Before I go too far down this wormhole, I’ll just say this article is not an endorsement of any particular product, company of even method of buying.
The article is just an observation over another source of gear and clothing. And, more importantly, what this means for the outdoor recreation hobby regarding consumer sales.
Go into your gear storage area.
Look at the clothing.
See the place of manufacture for many of your stoves, tents, jackets, thermals..well pretty much everything with some exceptions.
China. Vietnam. Perhaps even Malaysia.
No surprise, Asian countries of manufacture.
The brands may be USA, Canadian or even European based, but the goods are often made in Asian countries.
Over the years, some people have caught on to the fact that many of the Asian companies that manufacturer for the well-known European and North American based companies are now directly marketing their goods.
Stoves were the first of this wave. A $9 stove seems to work well enough for many people. And sub-1oz, $15 canister stove has become a go-to for many solo backpackers.
These items are easily found on Amazon, eBay or other sources. Quick shipping and works with existing accounts.
But many people are going one step further and ordering for sometimes even less money.
They are ordering from AliExpress.
Alibaba is the online Chinese company larger than eBay and Amazon combined.
AliExpress is, more or less, the direct-to-consumer arm of this company.
And the plethora of goods is staggering. Electronics, clothing, sports equipment, kitchen supplies and, the focus of this article, outdoor gear, and apparel.
As mentioned, stoves seem to be well received.
But the sleeping bags for sale have been receiving decent-to-good reviews.
And the tents seem to be OK for budget mind consumers who want something relatively light (three-pounds).
But is this stuff all junk? Is it any good? Is it ethical? What does it all mean in the long run?
- Yeah..some of it is junk. But some of it is surprisingly decent or even good. Stoves, in particular, seem to be the better purchases. These are often just stamped metal parts anyway. As mentioned previously, sometimes the same stove is made in one factory and re-branded depending on where it is being sold! Research. Amazon reviews can be somewhat helpful, but watch out for fake and planted reviews. And sometimes the experience level/use of the reviewer must be taken into consideration. Difficult to know. Some astute reading will be needed. Backpackinglight and other similar sites will often have first-hand reviews. An astute reader will begin to realize which companies or manufacturers are more on the up-and-up, too.
- AliExpress is inexpensive but has slow shipping. The same products from the same company are often sold on Amazon or eBay for more money but faster shipping
- Forget customer service The cost of shipping items back may not even be worth it
- The time to research a gem may not be worth it. Let someone else do it. Again, the stoves seem to be quite the bargain. Packs, sleeping bags, tents and so on? For gear I am using regular for backpacking, I’d rather buy from a small company I know and trust. I’d be more willing to be OK with an inexpensive tent for car camping as weight and customer support is not needed as much (car camping gear does not get beat on nearly as much and critical failures are not really an issue for the most part) . The clothing is sometimes a good deal with smaller sizes for Asian consumers vs. North Americans (Size up basically). The clothing for “fast fashion” places is often made in the same factories for example. I am not going to be the guinea pig in many of these cases, though.
- Some of the gear is, frankly, directly “inspired” by other companies to be polite. Or less polite? Ripped off. Even if the quality is good and at a bargain price, it is perhaps pertinent to keep in mind the design was copied from other companies. Is it ethical to make these purchases? That’s up for you to decide.
- Ethically manufactured? A point also brought up. Just an observation that the gear sold in Europe or North America may be made in the very same factories. Or not.
But I see this all as an evolution. As a society, we are all more connected. And that includes our consumer habits.
Amazon, in particular, is a conduit for getting these goods easily into consumer’s hands directly. And more bargain-oriented shoppers who don’t mind the wait time are ordering directly.
I don’t think the higher end brands and smaller specialty companies will be directly affected for the most part.
But for the bargain hunter looking for mid-range gear, or even a few gems, and is putting in the time to research, I see a higher portion of these goods being bought at the expense of more traditional retail sales.
I have used the knock-off/factory direct brand to help outfit my brother inexpensively. Everything has held up well through multiple weekend backpacking trips. The one constant, everything is shorter than you would expect (his pack, sleeping bag, and tent). However, I would still reccomend starting this way instead of dropping big bucks for name brand.
Ah! Good to know. At 5’6″, I suspect this would not be as much of a problem for me. 🙂
They are made in China. S in America will be M or L in China.
Source: I’m Chinese.
I have bought some top quality stoves by a company called fire maple on aliexpress. AU $40 for a titanium remote stove!
For what it’s worth, many North American companies don’t design their gear anymore. They go to cutting houses and factories and purchase the right to brand and sell this item here. What is branded as ABC company is really a design that is owned by the Chinese factory. A lot of what is on Aliexpress is original designs, not knock offs or “inspired” by NA/Euro companies; it’s the other way around.
I think the Z-Lite clones, Big Agnes type tents, and some cottage gear company “inspired” designs are a different matter. 🙂