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Is Backcountry Legit? Unpacking the Truth in 2023
As an avid snowboarder, I’m constantly on the hunt for the best gear and apparel to enhance my riding experience. One retailer that consistently comes up in conversations and online searches is Backcountry.com. However, over the years I’ve also seen some criticisms of the company. In this detailed review, I aim to take an honest and unbiased look at Backcountry to determine whether they are a legitimate and trustworthy option for snowboard gear.
A Brief History of Backcountry.com
First, let’s learn a bit about how Backcountry got started. The company was founded way back in 1996 by Jim Holland and John Bresee in Park City, Utah. They launched as an online retailer focused on premium outdoor gear catering to a wide range of activities from hiking and climbing to skiing and snowboarding.
Over the past 27 years, Backcountry has grown from a small startup run out of a garage into one of the largest online retailers of outdoor gear. Today they stock thousands of products from top outdoor brands on their website which sees millions of visitors annually. Backcountry has also expanded beyond e-commerce by opening a handful of physical retail locations across the United States.
So in summary, Backcountry has firmly established itself as a major player in the online outdoor retail industry thanks to over two decades of consistent growth and expansion. Their extensive brand partnerships and product selection have certainly helped cement their reputation as a go-to destination for adventurers and recreation enthusiasts.
Backcountry’s Product Selection and Services
Now let’s discuss Backcountry’s core offerings as an online retailer. First and foremost, their expansive product catalog is truly impressive, stocking goods across virtually every major outdoor category from top brands. This includes:
- Snowsports – Skis, snowboards, boots, bindings, outerwear, goggles and more from Burton, Jones, Salomon and others.
Climbing – Harnesses, carabiners, ropes, helmets and apparel from Black Diamond, Petzl, Arc’teryx and more.
Camping/Hiking – Tents, pads, packs, layers, footwear from Big Agnes, Osprey, The North Face and others.
Water Sports – Wetsuits, paddles, PFD’s, dry gear from NRS, Hyperflex, Peak UK and others.
Cycling – Helmets, jerseys, shorts, shoes, components from Specialized, Garmin, Giants and others.
Beyond the products, Backcountry also offers useful services like free shipping on orders over $50, lifetime warranty on unused gear returns, and an extensive support/instruction center with video tutorials and buying guides. Perhaps their most invaluable asset is access to Backcountry “Gearheads” – knowledgeable gear experts available to answer questions over phone, email or live chat.
Reviews of Backcountry’s Customer Experience
Now let’s delve into reviews from actual customers to analyze how Backcountry stacks up in terms of reliability, customer service and trustworthiness. Here are the common themes I observed:
- Delivery Speed – Most report receiving orders within the estimated 2-5 business day window. However some mention slower than expected shipping, especially during peak seasons.
Order Accuracy – Vast majority say orders were properly fulfilled with the correct items. A small number reported receiving an incorrect or damaged product.
Returns/Exchanges – Process is generally described as painless, as expected given Backcountry’s lifetime return policy on unused gear.
Customer Service – Opinions are mixed. Most rate interactions with phone/chat reps positively but some complained of unhelpful or inability to resolve issues.
Pricing – Products often cost more during initial release but sales happen regularly. They also price match competitors if asked.
Product Photos/Details – Missing or incorrect info is rarely mentioned. Photos appear accurate in depicting items.
So in summary, while not perfect, reviews indicate Backcountry delivers a largely satisfactory customer experience in line with expectations for a major online retailer. Issues seem relatively minor or within industry norms.
Controversies Surrounding Backcountry’s Trademark Lawsuits
However, in recent years one controversy has emerged that calls into question Backcountry’s public image and approach to community relations. In 2019, it came to light that the company had been aggressively pursuing trademarks for the term “backcountry” and subsequently suing or threatening legal action against numerous small businesses utilizing the word in their names or branding.
