Reader Poll: Outdoor Gear Made in the USA?

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If you visit the section of REI’s online store that lists all of the products they sell that are made in the USA, you’re going to be disappointed. Over 90% of the products on their web site, and most of the outdoor apparel, footwear and gear sold by other outdoor retailers in the US, is manufactured in China, Vietnam or Mexico. Besides being lower cost, the truth – as much as it might hurt to hear it – is that the quality of outdoor gear and apparel made overseas is usually better than products manufactured in the USA.

Poll Questions

Which is the most important consideration when you buy outdoor gear – made in the USA, retail price, or quality?

Can you cite an example of a USA made product you specifically bought because it’s made in America instead of a competitive product that was manufactured outside of the US?

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39 Responses to Reader Poll: Outdoor Gear Made in the USA?

  1. Tiffany February 21, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Quality…and weight. After that comes made in USA and price if it isn’t extravagantly different.

  2. Paul February 21, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Despite all the chest bettering, I and most people i believe will go for quality and price over country. However, while price is a absolute at a point in time, quality has many elements to it including the utility of the item over an extened time.

    My classic example is Filson wool clothing. The price will give you a heart attack but the shirts, pants and outerwear are of exceptional material and manufacturing. You can plan on their products performing 3 to 5 times longer than fleece of lesser manufacturers. I will likely pass my Fison stuff on to my grown children. However, Filson has moved some of its production overseas with calls of outrage from some customers.

    • Joe February 21, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Sorry to say Filson has changed into a whole new animal. They have morphed into a casual country life style fashion mess as opposed to the super legit outfitters of the past. Both quality of design and manufacture have taken a serious hit. Thankfully I have some of the vintage tinned goods that probably still have another 25-50 years in them.

  3. Ed February 21, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Like the two posters above I look at cost of ownership, how much does it cost and how long will it work (quality). A $60 tent might sound like a deal but if it doesn’t last a season it isn’t worth the cost. Failure analysis plays a role in deciding how important the quality of an item is. I might opt for the cheaper Lexan spork over the Ti because a broken spork only means I have to get creative at dinner. I would opt for a better pack and shoes because a broken strap or delaminated soul could be a trip ender.

    Over the past year or so AMC has been highlighting local outdoor gear manufactures and I do look at them to see what they have but ultimately it is function, cost, quality.

  4. Louis Brooks February 21, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    I buy a lot of UL gear so it tends to be cottage or specialty manufacturers. i.e. ULA, Hammock Gear, etc.

    –louis

    • Earlylite February 21, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      But that doesn’t really answer the question. Do you buy it because it’s made in the USA? There are plenty of off non-USA companies that make the same products in Europe and Japan, including US manufacturers who offshore its manufacture.

      • Louis Brooks February 22, 2013 at 8:59 am #

        True I didn’t answer the question. No I don’t buy it just because it is made in the USA but it is a plus. I mainly buy it because it is high quality gear.

  5. Mike February 21, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Not sure I agree with this unless you are limiting to the types of mass market gear you’ll find at REI. If you include the many cottage vendors here in the U.S. I believe both the quality and price will stack up to any gear that is available.

    • Earlylite February 21, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      I’m not arguing for a particular position – I’m really just interested in understanding whether Made-in-the-USA matters to you more than buying the same product from a company that manufactures the product offshore. For example, I can buy UL/cottage packs and shelters from non-USA companies and I can buy them from UL companies like Six Moon Designs which manufactures their shelters in Asia. How much does it really matter to you where the product was made?

  6. sugarmag February 21, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Just bought five ten climbing shoes made in the US….. Just wonder how much of the material was imported…oh well, I tried.

  7. Tim February 21, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I think sugarmag has an important point. The supply chain doesn’t end with the assembling of the materials into a piece of finished gear. Where did the material come from? To take it all the way back, most fleece involves some petroleum products – did the oil come from Nigeria? I suspect Filson’s wool involves Australia, New Zealand or China as they are the top source for wool. Is it still made in America, then?

    The fact that so much gear is made outside the US seems to answer your question for you. Most people don’t know or care in what country the garment was assembled. If they did, the market wouldn’t look like this.

  8. Chris February 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Last June, I purchased the men’s http://www.wildthingsgear.com/m-s-insulight-pants-5081.html during one of their sales. I purchased them because they were on sale and because they were made from a well-known alpine gear manufacturer. It didn’t persuade my decision, but the fact they are made in New Jersey is pretty damn cool! I hope Cilogear, Cold Cold World and Wild Things don’t grow so big to where they have to produce offshore.

