When you're looking for gear, it's a big, ugly world out there. Some vendors overcharge, some misrepresent their goods, some are staffed by clueless salespeople who have never hiked a day in their life. We always encourage families to talk with one or more of our youth and adult leaders before making a major purchase like skis or a backpack. We can go with you to local stores or review specs on-line for you to help you determine if the equipment will be suitable for Troop 8 use and that you're getting a reasonable deal.
We also like to encourage Troop 8 families to patronize local and on-line shops that we believe live up to the Scout Oath and Law in their business practices and support of the community. Our "Troop 8 Approved" vendors meet several criteria. First, generally speaking, they do not sell "cheap crap" merchandise which would not be appropriate for our outdoors events. If you shop with them, you can generally rely on any gear which you purchase in the proper size to be approved for use on troop outings. Second, their staff has been consistently knowledgeable in working with troop scouters and families, offering good advice and doing a proper job of sizing/fitting equipment to boys and adults. In some cases, the shops are familiar with our program and know what our expectations are for individual trips or types of gear. Third, their pricing and product return policies are reasonable and customer-friendly. You will not be over-charged, and you will often receive good deals on packages or individual sale items. A few offer discounts to Troop 8 members as an added bonus, but that is not required to be considered a preferred vendor.
We strongly encourage you to make use of our local shops whenever you can. They are a wonderful resource, and worth supporting.
General Outdoors Gear (local)
Ann Arbor Bivouac is the oldest outdoor outfitter in town. Locally owned and operated, they have been good friends to the community and Troop 8 for many years. They offer a full range of outdoor gear, including some technical climbing gear. Bivouac will match any on-line or local vendor price if you bring in the printout, and often has sales on some merchandise going. Look for a big sale just before Art Fair each summer.
Troop 8 members get a 20% discount off of non-sale items. Please be discrete in asking for your discount at checkout so as not to upset other customers in line who are paying full fare.
Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) DEMOTED (see other vendors below)
General Outdoors Gear (online/mail order)
Sierra Trading Post is an online vendor of discounted sale merchandise, typically end-of-season excess inventory or items with very minor cosmetic blemishes from reputable equipment manufacturers. Discounts are typically 30-70% off manufacturer list prices. We've find an ideal thing to do is to get on their mailing list, and then every time you receive a catalog in the mail (which will be pretty frequent) look through it immediately for a deal on anything you might need. Because they're selling overstock and limited factory 2nds, it's important to place an order fairly quickly. To date, we have received nothing but the highest-quality merchandise from them, and their return policy is very consumer-friendly.
Mountain Gear is an online merchant that specializes in technical climbing and mountaineering gear as well as general camping equipment. The equipment offered tends to be "high end" gear. When you've stopped growing or are looking for technical gear, though, they're likely to have great stuff. They offer regular sales on overstock and prior model year merchandise which allows you to capture some great stuff at (slightly) more affordable rates.
Outdoor Gear Rental and Skills Instruction
UM's Outdoor Adventures program have been long-term friends and partners of Troop and Crew 8 since they first got started in the early 90's. Their rental center offers a full range of outdoor gear - tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, cross-country skis, canoes, snowshoes. You name it! If you are looking for gear rental in the area, they are the place.
Outdoor Adventures is also Troop 8's approved vendor for outdoor skills instruction for adults, including the wilderness medicine courses required of adult leaders. In addition, the program offers one-up adventure trips throughout the midwest and the world, many of which are open to community members as well as students. These can provide a great guided introduction to an outdoor activity. You might find a former Troop 8 scout among the instructors and leaders in the program!
By far the best bike shop in Ann Arbor and perhaps the state, Two Wheel Tango is locally owned and operated and has been a longtime friend of Troop 8, collaborating with us in offering cycling repair and safety instruction for many years. They offer a full range of mountain bikes and road bikes as well as all kinds of accessories, clothing, helmets and the like. Keep an eye out for their many special events throughout the riding season, as well as their annual Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) sale.
