Friday, November 2, 2012

Lets Talk About Awesome Companies...

After returning from the trail it's fair to say that every piece of gear I used had been used and beaten up more than the average weekend warrior could in a lifetime. I set out to contact the companies and provide feedback on the gear I used. I got in touch with companies whose products worked flawlessly and those that did not. I had a lot of gear that need major repair and sought out the companies help directly.
Besides maybe your footwear, there isn't another piece of gear that gets beaten up more than your pack. It carries everything and is always exposed to the elements. It serves as a pillow, chair, bearbag, etc. I am lucky enough to carry a Granite Gear. The weakest link on the pack would have to be the outside stretch pockets. Mine had seen better days by the end of the trail. After countless encounters with branches, trees, and mice going after the forgotten CLIF bar wrapper, they developed some holes. When I got home I contacted Granite Gear to sing the praises of the pack that carried my home for over 2,000 miles and see how I could get it fixed.

Functionally, everything was still fine. The side pockets still hold everything but it wasn't going to get any better. I sent Granite Gear photos and an explanation and they did something I did not expect. They replaced my pack for me! Does this happen all the time? No. Should it? No. Did I get my moneys worth? Hell yes. Was I blown away at how awesome Granite Gear and there customer service was? Absolutely.

Granite Gear, You Rock! Enough said. If you are considering investing in a new pack, look them up. I can guarantee that you will be happy. I have been more than satisfied with everything I've ever bought from them before this pack and am a loyal pack carrier for times to come.

My socks. I started out with a pair of Smartwools I'd had for awhile and a few pair of cycling socks. They all wore out relatively quickly. My Smartwools lasted about 800 miles but for the first 400 miles they were my sleeping socks. I was pleased with them enough to buy another pair around Bear Mountain, New York. I hiked in a pair of PHD Outdoors medium-light cushion for only 10 days before they wore out on my heel causing a nasty blister on an already nasty weather day. I was not happy. I had switched over to Darn Tough Socks which I would say are the best hiking socks on the market, and I was pissed I had paid $19 for a pair of socks that barely lasted 100 miles. I bought another pair of Darn Toughs and went about the trail vowing to never hike in Smartwools again.

When I got home I sent the pair of worn out Smartwools back to the company and told them my story. They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee and I was surely not satisfied. I got in contact with customer service and they sent me an easy to fill out survey to send back with my socks. I shipped them back and I was told to expect about a 4-6 week return. To my surprise I had a new pair of socks within about 2 weeks. Good on Smartwool for standing behind their products and doing good on there guarantee. The thing is, I love these socks. I wish I had 10 pairs of them for everyday use. They are incredibly comfortable and soft. I would not however, suggest these for any long-distance hikes. From what I've seen they are just not as durable as others on the market. Wear these every day, but wear Darn Toughs on the trail.

Trekking Poles
Trekking poles can be an underrated piece of gear on any hike. There are those that hike without them. Good for them. I wouldn't want to hike without them. I started with a basic pair of Leki Makalu Trail poles. After weeks of cold and wet hands trying to adjust the height of the poles I was fed up and went in search for a pair that fit my situation better. I lucked into finding a pair of Black Diamond Distance FL poles on sale at TrailDays. Despite being a size too big, I liked how they broke down and stowed quickly and collapsed with one button to set up my tarp at night.

I passed on my old poles to a friend and went about 1300 miles on these poles without a hiccup. After about 3 months of day in and day out usage, they began to show there age. First the slide piece that helps collapse the poles into a Z would seize up. Mostly when getting back to the trail after a town stop. I was able to free it most of the time but at a certain point one of my poles just would not budge. I still needed it to set up my tarp and it rode in my pack the rest of the trail (about 200 something miles). I got used to using one pole without much trouble. In the 100 mile wilderness the tip just bent and gave out. I switched it out with the one in my pack and hiked on. Needless to say these poles were beaten to hell by the trail's end.

When I got home I contacted Black Diamond to get the poles repaired. After telling the warranty/repair department my story they just said send em in, we'll replace them. I was floored. I had clearly gotten my money out of them and was willing to pay to repair them. Within a week a box was on my doorstep with a shiny new set of poles inside. Black Diamond hooked me up good. They replaced my poles with a pair of non-flicklock 110cm distance poles. I will probably still buy another pair of flicklock poles which are incredibly nice when adjusting the height of your shelter. These poles are a bit finicky and will probably never see the kind of abuse they saw on the AT again. I will certainly maintain my next pair better and hike with them until they fall apart again. These poles rule. Black Diamond treated me very well and I will buy another pair of the Flicklock poles and let Ruthie use these.

And remember that pillow I talked about and how devestated I was when it started deflating? A few emails to a company called Design Salt (which I guess is another name for Cocoon) and they replaced my pillow free of charge, and rather quickly I might add. This was also an upgrade because the newer design has the valve sticking out the side of the pillow instead of the top. I love it. It is the best luxury item in my pack and I will carry one until it pops again.
This reminded me that when purchasing a new piece of gear, no matter how big or small, you are not just buying the product. You are investing in the company that researches, tests, builds and brings that product to the market. You are also buying the warranty and the kind of customer service that the company keeps. I am happy to report that every product I was legitimately unhappy with was handled professionally and quickly. I will no doubt spend my money on these companies over and over again.

Big thanks goes out to these fantastic companies:

Granite Gear

Black Diamond



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