  9. Grandpa February 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    For me, country of origin doesn’t matter. We’re in a global market. Some Toyotas are made in Texas and Fords in Mexico. People on other sides of artificial lines drawn on the globe need to eat just like people on this side do. I purchase from a number of cottage manufacturers but they don’t always produce their product here.

    I look at quality, weight, and price, and depending on the function of the product, not always in that order.

  10. Chris February 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Last June, I purchased the men’s [URL="http://www.wildthingsgear.com/m-s-insulight-pants-5081.html"]Wild Things Insulight Pants[/URL] during one of their sales. I purchased them because they were on sale and because they were made from a well-known alpine gear manufacturer. It didn’t persuade my decision, but the fact they are made in New Jersey is pretty damn cool! I hope Cilogear, Cold Cold World and Wild Things don’t grow so big to where they have to produce offshore.

    The craftsmanship from Wild Things seems pretty spot-on. I haven’t had the need for them this winter yet, but I’m hoping I never have to. I purchased them for emergencies and for nasty belay weather.

  11. Mike L. February 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I work for REI and a certain percentage of customers ask for made in the USA products. MSR, Thermarest, Keen, and quite a few others offer a mixed line of foreign and USA made products. Thermarest vs. REI sleeping pads is a good comparison. When confronted with the higher price of the Thermarest product perhaps most will go for the REI knock-off (with variations). The warranty is the same.
    REI doesn’t carry sleeping bags from Feathered Friends but I often tell people about FF if they insist on USA made. When they ask me about the prices of FF products they seldom leave the store without buying a sleeping bag made in SE Asia or China.
    Most of my gear is foreign made and USA designed. I don’t buy $600 tents or $500 sleeping bags. I get at least a decade of use, or more, out of every item and I get out a lot. After a decade technologies have usually changed enough that there’s at least a desire to get something newer.

  12. PNW_John February 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I like it when I buy products made in the U.S. but, my realistically I choose quality over origin of manufacture. when I am out in the backcountry and depending on on a piece of gear to work reliably, it doesn’t matter where it is made.

  13. ROBBOB February 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    A few years ago I was in the market for snowshoes, trying to decide between MSR EVO Ascents and the Atlas 12 Series. Tough choice! Both seemed to be well-made products. Ultimately, the fact that the MSRs were American-made tipped my decision in their favor.

    Would I buy another pair? in a heartbeat! Why? Because they have worked so well for me. But the fact that they’re made in the U.S.A. has added to the enjoyment of using them. I feel better knowing that I’m using snowshoes made in a place that, for the most part, has higher environmental standards and labor standards than many other countries. I feel the same way about products made in E.U. countries..

    But in the end I’d have to say that quality and value — the ratio of quality to price — are the most important factors when I’m looking to buy a product.

    • Earlylite February 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      The MSR Evo Ascents are now made in Ireland, BTW.

      • ROBBOB February 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

        No matter. As long as they’re still high-quality and field-maintainable. :)

        On the plus side, the E.U. environmental and labor standards may be even higher than ours.

  14. Steve M February 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    I agree with Grandpa, and must admit i never look at the country of origin. However I am very pleased to find while scanning the REI site that when I do choose based on price and quality, I almost always end up with equipment made in the US. Thermarest, Jetboil, Princeton Tec, Leatherman, Sawyer, Platypus, Rite in the Rain, Smartwool, Darn Tough, Dr. Bronners all have a preferred place in my pack. I also consume Probars, Clif Bars, Justins and an occaisional Mountain House ( not sure this qualifies as best in class). I also buy when possible from the cottage guys, including my Western Mountaineering Megalight bag, Hexamid tent and Gorilla pack and Packit Gourmet meals. Even my Asian manufactured clothing uses Polartec products made here.

    In my business (commercial real estate in Boston), most of my tenants are succeeding through innovation. Innovation is the lifeblood of our region. It is also what we ask of our ultralight and durable equpment manufacturers, so it stands to reason they represent a high proportion of what I buy.

  15. Mark S February 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    1. Quality
    2. Repairability
    3. Customer Service
    4. Do I have a conscience?

    One thing I am not, is a gear junkie. Having to buy the newest latest and greatest tends to lead to more quick manufacturing “ideas” that usually don’t have staying power for the long term outdoor person. That also means that quick ideas are often made overseas in the rush to get the product out. For example REI loves to imitate other products to beat the price point by 20%, and get it in the same product launch for the season. REI kills the cottage industry!

