I have lived here in the Pacific Northwest for fifteen years, and a lot has changed. When I arrived in Seattle in late 2000, the outdoor culture already existed. Of course mountains were climbed, trails hiked, islands kayaked, and gear was purchased, something that had occurred in the city since its inception during the Alaskan Gold Rush.
Just a few years prior to my arrival, REI had opened it’s grand flagship store, with it’s glass encased climbing wall greeting drivers passing by on I-5. In 2000, Seattle-chic usually meant a sporting a Gore-Tex rain coat and a fleece in the official outdoorsy colors of purple or green. Hiding underneath, people wore flannel (which is coming back now in a weird, hipster way) and people barely smiled, expect the barista at your local Starbucks joint.
Fast forward to 2015. The Pacific Northwest outdoor lifestyle has become hipster mainstream all over the country. Seattle has become an important destination for tourists, despite Washington being the only State in the country without a properly funded tourism board or budget.
Major outdoor brands have begun to realize that many visitors to Seattle, be it for outdoor endeavors, a tech conference, or to hitch a cruise to Alaska, means not just visiting Pike Place Market. Visiting Seattle now means stocking up on outdoor gear to begin that next adventure you’ve always dreamed of or at least getting a good rain coat.
Sorry Portland, your trendsetter Nike has completely missed that boat in that regards. At last week’s trail race, of the 300 runners I saw, only one or two people were wearing Nikes. At a trail running race!
Getting the right outdoor gear and finding the right outdoor store can be tough. If you’re new to the area, or you think you know Seattle, but don’t really move beyond the beaten path, here is a list of all the cool outdoor shops in the downtown vicinity.
Our journey begins in undoubtably one of Seattle’s greatest neighborhoods, Ballard. We’re here to visit the KAVU flagship store and the always inspiring Second Ascent. Those two shops have outlived the insane condo developments, the hipster brewing companies, and the delicious restaurants jumping up all over the place.
Seattle based Kavu sells outdoor clothing with a hint of northwest grunge. You’ll always find a flannel shirt to suit your taste and a t-shirt that says Seattle, WA on it.
Talking about taste, just a few doors down from KAVU there’s a fantastic gelato place, dare I say, Seattle’s best? D’Ambrosio Gelato Seattle. Go here. Match your ice-cream with your newly purchased flannel shirt. I always order pistachio. Thank me later!
Go for: Gotta grab a flannel shirt when in the Pacific Northwest, right?
Ascent Outdoors (formerly Second Ascent) is a must visit. It’s the PERFECT outdoor shop. New products are mixed in with last-year’s clearance bargains along with used gear and clothing. Ascent Outdoors offers a bike service and offers really good deals on serious gear with the bonus of experiencing that feeling you’re buying it from the people who actually use gear every weekend. The sales staff is friendly, but somewhat intimidating, mainly because you know they were killing it the weekend before somewhere in the Cascades on some really hard climbing route. Do I still see blood on the fingers of the person selling me that hydration pack?
Go for: The vibe, the experience and the great deals on last year’s gear.
Seattle’s popular outdoor mall, north of downtown, just adjacent to the University of Washington boasts a relatively small North Face store.
Go for: The selection is a bit more focused on campus-ready hoodies than technical outdoor gear, but if you’re at that mall to check out the Apple Store, Crate and Barrel and Molly Moon’s (the other fantastic ice cream shop in town), this store is a great stop and offers good deals on running gear and, well… hoodies.
The Patagonia store on First Ave in downtown Seattle has been around for many years in the same location. Located in an unassuming one-story brick building, it looks like it almost wants to apologize for being there. The interior layout is a mixture of highbrow shopping experience with super attentive staff and California surfer culture, after all, it’s Patagonia. The shop location is close to Pike Place Market, so it’s definitely worth a stop while visiting the fish throwers.
Go for: Fantastic selection of inspirational books and backpacks along with the usual high quality clothing and fly fishing gear.
