Backpacking Brands That Stand Tall in My Book

With a month and a half a backpacking scheduled for this coming season I’ve been going through broken and worn gear and replacing it. I am one of those people who are rough on gear. Every piece of gear and clothing that  I started out with in 2007 when I hiked the AT as been replaced, worn out, or broken with the exception of Tiki-mon,  my Triple Crown water bottle buddy, and I’m checking him out for a possible leak tonight..

Here’s the latest item I replaced, a pair of Point6 light hikers. I purchased two pairs of Point6 light hikers that have been totally satisfactory. Point6 sock have a lifetime guarantee, as do DarnTough socks.  When a pair sprouted a hole, I washed and sent them back. Point6 replaced them in 2 days, no questions asked.

Point6 is a company that shines in customer service

In the past month I have replaced or had gear repaired from MSR (Lightning Ascent snowshoe binding), Princeton Byte ( sending me a replacement cover for my headlamp (plastic broke on battery door), Patagonia (new zipper on my down sweater), and LLBean (replaced a pair of biking gloves).  I have two sets of  Leki trekking poles, and advise hikers to purchase the aluminum models since they carry a lifetime breakage warranty (Leki carbon fiber poles are only covered for a year).

I understand that companies don’t typically provide this level of customer service.  Here’s my policy: I don’t deal with any gear or clothing company that gives me crap about their product quality.  When I hear it starting on the other end of the phone , I thank them right away and that’s the end of it between them and me.  I’m one of those decisive older guys who does not like to waste time with unnecessary burdens of any kind, be it on my back on in my head.  It is for this reason I stopped dealing with Eastern Mountain Sports, Mountain Hardware, and Arc’teryx.

When you spend weeks to months at a time every single day outdoors using these products they have to work, and when they don’t, the company better assist this hiker in replacing that often essential item as soon as possible.  Some of the companies that come to the front here are noted above.  Tarptent and ULA have sent me loaners overnight in exchange for me sending them back my gear to be fixed ASAP.  I like it when that happens. I rebuy from them in kind and it goes on from there.

It’s interesting that I have so little interest in checking out newer tents, sleeping bags, pads, and stoves, even though I am out frequently and even find myself guiding others along the path.  I hear the same thing from other experienced long-distance hikers- that gear that works well tends to start settling in in a comfortable manner, better or worse.

One thing has changed though in my gear deal.  I’m not shopping around much .  I stick with these companies because they respect me as a customer.  And I respect them for producing quality service, AND quality products.

My recommendation to this year’s batch of thru -hiker hopefuls is to be sure to have those 800 numbers written down somewhere when your gear fails you.  If you pay the bucks up front and purchase from a vendor that has a replacement guarantee, you should be all set. In any case,  be polite, and maybe you too will be a repeat offender when it comes to putting out the bucks for new stuff.

I also need to call Leki about a broken pole. They once gave me a bandanna with their customer service number on it, which is answered by a friendly human !


Why Leki trekking poles rule the market

Way back in 2007 I purchased a pair of Leki Makalu aluminum anti-shock poles after I encountered treacherous ice, steeply descending into The Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina on what turned out to be a successful Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
Since my purchase I’ve used these poles on 6,000 miles of backpacking trails.
They’ve saved me from falling hundreds of times, helped power me up climbs, and secured my safety while crossing hundreds of streams.

Unfortunately, I still fall, and have broken the poles 5 times. Replacement has never been a problem. I carry at least two bandannas with me when I hike. One was a freebee from Leki, which has a raft of imprinted information about how the poles work, along with a toll-free number for customer service.
Each time I call, I am able to speak to a friendly service person, who assists me in determining my exact needs. They make many models. I’ve never been grilled about any of my requests for new pole sections. They have shipped immediately, at no charge.
After five years, the poles had a catastrophic breakage that I felt was my fault, and called them again. This time I asked to purchase two replacement sections, but was requested to send both poles in for service and review.
Yesterday, my poles were returned to me. They could not be repaired. My old friends were cooked!
However, There was more something else in the box, wrapped up in paper. A brand new set of Leki Khumbu antishock poles, Superstrong series, with the new Speedlock adjusting system!



[NOTE: Leki has a lifetime breakage warranty on their aluminum line . The carbon fiber pole breakage is limited to one year breakage replacement. ]