Please Add Model Years to Backpacking Gear Product Names

2019 vs 2017 Granite Gear Crown2 60 Backpacks

How do you know that the piece of backpacking gear or clothing you’re about to purchase is the latest updated model and not one from an earlier year that the retailer is trying to pass onto the consumer to get rid of old inventory.

  • Or worse yet, that the retailer doesn’t even know that a new version is available, so continues to sell the old version, even though a newer and improved version is available for the same price from other retail sites.
  • Or retailers are forced to sell older models because a competitor like REI, in particular, gets exclusive access to new products while other retailers have to wait 1 month to 6 months before they can offer them.

It’s a growing problem across the backpacking retail ecosystem that creates frustration for consumers, generates unnecessary product returns, wastes time, adds costs and ill-will, and their associated environmental impacts.

Multiple Versions of the Same Product in a Store

The same lack of “Verison Control” is widespread in the outlet section of online retailers, the USED gear area of their websites, and auction sites like eBay.

Mixing of Old and New Product Reviews across Multiple Product Versions

Many retailers and manufacturers mix customer gear reviews for the current model and previous models of a product under the current version since they can’t differentiate across product versions. This is rife across the industry in most retailer and manufacturer websites.

For example, REI lists customer reviews going back 3 and 4 years for under the Arcteryx Proton LT Insulated Hoodie even though the latest version of the jacket is just 6 months old and the older reviews are for a substantially different product. That’s a flawed and misleading source of information for consumers.

Add Model Years to Product Names

The automobile and wine industries address this issue by adding model years to their product names and labels. This makes it easier to tell the difference between a 2020 Ford F-150 and a 2017 model or a 2019 Layer Cake Shiraz from a 2016 vintage. This makes it possible to make side by side comparisons between model years and to separate customer reviews between models.

Adding model years to backpacking gear product names (or all outdoor gear) would add tremendous value for consumers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the added clarity, stabilized pricing, and increased market demand for USED gear since people could better understand what they were buying.

If there’s one thing I’d like to see Backpacking Gear Manufacturers, the Outdoor Industry, and Retailers do this year, it would be to add dates or some sort of numbering scheme to product names so you could differentiate between product releases.

Discuss.

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36 comments

  1. It’s funny that you listed MooseJaw as selling the outdated model. What you forgot to mention is that the product would probably have been used, the original packaging destroyed and various parts missing!

    I’ll never make another purchase from MooseJaw, I’ve been burned too many times.

    • Can’t say I’ve ever had that experience with Moosejaw. But take your pick. Campsaver also sells the out of date version of this pack. In fact they list photos of the old and the new on the same product listing, depending on the color you pick.

  2. Yes to Model years. enwild,com does this which is very helpful. I just bought a osprey kestrel 48 at ems and when they rang it up It was 35% off because it was a 2017 model or there about. There are/were changes and Not small ones in my opinion. The price kept my mouth shut, but it would have been nice to know.

  3. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for model years. I think the manufacturers would get too much push back from the retailers. Many retailers would complain that they won’t be able to sell old models, if the consumer knew it was an old model.

    The car industry is a good example. as soon as the new year comes out, they have to discount last years.

    I wouldn’t know about dates on wine, all mine wine comes in screw top. LOL

    • Not all gear is sold through retailers. If manufacturers who sell direct did it, that would put a lot of pressure on retailers to follow suit. It’d be a winning competitive strategy, actually. Not only that, it would give manufacturers who want to sell direct and through retail channels with a way to compete with their retailers by guaranteeing to offer the latest models.

      There’s a lot of room for business innovation in adding clarity to retail product listings. While it’s easy to dismiss the idea as half-cocked, I could see building a competitive advantage around it while reducing excess inventory if I were a retailer. It just requires some tweaks to manufacturer->retailer fulfillment.

      • For example, I’ve seen e-commerce platforms where a retailer gets a customer order, forwards it to the manufacturer, who dropships the product to the consumer with the retailer’s return address, labeling, order numbers etc. This isn’t rocket science. This eliminates the need to pre-buy vast quantities of inventory which quickly becomes out of date, not to mention reduced waste and higher customer satisfaction.

  4. Drove me nuts looking at MSR HUBBA HUBBA NX tent. Mixed comments made it confusing as to which model year was being sold. Amazon had the newer version being sold more like an upgrade option. Do you want it with or with out Xtreme waterproof coating. Did not end up purchasing either option. Thermarest Xtherm similar situation. I think there is a newer version “with WingLock Valve” and perhaps it has a higher r-value. I could not tell whether comments talking about valve/deflation issues were about the old model/new model or both.

    • A lot of this bad marketing behavior is reinforced by Google. Products with a lot of back links get the highest rankings, so manufacturers and retailers are motivated to reuse pre-existing product names rather than starting at the bottom of the totem pole with a new product name. It’s a f-cked up communication model.

    • I appreciate this smaller online company ENWILD for their upfront honesty, here is an example. “MSR Hubba Hubba NX (Old Style)” and the “MSR Hubba Hubba NX (2019)” I believe we should support the smaller companies and manufacturers when we can.