Some of the businesses that Backcountry targeted with legal filings or cease and desists included:
- Backcountry Babes – An avalanche safety course provider for women
- Backcountry Exposure – A Colorado-based outdoor media company
- Backcountry Pizza – A restaurant and brewery in Idaho
- Backcountry Coffee Roasters – An artisanal coffee roaster in Washington state
The outrage from these small companies and the outdoor community at large was swift. Critics argued that “backcountry” is a generic term widely used to describe remote outdoor settings and activities. They saw Backcountry’s litigation attempts as overreach and bullying tactics against grassroots businesses that lacked resources for prolonged legal battles.
In response to the backlash, Backcountry’s CEO Jonathan Nielsen publicly apologized and acknowledged the company had “gotten things wrong”. They promised to drop all pending and future trademark lawsuits related to the term. By most accounts, Backcountry has followed through on improving brand enforcement policies and being more collaborative with the community since this controversy.
However, this episode revealed potential shortcomings in Backcountry’s ethics and concern for small businesses. It understandably gave some customers pause when evaluating whether to trust the retailer with their dollar and patronage going forward. The lasting impacts are still being determined.
Alternatives to Backcountry and Direct Competitors
Given the controversies and mixed reviews discussed, customers may want to consider alternative retailers as well. Here are some of Backcountry’s main competitors in the online outdoor gear space:
- Moosejaw – Based in Michigan, Moosejaw offers a huge catalog across all outdoor categories. They’re praised for low prices, promotions and customer service.
Outdoor Play – A niche focus on water sports gear like wetsuits, boards and paddling accessories. Stocks top brands at fair prices.
Steep & Cheap – Owned by Backcountry, Steep & Cheap runs regular closeout sales on past season products across all categories.
Evo – Known best for their snow sports selection, Evo also stocks gear for other activities. Fan favorites for fair pricing and loyalty program.
REI – The famed co-op has pricing to match major retailers while giving back to causes. Limited sizes on hot items.
Doing research on various retailers will help determine the best options based on specific needs, brand availability, pricing approach and reputation for reliability. Comparing customer reviews side by side is a valuable exercise.
Backcountry Sales, Promotions and Rewards
No discussion of Backcountry’s offerings would be complete without mentioning their sales and member perks. Like most major online retailers, Backcountry regularly runs sales throughout the year:
- Winter Clearance (Jan-Feb) – Past season outerwear, boots, snowboards up to 60% off.
Spring Refresh (Mar-Apr) – Post-season sales on select clearance inventory sitting in warehouses.
Summer Send-Off (Jun-Jul) – Steep discounts on all remaining winter stock to make room for new arrivals.
Holiday Savings (Nov-Dec) – Doorbuster promos and select pre-season deal launches.
Additionally, Backcountry Rewards members earn 6% back in reward certificates on all purchases to use on future orders. Their rewards program is comparable to others while offering useful incentives for loyal customers.
Subscribing to their emails and following Backcountry on social channels ensures never missing out on the latest sales, promos and exclusive member deals. Overall their pricing approaches seem well-calibrated to match competitors in the vibrant outdoor market.
Environmental & Community Initiatives at Backcountry
While controversies exist, Backcountry also supports numerous environmental causes and groups protecting wild spaces. Here are a few examples:
- 1% For The Planet – Backcountry donates 1% of annual sales or more to approved non-profits fostering sustainability.
Conservation Alliance – Protecting public lands through grassroots advocacy and habitat restoration projects.
Leave No Trace – Trains employees as ambassadors for the outdoor skills/ethics program.
Public Lands Service Coalition – Provides volunteer labor/funding to maintain and improve trails, campgrounds on federal lands.
American Alpine Club – Supports initiatives to preserve climbing areas while promoting safety and stewardship.
So in many ways Backcountry does “walk the walk” when it comes to backing conservation, public access to wilderness and empowering responsible recreation globally through strategic partnerships. This aspect cannot be overlooked.
Final Thoughts on Backcountry’s Legitimacy
After thorough research and analysis of both positive and negative aspects, here are my final takeaways on Backcountry’s reputation and legitimacy as a retailer:
Backcountry has firmly established itself as a major legitimate player in online outdoor retail over 25+ years.
Their extensive product selection, knowledgeable experts and standard customer service point to reliability.
However, recent controversies and changing customer reviews indicate risks that warrant caution/research on alternatives.