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Hilton’s Tent City in Boston, MA

Hilton's Tent City - Boston, MA

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, we used to drive to a place in the suburbs called Ralph's Army Navy Surplus to buy camping and backpacking equipment. There wasn't anything like REI or EMS back then. Ralph's was one of those special stores, packed to the gills with interesting stuff, and I used to love going there to look at everything from tube tents and fishing rods to gas masks and wool army blankets.

Hiltons Tent City - First Floor - Mens and Womens Jackets and Pants

First Floor – Men's and Women's Technical Clothing, Stoves, Filters, Gloves and Knives

I thought about Ralph's again today when my wife and I visited Hilton's Tent City in downtown Boston. Hilton's has been open since 1947 and is an institution in the Boston and Cambridge hiking community. It's one of the few places in the Boston Area that has a decent selection of plastic mountaineering boots and the boot fitting expertise required to fit people properly.

Hiltons Tent City - Second Floor - Backpacks, Sleeping Bags, Footware, Cookware

Second Floor – Backpacks, Sleeping Bags, Footware, Cookware

Like Ralph's, Hilton's it is jammed wall-to-wall with gear, four floors of it. They carry an impressive assortment of brands including Asolo, Scarp, Petzl, Arcteryx, Osprey, Golite, Granite Gear, Marmot, Western Mountaineering, Mountain Hardwear, and Patagonia (amongst others) and a wide assortment of equipment suitable for anyone from beginning hikers and backpackers through hardcore climbers and mountaineers.

Hilton's Tent City - Third Floor - Camping Gear, Outer Jackets, and Cross-Country Skis

Third Floor – Camping Gear, Outer Jackets, and Cross-Country Skis

The staff at Hilton's is very knowledgeable and friendly. It's the kind of place where you can hang out for hours chatting and trying on gear without any pressure. Browsing is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Prices are also quite reasonable and there are some fantastic deals available in the store (as well in their online bargain basement) on just about everything.

Hilton's Tent City - Fourth Floor: Wall-to-Wall tents

Fourth Floor – Wall-to-Wall Tents

Hilton's is located across from the new Boston Garden (that's what we still call it) on a small side street just behind the Boston Beer Works. Parking can be a bit challenging if there an event, but the store is one block away from the North Station T stop making it very convenient if you're a local Bostonian.

I admit that I like REI, but it's still important that we support local retailers like Hilton's. So if you live in the Boston area, pay them a visit. You might find a really good deal.

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7 comments

  1. Awesome. I never would have known. Will definitely swing by.

  2. Wow! I'm in Boston for Thanksgiving this week, and I just noticed this entry this morning, before I was heading into the city. Stopped in Hilton's, and was very impressed. I'm so used to REI and EMS mall-type stores that I'd forgotten there are actual independent stores around. Not only does Hilton's have a great selection, but they've got three brands that are pretty hard to find in stores around here– Western Mountaineering, Railriders and Filson. Too bad I try not to buy anything new for hiking these days.

  3. I'm glad you stopped in – it's a special place – stuffed to the gills with great gear. It's like a library in certain ways. You need to plan on spending a few hours browsing to really milk it's depths.

  4. I like this place, as they carry items that can be hard to find elsewhere in the city (Arc'teryx tall sizes!), but am always disappointed by the prices.

    I understand that being a mom n' pop store in this market can be tough, but I personally haven't seen any sales worth mentioning in my few times through, and the gear is significantly marked up in comparison to REI/EMS (although I'll admit most of my purchases are made through departmentofgoods.com and similarly priced retailers).

    I wish it could find a way to compete, because I would love to be handing my money over to a smaller, more knowledgeable outfitter.

  5. When I was in there, I saw a lot of good deals, but I have pretty esoteric tastes. I didn't buy anything because I'm saving for a few big ticket items and I can make do with what I have.

    However, the secret to getting a good deal, be in offline or online, is haggling. If you tell HTC that you can get it online for a cheaper price, tell them and I bet they'd cut you a deal on the spot. I never pay full price for gear anymore. You'd be amazed what the online companies will also do for your business if you call their customer support lines. MooseJaw will do price matching, for instance. If you don't ask – you don't get.

    Another thing to try – is to mention that you're a member of a local walking club. For example, HTC has a great partnership with the AMC. As part of their Winter Hiking Program, the AMC distributes a 25% off coupon to HTC – which when you think about it, pays for the class itself. A lot of other stores give at least a 10% discount to AMC members. The online companies can't compete there.

  6. This is cool; thanks for the heads up.. I will definitely check this place out when I make my way up to that area.

  7. Hello there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept talking about this. I am going to send this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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