Why do outdoor brands constantly dick around with perfectly good gear?

I have a Rab soft shell jacket that I’m very happy with. It’s warm, light, packs away small, it’s windproof, modestly waterproof and has nice big hand pockets.

There is just one slightly annoying feature. There is no drawstring on the hood, which means the hood tends to billow around like a sail and has a habit of blowing off in the wind. Drawstring hoods are a common feature of windproof jackets, because they allow you tighten up the hood on a windy day.

The jacket has nice big pockets for putting your hands in (left), but the hood tends to billow a bit (right)

I don’t know why Rab decided not to put a drawstring hood on this particular jacket, but I thought to myself that if they fix this feature then I would buy the jacket again.

Unfortunately, such is the way with outdoor brands that you can never buy exactly the same item ever again. This is because they are constantly reinventing the same products again and again, changing them slightly, and often giving them a slightly different name.

In some cases, this is a good thing. Imagine my delight when Edita bought what appeared to be the latest version of the same jacket. It had the same useful features. It was warm, light, packed away small, was windproof, modestly waterproof, had nice big hand pockets, and it even had a drawstring hood.

Fantastic! It’s a bit small for me though. So I went over to Amazon to get one of these jackets for myself.

Now, I don’t know the name of this particular jacket. It could be called the Vapour Rise 5000, the Mera Peak 57, or just plain old Kevin. Like you and me, it doesn’t display its name prominently on its surface. Perhaps I should be friendlier to my clothing and get to know it by its name, but that’s not what ordinary people do.

Edita's jacket is a bit small for me, but it has a drawstring hood (left) and nice big hand pockets (right)
Edita’s jacket is a bit small for me, but it has a drawstring hood (left) and nice big hand pockets (right)

However, I managed to find what appeared to be the same jacket with the same useful features. I popped it in my virtual shopping basket, and a few days later I was trying it on.

It was warm, light and packed away small. It was made from the same material, so I knew it would be windproof and modestly waterproof. It also had a drawstring hood. But then I tried to put my hands in my pockets and…..

Can you believe it, there were no hand pockets, only tiny little chest pockets that might just be big enough for a whistle, but certainly not hands.

(By the way, if any of you are wondering what Karl Pilkington is doing modelling my jacket, that’s me you fool.)

As you can see, there is nowhere to put your hands (left), apart from those silly little chest pockets (right)
As you can see, there is nowhere to put your hands (left), apart from those silly little chest pockets (right)

Now perhaps I’m just lucky. I’ve bought pullover-style fleeces without any pockets at all, but every time in my life that I’ve bought a nice warm jacket with a zip, I’ve had a place to put my hands. It turns out that I’ve become complacent. I’ve become so used to it that I’ve just come to assume that this is how things are.

Hand pockets are a useful feature that make the wearer happy on a cold day. I have no idea why Rab decided to get rid of the pockets on this particular jacket. Perhaps they didn’t notice. Perhaps they have a policy of only having a certain number of useful features on a product, and by adding a drawstring to the hood it meant they had to get rid of something else. Perhaps they just thought that if our politicians are allowed to get away with doing something monumentally stupid then why can’t they.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knew I couldn’t abide a cold day in Britain without being able to put my hands in my pockets, so I sent the jacket back and posted a slightly sarcastic review of it on Amazon. Sorry, Kevin! I don’t know if Rab will ever read it, but perhaps some of their customers might, and nod ever so slightly in sympathy.

I quite like Rab’s products and I don’t want to single them out. All of the big outdoor brands seem to do the same thing. I could tell you about the nice Osprey day pack I have that has a pair of gear loops for your ice axe, and two more slightly smaller gear loops for your trekking poles.

Different versions of the same day pack: mine (left) has both a big and a small gear loop for carrying both ice axe and trekking pole, while Edita's more advanced version (right) lacks the smaller loop, so that you have to carry the trekking pole elsewhere
Different versions of the same day pack: mine (left) has both a big and a small gear loop for carrying both ice axe and trekking pole, while Edita’s more advanced version (right) lacks the smaller loop, so that you have to carry the trekking pole elsewhere

That’s a nice feature, because sometimes you have an ice axe and other times you have trekking poles. The pack is flexible enough for both scenarios.

I recommended the pack to Edita and she bought one. She has a later version than mine, an “upgrade” I think you are supposed to call it. Only for some reason, the pole loops are missing. Now you have to carry the poles upside-down in one of the side pockets instead.

I don’t know why Osprey got rid of those loops either. They’re such a small thing, so easy. Perhaps they thought that by getting rid of the extra loops of material, it would make the pack 7g lighter, and their customers might appreciate that. Only Osprey knows the answer.

Why in the name of Messner’s hair do they keep doing this? Does it annoy you too, or am I just a whingeing old so-and-so? Answers below (and please be polite).

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13 thoughts on “Why do outdoor brands constantly dick around with perfectly good gear?

  • November 7, 2018 at 5:56 pm
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    Kathmandu in NZ do it too. Old shirt; 2 zipped breast pockets – 1 for phone/GPS/camera; the other for specs. New shirt; 1 pocket. I left it in the store with an complimentary comment about the designer.

  • November 7, 2018 at 6:06 pm
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    This “rant” as you put it reminds me of an author I love to read–Patrick McManus. It is spot on and yet it is done with tongue in cheek humor. thank you.

  • November 7, 2018 at 6:29 pm
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    I also am a disillusioned whinging old coote. The Kiwi brand MacPac once made the world’s best trekking short. Super comfortable, very lightweight, quick dry and almost indestructible. In short-ironic because they are shorts- the world’s very best most functional short legged trekking pant. Alas the boffins in macpac design team decided to improve the cross-terrain short to make it more contemporary looking and use a newer more space age material. They even called these imposters cross terrain but they are not. They are now tight leg, spandex slow drying rubbish. Macpac are not alone in this conspiracy inflicted by design teams , all brands seem to do it. Because I’m a grumpy old coote I much prefer function over fashion in my trekking gear and sadly function is now hard to buy and nude trekking for me is not an option.

  • November 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm
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    The process of making outdoor apparel has a lot of moving parts. Oftentimes in order to hit a specific price manufacturers will have to remove features that are popular or change a fabric. On the other hand, I’ve been in design meetings where a sales rep will say, “brand X has done this and seen sales go through the roof, let’s copy that”. If you have a favorite piece of gear, write some fan mail to the company. A designer with 3 or 4 positive customer letters has a pretty good chance of standing up against sales or production demands to change a product.

  • November 7, 2018 at 7:15 pm
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    My pet hate is backpacks that have a little pocket for water bottles, except that it is too low to keep them safely inside and doesn’t expand far enough to get a properly sized bottle down to the bottom of the pocket, anyway. I used to have one that would safely take a ziggy bottle each side and had loops to tie them in as well… that was a lovely Berghaus that I used well after it had holes in and leaked and looked godawful, just because it was such a great pack. I’ve never found one as good since it met its end.

  • November 7, 2018 at 7:16 pm
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    I know the feeling. Berghaus used to do a great zippable fleece, with two outer zipped pockets and two large inner pockets without a zip (the perfect size for an OS map). Last time I went to my nearest Cotswold, the inner pockets had disappeared. Fortunately North Face do an almost identical fleece to the Berghaus original. Trekking trousers are a nightmare : for me they must have zips to convert them into shorts (because I don’t get on with gaiters so my trousers are often wet down the shins, so at the end of a walk I take the wet bits off), an outer zipped pocket on the shorts for mobile phone and keys, and zips on the removable leggings so I can get them off over my boots. No sooner has one brand introduced one of the desired features, they take another feature off. Consequently I’ve never had the perfect trekking trousers.

  • November 7, 2018 at 7:35 pm
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    I’ll join you in your grouse, although at my age I have neither the need, nor desire to purchase new outdoor clothing.. The problem is not new and there are two major reasons for it.

    The first is that the early businesses to cater for the outdoors were owned and operated by outdoor people .The Karrimores, Berghauses, Point Fives and so on were run by enthusiasts who used the gear themselves and kitted out leading mountaineers to advise and test it. But In due course these small companies were taken over by big business whose principles stormed golf links rather than the Eigerwand and to whom fashion was more important than function.
    The second reason is a direct corollary of the first: the perceived need to update and “add value” to a product or garment every year on the assumption that the public will always go for the latest version and shun last years model. This may be true with cars and fashion garments but it doesn’t apply to technical garments and the typically switched-on folk who use them.

    I would strongly recommend reading INVISIBLE ON EVEREST, ( Northern Liberties Press 2003 ) a superb history of mountaineering equipment by Mike Parsons, the founder and one time CEO of Karrimor and a serious mountaineer who himself was forced out by big business.

    .

  • November 7, 2018 at 7:56 pm
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    If you think about it’s all about the money. The so-called improvements are usually cost reduction exercises that cheapen the cost to manufacture while ostensibly giving you the same jacket except that it isn’t the same jacket.

  • November 7, 2018 at 10:34 pm
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    Sadly many gear companies follow the patagucci model of fashion over form and have to constantly reinvent their lines to keep fashionable. Agree with the sentiment of the article and equally frustrated. My pet hate? Shrinking tents.

  • November 8, 2018 at 12:05 am
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    I guess the same reason doctors always have new advice that contradicts prior advice from the last visit but that advice will eventually be reverted back to as some sort of wisdom. Because if anything is correct or satisfies for any measure of time the viable commercial market for it decreases. And if it ever was perfect as it is, you can bet the product will be designed to wear out at intervals fast enough to support the market.

    At least you live in a place that has some slight measure of desired sustainability. In the USA we either stuff it in the garage or basement or throw it away in favor of a new purchase to combat our ever vigilant depression as a daily hobby.

  • November 11, 2018 at 10:36 am
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    You have a jacket that’s aimed at climbers rather than walkers. The pockets are kept high up away from the garness and they are also centred so you reach into them with your opposite hand (i.e. left hand into right pocket). This prevents you getting off balanced when climbing

  • November 11, 2018 at 11:25 am
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    That’s a good answer and a logical explanation. In that case, I can recommend an obvious improvement to Rab that would make the same jacket suitable for both climbers and walkers, and thus increase its sales. You will notice the red jacket I am wearing in the top photo has pockets in both positions…

  • November 11, 2018 at 12:52 pm
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    As a retired semi garment manufacturer, ( Karrimor and OMM) and co-author of ‘Invisible on Everest’ the innovators and the gear makers’ – I am working with a team of 4 others on a book called Keeping Dry & Staying warm. To be published sometime 2019 its the very first book of independent information about outdoor garments and how to get the best out of them and/or make a better purchase decision for your next purchase.
    I too am often confused by the strange apparently reasonless changes in the garments I buy for test and evaluation. Here are a few indicators of the the scenarios and pressures on the design and product management teams.
    1. cost reductions are sometimes needed because of cost increases/exchange rates etc.retailers buy on price points and unless it hits that point then its often not selected.
    2. The power of the retailer is now overarching, the majority of all stores are now under one ownership. Many of them have a majority of urban customers so demands of styling and price point become dominant.
    3 people changes within teams are oft frequent and what the objectives were of a design are many not understood by the incoming members.
    https://www.outdoorgearcoach.co.uk/publications/
    ! could write a dozen more points; not excuses because I agree with the reactions – but thats enough for now!

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