    So the product I know and love is Kifaru. They don’t advertise that I know of. Custom on everything, and a customer service that can fix everything. My tipi has been up since November and going strong. My stove is bent by hand, and I get to talk to the guy who makes it. You can’t get that with many manufactures these days. It costs me a 30-40% premium, but I have yet to have any issues.

    Last I need to get a goof sleep at night. I am all for jobs for everyone that wants to work, but I have a hard time spending less on a product, when I know some little kid in Manilla is getting paid less than a dollar a day to sew my back pack. Think about that the next time you are hiking thru the woods.

  16. er0ck February 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    yes, i consider buying in the US, if i can get comparable quality i’ll sometimes pay up to twice as much, especially if it benefits local markets and/or is more responsible.

    so i guess:
    1: quality/features
    2: locale/responsibility
    3: price

    with clothing this is almost impossible. most clothing and electronics is close to impossible to manufacture in the US, given reasonable timelines/quality.

    this is finally starting to change as the global market stabilizes and starts to even out (can already see this with chinese and indian labor prices)

  17. Jim February 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Phil-

    Could you further expand upon your comment “…the quality of outdoor gear and apparel made overseas is usually better than products manufactured in the USA.”? I must admit to being kinda conflicted by it. Ultimately, manufacturers build/assemble to spec. If a company is specifying a lower spec in order to offset the higher cost of American labor, shame on them. I am heartened that more manufacturing is coming back to the U.S. but that’s a separate discussion.

    Off the soap box, my primary concern is quality with country of manufacture second. I’m a big fan (and own) both Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends sleeping bags. My clothing is a mix of Smart Wool, RAB, Arcteryx, North Face and Under Armor. My stove is Japanese (Soto). My backpacks are Gregory and Granite Gear.

    Quality and support/warranty definitely trump country of manufacture.

    • Earlylite February 21, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      That should probably read “the quality of outdoor gear and apparel made overseas is as good as products manufactured in the USA”

      It really has gotten to the point where the quality control overseas and in Mexico is often much better then that in the US, especially when compared to the products that cottage industry makers sew themselves. Turns out that it requires a lot more design precision and repeatibility to outsource a product, as well as better supply chain discipline to make sure that the materials going into it are high quality, the same for each batch, and all accounted for.

  18. Michael February 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I’m a huge supporter of Patagonia products (80% of my wardode). Quality, warranty and company policies (environmental and worker rights) are my most important influences when pruchasing something (this goes for food and other consumables as well). I can’t find the link to a interview I read with one of the heads of Patagonia, but basically the interviewer was pretty hostile about Patagonia’s overseas manufacting. The response was basically: We are can’t find places in the USA that can produce the quality we want and the environmental footprint would be larger because of increased shipping of some materails. Not the link but, along the same line: http://www.thecleanestline.com/2012/04/patagonia-clothing-made-whepre-how-why.html

    I’m all for US produced gear and I’m trying to buy more cottage brands, but ultimately I have a limited amount of funds and I will buy the best quality/value over time gear. USA or not.

    My environmental beliefs have been pushing me to buy more used products.

  19. Chris February 21, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    1. Need/Replacement
    2. Quality/Reviews
    3. Price

  20. bob February 22, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    This year I’m going to buy 2 US-made products — an EE quilt and a TT Moment. The decision to buy the Moment is partially based on place of manufacture. There’s a lot of competition in solo shelters and I had a lot of options I was considering, but TT is a great cottage manufacturer, sewing locally, and I want to support Henry et. al. (says someone who has worked in a small shop turning out fine furniture for years.)

  21. Edie February 22, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Quality is my main concern. I know this is opposite of your question, but I was delighted after I had bought two SteriPENS (one for me and one as a gift) and realized that Hydro-Photon, the makers of SteriPENS, is located about 35 miles away in Blue Hill, Maine.

    I enjoy your site, commenters and the invaluable information you have on here!

  22. Allen February 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    I tend to think country of origin is often an indicator of quality. Companies that keep manufacturing in the US despite financial incentives to move overseas are often the ones that keep quality high.

    This doesn’t just apply to US goods through. I’m far more likely to buy something made in Sweden, than China or even the US because the products I’ve bought from Sweden have always been stellar.

    On the subject of REI, particularly their in-house gear, I generally see lower quality items where design has been an after thought. Many companies who are making gear in China are still able to keep quality high because they’ve invested tons of their own money into domestic R&D. REI doesn’t appear to be doing the same level of R&D so their Chinese made clothing just isn’t as good.

    Would I rather have an Arcteryx jacket made in Canada vs. the Philippines? Sure, but as long as Arcteryx is making best jacket, I’m going to buy Arcteryx. They can get away with this as long as their quality stays high.

