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Getting What You Bargained For

Make sure that you are not spending money against your own interests.

by Martin Hackworth

Photo: Martin Hackworth

Boulder White Clouds

Note. This article was written almost eight years ago. Because of its recent popularity I have been updating it. See the list at the bottom of the page. You'll be surprised by the additions to the rogues gallery. Stay tuned. - M

     If you are a regular reader of MoJazz, you, like all of us, likely spend a lot of time in the outdoors. For me outdoor recreation has been a life-long affair. All of the way back in the 60's my pre-teen friends and I were building our own off-road bicycles out of cannibalized Schwinn Stingray's. My life's arc has led me through spelunking, rock climbing, skiing, ski touring, mountain biking, snowboarding, mountain running and adventure dirt-biking. I financed a chunk of my college education with the proceeds from climbing guidebooks that I wrote. I've been a climbing guide, a ski instructor, an outdoor retailer and an industry consultant. I'm comfortable that my outdoor bona fides are in reasonably good shape.  

     Those of you with similar interests know that the transition between the granola (Outdoor Retail) world and the race gas (Power Sports) world can be awkward. Some of my old climbing and skiing friends, in particular, seem convinced that my current fascination with dirt bikes is evidence of a once-promising career gone to seed. Well, I'll see your smugness and raise you. Having tried all of the above, I can assure you that I get pretty much the same thrill out of riding flat-out across the desert at night as I once did climbing the Diamond in a full-blown gale. Further, though the thrill levels are similar, I am reasonably sure that a clean pass across some of the more technical single track around here is at least as exciting as dropping into Corbett's on pins, and perhaps even more demanding of concentration, fitness and skill. You should really be a little more careful about passing judgment on things that you actually know little about.

     It is often the case that when an outdoor adventurer expresses even a nascent interest in, or appreciation of, motorized recreation, they find themselves on the wrong end of disapproval from erstwhile friends. I still remember the howls that erupted when I suggested to some of my backcountry ski buddies that we could get in a lot more vertical in an afternoon if we used a snow machine to help us haul stuff in and out. This, mind you, from the same folks who had no problem with ski lifts and parking lots filled with cars in the mountains. The upshot is that outdoor PC dictates that a crossover athlete is very likely to spend some time on the other side of a lot of arguments about access to public lands. 

     To be perfectly clear, I am all for reasonable restrictions on access and travel in public lands because they are a resource worthy of responsible stewardship. I don’t have a problem with some areas being set aside for preservation. But I’m also not for discriminating, based on dubious, ideologically-driven research, against various groups who want to enjoy public lands. As far as I’m concerned, hikers, climbers, equestrians, skiers, mountain bikers, dirt bikers and people in jeeps all pay taxes and deserve access to the public lands they pay to maintain. If you want to completely close areas for preservation, knock yourself out (good luck with that). But unless there is a damned good reason, open areas should be open to as many groups as possible, not as few as possible. It’s just not up to me, you, or anyone else to decide which forms of recreation are implicitly worthy and which are not. The world is still a pretty big place, and I think that there is room in it for all of us, so long as we are not too selfish. 

     The purpose here is not to convince anyone to take a walk on the wild side, or to debate how best to save the Earth from the burgeoning population of humans crawling all over it or even to suggest with whom you should or should not do business with. The world is a complicated place and there are lots of reasons why some of these companies might have donated the money they did for non-nefarious reasons (though in some cases this seems unlikely). The purpose here is to merely illuminate the practice of some in the outdoor retail industry of donating money to groups who lobby against access to public lands for some of their own customers. I am certain that this list is incomplete. Feel free to email me if you would like to discuss either inclusion or exclusion. 

     The companies listed below have a couple of relevant things in common: they provide financial support to organizations who would really like to keep the likes of us away from public lands, and they have likely earned some of this money by selling something to you. 

     This list was researched by perusing the corporate websites that I have linked for you below. Look for links titled "sustainability" or "affiliates" or "corporate partners." For each entity listed I have included motor sport friendly alternative suppliers. Knowledge is power. Let the knowledge begin. 