Columbia, Oregon’s big outdoor brand with the hilarious eccentric CEO Gertrude Boyle, purchased Mountain Hardware a few years ago. When they decided to open shop in Seattle, they picked a prime location, right in the main walkway for shoppers traversing from the downtown core to Pike Place Market. You can’t miss them. In the process of creating their store, they also cleaned up a previously not-so-great corner of the city, with is fantastic. The two shops opened side-by-side, with Mountain Hardware occupying a smaller one-story space, focused mainly on clothing and a few backpacks.
Go for: Seeing Mountain Hardware great up close is always worth a stop, and Columbia is right next door — it’s a two for one deal.
REI’s flagship store is the ultimate mecca for outdoor lovers. A shop worthy of your pilgrimage whether you’re into dog-walking in Bellevue or are in Washington State to climb Mount Rainier. Nowadays, REIs are popping up in every big shopping mall across the country, but this flagship store is a gem worthy of a couple of hours of exploration. A beautifully landscaped hiking trail, with a waterfall and mini mountain bike trail leading from a cleverly hidden parking garage to the main entrance, giant clocks, styled as wristwatches, highlight timezones in all the awesome places around the outdoor world. Denali, Mont Blanc, Everest and others.
The shop itself is a celebration of the outdoor life. The flagship store has an open fireplace, lots of raw wood interior, and the fabled climbing needle where members and visitors alike can try their climbing skills, tests shoes, and fall in love with the outdoors.
The shop offers two floors crammed full of everything, not just a ‘best-of’ that REI has usually offers in the smaller stores in your neighborhood mall. A large bike department and a rental department, along with a whole second story dedicated to clothing and shoes makes for fun browsing. Kids can enjoy a play section next to a small restaurant on the upper floor.
Go for: The climbing needle, the outdoor history highlighted around the store and the great deals found among the mass of outdoor gear.
Just across the street from the almighty REI, Feathered Friends has been around as long as anyone can remember. This funky retail shop offers several niche outdoor brands, along their own line of down sleeping bags, coats, cabin boots and even duvet covers and pillows.
Go for: Seattle-made down booties for you next cabin adventure.
Arcteryx, the current red-hot brand from our friendly neighbors in the North, Vancouver BC, opened a small, dark and hip shop right around the corner at Westlake Plaza a couple years ago. Currently offering the cleanest and slickest lines in outdoor wear, here you can buy a raincoat that makes your tailored suit look frumpy, and cheap.
Go for: Their product is top notch and perfect for the harsh Winter on the Upper East Side in NYC.
Further down on First Avenue, just before you enter Pioneer Square, North Face opened a shop right along the walkway to the ferry terminal. The shop is much larger than they U-Village shop and offers pretty much their entire collection. So, if you’re on the way to a Sounders game, clubbing at Pioneer Square or head to the Peninsula on one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world, stop in at North Face.
Go for: Their new line of trial running gear looks awesome.
Next to the North Face, shop the European heritage brand Fjall Raven, which opened their shop offering hipster drool-worthy outdoor wear. Highlights are their jackets, made out of their special waxed G-1000 fabric and backpacks you see in every other Instagram outdoor photoshoot. They also carry a couple of other brands which are worth checking out.
Go for: Just touch their G-1000 outdoor fabric, it’s a fantastic take on outdoor clothes.
Seattle-based Outdoor Research operates a company store in the SODO district along First Avenue, almost all the way down by the Starbucks headquarters. The shop sports their full line of outdoor clothing and gear as well as products by MSR, Therm-a-rest and a few others. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and will gladly share their favorite trails with you, if you ask.
Go for: Company store means cool deals.
Many of of mentioned outdoors stores carry other cool obscure brands that are worth checking out. Bought a fold-able fork-n-spoon at Fjall Raven my kids love and use all the time.
I know it’s probably insanely hard to manage logistically, but the one thing I really want to find, see, buy when I visit a cool company flagship store as a tourist is a t-shirt/trucker hat/hoodie with the location of the city I bought it from. No matter if I visit the Mountain Hardware store in Seattle or the Patagonia store in Whistler, BC.
Get me some cool gear that says: Seattle, WA and I’m all over that!