Buying outdoor gear for summer is usually about affordability and desirable brands. Now, it has everything to do with availability. Since the pandemic started shuttering business, canceling events, and limiting day-to-day activities, more people have taken to the outdoors—camping, backpacking, and hiking—in Colorado’s hundreds of parks, lakes, and wilderness areas. But with more Coloradans escaping to the mountains, some gear has been harder to locate and purchase, according to local gear shops.
“There’s definitely a lot more people recreating outside than last summer,” says Jimmy Funkhouser, owner of FERAL. Located on Tennyson Street, FERAL is usually stocked with everything from sleeping pads, sleeping bag liners, and hammocks to stoves, water filtration systems, and women’s and men’s apparel, in addition to its rental program (which is temporarily suspended due to COVID-19). This summer, however, FERAL and other local gear shops like Boulder-based Neptune Mountaineering and Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden are experiencing issues meeting the high demand for backpacking and camping essentials.
“I do think that the pandemic has really limited people’s travel [plans] and what they do for fun. It’s driven people into these outdoor activities,” Bentgate Mountaineering marketing manager John Weir says. “I would say it’s been one of the busiest summers in recent memory for us for backpacking equipment.”
For Bentgate, backpacking commodities like bear canisters, bear spray, water filtration systems, and freeze-dried food have either sold out frequently or been low in stock all season long.
“Bear canisters, we’ll typically get when we can from our distributors. We’ll be sold out within the week,” Weir says. “Camp food, we’ve been pretty much reordering every other week, which usually we do one or two orders a summer and tend to have leftovers.”
Neptune Mountaineering is experiencing similar inventory constraints. The 17,000-square-foot gear hub boasts camping, backpacking, and climbing essentials in addition to a robust guidebook library. To keep up with demand, Neptune’s team has worked extra hard to keep its inventory stocked with fuel for stoves and basic camping supplies in addition to crash pads for bouldering.
“I feel like there’s been a resurgence, or maybe just a lot of people that climbed in a gym as their regular routine are now exploring outside. So, we’re seeing more people who have never climbed outside trying to get geared up,” says Shelley Dunbar, co-owner of Neptune. Dunbar thinks more people are taking up bouldering because little gear is required—all you need is a crash pad and climbing shoes. “We’ve seen a major uptake in bouldering gear with amazing volume of sales with crash pads.”
Dunbar attributes Neptune’s ability to stay in stock with gear to its inventory size compared to nearby competition.
“I will say that our business is actually booming because REI has been out of stock for a lot of these things,” Dunbar says. “Whereas we have been in a pretty good inventory position. Let’s face it, REI is a big national chain.” Because Neptune is a small business, they can replenish items like sleeping bags a lot quicker than a major corporation like REI—a company that operates over 160 retail locations across 40 states. “They’re just a machine that can’t move as quickly as an independent retailer like Neptune can…. Because we’re able to serve the customers here locally and we hope that they’ll come shop at Neptune because we have everything an REI has—and more.”
REI did not respond to requests for comment.
Similarly, Funkhouser believes that FERAL can meet the needs of local outdoor enthusiasts because of the store’s flexibility and manageable inventory.
“Fortunately for us, it’s actually easier for us to react to this situation as a small business. If you’re a larger, corporate retailer…you have to handle logistics and inventory for several hundred locations and trying to dance around these really difficult constraints can be hard for a larger corporation,” he says. “We can kind of sprinkle in inventory a little quicker, which is definitely helpful. It’s one of the rare situations where we have a little bit of an advantage over our corporate overlords.”
While these local shops are considerably smaller than corporate companies like REI, in some ways they are at the mercy of the community and rely heavily on that support.
For Bentgate, there has been a major shift in the shop’s customer base. “We rely heavily on local adventurers and enthusiasts,” Weir says. “Those people who have been coming to us for years.” Because less people are traveling to Colorado or are coming through Golden—and stopping at Bentgate to gear up—business is slower this summer. “Despite the very encouraging growth from the local community or word of mouth, we’re still struggling with the overall. It hasn’t completely supplemented with lack of tourism.”
Luckily for these shops, Coloradans never stop exploring. If you’re having trouble finding a tent, sleeping bag, or any other outdoor essential, check out these local brick and mortars that offer similar options.
Gear: Before you hit the trailhead, you need proper protection from Colorado’s intense sun. Vital Outdoors—located in downtown Golden—carries many of the outdoor brands you know and love, like Kuhl, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Prana, Marmot, and Mountain Hardwear. The shop, which also has a location in Denver, features camping essentials (tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and stoves) and a robust collection of climbing gear.
Where: 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden
Gear: When it comes to adventure gear, Larson’s has it all. From paddle boards to windsurfing accessories, the Wheat Ridge gear hub specializes in tunes, repairs, and rentals. In the summer, Larson’s offers daily and season rentals for paddle boards, windsurf boards, and accessories for purchase. The shop also sells outdoor clothing for men, women, and children, in addition to bikes, gear bags, and footwear.
Where: 715 Kipling Street, Wheat Ridge
Rentals: SUPs start at $50 a day; windsurf boards and rigs start at $65 a day
Gear: Mountainside’s owners believe gear should be accessible to everyone. To make that possible, the shop solely rents gear through its robust program, offering reasonably priced camping kits to help get more people outdoors.
Where: 15985 South Golden Road, Golden
Rentals: Camping kits—which includes a camping stove, pots, first-aid kit, two sleeping bags, fire starting sticks, a lantern, a cooler, and camping guide book—available to rent, starting at $156 for two people. Click here for more details.
Gear: Bentgate Mountaineering offers expert advice in addition to climbing, backpacking, and winter gear. From backpacks to fishing gear, the brick and mortar has everything you need for a multi-day Colorado excursion. The store’s demo department carries backcountry safety gear and ski gear and snowshoes in the winter. Additionally, with 25-plus years in Golden, the staff at Bentgate has expert knowledge of the Front Range (and beyond) to help you plan your next backcountry camping trip.
Where: 1313 Washington Avenue, Golden
Gear: FERAL carries everything you need for a long weekend camping or backpacking trip. Stocked with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and liners, the brick and mortar also carries first aid gear and bear safety. The store also resells used gear.
Where: 3936 Tennyson Street, Denver
Rentals: Temporarily unavailable
Gear: This gear hub is stocked with climbing gear (ropes, harnesses, shoes, and more), camping gear (tents, sleeping bags, pads, and kitchen essentials), and skis and snowboards. Neptune also carries hundreds of climbing guide books for your next day at the crag.
Where: 633 South Broadway, Boulder
Rentals: Climbing shoes and crash pads are available to rent. Call for prices.