Ours could probably be summed up as "You get more ... for less ... with a smile". It really is our goal to offer products that are at least as good as our competitors (and in most instances, have some features that are actually better), but to be able to offer them at the most competitive prices possible. Then when we offer Scouts our 45% discount, our prices really are almost unbelievable! To finish out the statement, we also try our best to be helpful and friendly with any dealings you have with us.
I recently thought of two other pretty well know companies that I think have similar positionings: Southwest Airlines and Lands End.
Southwest is sometimes teased as being the "bargain" airline, or the one that has the "cattle herding" boarding process, but the last time I checked, they're about the only one making any money. From my perspective they offer a great product (on-time air travel), with better than industry pricing, and for sure with friendly service ... like I said, what we try to do. Then recently when I received my latest purchase from Land's End I noticed (they may have been doing this for quite a while, but I just noticed it!) that they have as part of their logo "Direct Merchants". They're proud of the fact that they can offer their customers "factory direct" products and pricing ... again what we're trying to do with ScoutDirect.
We know we have a long way to go to be as popular and well known as these two giants, but we're doing our best to get the foundation started.
Tent Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions that we get asked about our Taurus and Meramac tents.
Awning Fly vs. Full-coverage Fly - Meramac tents have awning flys for easier ventilation ("easier" because the pole in the fly automatically forms an awning) and are best suited for summer use and conditions that are "less windy", since the awning fly can sometimes be a real "wind catcher". In slow, non-windy rains, the door windows can be kept open because the awning provides some protection from the falling rain. Taurus tents have full coverage flys, which give the best rain, snow, and wind protection. To increase ventilation, the vestibule zippers can be unzipped ... either a few inches up from the bottom, which gives you a little opening and still lots of coverage ... or most of the way to the top, giving the most ventilation, but obviously the least coverage. Full coverage vestibule flys, like those on the Taurus tents, are really good in windy conditions because the vestibules act line "guy out points", both anchoring the tent/fly and shedding the wind.
Lower Sidewall Mesh - Meramac tents (both standard and ZF models) have lower sidewall mesh. The idea is that awning fly tents are more "summer oriented" and therefore want the most ventilation, and adding mesh to the sidewalls helps to increase air flow in hot, muggy weather. Taurus tents have little or no lower sidewall mesh ... standard Taurus tents have an "elliptical shaped" section of mesh in the center of the sidewalls and Outfitter Taurus tents don't have any lower sidewall mesh at all. For now, most of our Outfitter tents are used by real "River Outfitters" in the West (Utah, Arizona, Grand Canyon, etc.) in the summer and because these climates are very dry, they quite often don't even need to use the flys and the sidewalls without mesh give the campers more privacy.
"Does lower sidewall mesh really affect air flow in the summer and winter?" - Now we're starting to get into areas of opinion, rather than easy to define facts, but I'll give you my opinion from 25+ years of tent design. In the summer, when air is hot and humid, mesh seems to help at least a little in terms of air movement and little breezes. The thing you do need to keep in perspective in terms of ventilation and condensation is that if it's really humid or raining, the air that is moving through the mesh could be just as saturated as the air already inside your tent ... and if it is raining, probably more saturated! In the winter, especially when it's really cold ... say down in the teens or even lower ... I don't think it makes much difference if the cold air is coming through the mesh or right through the breathable fabric. The flys, because they have a waterproof coating, will act as an "air block" but the breathable (non coated) sidewall fabric is as the name suggests ... breathable ... and the cold air will come right through. Meramac tents, which do not have a "second layer of fabric" on the front, because of their awning fly design, are just going to be colder in the winter and whether they have mesh or breathable fabric on the sides is not going to make much difference. Taurus tents, which have a full coverage fly, will have a layer of "wind blocking waterproof fabric" all the way around the tent, which will clearly offer more protection from cold winter winds.
Internal Frequently Asked Questions
Several questions about our internals (Red Tail, Cascade, and Denali) are answered below.
