20190529-Massachusetts-Hilton's Tent City

Looking for Gear? These Northeast Retailers Got You Covered

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a simple walk in the woods. The smell of fresh air, the sounds of birds chirping, the wind whistling through the elms, and the friendly chatter with other hikers. It also doesn’t hurt that, when you’re out of cell service, the pace of things slows down, and you can really take it all in. Of course, a walk in the woods isn’t so pleasant if you’re not prepared. Without the proper clothing and gear, a day in the woods could turn into a miserable affair. You could get cold and wet from wearing clothes not suited to the conditions. Or, your feet might get blisters from wearing cotton socks drenched with sweat. To be comfortable and have fun doing just about anything outdoors, you need the right gear. Backpacks, shoes, apparel—there are so many choices out there that it’s tough to know where to begin and what to choose. Fortunately, the Northeastern United States is home to some seriously impressive retail stores that sell the equipment and supplies you need. Plus, they have knowledgeable staff members who can recommend the right products and give you advice on visiting the wild areas of the region. Whether you need a T-shirt that will wick moisture to keep you dry, or Merino wool socks to protect your feet, these top shops will help you explore the outdoors like a pro.

Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters: Brattleboro, Vermont

When a family-owned business thrives for three generations, you know it’s doing something right. That’s the case with Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, which opened in 1932 as an Army-Navy surplus shop. Over the decades, Sam’s has steadily expanded its offerings to include the latest products for running, camping, and hiking, plus it offers the supplies you need for more technical outings, like kayaking and winter sports. The business has also expanded to include two additional locations in Keene, New Hampshire, and Hadley, Massachusetts. The staff members at Sam’s have a wealth of outdoor experience, and they’re super-knowledgeable about gear. But, you won’t run into any patronizing vibes here. Sam’s prides itself on the relaxed atmosphere of its stores and its efforts to place helpful sales associates in every department. There are no high-pressure sales tactics at Sam’s, either—visitors are welcome to enjoy free hot popcorn, whether they’re browsing or buying.

Farm-Way: Bradford, Vermont

These days, it’s easy to pull up to a faceless big-box store and find just about anything you need (or don’t need, for that matter). But what’s the fun in that? Farm-Way offers the exact opposite experience—a visit there isn’t just a shopping trip, it’s a cultural experience. “You will find the rhythm of Vermont life here,” the retailer says. They’re not kidding: the shop opened in 1983 in a former feed mill on 18 acres, and you’ll find not only the highest-quality outdoor gear but also accessories for the kitchen, home, and farmstead. While Farm-Way reflects the heritage of Vermont, it also shares the local passion for protecting the environment. As the business expanded to include several buildings over many acres, the owners felt the need to address the store’s significant energy usage. In 2009, Farm-Way installed a solar panel system at its Vermont store and cut its electricity needs nearly in half. In 2015, the store became 100% solar-powered. While Farm-Way occupies a large plot of ground and offers acres of products, the store has retained its down-to-earth, small-town feel. Maybe that’s because it sits in a town of just 2,500 people. And in a small town, a business has to do more than sell products to succeed—it has to be a good neighbor.

Hilton’s Tent City: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hilton’s Tent City is an institution. In 1947, it opened as a military surplus store, and over the decades the business has outlasted many big-name competitors. Irving “Irv” Liss, the store’s founder, brought in loads of tents in the early days, and the store gained a reputation for packing its four floors with wall-to-wall gear. It’s not just the selection that brings customers to Hilton’s—the shop is known for having the best deals around. Eventually, the store moved from its location on Friend Street in Boston to its present home in Cambridge’s Central Square. Though the shop moved across the Charles River, it has retained the things that make it unique. Hilton’s staff members are as experienced and knowledgeable as ever, and they’re more than happy to demo some gear. Plus, they’ve retained a reputation for being extremely honest about gear on the market and will offer customers a frank assessment of the good, the bad, and the many options available.

Kittery Trading Post: Kittery, Maine

What’s better than a well-stocked outdoor store? Not much—except maybe one that has a fudge shop right in the middle of the shop. Kittery Trading Post has you covered there. In addition to tasty treats, it sells all the big-name gear brands you’ve come to trust for various human-powered outdoor adventures. Plus, it sells a wide range of sporting goods and Maine hunting and fishing licenses for both residents and non-residents. The shop has been open since 1938, so its salespeople know a thing or two about outfitting customers for the rugged wilderness of Maine. In addition to its wide array of equipment and apparel, Kittery Trading Post also houses a full-service repair shop. Bring in your skis or bike for a tune-up and while you’re waiting enjoy some handmade fudge, or enjoy a lobster roll at their outdoor eatery, the Lobster Pot.

Lahout’s Ski Shop: Littleton & Lincoln, New Hampshire

In the early 1920s, Joe Lahout was just a little boy when he strapped on his first pair of skis, which were made of maple. He would go on to ski until he was 90 years old. When Joe was a teenager, he took over the family store, Lahout’s, which was established in 1920 as a general store. Eventually, Lahout’s added skis and other outdoor goods to its product mix, and it would go on to become the oldest ski shop in America. To say that Lahout’s is steeped in tradition is an understatement. Over the decades the store has retained its classic ski shop atmosphere, as four consecutive generations of family members have run the store. But, Lahout’s is not stuck in the past. In the century since the original shop opened, the Lahout family has expanded its operation to include eight total shops in Littleton and Lincoln selling the latest ski and outdoor equipment. They’re just steps away from the three downhill ski resorts (Loon, Cannon, and Bretton Woods), not to mention the Pemigewasset Wilderness and surrounding White Mountain National Forest. Whether you’re buying your first pair of skis or upgrading to your best pair yet, there’s no place more qualified than Lahout’s to get you ready for the slopes. Written by Emma Walker for Matcha in partnership with Minus33.
Featured image provided by Paul Sableman