I am not usually a city person. Over the past year of my life, I have visited many of America’s most famous (or infamous) cities. From the liberal-leaning Austin to clean marble of Washington DC, from the verticality of New York City to the colossal spread of Los Angeles, from the dazzling lights of Las Vegas to the growing skyline of Denver, I have come into contact with what feels like every type of city the US has to offer. Some thing I have liked, some things I haven’t. I don’t know whether I will give city life another shot. If I do, Seattle would be my first choice.
I could laud the qualities of Seattle for quite some time, but that’s not isn’t the focus of this piece. My focus is on Seattle’s obsession with outdoor gear. Seattle does outdoor gear better than any other city in the United States. Better than Boulder, better than Burlington, better than Portland, better than Jackson, Seattle seems to have figured it out. This likely has something to do with its proximity to just about any kind of outdoor activity you can imagine. Sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands? Check. Backpacking in the North Cascades (or the Olympics)? Check. Mountaineering on Mount Rainier? Check. The list continues, covering backcountry skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, and so much more. As a result, Seattleites need the right gear for each and every one of their pursuits.
Not only have some of the greatest gear shops laid down roots in Seattle, but also some of the best outdoor companies have grown out of this adventure-rich environment. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit. For starters, REI has made its home in Seattle since its inception in 1938. After its humbling beginnings on Pine Street, REI finally settled into its current digs.
Across the street from the epic REI flagship store lies one of Seattle’s better kept secrets: Feathered Friends. This cottage-industry gear manufacturer has been hand-crafting some of the loftiest sleeping bags in the game since 1972. Upon entering their store, you immediately want to slip into every sleeping bag and try on all of the down jackets. Don’t let the price tags scare you though, their quality is unparalleled. Once you are done indulging your down fantasies, you might realize how impressive the rest of the store is. The folks at Feathered Friends have curated one of the best, high-end gear stores I have ever seen. Paychecks go here to disappear. And while many of the items are top-of-the-line and expensive, they are also the best of the best. You can’t really go wrong with a purchase from this store. Sadly, the sale rack is often sparsely populated.
If you are hunting for a bargain, head over the Ballard Bridge to Second Ascent. Tucked away among the bougie, brickclad storefronts, Second Ascent is a breath of fresh air. Although their offerings are largely new and priced to terrify, they still do offer many racks of sample sale items and even a corner dedicated to used gear. Like Feathered Friends, this is a store where you can instantly tell that the people who organized the collection and work there are actually using the gear that they are peddling. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, make sure to stop by and ask about their favorite local watering holes, hikes, or just to say hello!
While we are on the subject of bargain hunting, I can’t forget 2nd Base. It may not necessarily carry all of the technical gear you will need for your next ice climbing adventure like Second Ascent or Feathered Friends, but you are more than likely to find some sick deals hidden among the wares of 2nd Base. This store doesn’t necessarily cater directly to the outdoor adventurer. Instead, they stock all kinds of sporting gear, but there are some outdoor gems on consignment in there too. It is definitely worth a quick visit whether you are looking for a piece of gear or have something that you are looking to sell.
As I mentioned earlier, many outdoor companies call Seattle home. Filson, Kavu, Cascade Designs (MSR, Therm-A-Rest, and Platypus), Brooks Running, Luna Sandals, Eddie Bauer, and Outdoor Research are all deeply connected to Seattle. Admittedly I haven’t visited each of their storefronts, but the Outdoor Research retail store should be a destination on every gearheads bucket list. Not only is it an opportunity to peruse and try on Outdoor Research incredible offerings, but they also carry tons of other useful hardwear. Oh, and they are very liberal with their sticker giving. Major bonus.
As a major city near majorly awesome natural features, other outdoor brands have set up their own storefronts. In downtown alone, you can try on and test out gear from Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardwear, Columbia, Patagonia, and Fjällräven. They don’t have a local connection, but they might have that jacket or that stove that you have been aching to put your hands on.
Whatever way you choose to look at it, Seattle is a gearhead’s paradise. You can find just about anything you could ever want here. The best part, though, is that you can turn around and use it the next day. Now that might be a city that I could live in someday…