yourself.”
Buying in a Time of Crisis Lauretta Campbell
HYPERSPUD SPORTS, MOSCOW, ID
Lauretta Campbell didn’t set out to buy Hyperspud Sports. In 2014, she was a 27-year-old who’d worked retail since age 14, including four years at the shop. But when Hyperspud’s owner, John Crock, tried to sell it from his deathbed, the buyer backed out. At a joint meeting, Campbell blurted out, “I’ll buy it!” She didn’t realize the state of the business: She inherited a mess that’s taken five years to fix. “John hadn’t done an inventory in about 10 years, and we were still using a computer that ran Windows 1998,” she says. “You can’t keep such an antiquated system alive and expect someone to come in after you and know how to run it.” Campbell dove in, shedding dead inventory, establishing new connections with reps, and trying to get a bank line of credit. “But banks will not, under any circumstances, give a new shop owner a loan,” she says. “I thought they would take into consideration how long the store had been around [since 1989]. But when a sole proprietor dies, as far as the bank is concerned, the store dies too. I only had John’s tax returns, so basically, I had no history.” Slowly, she’s turned things around. And she has a succcession blueprint in place. “I have an If Lauretta Dies file,” she says—which includes her life insurance plan; a book about how to start a business; her EIN and sales certificate; bookkeeping software; and a list of passwords. “Oh, and directions to get my death certificate, because you can’t just go to the bank and say, ‘Hey, the store owner is dead.’” She knows. Because she’s tried.
4 Selling to a Longtime Customer
Vinny McClelland and Charlie Wise
THE MOUNTAINEER, KEENE, NY
McCLELLAND (LEFT) AND WISE
SPUNG AND WADE
Selling To Your Child, Bit by Bit Bob Wade and Maile Spung UTE MOUNTAINEER, ASPEN, CO
Early on during his succession planning, Bob Wade says he was warned that to gift a business to one’s child can be a disastrous decision. “My accountant said, ‘Man, I’ve seen a lot of horror stories—kids don’t value it, and they trash the asset,’” he says. But his daughter Maile had grown up in Aspen, working at Ute Mountaineer. She’d gone to college but returned home to the store. Five years ago, when Wade started feeling the urge to retire, father and daughter came to an agreement. “We worked out a deal where Maile could purchase part of the business with earnings from the business,” he says, “because if she has a stake in it, then she’s going to want to do well. She’s not going to be able to buy the business if there are no earnings.” Through his family accountant, Wade had Ute valued—and then gave Maile, now 34, a loan of 20 percent of that. In turn, at the end of each year, she pays this back through her percentage of revenue. (Each time she pays back 20 percent, she gets another 20 percent loan, gaining responsibility for an increasingly large slice of the shop.) “There are a couple of cool things about it,” says Wade. “One is from a tax perspective—a business is worth less if there are multiple owners, and it’s also less liquid. So the IRS sees it as up to 30 percent less valuable.” Come April 15 every year, that’s a bonus for both of them. Retaining ownership is good for Wade, too. “It’s important to me, before I get to complete retirement age, to have income,” he says. “Hey, maybe I’ll up the travel budget.”
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEFT): MIKE LYNCH; C2 PHOTOGRAPHY; COURTESY; ANDREW KORNYLAK
Vinny McClelland helped build The Mountaineer—literally build, with hammer and nails—for his parents in 1976, and ran it successfully with his family in a town of just 600 people. After college, he went to Alaska, returning 28 years ago to take over with new ideas: incentivizing the store’s staff by putting different employees in charge of different departments, offering them profit sharing by redirecting funds from traditional ads. Since then, he says, “We’ve become profitable.” And that put McClelland, now 68, in a good position to sell The Mountaineer to a longtime customer and friend, Charlie Wise. Wise says that although he wasn’t searching for a retail opportunity, he saw the benefits of an investment with demonstrated returns and attractive long-term potential. Negotiations took the better part of two years. Some sellers focus too much on the amount of money they need to retire, “but that’s not the starting point for the discussion,” Wise says. “What’s viable for a buyer and how can you justify it?” The price they settled on included the sale of the building, and McClelland ownerfinanced—which means “the seller still has a vested interest in the success of the business,” says Wise. McClelland has agreed to work in a support and consulting capacity for a year, as Wise ramps up his role. “Eventually Vinny will ride off into the sunset,” he says. “I think it should be considered an evolution. Succession planning is a continuing process. It doesn’t always involve a hard event.”
