A great outdoor store is more than just a place to buy gear. It’s an educational hub where you can discover new outdoor destinations; a place to learn more about the equipment you need, get properly fitted, and hear real-world advice on how it’s best used; a place to meet other outdoor enthusiasts, pick up new skills, and learn from those who’ve done it before.
Perhaps most of all, it’s a place to get excited about the outdoors and discover your next adventure.
An outdoor store is also where you can find info on local trail building projects and other volunteer opportunities. It becomes a town center of community-building and increasing outdoor opportunities in your area.
What else makes them special? Here are 11 of the country’s best outdoor stores and what they do to stand out from the crowd.
For more than 45 years, the Alpine Shop(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) has been helping outdoor enthusiasts in the Midwest enjoy their passion, whether it’s backpacking, hiking, camping, paddling, cycling, or snowsports. The store, along with three other locations in Missouri and Kansas, offers a wide range of classes from basic bike maintenance to learning how to paddle. It also hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival and Warren Miller films each year. A “gear and beer” speaker series is another way that the store brings together members of the outdoor community.
Traverse City, MI
Backcountry North(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), with two locations in Traverse City, is designed for those who want to take advantage of the incredible resources in northern Michigan. Paddling is a big part of the outdoor experience here, and Backcountry North offers the expertise to get you in the right boat and suggest the best places to explore. It’s also an excellent resource for hikers and campers looking to explore the lesser-visited parks and backcountry of the UP(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre).
This Lexington favorite has been around since 1972 when it was founded as an army surplus store. It evolved into an outdoor store over the years, and it’s now a member of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, an organization of 89 specialty retail stores and brands focused on better serving the outdoor community. Like many of the top outdoor stores, J&H(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) works closely with local charities, including the Bluegrass Land Conservancy, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, and Friends of Wolf Run. It organizes many local events to support these organizations (and others) in ways that bring people together while ensuring space for outdoor recreation is preserved.
Outdoor Gear Exchange
Located in another town ripe for outdoor adventure, Outdoor Gear Exchange(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) first opened its doors in 1995 with the mission of getting as many people outside and recreating as possible. It has always focused on having a knowledgeable and trustworthy staff to get people started and stocking a variety of price points so quality gear isn’t out of reach for anyone. (Its gear consignment program has always been a popular way to both buy and sell outdoor products.) It also takes pride in its environmental mission statement, which focuses on eliminating waste and keeping gear in service longer with a rental program and in-house repair services.
Pack Rat Outdoor Center
Like so many great American businesses, Pack Rat(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) was started in a garage. Scott and Caroline Crook started selling Grumman Canoes out of their garage in 1973, and the store eventually blossomed into a full-service retail store that would focus on the outdoors beyond just paddling. Today, Pack Rat is known for its rock climbing, paddling, backpacking, camping, and travel gear. It hosts events and clinics throughout the year, focused on improving your know-how on everything from survival skills to archery. Many clinics are free, and almost all also serve as local nonprofit fundraisers.
Quest Outdoors(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) started in 1983 with the mission of creating a space to provide gear for everybody “at any skill, for any adventure.” That range includes everything from a lazy ride locally on the Floyds Fork River to a once-in-a-lifetime climb of Kilimanjaro. But it has always focused on the quality of the product. As they say, “we wouldn’t sell anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.” Quest is also heavily involved in community events, holding free classes for youth groups, sponsoring local races and music festivals, and supporting the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown events.
Succasunna and Ramsey, NJ
Founded in 1953, Ramsey Outdoor(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) has two retail locations in northern New Jersey, not far from the New York metro area. It specializes in all those activities people leave the city to enjoy, including fishing, camping, water sports, climbing, backpacking, and hiking. As you would expect from a store that’s been around for nearly seven decades, they focus on having an experienced staff to help people understand the products they’re buying and get the most out of their outdoor experience. From finding the best fishing hole to planning a ski trip, Ramsey Outdoor employees will help get you outdoors to enjoy the sports you love.
The Summit Hut
The Summit Hut is another business with longevity — it was started more than 50 years ago by two teenagers. The store, and the city of Tucson, have grown substantially since then, and it’s now the area’s go-to spot for outdoor adventure gear. It’s been a Grassroots Outdoor Alliance “Retailer of the Year” award winner, and it continues to feature a strong community outreach program designed to help protect the trails, wilderness areas, forests, and waterways that are vital for recreation. It also has a program to help employees donate their time to various community groups like the Sky Island Alliance and the Tucson Audubon Society.
Altamonte Springs, FL
Travel Country(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) first opened its doors in 1971 — selling RVs. It should be no surprise that after it switched to outdoor equipment, the store would remain focused on activities that can be done far and wide — both in its home state of Florida and beyond. If you’re planning a camping trip to anywhere in the country, you can find what you need here. It’s also one of the region’s best bets for paddling gear and info. As you’d expect in Florida, you’ll also find plenty of help to find the fishing gear you need and the places to use it.
St. Joseph, MI
Just a few blocks from Lake Michigan, Wanderlust Outfitters(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) has all you need to enjoy a day at the beach, whether that’s lounging on the sand or playing in the water. But this is Michigan, so there’s just as much focus on the inland adventure as well, including gear for camping, backpacking, climbing, and hiking. Wanderlust also lives up to its name by highlighting travel opportunities both in the U.S. and abroad.
About to embark on an adventure? Our pro shops have you covered with the largest assortment of Osprey products, expert gear knowledge and custom fitting services. Don't know where to start? Let the experts at one of our pro shops help you choose the best pack from a full range of size and color options, translate the technical specs and fine-tune your pack so it fits you exactly as it should.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.
Featured image provided by Gautam Krishnan(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre)