It was 10 degrees, a couple hours after sunset on the vast Nebraskan plains, when Trent Santero crawled inside his tent. He zipped a sleeping bag up to his chin. “The wind was whipping,” he said.
Santero, a product manager with Cabela’s, was testing his company’s latest line of outdoor goods. But unlike the hunting and fishing hallmarks Cabela’s is known for Santero classified the test gear as “fast and light.”
Called Cabela’s XPG line, the collection includes backpacking tents, breathable jackets, shell pants, active apparel, running shoes, and headlamps. (XPG is an acronym, with a chopped-off “e” on the first word, which stands for Extreme Performance Gear.)
In outdoor retail, taxidermied deer and Gore-Tex-lined running shoes are rarely in close proximity. XPG represents not just a new fold for Cabela’s but it also demonstrates a change in the industry. “Active people and weekend warriors are the aim,” Santero said. “We have a right to play in this space.”
A “right,” as Santero called it, might be an odd way to phrase a product line launch. But the quip addresses a division in big-box outdoor retail — you have hunt/fish-based outlets like Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, and Bass Pro Shops; the hike/climb/paddle template rules at REI, EMS and (in Canada) MEC, among other chains.
There is certainly crossover. Camping, for one, bridges both worlds, with tents and sleeping bags necessary and sellable to all demographics who recreate outside. Backpacking, which means carrying your own camping equipment into the woods, is a focus with Cabela’s and its new “xtreme” gear line.
But Cabela’s goes further in its marketing. The XPG products could be used trail running or for long, endurance-oriented days exploring the backcountry “fast and light” style.
Santero continued, “We spent 50 years as a company building and selling equipment that our dads and grandpas used camping, climbing, and on trips to the Alaskan tundra.” His subtext: It’s time to stake a claim and be that kind of gear outfitter again.
Indeed, with designs built for “active outdoorspeople” XPG is no doubt a product and marketing effort with sights set on the “REI crowd.” This means non-hunters — hikers, backpackers, peak-baggers, and trail runners.
But while REI is not likely to start selling shotguns or fishing poles, Cabela’s has a shopping demographic potentially more open to category expansion. Santero said many people in a Cabela’s store already pursue the activities for which XPG was built.
Launched this spring, XPG’s bright-color packs, trail shoes, alpine-inspired tents, and LED headlamps set the products apart in a sea of camouflage and gear with a hunt/fish aesthetic. Models for the new line in advertisements and videos are young, active types who sweat while hiking fast, sipping water from a hydration hose.
Looking at the details, including the material types, componentry, features, and weights, the XPG products compare to gear from companies like Mountain Hardwear and The North Face. The two-person XPG tents, made for ultralight backpacking, weigh less than 3 pounds packed up.
XPG clothing, marketed for aerobic pursuits, is made with a “cooling material” that is activated by your body — a xylitol treatment in the fabric gets colder to the touch when you heat up and sweat on a trail.
A headlamp in the line has red, green, blue and white light modes. It’s made in the USA. It shines at 125 lumens — bright enough to spotlight an object on a path a hundred feet ahead.
The headlamp, at $45, is a good price. But with some of the other products come higher costs. Shoes and boots retail for up to $140. A three-person tent goes at $399.
Santero believes Cabela’s shoppers will pay more for the higher quality. He also thinks the new kind of products in the line will lure new shoppers into the store. “I’d put our gear up against any of the major brands,” he said of the tents and the soon to be released sleeping pads and packs.
For now, I need to take his word. I am looking forward to testing the XPG line in the wilds, or, perhaps, on the Nebraskan plains on a windy winter night.