Let’s take a look at The North Face’s Mountain Light Pant:
Here’s a pair of pants that are seam sealed, light, meaning relatively little insulation, Gore-Tex fabric. Perfect for a long day on the slopes in wet conditions, right? These pants feature elastic gaiters, zippered pockets, the whole nine yards. Okay, so we can see that these pants are obviously not poorly made. What’s the price tag on these babies? You’ll be paying $180 retail for these.
Now let’s take a look at just one other potential competitor: Columbia Sportswear’s Men’s Splash Pant.
As far as looks are concerned, they’re nearly identical. Except, of course, that with the Columbia pants you won’t be a walking billboard. Technical specs? Identical. The Splash is waterproof and seam sealed, elastic gaiters, zippered pockets. Same deal. What’s the price tag on the Splash? $120.
There’s a sixty dollar difference here, with absolutely no change in quality or function. So what could possibly explain this phenomena? Let’s call it The North Face’s tendency to take advantage of it’s uneducated consumers. Gore-Tex lost its patent on waterproof membranes long ago and since then it’s done a good job trying to convince consumers that other waterproof membranes are inferior. In truth, all waterproof membranes operate nearly identically and Columbia’s Omni-Tech waterproof membrane is just as effective as a Gore-Tex membrane. You will find that almost always Gore-Tex products are more expensive than the next waterproof competitor. Choosing carefully, with quality in mind, it’s quite simple to circumnavigate Gore-Tex’s expensive name brand. Put The North Face name, along with Gore-Tex and you’re just asking to pay ridiculous prices just for the name brand.
Let’s take a moment to consider the blundering buffoon, Bear Grylls; possibly The North Face’s most recognized face. Not only did his show advertise some of the best, most creative ways to kill one’s self in the wilderness, it also put The North Face’s name with it. Millions of people watched and love Bear Grylls (unfortunately) and we see The North Face logo on almost everything he has. Honestly I’m surprised they didn’t persuade him to get a “The North Face” tattoo so that even when his shirt is off there can be no questions; Bear Grylls is The North Face’s bitch.
Now, on a positive note, I have owned a pair of The North Face pants for several years which have seen me through survival training, hiking in the Red River Gorge, and backpacking in Pisgah National Forest. They are a great pair of pants, and I love them. I even had a hot coal pop out of the fire one night while I was curled around it in November, trying to stay alive under a pile of pallets and plastic tarps. It simply left a small hole which will never fray because the heat seared the fabric edges. Today, a year later, the hole is still as small as the day it got there. I bought the pants on clearance for $40 instead of the retailed $60 which, in my book, was worth the cost. It’s entirely possible to find good The North Face products for a price you’re willing to pay; it’s simply a matter of being an intelligent consumer.
I appreciate The North Face’s goals. They love the wilderness, I love the wilderness. They make good quality gear, I like good quality gear. However, I do not support their prices, nor do I support the mainstream image that The North Face has developed and seems to adhere to. It is unfortunate that a good outfitter, like The North Face, has ended up being a high school fashion statement and a product available only to the most financially well off and economically ignorant of outdoors people. If you’re a The North Face die-hard, take this article for what it’s worth: there are better options out there for your money.
I don’t know about you, but even if I had the money to throw away, I would not support the manipulation of consumers that is going on with brands like The North Face. Their products are good quality, but their prices are absolutely brutal. Don’t be an ignorant consumer, shop around.