Watersports / Kayaking and Canoeing
Kayak Corral is by far the best local kayak/canoe shop. Owned and operated by the Cornetts, a former Troop 8 family, they offer a full range of whitewater, recreational, and sea kayaks as well as PFDs, paddles, paddling jackets, and every variety of water sports accessory or accoutrement. The staff are all paddlers and very knowledgeable, and you can take boats out for "demo" on local waterways. We use their online resources for links to river gauges for safety and outing planning. If they don't have what you're looking for in stock, they are happy to order stuff in from any of a number of vendors.
Kayak Corral provides Troop 8 members with a 15% discount on all merchandise. Please be polite in not asking for a discount in front of other customers who are paying full price.
The University of Michigan RSCK Club is a long-time friend and partner of Troop 8 which provides adult coaching and instruction in whitewater kayaking skills, from beginner through intermediate and up. The club hosts swimming pool sessions at the North Campus Recreation Building throughout the academic year, and experienced club members lead outdoor paddling sessions through the spring, summer, and fall. The Club also offers free "loaner" boats and gear to take out for your own paddling adventure once you have been "checked out."
Downhill Skiing / Snowboarding
Unfortunately, we are not able to recommend any Ann Arbor area vendors for ski merchandise or equipment. Local shops have had a poor reputation of mis-fitting gear and offering low-end gear in "mid-range" packages. Just a little ways away, however, is one of the oldest ski shops in the state, founded by one of the principals who helped build Boyne ski area. They continue to offer high-quality gear with knowledgeable and helpful service. Their gear is typically sold at or near manufacturer list prices, but it's solid stuff and the fit will be done right. Their staff has been paticularly good at customizing boot fit for youth and adults.
Sam Stamos of Stamos Travel has been a long-time friend of Troop 8, and continues to offer us valuable assistance with the arrangements for various high-adventure trips and other outings. Without his help, we'd have had a harder time pulling off some of our grand adventures. We strongly recommend Stamos Travel for any of your agent-assisted travel needs.
Journeys is a locally owned and operated adventure and eco-travel organization which provides an amazing array of world-wide adventure travel and eco-travel options for adults and families. Owned and operated by St. Thomas scouting friend Will Weber, they have been good friends to the program for international travel advice and contacts in the sort of crazy travel we do. If you're looking for an adventurous vacation as an adult, we strongly recommend them.
These outfitters are not Troop 8 approved vendors, but they can offer some reasonable deals occasionally:
Primarily a hunting/fishing outfitter (with a full range of mid-to high quality gear for those sports), Cabelas can be a good spot to pick up mid-range outdoor clothing, rain jackets, etc. at a reasonable price. Their camping section (sleeping bags, tents, headlamps, cookware, etc.) should be avoided.
An online and mail-order merchant, Campmor offers a wide selection of recreational camping gear and clothing in the low- to mid-range of quality. The lower quality items aren't acceptable for troop use, but you can often find decent deals on midrange items. Also useful for those odd or hard-to-find car camping items.
A Michigan-based outfitter with a funky, youthful style. Their online shop offers a very wide range of mid- to high-end gear at manufacturer's list price with only rare (and paltry) discounts. But when you're looking for some high-end piece of gear in a particular size and color, they're often a good bet. The local shop offers a limited selection and we've been underwhelmed by the competence of their sales staff.
REI is a Seattle-based chain which is run as a member cooperative. In exchange for paying a one-time membership fee, you get an end-of-year dividend of 8% or so on purchases. The local store offers a full range of outdoor gear, though only a subset of what is available through the online store. You can order things through the online store to be picked up at the local store and avoid shipping charges. There is also an "outlet" type store associated with REI which offers discontinued items at a steeper discount (http://rei-outlet.com). While the gear sold at REI is good quality, our experience with the salespeople in the store has been spotty, with some who have mis-fit scouts in packs and other gear. REI has been very poor in its support for us and other NFP youth groups, with no discounts and reams of additional paperwork just to get our usual sales tax deduction.