The State of the Outdoor Industry — Update

I may not be posting here as often as I used to but I still try and keep up with those in the industry who keep their fingers on the pulse.

Earlier this year I took the decision not to post about gear very often. In all honesty it is hard to keep up. My current collection of gear is both very functional and lightweight and there is no pressing need to replace much of it. Indeed — and this may be sacrilege to some ‚ I’ve noticed that such ultralight gear has reached a natural limit. It is impossible to reduce weight that much and so the focus is more on innovative design and functionality these days. But guess what?  As a result weight is creeping up again!  Still, we rely on our outdoor designers and manufacturers and there is still a lot to think about.

If the last few years for the outdoor industry have been tough — as they have for many — the future looks even more challenging. Continuing austerity means people have less cash inter pockets and now rising inflation is set to eat into living standards both decisively and quickly. As I write I’m listening to a radio report that focuses on what amounts to an almost collapse in consumer spending. And, of course, uncertainty about what Brexit will mean to the sector is a major concern.

Small, niche, retailers are reporting that they are living in increasingly hard times. But it is now just the small operators that face difficulties, small and even large manufacturers are finding things getting harder. In the face of tighter margins the big retail chains are putting the screws on manufactures. I was recently told of a major award-winning outdoors chain (one with a major high street presence) that has written to all suppliers telling them that they will be discounting their invoices by 5%. In other words if the suppliers are given an invoice for X thousands they will be paid X minus 5%.  This kind of tactic is not unknown and has been the backbone of the supermarket world for years.

For us the consumer, this means that we are likely to see even less variety and choice on the high street. And while this is sad in many ways you, like me, might feel that you are honour bound to once nitrate what spending power we have left into the hands of the small online retailers.

Yes sir, of course we have a lot of jackets to look at. But you can only have the jacket this this one company and only in fluorescent blue.

What does the team think?


  1. Too true, unfortunately…

  2. Rob slade says:

    I’m happy with my kit as is with only two exceptions:

    1. I may get a storm in Norman system to go with my MSR pot, although I’m resisting as my sidewinder is still a great system.

    2. I need lighter but durable walking poles. Mr ibbotson has pointed me in the direction of locus gear which means no boost for the uk economy and an incentive to buy now to eliminate the possibility of exchange rate fluctuations.

    I’m very much in the mindset of buying once at the moment rather than chasing the annual ‘updates’ or latest Colours. I’ve been amused that a friend citing Colin’s rucksack as ‘too expensive’ has now spent 150% of what I did and is currently looking at purchasing his third sack as he is still not happy. Great for profits no doubt, but unsustainable.

    Maybe the current, new gear every season ‘fashion industry’ approach to outdoors gear just isn’t sustainable?

    Personally I find I buy very little from the chains. We have a go outdoors and a Cotswolds in Cardiff, which is a shame as ‘up and under’ is a brilliant independent I’d always use in preference.

    One way or another I think all retail is in for a tough time, let’s hope it strips out some of the froth and leaves the best manufacturers standing.


    • The sector is certainly in for a hard time Rob. Whenever we see times like this, sadly, innovative companies go to the wall as well as some of the big ones!

  3. John her says:

    I got into that mode of thinking about kit replacement about 4 years ago. Recently went looking for some low tech budget replacement walking trousers. Whats now on offer turned out to be substandard poorly designed and poorly manufactured. I switch brands but it’s definitely cost me about 25% more that I used to pay. Can’t see things improving anytime soon. I work in an industry taking cash on a daily basis. it’s very noticeable how restricted people’s real income has become over the last year. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of debt

  4. iansommerville734481142 says:

    Coincidentally, this post appeared in my Feedly next to Chris Townsend’s post on megapixels. The situations in photography and in lightweight gear are very similar – older items have reached a sufficient level of quality that investing in newer ones gives you no real improvement. The mainstream camera industry is in exactly the same predicament and Canon and Nikon are both struggling.

    I see no future for the chains – they will increasingly become fashion retailers and many will not be able to compete in this market. Hopefully, the smaller independent retailers and manufacturers will survive.

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