Friday, December 21, 2007

The Well-Appointed Street Urchin

So it looks like this winter’s fashion statement is the North Face line of outdoor gear. I have to admit, the last time I looked (maybe ten years ago), North Face gear was of a very high quality and suitable for backcountry and expedition use. But now, they seem to have gone upscale trying to penetrate the mainstream market. This is easy to tell because not only do they sew their logo on the front pocket as before but also on the right shoulder area. Wow, that sure is impressive! I am going to go out and buy this stuff just so I can look cool and folks can see that I am well appointed both coming and going. I am seeing this stuff everywhere on the commute down to ground zero. It looks like the clothing of choice for most street urchins and gangsta types; kids mostly but also with hard core hoods. What a waste.

We saw similar fashion trends in the mid-1980s with the ubiquitous and completely dysfunctional Member’s-Only jacket and the more recent Timberline yellow work boot phenomena. The North Face anomaly is a bit different though in that it sure seems like a complete waste of good outdoor gear. Why on earth would urban street slime need a $300 mountaineering shell? Heading out to do a winter assault on Mt. Rainer for Christmas break are you? I serious doubt it.
I have to admit, I do own one piece of North Face gear; a pair of Windstopper gloves. These were on sale at a local backpacking store and well worth the price at the time. Windstopper fabric is superior for, well, stopping wind penetration. Keep in mind that Windstopper fabric is a Gore product (no not that Gore; the same guys who make Gore-Tex membranes). Perusing the Campmor catalog last year, they had nearly identical Windstopper hats, but the North Face version was $20 more than the one from Outdoor Research. That’s quite a mark-up just for a logo. Outdoor Research makes some excellent gear too and the urchins haven't discovered that yet. Neither have they found Mountain Hardware. Since this company is one of Ed Viesturs' sponsors and played a big role in his career, by all means have a look at their stuff before buying street urchin logos on the right shoulder.