  5. Excellent suggestion. Various wind jackets have had substantial changes to the fabric, like the Patagonia Houdini and Arc’teryx Squamish that reduced the visibility but it can be really hard to tell which one you are buying, especially online.

  6. Agree 100 percent. I just went through this problem in the past week trying to get the new NEMO Riff. The old and new look very similar and my retailer had no clue there were small but worthwhile differences in the new version.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with your proposal. I purchased a pair of Arc’teryx Alpha AR Pants in October and even though their product photo was of the 2019 updated version, Backcountry sent me last year’s model, which obviously didn’t incorporate the updates the 2019 model offers.

    Backcountry apologized and sent me a free return label, but was not able to send me the updated 2019 model as they were unaware they didn’t have any in stock. Not to bang on Backcountry as they’ve been very good to me over the years, but how, as outdoor gear specialists, do they not know this? If gear is your craft, wouldn’t it be prudent to be aware of product updates?

  8. Friar Rodney Burnap

    Why is their not any external frame backpacks ever mentioned? Lots of people still carry them? Do an article just about External frame backpacks. . . Without comparing them to any other type of backpacks just an article about external frame backpacks and backpacking please…

  9. You know it’s a different year/model because the colors, silly. :) But more seriously, manufacturers will make “running changes” all the time, so I’m not sure a year prefix will really solve anything. And besides, researching gear is fun! My only rule is “never pay retail”.

    Off topic, but where you coming down the Bond Cliff Trail last Sunday 12/29 with 2 other people and a dog?

  10. I like this idea. Another aspect that I didn’t see discussed is that often the newest models are regressions in some (or many) ways, and some people are looking for the old version…think Houdini.

    However I’m not certain model years is the best solution. I’d like to see version numbers instead…they are simpler and easier to understand. Nobody ever bought the “old” iPhone thinking it was the latest model.

    Regardless, shy of something like consumer protection legislation requiring such labeling, this change would require voluntary cooperation from all manufacturers and we can all guess how likely that is.

    • Yes, version numbers make a lot of sense to me as well. Running shoes (trail runners) have version numbers and from a consumer standpoint it is really easy to compare and contrast different models. I also bet it’s good for the manufacturer since they can get valuable consumer feedback from each iteration and can potentially make adjustments and improve upon past versions in a more organic and transparent way.

  11. I would be happy if they at least put the date of manufacture on the product.

  12. I have experienced this madness, w a ‘Tikka headlamp’ which one, description on REI did not match attributes of what I got from them, yada yada, gave up…it’s by the company, but some random low priced low value thing, model says has red light, mine doesnt, give up.

  13. I completely agree with you, Philip. I’ve noticed this discrepancy and will call (time wasted mostly) to a find out the details and which model – the YEAR. Car dealers could never get away with this. In fact, few producers could work this way. Thanks for bringing this to the fore!!

  14. CAVEAT EMPTOR…

  15. Running shoes are an example of a product done right, at least in terms of version numbers (whether the constant changes are really necessary is another question). It’s common to see, e.g. Asics Gel Cumulus 20, 19, 18 and 17 models all still being sold across various places but it’s simple to know which one you’re buying based on the version number.

    Likewise, what you said about reviews strikes home. It would be acceptable for the review site to mention on older reviews something to the effect of “This review is for a previous version of the same product” or similar language. Good arguments presented in your article.

  16. Lawrence Constantino

    Also wish when reviews are left about a product, that the specific product model and year made would be clearly defined.

  17. When I was shopping for my backpack, which I’m still as fond of today as when I purchased it. Gregory had redesigned the ‘Z’ pack. I didn’t like the redesign at all and wanted to get the previous version. I noticed some retailers were selling the older version at the MSRP so the newer version was cheaper at the time. After shopping I chose the retailer that gave a descent discount. Interesting they didn’t refer to it as the ‘older model’, but the price suggested it was. I called the retailer and confirmed it was in fact the older one. I agree retailers should add the year of the model to make it clear. Most important is the reviews should never be mixed. I want to add sometimes the consumer prefers the older model.

    • The crazy thing is that most retailers don’t own the reviews or the review content and have little control over it. Most outdoor reviews are syndicated by a company called Bazaar Voices that collects and redistributes them for a fee. (I used to work in the eCommerce industry and know where all the bodies are buried.) The last thing that Bazaar Voices wants to do is to reduce the number of reviews that they provide to a retailer for a product by segmenting them by date, model year, or version number. When the industry was young and there were no reviews, review syndication made sense because people don’t buy products that don’t have customer reviews. But these days, retailers would be better off keeping the reviews of their unique audience to themselves rather than sharing them with competitors. For example, if you’re a specialty retailer and your customers are highly skilled and educated in your area, you should hold onto the reviews that they share with you and not share them with your competitors. That way qualified buyers will come to your website store to read good reviews and not the crappy, often idiotic reviews found on most websites today.

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