  • REI - The colossus of outdoor retailers, Seattle, Washington-based Recreational Equipment Incorporated donates hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to organizations such as Outdoor Alliance and Winter Wildlands Alliance to lobby against motorized access to public lands - even in places where sleds and bikes have been around since the advent of internal combustion. For off-road motorcyclists, REI should be eschewed no matter how enticing the deal. Alternative - Your local climbing/skiing/mountain bike shop can get everything you need that REI carries without using your money to advocate against your interests. Shops like our very own Barrie's Ski and Sports serve local clientele who tend to be more diverse users of the outdoors. 

  • CLIF BAR - I have never been a fan of the ubiquitous CLIF Bar. I might have to really think hard about the choice between chewing my arm off and living with a CLIF bar if things went bad. But CLIF earned it's way into this list not because of the savor of cardboard and goo, but because the Emeryville, California-based CLIF BAR Family Foundation donates big to numerous organizations trying to ban motorized travel on public lands. That must be why the damned things are so expensive! AlternativeKate's Real Food, in Victor, ID, crafts the best energy foods imaginable. Kate Schade is an accomplished athlete whose experiences span a variety of pursuits. I doubt that Kate ever met an outdoor activity that she didn't like. She's a wizard in the kitchen as well, and her energy bars are simply the best. Kate is "one of us" no matter what crew you happen to hang with. This is as close to a no-brainer as it gets.

  • Patagonia - One of the most fabulously successful marketers of high-dollar outdoor clothing on the planet, Ventura, California-based Patagonia is the invention of climbing legend Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard is the real deal (honest and no lie) and I respect his climbing accomplishments immensely. Known for taking himself pretty seriously, Chouinard imprinted his sober sense of virtue and stewardship on Patagonia. This business model could be seen, depending on your point of view, as either noble and inspiring or smug and condescending (perhaps even a bit of both). Patagonia, whose coffers bulge thanks to a large and loyal following, donates hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to a number of organizations who, unless you have wandered in here by accident, really don't like you. Alternatives - KLIM, MSR (Malcolm Smith Racing), Fox, FLY and many others have you more than covered for any item of apparel that might have caught your eye in the Patagonia catalog. You may get less "Save the Whales" cred at Starbucks, but you will be patronizing companies who are not out to make you the endangered species.

  • Columbia, Outdoor Research, The North Face - Right behind Patagonia in the virtuous outdoor retailer sweepstakes, Oregon-based Columbia Sportswear, Bay Area behemoth The North Face and Seattle-based Outdoor Research, all known for clothing and soft goods, collectively donate a ton of money to organizations who frown upon motorized recreation. AlternativesKLIM, MSR, Fox, FLY and many others can hook you up with all of the moto-specific clothing that you might need.

  • Keen, Merrell - Portland, Oregon-based Keen and Michigan-based Merrell, both known primarily for footwear, donate a lot of money to The Conservation AllianceThe Winter Wildlands Alliance and others. Alternatives - Your local Red Wing/Vasque shoe store can set you up with a variety of durable, comfortable shoes and boots, with no concomitant danger that some of your money goes to getting an identical boot put in your fanny.
  • MSR (Note: Mountain Safety Research is not related to Malcolm Smith Racing - except for same acronym) - A subsidiary of Seattle-based Cascade Designs, Mountain Safety Research is known for hardware and soft goods popular with climbers. Nonetheless, MSR Dromedary Bags are considered practically de rigueur amongst some adventure riders because the display of a pair lends some serious backcountry travel cachet to any parking lot resume (MSR Fuel bottles and the MSR E-Bivy are also popular with the ADVRider set). MSR donates thousands of dollars annually to organizations such as the Winter Wildlands Alliance and The Conservation Alliance who support the designation of big chunks of the West as Wilderness. Keep that in mind the next time you are telling me how great of a Tour of Idaho supplemental fuel container a MSR Dromedary makes. Alternatives - There isn't a supplemental fuel need that cannot be met between Giant Loop and JustGasTanks. Better, neither of these companies spends the money that you give them to make your purchase of a supplemental fuel container a moot point. 
  • Osprey - Cortez, Colorado-based Osprey, known for packs and bags for climbers and mountain bikers, donates large to several organizations who advocate against motorized travel on public lands. AlternativesKLIM, Giant Loop and OGIO  
  • Camelbak - Petaluma, California-based Camelbak, known for hydration systems, donates money to several local and national organizations that oppose motorized use of public landsAlternativesKLIM, Leatt, FoxOGIO and many others make hydration packs for motorcyclists. KLIM makes one of the best for off-road motorcycling.

