Branding the Outdoors

By 100m
September 20, 2016
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Filed under Naming


For most people, the word “Patagonia” conjures up images of adventurers summiting a snowy peak (which may or may not be in southern Argentina.) North Face is a jacket or a sleeping bag, not the harsher side of a mountain. A big part of outdoor outfitters, and a key to their success, is their brand.

Birthed in the 70s, the modern outdoor industry as we know it has turned out clothes and equipment for skiers, backpackers, and white water rafters, innovating along the way. Companies like The North Face and Patagonia, along with Arc’Teryx, Mountain Hardwear, and a few others, have built a reputation for high performance and extreme durability. Create the perception of being at the top of the game, and someone with enough disposable income will snap your product up. There’s just something about owning a windbreaker “engineered for technical climbing,” even if you technically use it for walking the dog in a drizzle.

This approach suits the lifestyles and spending patterns of upper-income boomers. But it’s increasingly falling flat on its face with the younger generation. Much has been claimed of this demographic, and a lot of it is dubious. But two things are demonstrably true: they’re increasingly urban and relatively strapped for cash. This doesn’t bode well for the old guard of the outdoor world. $300 jackets and twenty sizes of carabiners are not what the kids these days want, at least not most of them.

Enter the newjacks. Each of the companies below are selling outdoor products to people under 35 who know they’re more likely to go car camping than ice climbing. Let’s see how they handled their branding.

About us: “Created to bridge the gap between action sports and traditional outdoor activities.”

The gap is wide: their website has photos of people wearing their gear above the Arctic and below the Antarctic circles (is that what a poler is?) and surfing in Nicaragua. The products themselves seem more “45 minutes away” than 45° South. There’s a sleeping bag with armholes and a hood, vibey tshirts, and…this tent.

Best for: looking fly at Coachella while planning a trip to Chile


About Us: “The idea around simplicity and the sense of connectedness with the things we own is a huge part of Topo Designs. Being outdoors is a very spiritual thing, we really enjoy the quietness and calm that is ever present.”

Made in the USA. Shots of raw materials and sewing machines on the website: craft is key. Everything from briefcases and laptop sleeves to chalk bags and fairly serious backpacks. Leather diamond strap fasteners on everything. Climb shorts and work pants round out the lineup.

Best for: people who are serious-ish about gear and design

The takeaway here? Differentiation is important. If something isn’t working, doing the opposite just might be the ticket. No one’s going to mistake that psychedelic tent fly for something you can get at REI.

Nervous about trying something new? Give us a call.