View Full Version : Customer Service and Good Gear

The Weasel
10-08-2002, 19:27
For those just starting to buy gear, customer service and warranties are the most important thing you're buying. High-end backpacking gear is very unusual: It's the only industry I know in the USA where it is ASSUMED that the warranty is an "all risks lifetime". Middle-market stuff doesn't have this policy, e.g. Coleman. But most of the high-end companies do: I have a 22 year old Jansport pack that has has had every seam resewn, the frame completely replaced, the hipbelt replaced, all zippers replaced (you're asking what's left of the original? the fabric). Sierra Designs restuffed my old down bag after 13 years with 2# or so of quality goose down. Cascade Designs has patched my Therma-Rest (they don't fix for free punctures, but will do so for a fee), and Timberland replaced my $90 boots when they delaminated in the Smokies with $175 boots mailed to my next mail drop. ALL free. (North Face has similar policies) This is NOT uncommon...with the good stuff.

When you get gear, you can sometimes save money by buying middle-market or low end stuff. But consider this: Most of your gear is going to develope problems. "No questions asked" warranties save a HUGE amount of money for you, and makes it prudent to "name brand" with expensive companies like the ones above (and others). They ship free, usually, often without asking for returns first (you're on the trail, your boots start to blow out, are you going to send them back and wait a week for new ones?).

Tiny companies may have similar warranties, but may not be around in 10 years (and "lifetime", as I mention with my pack, MEANS lifetime...MINE!). Read the warranty info CAREFULLY first; it's the most important part of what you're buying.

The Weasel

10-08-2002, 19:51
Outstanding thread.......

I bet it didn't hurt when you told them you were a NY lawyer living in Michigan and that you would sue the crap out of them if they didn't fix the problem....

I'm joking!!!:p

You really did make a good point of buying the higher end stuff to begin with.

I think a lot of us, not all, start off with the lower end brands only to kick ourselfs in the head later.

Buy cheap twice, or buy good once.

Trail Yeti
10-08-2002, 21:04
I agree, this is an excellent thread.
When someone says "you get what you pay for" it MOST DEFINATELY applies to hiking gear.
I had all sorts of stuff, break, tear or not "hold up to my expectations on my hike". I will give you a list of my experiences these past months w/customer service and major gear companies, both good and bad.
On the good side:
Granite Gear
On the bad side:
Ok, so there is only one in the "bad". I am not going to say what exactly happened, if you want to know email me. Let me just say that I WILL NEVER, EVER buy ANYTHING from Vasque again.:mad:

The Weasel
10-09-2002, 00:42
That's the cool thing about the backpacking gear industry: You don't have to make threats. (And I don't ever make the "I'm a lawyer, I'll sue you" threat. (a) It doesn't work. (b) It's unethical and can lead to reprimands. (c) It doesn't work.) But how do the companies make money on it? Easy...this is the best advertising there is - just look at my list and Yeti's; GoLite and JanSport can't pay enough for the kind of words we've put together here.

Think what it would be like if MicroSoft or GM provided that kind of customer service: "If if doesn't work right for any reason, we'll fix it free. If you damaged it on purpose, maybe even then we'll fix it free, since our stuff should be tougher than you. By the way, this includes the hardest, toughest, most miserable service conditions you can find."

The Weasel

10-09-2002, 07:43
Think about how often the "normal" backpacking gear gets used. Maybe 14 days a year at the most. Now, think about a thru-hike using the gear for a thru-hike that lasts an average of 170 days. That's more than 10 years of average use. So, it's no wonder that gear gets worn out. Most of it isn't designed for 10 years or more of hard use.

Myself, other than replacing water filter cartridges, all my gear held up very well.
And I don't have really high end gear either. Kelty, Thermarest, North Face, etc. The only complaint I have is a leaky Walrus/MSR tent. The rep blew me off at Trail Days when I complained.

10-09-2002, 11:20
I'd like to second the praise for customer service from Marmot and ThermaRest. Both replaced gear without question though I did have to pay the nominal repair fee to ThermaRest. When they could not repair the mattress, they replaced it for the same fee. Marmot offered to replace a sleeping bag they could not repair though when it was found to be out of stock, gave me a credit for the full purchase price. I have also had great responses from REI. I have returned shoes that blew out too soon, trekking poles that broke, boots that didn't feel right after hiking and so forth..In each case, the item was replaced or a credit issued..

Paying a little extra to get quality gear with corporate backing is well worth it, particularly if you are through hiking and need to replace gear quickly without a lot of hassle.

10-09-2002, 11:39
I would like to ditto the acolades for JanSport customer service. I have 2 JanSport Daypacks that I have had for over 10 years. 1 was repaired once then replaced. The other was repaired/upgraded (the fix was much sturdier). As a result I bought my son a JanSport bookpack for school this year--figuring it will last a long time.

I too had problems with Vasque customer service, mainly not being able to get through and then them never returning my call. When I did get through the guy clearly answered my questions/problems (did not need a repair).

I appreciate hearing about companies with good customer service. I am in the process of replacing a lot of gear and want to buy quality. I want to be able to count on it and I plan to use it hard.


10-09-2002, 22:33
We talked to a lot of fellow hikers this year, and seems we were the only ones that had a problem with Cascade Designs, but so someone might learn from our experience: we got to Hiawasee with a busted Sweetwater Guardian filter. It was obviously a defect, the water was squirting up through the pump handle seal with every pump. We called the compnay from Hiawasee to ask if they could either send a new one and we would send our brand new one back to them for warranty, or if they could send us one ahead, or what, and they basically todl us "tough luck, there is an outfitter that carries these filters about 150 miles from where you are, and there is nothing we can do unless you get it to this outfitter."

They were very un-helpful, and the woman we spoke with on the phone I swear sounded SMUG that we weren't getting any help. Maybe it was her last day or something. So we went to the fly-fishing store up next to the steakhouse, purchased a Pur Hiker filetr, and sent the Sweetwater home. Didn't have a single problme with the Pur the entire trip, and only replaced the cartride twice for daily, 2 person use.

On the flip side, we had outstanding customer service from Mountainsmith, and Kelty, and also Western Mountaineering, who over-nighted our summer bags to us from their warehouse for standard shipping costs.