PHOTOS BY (FROM LEFT): MIKE LYNCH; C2 PHOTOGRAPHY; COURTESY; ANDREW KORNYLAK
6 Stepping In After a Family Death Betsy Bertram
TOWNSEND BERTRAM & COMPANY, CARRBORO, NC Bertram grew up in Townsend Bertram & Company culture as a kid banging around the store her parents started in 1988. But she never thought she’d work there; instead, she chose to study world politics. That all changed when her dad became terminally ill— and she moved home to find her mom, Audrey Townsend, writing orders from the hospital. In 2014, Bertram was put in charge of the succession planning process, with the goal of making sure her mom gets the best possible deal. “People who are selling their business need to get the highest value,” she says. “They’ve invested their lives and need to get what they put in and more. But how do you make that work for both buyer and seller?” That’s something both Betsy, 27, and Audrey—plus Betsy’s two business partners, Sarah Abernathy and Taylor Dansby—have spent the last two years figuring out. “There are so many moving parts,” she says, but there’s a good chance she and her partners will assume ownership of the store. With that in mind, Audrey is giving them a long leash to run the shop while she’s still owner. “If you’re entertaining the idea of selling, give the people who are interested a chance to make mistakes and decide if [ownership] is realistic for them,” says Betsy. Meanwhile, she, Abernathy, and Dansby have started TB&C Consulting, which focuses on helping specialty shops continue to thrive in a changing economy. “Succession planning is not to be rushed,” she says. “And if it’s a family business, there are so many layers.” BERTRAM (WITH SIGN), TOWNSEND (CENTER), AND FRIENDS
SUCCESSION PLANNING 101
Business appraiser Andy Lowe assists small business owners with selling. Here’s his advice for helping smooth out your transitions—with some help from the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.
1. Start your process early. Like, year one. Or even day one. “Many small retail shop owners wake up one morning and decide they’re going to retire,” says Lowe, “but it doesn’t quite work that way.” Start now, with questions like these from the Grassroot’s Succession Planning Toolkit: • In an ideal situation, when might I be ready to transition out of the business? • How do I envision business ownership and management after I’m gone? • Who could run the business today, if the need unexpectedly arises? • What needs to be in place to ensure a smooth transition for everyone? 2. Hire qualified professionals to sell your business, structure the sale, and invest the after-tax proceeds, says Lowe. These include legal, tax, valuation, wealth management, and other experts, who know infinitely more about each than you do. 3. Get a business valuation early. Just because you and your financial advisor decide that you need $3 million to retire doesn’t mean your business is worth $3 million, says Lowe. Have a valuation done at least five years before you plan to sell, so you can make changes to increase value. 4. Know your “vehicles of transfer.” Two common vehicles for business transition planning are insurance and trusts: Life insurance assures death benefit proceeds can be used to distribute the deceased’s share of the business, while a trust allows the trustee (typically, a registered company) to do business to benefit the trust’s members, says Grassroots. 5. Run a tight ship. “A business that falls apart when the owner exits is not a very lucrative asset for a buyer—and increases the level of risk,” says Lowe. Create an employee manual and document your return policy and other ingrained processes like payroll and inventory—so if the owner steps away, the business continues to thrive. If you’re not a Grassroots member but interested in seeing its succession planning guide, contact Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moving On Without Regrets Kevin Rosenberg
