A week ago I was in France, testing Salmon’s new X-ALP mountaineering line, which was an amazing experience. Although I know no one will feel sorry for me, I do have to half-heartedly mention that It was also a bit of a tiring experience - in addition to the hiking, mountaineering, and other responsibilities the trip entailed, I had two twenty (20) hour days of travel in a five day period. The singular advantage of all of that travel time however, gave me the time and perspective to think about how I wanted to tell you, my readers about the experience. While I knew I wanted to talk about the gear – what we tested, how we tested it, and what I learned (which I’ll discuss tomorrow), the more I thought about the trip, the more I realized the place to begin the conversation was about the brand ethos of Salmon and how it related to me, the Last Adventurer, to you, my readers, and the social media community as a whole. With this in mind, I ask that you bear with me for a second as I generalize my thoughts about the wilderness community as it currently exists in 2014.
In my opinion, the community is divided into two camps: people who care about the outdoors first, and outdoor gear second; and people that are concerned about outdoor gear first; and the outdoors second. In case you’ve stumbled across my site for the first time in reading this article; let me tell you that I am the type of person that cares about the outdoors first; and outdoor gear second. Perhaps this is because I come from a public sector background – I worked at both state and federal parks protecting and preserving the outdoors for generations to come; or perhaps this is because I have been active in the outdoors community for over twenty years now. Even today, one of the main purposes of this blog is to educate you - my readers - about places, and by educating people, organically protect the things that are worth saving and preserving. (Hence my hashtag: #preservethegood).
In this vein, I find myself following in the footsteps of better men than I – John Muir and Henry Thoreau, among others – who were more interested in experiencing, exploring, and preserving nature than about worldly things. John Muir never said, “Go to the mountains in water-resistant clothing by Superbrand, and seek their tidings”; and Thoreau never wrote a chapter in Walden about the properties of his proprietary wool pants, because they viewed the outdoors and nature as what was important – not the tools they used to experience them. While I think that gear is great – especially gear in 2014, compared to gear in the twentieth – and nineteenth centuries, I never forget that at the end of the day, the reason I am outside is because of nature, outdoors, and bigger questions. Let me also say that my opinion isn’t meant to denigrate anyone or anything that is more interested in gear, because I am well aware that the outdoor industry is just following the trend of every other industry that has shiny things and gadgets that people like and ultimately collect as a hobby or activity.
Going into the product launch, I expected to hear a lot about the X-ALP Gear from Salomon and their representatives; and I did; but what I mostly heard about during the experience was the outdoors. This was a refreshing change of pace from most major brands. First, from the beginning, even when dealing with Salomon employees at all levels, what struck me the most was the passion that existed for the outdoors. This enthusiasm for the outdoors was extremely obvious in the design talks about the X-ALP products, which focused more on the feedback the design teams had received from professional athletes using the products in the outdoors than about the technical specifications of the products themselves. In such talks and in social settings the designers were also interested in what I and the other social media team members had to say about the products – especially when using them in a variety of outdoor settings in the area. As someone that tests gear on a semi-regular basis, let me say that this approach is a welcome change from parties who expect you to promote their products at all costs, and could care less about feedback.
Second, the experience was a welcome change of pace as Salomon had arranged for myself and a number of other influential social media members to be there (Chris Brisley, Charley Radcliffe, Sophie Radcliffe, and MissDreamBody) to test the gear. And even though I’ve said this many times above, I’ll say it one more time – this was a group that like me, and like the company cared about the outdoors. It was an amazing experience to work with these people because conversations would naturally gravitate to places we had been; or places we wanted to go; and in such context, the gear would be discussed and evaluated. The entirety of the experience left me feeling lucky to have articulated my mindset through the years in order that I could have had the opportunity to meet and work with like-minded people. It also left me impressed with Salomon – a company that has a long and distinguished track record in the trail running and ski arenas. It also left me with this take home message for you, my readers: if you are like me, and you are more concerned about the outdoors but still want quality outdoors gear from a major retailer, than all of the intangibles that Salomon brings to the table in addition to quality gear are likely for you. Because, at the end of the day, sometimes the biggest intangible – what you believe – and what others believe – is all that matters.