    What I really hate is companies like New Balance, who have moved virtually all of their manufacturing overseas, yet all of their promotions centers around the one factory in the US that still makes a tiny fraction of their shoes.

  23. Ryan K February 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Quality reigns supreme. I always hope the best is American made, but like you said that isn’t typically the case. After reading your review of the Patagonia R1 Hoody (Label- made in Colombia of U.S. materials), I had t o have one. Unfortunately most of Patagonia’s products are made in Asia or South America. I do respect the transparency that Patagonia offers when it comes to the manufactures they work with. Benchmade knives on the other hand is a good example of a quality American made product. Love my 556!

    • Michael February 23, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      I was thinking Benchmade was the perfect example of a product I purchased because it was made in the USA. There is a lot of great knives made in other countries (like Japan) with similar quality, but given the choice “Made in the USA” won out (three times 530, 950, 275).

      If you want a R1 that is made in the USA, you could buy a older one off eBay or look into an Army or USMC version.

    • Mike L. February 23, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      Some Leatherman products are made in Portland also. In fact there are a number of knife and tool manufacturers around town.

      • Ryan K February 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

        I have already broke down and got the Patagonia R1 hoody. Had it on sale for $89 the other day. Down from $150. Crazy.

        Glad to hear Leatherman is hanging around the States. I have never been a multi-tool user but some friends really do love their older model Leatherman’s. I have heard Gerber moved most of their manufacturing to Asia. I also like just a basic Victorinox… and we all know where they come from! Quality! But back to the USA, one more U.S. product I have really enjoyed has been my Caldera alcohol stove system. It’s been through some real use and abuse and is still going strong!

  24. John G. February 25, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    My purchase priority is value which I define as the best combination of price and quality.

    A “Made in USA” product I purchased instead of a foreign made product is my CCW Chaos backpack. CCW packs are a great example of product value.

  25. Nick February 27, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    I happen to own some articles in duplicate where the older one is American made while the newer one is made in China. The quality difference is dramatic, with the new Chinese import clearly inferior. If you look at the price of older American tools and sporting goods on places like Ebay it’s obvious that a lot of people are in agreement with me. Newer Puma knives assembled in China do not give you the same feel of ultimate quality like the older German made articles.

    China has the cheap labor that should allow them to trounce the world in the quality sector, but most of their products clearly show no regard for quaility.

  26. Xiang March 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I’m obligated to participate in this thread being a Chinese and a career quality professional.

    First and foremost, to answer the poll question: quality/price balance, country of origin is of no concern.

    Somebody mentioned specification in one of the previous posts, which hit the nail on its head. Unlike knock off or cheap intimate (totally different discussion), when a company outsourced their own brand and resulted in reduction in quality, that means they didn’t manage their supply chain to the standard, intentionally or unintentionally. When it’s done right, just take a look at iphone 4.

    Ultimately you get what you pay for, go with the quality/price balance, market will weed out the companies that take too much profit and not putting enough cost into products, made in US or elsewhere. Country of origin is just part of the process.

  27. David February 4, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

    I have bought gear from these three companies and support the quality and the American made equipment they make and sell.
    1. Kifaru: the best backpacks I have ever carried and I have carried a lot. American made in Colorado plus a great group of people to buy from.
    2. Triple aught Design: Outdoor clothing and other gear. I have a lot of their outdoor clothes and it is tops shelve clothing all made in California
    3. Revelate: For you mountain bikes and bike campers outstanding bike bags a must see and use gear all made in Alaska

  28. Dusty D February 9, 2014 at 3:08 am #

    I would prefer to buy gear made in the U.S, because it honestly bummed me out when i bought my first ul tent and it was made over seas. The reason it bummed me out was It was my first high dollar peace of gear and i shelled out a bunch of cash for it and it would have been nice if it would have been a U.S made tent. Right now im looking at a new pack because my original kelty is way to big and my main focus has been into buying one made in the NW or at least in the U.S. Much of my gear now is of a foreign origin and it has held up fine and served me well as is many of the item I use on a daily basis.

  29. Jon W. May 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    I do start my gear searches with the keywords “made in USA”, then I measure price and quality against whatever else I find.

    I guess it started out as a nostalgic yearning for they-don’t-make-them-like-they-used-to products. There’s a little pride in ownership that goes into country of origin, I think. After years of consideration, though, it seems like it’s the right thing to do economically and environmentally too! The disappearing middle class, our massive trade/debt imbalances, and all that Shanghai smog factor into my buying decisions now.

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