GEAR-TO-GO OUTFITTERS, BROOKLYN, NY Kevin Rosenberg knows how to move fast. In 2009, following a stint in the Navy, he started street-vending outdoor equipment on a busy corner in Brooklyn, New York. Just three months later, he took his operation online. “It was essentially a homeless business,” he says. “I swore that I would do whatever it took to succeed. And that if I failed it wouldn’t be for lack of effort or ingenuity.” In April 2011, he opened Gear-to-Go Outfitters, a brickand-mortar operation in Park Slope. He did around $180,000 in revenue during his first year, “but that trend was going down,” he says, “and I could tell we were going to lose money.” So he closed shop in 2017, had a neighborhood goodbye party, packed up inventory, moved it to a warehouse, and refocused. By isolating the gear rental portion of Gear-toGo and identifying his major online competitors, he let them know he was interested in selling—and sold to the highest bidder. Then he took the profit and poured it into a new business, International Adventure Guides, which offers bucket list adventures all over the world. Rosenberg felt nothing but a sense of relief. “It was so nice knowing that I didn’t have to worry about a retail store anymore,” he says. These days, Gear-to-Go still exists as a “nationwide gear rental operation” run by Dallas Shewmaker of Lower Gear. “The fact that Kevin didn’t pass on the store doesn’t mean he didn’t enact a succession plan,” says Howe of Grassroots. “Sometimes a succession plan is to literally dust their hands off, sell inventory, and close the doors.”
real are reviews? PAG E
Pay-to-play systems increasingly influence the way products are covered across mainstream media. Are outdoor publications immune? We take a close look into how gear really gets reviewed.
BY KELLY BASTONE
hen former pro skier Darcy Conover launched Corbeaux, the outdoor clothing company that she co-founded in 2014 with her ski mountaineering husband Adam Moszynski, she figured that making a great product would result in great reviews from outdoor magazines. But that’s not always how the system works. “We heard [from some magazines] that it’s pay to play, and that we’d have to be advertisers for our product to be considered for review,” says Conover, who was shocked to discover bias among some of the titles that she’d trusted. “As a consumer I felt duped, because like a lot of people I know, I put a lot of faith in those reviews.” Not all publications operate on a pay-to-play basis, and in fact, Outside and others have reviewed Corbeaux products, even though the two-person company has never had the budget for print or online advertising in any magazine. But the discovery rocked Conover’s belief in editorial objectivity—one of the pillars of ethical journalism. For most of the 20th century, magazines and newspapers adhered to a relatively strict separation of “church” (the editorial content) and “state” (the ad sales team). But over the past decade, that wall has become a lot more porous, in the outdoor industry and beyond. In part, that’s because companies (including gear manufacturers) aren’t buying as many magazine advertisements. To stay solvent, titles have had to seek new revenue sources—such as affiliate sales and sponsored content—which blur the line between the publication’s editorial and marketing efforts. “We have a very small team at FREESKIER,” says Donny O’Neill, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. “So it’s natural that our edit and sales team work very closely together. When it comes to assisting our sales team, the edit staff is more than happy to provide input and help craft solutions for our partners. They support us, so it just makes sense to help support them, too.” But as editors and advertisers grow cozier, gear coverage grows more complicated—and, say some consumers, less trustworthy.