     Please consider bookmarking and/or linking this page. It is a work in progress and will be updated frequently. Feel free to email me if you'd like to nominate an Outdoor Retailer who moves a lot of product to Power Sports customers while using part of the profit to keep us out of public lands. Also, please feel free to forward this information along to anyone that you think needs to see it. 

     So what's the best thing to do about all of this? I've always been in favor of voting with my wallet. Patronize businesses who support you - especially your local Power Sports store. I'm betting that there is something that you could use right now that is obtainable from a Power Sports friendly retailer who would love your business. It wouldn't hurt to tell them exactly why you are making the purchase either. In specific niches, Kate's, KLIM and Giant Loop are small businesses who could really use your patronage.

Update, 12/02/13 - Several readers have nominated companies for inclusion in this list based on donations to the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not accept, directly anyway, corporate donations. The Sierra Club does accept large donations from individuals, which is how they got away with accepting money from the natural gas industry to bang on coal. The Sierra Club does have a few large benefactors, but these are individuals and organizations who tend to donate to a lot of progressive causes. For the time being I am going to leave companies whose principals donate to the Sierra Club off this list, but all it takes is legitimate paper trail to change my mind.

Update, 12/03/13 - Thanks to everyone who has linked to this page. Several of you have written to confess that you own stuff from some of these companies. Guess what - I do as well. Owning a Patagucci jacket, or a MSR Dromedary, does not make you an enemy of motorized access to public lands. These companies are the problem, not you. The purpose here is just to provide you with some information that you might find useful in making future purchases. Knowledge is power. Braaappp! (Thanks Rich B.)

Update, 12/06/13 - "teamdirt", of Calgary, Alberta, in a critique of this piece: Don't believe everything you read. No reliable source from the writer or anything cited. Just a bunch of BS.

The North Face does not support the closure of motorized recreation. If any of you ski or snowboard you would be familiar with a large scale film company called Teton Gravity Research (TGR). Of note is that the title sponsor is TNF. For the most part a good portion of their movie is heli and snowmobile skiing of which most of there athletes are on sleds, are known TNF athletes and are visible in the films wearing TNF and sled skiing the coast. They promote this film, they promote their athletes and they promote their lifestyles.You think if they were against motorized recreation that they would not partner with these athletes or this film company. Just because some guy started a blog and wrote some uncited **** on the Internet does not mean it is true....

Let me make it easy for you: http://www.conservationalliance.com/about, and http://www.conservationalliance.com/stories/show/81. By the way, this is you, correct? How was "scoring with your mum," anyway?

Update, 12/08/13 - Several readers have written to ask if Carhartt should be included in the list. As far as I can tell, the answer is no. Carhartt seems to be the victim of some anti-hunting rumors circulating the web that have ticked-off a lot of Carhartt fans. There is no actual evidence for any of this that I can find. 

Update, 11/07/15 - It appears as if the former CEO Red Wing/Vasque has donated money to organizations attempting to shut down motorized travel in the Canyonlands. I have reached out to Redwing but, to date, have not had a response.  

Update, 11/10/15 - After an exchange of emails with the folks at New Belgium Brewery, which was formerly on this list, they've been removed. Their support for the Winter Wildlands Alliance was for a specific event that was, by all accounts, innocuous. 

Update, 11/10/15 - It appears as if GoPro may have earned a spot on the list. I'm still checking.

Update, 6/21/19 - If anyone can provide information about where the big money comes from for the Western Watersheds Project that would be useful. As much as I'm generally not a fan of boycotts, whoever funds these people has probably earned one.

Update, 6/21/19 - Camelbak was acquired by Vista Outdoors in 2015. Vista is a good company that has a lot of camping, hunting, cycling, shooting and other outdoor brands under it's umbrella. I've spoken with the marketing folks at Vista and they are aware of the unfortunate anti-access stance of Camelbak. They did not follow through on a commitment to consider directly supporting access, but at least they aren't funding the anti-access crowd either.

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