"What are the main differences between the ComfortFit suspension used on the Red Tail and the ComfortGlide suspension used on the Cascade & Denali?" - The differences are in how the shoulder straps adjust. The waist belts are basically identical. They're both 3 layer, contoured waist belts with the same type & thickness of foam. The differences in how the shoulder straps adjust are listed below.
- ComfortFit Shoulder Harness Adjustment - The pack has a webbing "ladder" sewn to the back of the pack. The shoulder harness has a piece of 2" webbing that is "threaded" onto the webbing "ladder" to position the shoulder harness at the correct height.
- ComfortGlide Shoulder Harness Adjustment - These packs have a "U" shaped piece of aluminum tubing fastened to the back of the pack. The shoulder harness is attached to this piece of tubing with small webbing "sleeves" on each side of the harness. A flat piece of webbing is sewn to the bottom of the harness and is attached to an adjustable buckle located behind the lumbar pad. To adjust the torso length, the webbing is loosened or tightened to allow the harness to slide, or "glide", on the aluminum tubing to achieve the correct height of the shoulder straps.
Which of these 2 suspension systems is better? - Because they're both adjustable (how they adjust is just different … not better or worse) we don't classify as one system being better than the other one.
Why does the ComfortFit System cost more? - The webbing adjustment "ladder" on the ComfortFit system involves quite a bit of extra sewing and reinforcement stitching (bartacks) which is a little more labor intensive and costly.
If the systems are basically identical in performance and the Red Tail costs a little bit more, why is the Red Tail considered our #1 internal for Philmont? - Since we've been selling the Red Tail pack to Scouts for about the last 6-7 years, it is quite a recognized and proven pack. The Cascade was new in 2004 and the Denali is new for 2005, which means they're just "new" and it will take a little bit more time before they're as "recognized" as our Red Tail.
Sleeping Bag Frequently Asked Questions
"You have about 5 Mummy Bag Models, so how do I know which one is best?" - First of all, we use the same 2-layer offset construction (sometimes called a "bag within a bag") for all of our mummy bags, so you don't need to be concerned that one of our models is made differently from another model. The differences in our 2 "standard" mummy bags are mainly in the fabric, the stuff sack, as listed below.
- Crescent Lake - #8 zipper, standard stuff sack, TechLoft insulation (insulations will be explained in more detail below).
- Desert Pine - #8 zipper, compression stuff sack, TechLoft insulation.
Our other mummy bag, the Clearwater, is somewhat more "specialized".
- Clearwater - There is still a trend in backpacking to go "light and fast". DuPont developed several insulations a few years ago that were engineered to be "micro fibers", with the benefits of being extra lightweight while still maintaining the required warmth. The most popular of these lightweight insulations they developed was Thermolite Extreme, which our factory has duplicated and we now call it MicroX. As shown on our web site, these bags are very lightweight and are best suited when the conditions call for a more moderate temperature range.
"What do the zipper sizes really mean?" - A #5 is a standard size zipper that is used on a lot of "middle of the road" bags. As you can see from our line, we prefer to use the "one size larger" #8 for most of our mummy bags. The #5 is a very adequate zipper, and some companies like Slumberjack use it almost exclusively in their bags, but as a relatively new brand, we prefer to "over-build" to make sure you won't have any trouble. Because we wanted an opening price point bag at $49.99 retail to compete with others in the marketplace, we use a #5 on our Crescent Lake bags, and have had no problems with them.
"What's the difference in your insulations?" - I'm going to start off by saying that the insulation you believe in is a little bit like religion and politics … a lot of the time the differences are not that great, but the perception or belief you have could be pretty strong. While there are clearly some physical and specification differences between insulations, my opinion is that a lot of what you hear, especially when it comes directly from the insulation companies, it that some of the information is "over hyped". We believe the key component to a bag's warmth is the amount of loft you get from the insulation. To keep the bags weight as small as possible, we need to develop insulations that are soft, resilient, compatible, and durable so the end product is lofty (warm) yet compact (lightweight).