“I’VE WRITTEN SO, so many gear reviews over the years,” says Steve Casimiro, an outdoor media veteran who worked for newspapers before editing such titles as Powder and Bike. In those days, he says, his supervisors occasionally urged him to consider all available brands. “The subtext was, ‘Make sure you at least look at our advertisers,’ which seemed fair because it’s the kind of due diligence that [ journalists] should be doing anyway,” says Casimiro, who founded Adventure Journal as an online magazine in 2008 (and expanded to print in 2015). Now, says Casimiro, “We have people ask to buy our gear reviews, with no
reservation or shame about it. It’s just the ethos out there.” Members of the ad sales team at Active Interest Media (which owns The Voice, SKI, and BACKPACKER, among other titles) also report occasional pressure from outdoor brands to translate advertising into editorial coverage. “They imply that if we don’t, they’ll take their dollars elsewhere, hinting that other publications will give them the edit coverage they’re looking for,” says Ginna Larson, AIM’s industry sales director. Saying no to such demands has actually cost AIM titles some advertisers. But, says Larson, “We stand strong on our philosophy, and decided that those advertisers were not the right fit for us.” Other publications, especially ones that cater to lifestyle markets, are plenty happy to translate ad dollars into edit coverage. “Blogs are almost 100 percent pay-to-play,” says public relations professional Maro LaBlance, who represents such brands as Saola shoes, Tecnica, and Oyuki gloves. The hook-and-bullet publications that represent fishing and hunting interests also tend to favor advertisers, says Charlie Lozner, integrated services director for Backbone Media. Compared to those realms, says Lozner, the outdoor titles maintain more objectivity. LaBlance agrees: “If you have a good product, with a good story, and a good PR person, you won’t be turned down coverage,” she says, pointing to how Oyuki was reviewed in five fall ’18 gear guides—despite a neglible U.S. marketing budget. Plus, says Larson, if brands want to order up a particular type of coverage, most magazines let them do that—via sponsored content. Also known as native advertising, these sponsored articles have skyrocketed in popularity over the past five years because they let brands showcase their target products, profile individual designers, and promote the company’s culture. Not all editors feel comfortable with sponsored content. “As soon as you enter into any kind of paid content, now you’re a marketing partner with somebody, and you have to consider their needs and wants,” explains Casimiro. “The needs and wants of, say, a gear manufacturer are different from the goals of storytelling and journalism.” That’s why Adventure Journal remains one of the rare magazines that doesn’t accept brand-commissioned articles, even ones clearly identified as advertorial. But most publications have embraced sponsored content as merely another shade of traditional marketing. “We do sponsored content, and the truth is, it can be really good content,” says Dennis Lewon, BACKPACKER’s editor-in-chief. “As long as
PACKER isn’t able to publish the volume of content it was doing.” He offers a hypothetical example: “Let’s say we go to print a gear guide, and we have lower than expected ad revenue and have to print a smaller issue—and cut reviews to fit. We’ll always keep the best-performing products, but when products are similar and we need a tiebreaker, I would cut from brands that are not advertising,” Lewon says. “In that scenario, I see no conflict favoring advertisers.”
“I CURSE THE DAY that magazines started relying on ad support for their revenue,” says it’s clearly labeled as advertising, so readers We understand that LaBlance, who wishes that readers would aren’t being deceived, it’s an effective tool.” editors want to say assume more responsibility for paying for Reader-funded structures reduce However, magazines deepen their role as to consumers, content. titles’ dependency on advertisers (thus making marketing partners when they pair online ‘These are the best articles less vulnerable to advertiser influence) gear reviews with affiliate website links. skis.’ But if brands and incentivize editors to please consumer These agreements with online retailers let magazines take a cut of eventual sales— want amazing cover- audiences rather than brands. “But magazine which aren’t restricted to the item reviewed. age of their product [subscriptions] cost $12 a year,” she notes, it’s hard to change that expectation.” Amazon, for example, gives magazines an and the sport, they “And With its $60 annual subscription rate, Adaffiliate kickback when traffic from the magneed to support the venture Journal is challenging that model. The azine leads to purchases of even televisions magazine.” magazine reaches 3,500 quarterly print readand mattresses. - GINNA LARSON, ers and 300,000 unique website visitors per “It’s a brand-new revenue stream, and it’s ACTIVE INTEREST MEDIA month. That’s a smaller audience than comgiving magazines an easy way to make money petitors like Outside and BACKPACKER reach, off the gear reviews they’ve always