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The Best Independent Gear Shops In The USA

Love small, independent gear shops? Try out one of these local outfitters, featured in The Innovation Project from SNEWS (plus a couple of our personal faves). Know a shop or outfitter we missed? Tell us your favorite in the comments below!

Alpenglow Sports – Tahoe City, Calif.

Lake Tahoe’s “original mountain shop,” Alpenglow is run with a mission to “share the stoke” and provide old school customer service. It hosts the Alpenglow Mountain Festival, a nine-day celebration of human-powered mountain sports.

Founded: 1979

Owner: Brendan Madigan

Backcountry North – Three Locations In Michigan

Owner Tracy Mayer has worked in the outdoors industry since she was 14 years old. Backcountry North has an in-store theater where patrons can arrange to hold slideshow viewings of recent adventures. The store sells camping gear, apparel, packs, and more.

Founded: 1978

Owner: Tracy Mayer

Midwest Mountaineering – Minneapolis, Minn.

Rod Johnson began Midwest Mountaineering in his parents’ kitchen “poor as a church mouse.” Minnesota’s “Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts” host bi-annual Outdoor Adventure Expos in winter and spring. It sells a plethora of outdoors goods such as climbing gear, kayaks, skis, tents, apparel, and more.

Founded: 1970

Owner: Rod Johnson

Great Outdoor Provisions Co. – 9 Locations In N.C. & Virginia

More than 3,000 customers have participated in Great Outdoor Provision Co.‘s “Get Hiking” and “Get Backpacking” programs. Staff members lead treks through the stores’ local communities to help promote the company’s ethos of land conservation.

Founded: 1972

Owner: Chuck Millsaps

Idaho Mountain Touring – Boise, Idaho

This is the stop for cyclists, skiers, climbers, and backpackers. Idaho Mountain Touring is a haven for real gear junkies who want to shop the latest and greatest in hardgoods and technology.

Founded: 1984

Owner: Chris Haunold

Feral Mountain Co. – Denver, Colo.

Owning the title of “Denver’s newest outdoor gear shop,” Feral Mountain Co. opened its doors in March 2016. Founder Jimmy Funkhouser left a steady corporate job with Toys ‘R Us to help others “live an intentional life.”

Founded: 2016

Owner: Jimmy Funkhouser

Moosejaw – 12 Stores, Online Retail

A prominent online presence belies Moosejaw‘s commitment to local-shop customer service. Across Missouri, Michigan, Colorado, and Illinois, retail outlets carry as much of the brand’s online inventory as possible. If it’s not stocked, Moosejaw will ship any product it carries next day for free.

Founded: 1992

CEO: Eoin Comerford (founded by: Robert Wolfe)

Backwoods – 9 Stores In The Central U.S.

What began as a core outdoor store in 1973 has evolved to a brand focused on travel. In 2004, the company launched Backwoods Adventures, a full-service travel business leading expeditions all over the globe. Backwoods has shops in Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Founded: 1973

Owner: Jennifer Mull

The Benchmark – Cincinnati, Ohio

Branded as something of a “big kids’ toy store,” The Benchmark works hard to inspire adventure in an area lacking much wilderness. The shop is beloved for its roaming (and friendly) dogs, and hosts annual Gear Swaps where customers can trade in their old products for credit toward the purchase of new gear.

Founded: 1974

Owner: Richard Kassar

Black Creek Outfitters – Jacksonville, Fla.

Located on a picturesque lake, Black Creek hosts stand up paddle board and paddling classes, and yoga. Though yoga and water sports are the brand’s focus, Black Creek also carries climbing, skiing, and winter wear products.

Founded: 1983

Owner: Joe Butler

Mountain Hardware & Sports – Truckee, Calif.

This unique store is part Ace Hardware, part outdoor outfitter. It’s an old-time throwback to the “general store.” Fifteen years ago, Mountain Hardware & Sports went from three original founders to being 100 percent employee-owned.

Founded: 1977

Owner: Employee-owned

Outdoor Gear Exchange – Burlington, Vermont

Along with its online companion site, the Outdoor Gear Exchange is an everything outfitter: camping, hiking, climbing, mountaineering, telemark, alpine touring, and nordic skiing, cycling, paddling, and yoga. The company also spearheads local environmental initiatives like its plastic bag reduction program, which donates a nickel to a local non-profit every time a customer turns down a bag.

Founded: 1995

Owner: Mike Donohue

Pack Rat Outdoor Center – Fayetteville, Ark.

The 100-percent solar-powered Pack Rat Outdoor Center is as environmentally friendly as a retailer can get. The company even collects stray plastic bags in the community to be recycled into decking material.

Founded: 1973

Owner: Carolyn Crook

Proof Lab Outdoor Center – 3 Stores In Calif.

More than just an outdoor shop, Proof Lab has a skate park where it teaches camps and lessons. It also leases out various areas of their building to local businesses: ceramics studio, kids art studio, music classrooms, a coffee shop, and a native plant nursery.

Founded: 2004

Owner: Will Hutchinson

Rutabaga Paddle Sports – Madison, Wis.

A paddler’s heaven, Rutabaga is best known for its epic Canoecopia, the world’s largest consumer paddle sports show. It happens every March, and draws about 20,000 people, 250 exhibitors, and 80 speakers.

Founded: 1976

Owner: Darren Bush

Elevation Sierra Adventure Essentials – Lone Pine, Calif.

Established for climbers and hikers of all disciplines, Elevation Sierra Adventure Essentials hangs its hat on customer care. Co-owner Jon Turner is rumored to bring several boots home and host fittings for anyone that can’t make it to the store before close.

Founded: 2005

Owner: Jon Turner

Sportago – Napa Valley, Calif.

Tucked in the heart of wine country, Sportago services a “hyper-local” customer base. As a result, the store refreshes its products on a regular basis, keeping its inventory broad, limited, and constantly updated.

Founded: 1983

Owner: Ahron Trumble (co-owner)

Summit Hut – Tucson, Ariz.

What began as a high-school business venture of the original owners in 1967 became one of Tuscon’s most-established outdoor retailers. Summit Hut field tests all of its gear with paid employee adventure hikes and runs to beat, batter, and approve almost everything the store stocks.

Founded: 1969

Owner: Dana Davis

Neptune Mountaineering – Boulder, Colo.

Located in the outdoors mecca of Boulder, Colo., Neptune Mountaineering sells gear for serious mountain adventures. It’s been doing this since 1973, and serves as a hub for the vibrant community of explorers. Not technically a part of the project, but no list of great shops would be complete without it.

Founded: 1973

Founder: Gary Neptune (purchased by Backwoods in 2013)

Repair Lair – Minneapolis, Minn.

This “repair consignment shop” gives new life to old gear. Great deals abound, and you can even get your favorite old products refreshed for the trail. We’ve visited, and love, the shop and its mission. Check out Repair Lair for solid deals on lightly used gear.

Founded: 2015

Owner: Nancy Ford

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