- Staple Length Fibers vs. Continuous Filament - Polarguard (in all of its variations … standard, HV, 3D, Delta, etc.) is a continuous filament fiber. The stated advantage is that it's supposed to be more durable to repeated washings (like you might experience in rental situations where the bag is laundered weekly). Staple length fibers, like the DuPont insulations and our TechLoft, are fibers that are about 2" long and go through a process called "garneting" that "fluffs and mixes" the fibers to make them very soft and lofty. While I have nothing against continuous filament fibers like Polarguard (until this year we had a Monarch Pass bag that used Polarguard 3D insulation), we've gotten away from it because of cost. Since our products are positioned to give you the best value or "bang for your buck", we've elected to go with insulations that do that.
- Branded vs. Non-branded - Large companies, like DuPont, have dominated the sleeping bag insulation market for years. Starting about 5 years ago, Asian companies started to "demystify" the insulation market when they started developing their own fibers. When Quallofil (a DuPont fiber) was originally developed, it had 4 holes inside each fiber (yeah, it's a concept I have a hard time visualizing, since these fibers are basically "hair sized" in diameter and picturing 4 holes inside each "hair sized" fiber is pretty difficult to imagine). The concept was that these "holes" or channels trapped additional air and made the fiber more thermally efficient. Then they figured out how to put 7 holes inside each fiber, so they changed Quallofil to have 7 holes and moved Hollofil up to 4 holes (essentially the old Quallofil). Then they additionally differentiated Hollofil from Quallofil by the amount of silicone finish they applied to the fibers. DuPont always positioned Hollofil as a good fiber and Quallofil as a "premium" fiber … and put quite a price premium on the price also. The Asians found out that the cost difference between 1 hole vs. 4 holes and some silicone vs. "the right amount of silicone" was very little, which allowed us to upgrade our insulation (TechLoft has 4 holes with a great silicone treatment) and lower the price… right up our alley… more for less.
- Micro Fibers - I already explained MicroX above when discussing the Clearwater mummy bag.
How do we compare to "name brands?" - This seems to be your most frequent question. We have a phrase that we always use to describe our positioning to our new dealers, which is "we offer a little more ... for a little less". The "little more" refers to better specifications (larger tent zippers, included sleeping bag compression stuff sacks, more comfortable pack suspensions, more durable furniture, faster inflating foam in our pads, etc.). The "little less" refers to lower retail prices. When you throw the Scout Program pricing into the mix, the phrase needs to be modified to say "we offer a little more... for a lot less!". Possibly more of the kind of answer you're looking for is that we compare very favorably to the "name brands" in terms of performance, durability, comfort, design, etc.
Ultra-lightweight Backpacking - While we're not opposed to the idea, we don't believe in taking it to the extremes like some companies do. To save weight in packs you can use lighter weight fabrics, but most of the time the real weight savings come by making the pack smaller, leaving off pockets/zippers/buckles/webbing straps/etc. Similar modifications happen with lightweight tents, although lighter weight fabrics here can have a bigger effect on the final total weight. The challenge with these lighter weight fabrics is that they perform OK if the user is careful (like adults) but younger, more inexperienced hikers tend to be disappointed with the performance because they forget about being careful and end up damaging their expensive lightweight gear. This brings up another reason why we haven't focused more on the ultra-lightweight stuff. We had a saying when I ran Kelty that some of our packs were "half the weight but twice the price" Since most, not all, Scouts are very price conscious, most of them aren't willing to pay a premium to save a few pounds. Like so many consumer shopping choices, it just comes down to your personal preference. With lightweight backpacking gear, the choice is how much of a premium to you want to spend to save x-amount of weight. I realize I'm very "old fashioned" and "traditional" in my approach to gear, but I always opt for the extra comfort (a little more room in my tent, a few more features on my pack) when it comes to my gear choices.