done,” but, “We’re profitable and growing,” Casimiro explains Ben Fox, who managed affiliate notes. “Consumers want brands that stand for content for Outside before taking a similar something more than just selling stuff.” position for Backbone Media. At Outside all gear coverage is still determined by That’s what makes sponsored content such tricky editorial objectives and in-field testing. “It’s product first, then affiliate—not the territory, says LaBlance. When magazines don’t other way around,” says Outside gear editor Will Egensteiner. clearly delineate commissioned articles from their But some titles have told PR professionals that they won’t review products own editorial content (which is legally required by that don’t let them cash in on affiliate deals. And, says Lozner, some magazines the Federal Trade Commission, but not always done have also changed the way they write online reviews in order to maximize the well)—or when they go overboard on the brand stopotential for affiliate revenue. Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York ries that may not resonate with readers—they end Times, has discovered that long-form, in-depth product reviews are most sucup diluting their own brand, she explains. “Publicacessful at “converting” readers into buyers. Other publications (such as Gear tions lose their readers’ trust, and their interest,” Patrol) have followed suit. “It’s a different kind of coverage that isn’t just about LaBlance says. “People end up canceling subscripinspiring people, but also educating them, and driving them to conversion,” tions if it all feels like ads.” Lozner explains. Already, outdoor editors like Casimiro and Magazines’ quest to monetize their gear coverage has prompted some titles to Egensteiner report skepticism among readers, charge companies for product submissions. Powder and FREESKIER have long who may simply be responding to an overall media required manufacturers to pay to participate in their outerwear and ski tests; climate in which objective reporting seems like SKI recently followed suit. “We lost ad dollars when we continued to give them an endangered species. But if authenticity is the coverage for free,” says AIM’s Larson. very foundation of the outdoor industry (and its “We understand that editors want to say to consumers, ‘These are the best publications), then it behooves both advertisers skis,’” says Larson. “But if brands want amazing coverage of their product and and editors to cultivate consumers’ trust. After all, the sport, they need to support the magazine.” our readers are hikers, snowboarders, backpackers, Lewon agrees—to an extent. “Brands have no obligation to us,” he says. “But if and adventurers; they know that the best things they find our print audience valuable, and they don’t support the magazine, then can’t be bought. they risk losing a trusted way to communicate with that audience when BACK-
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The Hotsheet Products, brands, and services you need to know about.
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JETTY & TOADFISH COASTAL CO-OP SHUCKER
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she’s a natural Latasha Dunston, 26, is a nature-loving artist who specializes in landscape paintings and custom illustrations (see page 31). We asked her to pick three of her latest works and tell us what’s behind them. I painted this watercolor of my baby
1 sister on her first trip to the Rocky
Mountains. She effortlessly connected to the land and loved every moment. This portrait means a lot to me: The imagery is everything I’ve ever wanted to see with representation in the outdoors. A woman of color sitting proudly and gracefully in her element. She reminds me of a beautiful black Mother Nature. En plein air painting (the act of
2 painting outdoors) is my passion. This one, done on my first solo road trip to central Utah, is close to my heart. I stopped to rest and stretch in a parking area on the Colorado River and spied a beautiful, lone white bird floating in the water. She reminded me of me, and I had to capture the moment.
We gather every year—this diverse
3 group of strong women and our furry, four-legged babies. We drive from all over the country to southeast Utah, the desert lands of the Ute tribe, and just recharge, connect, laugh, cry, nap, eat, hike, and be together. @JITTERBUGART
Let’s Save Our Home Planet, Together A conversation about supply chains and climate change. Led by the Apparel Impact Institute and Regenerative Organic Alliance, with representatives from Patagonia, Patagonia Provisions, Burton and Dr. Bronner’s.
Wednesday, June 19 3:30 – 4:45 PM 4:45 – 5:30 PM
Panel Happy Hour
LOCATION Meeting Room 201 at the Denver Convention Center
© 2019 Patagonia, Inc.
A FOX FOR EVERY ADVENTURE
Come see us at booth: # 39105-UL / fjallraven.us
In 1960, Åke Nordin founded Fjällräven in his basement in the Swedish town of Örnsköldsvik. Since then we have stayed true to our mission of developing timeless, functional and durable outdoor equipment,
acting responsibly towards people, animals and the environment and inspiring more people to discover outdoor life. Nature is waiting. What are you waiting for?
INDEPENDENT : UNFILTERED : ENGAGED