For the most part hiking doesn't require a lot of specialized gear. For very short (less than a mile or two) well trafficked hikes street clothes and tennis shoes will often suffice. It's when you start going longer distances and tackling more tricky terrain that you need to start paying attention to your gear. Thankfully the outdoor industry is home to some pretty fantastic warranties and return policies.
Outdoor Stores Return Policies
It's difficult to avoid the subject of REI when talking return policies because the 100% satisfaction guaranteed is one of the best in the country and with the number of stores they have it's easy to return items. I always recommend getting an REI membership since it's really cheap ($20), lifetime and your first big purchase on a REI member only coupon will probably pay for it. One reason it helps is that you won't ever have to worry about keeping a receipt around.
Basically, with the exception of outdoor electronics, you can take anything back for a full year even if it's just because you don't like the fit… even after using it a few times. I returned my REI Trail 40 pack after probably 100 miles because I hadn't ever used it in the heat before. After using it in the heat I decided I wasn't satisfied and returned it for an Osprey pack with better ventilation. It's a policy so liberal it can feel like abuse to return things but frankly REI is often more expensive for the exact same item than Amazon might be.
One way to think about buying from REI (and the other companies below) is that paying 5-10% more is like an insurance policy. If those pants fit at the store but you have no idea if you're going to like them in 40 degree wet weather you can take them back after using them. Plus if you wait for their big sales you can actually find good deals on popular items.
If an item is defective you can return it at any time even past the 1 year mark.
Eddie Bauer doesn't even qualify their policy, it is very straightforward:
As our guarantee states “Every item we sell will give you complete satisfaction or you may return it for a full refund.
Another nice thing is that Eddie Bauer has a lot of locations, especially when you add in their outlets. Warehouse sales are final, but other than that you can buy at retail or outlets and return to either as well, in addition to the by mail and phone options.
Again, similar to REI, you would be nuts to buy from Eddie Bauer at full price for all but their cheapest items. The good news is they nearly always have something on sale and you will not be disappointed by simply waiting a month or two to buy something you need. Sign up for their newsletters as well because EB loves to send out coupon codes and reward certificates for like, no reason.
L.L. Bean has, hands down the best return policy. Their policy states that anything purchased from them, not just L.L. Bean brand, can be returned if unsatisfied. Their return policy is a lot like what REIs used to be. REI was forced to change their policy to a 1 year limit as listed above due to people abusing their system. L.L. Bean has a slight difference in that they do require a receipt in certain cases (so. they can turn you down if you're trying to abuse it) and they require a valid ID.
While not as popular as REI with the younger generation, L.L. Bean brand technical gear seems well reviewed and like Eddie Bauer they have frequent sales and coupons on their site and in store.
Not the most well known company on the west coast yet but their “No Bull Guarantee” states:
If you’re not 100% satisfied with any item you purchase from Duluth Trading, return it to us at any time for a refund of its purchase price. Simple, unconditional, no nonsense, NO BULL.
Pretty awesome. I can't say I have purchased here before or even heard much about them prior to researching for this article so I won't anything to say about performance but reading the warranty it seems like buying from them isn't exactly risky.
In line with Duluth and L.L. Bean, 100% satisfaction guarantee. Their store brand is on the higher end and they sell other brands as well.
Cabela's return policy is not nearly as liberal as the REI in terms of time but it does cover defects for 90 days on most items. Cabela's brand items come with a lifetime warranty against defects, however. I've added this because it's a popular store and their store brand has a good warranty, otherwise it's really not on par with the others in the list.
Granted Costco isn't exactly an outdoor company but in general Costco has a pretty liberal policy as they will accept returns on most types of products any time even if it has been used. Since Costco is great for low to mid range hiking gear this is a big one. Returns are done by ID so you don't need your receipt but obviously this helps them track abusers.
Clothing and Equipment
Returning items directly to the manufacturer is a little different than taking something back to the store but many outdoor companies have fantastic return policies regardless of where you bought the item.
This one is special so I'm putting it up top. These guys make a number of very popular brands and they all have great warranties . They have a repair first policy and the warranty doesn't include normal wear and tear but it applies to all of their brands:
The Patagonia “Ironclad” guarantee states that any item can be returned if it does not perform to your satisfaction. They will also repair items with damage from wear and tear at a “reasonable charge”.
Keeping up the branded return policy names, OR has their “Infinite” guarantee. They will issue a refund for gear with which you are not completely satisfied.
North Face has a lifetime warranty against defects and workmanship for everything except for footwear, which is 1 year.
These guys can put a pack together and their “All Mighty Guarantee” covers any damage or defect. It doesn't cover satisfaction but they will repair your pack for free or replace it. Osprey is basically the big name in backpacks so it's a pretty good deal.
I can't stress enough how important quality hiking socks are and this is a pretty simple warranty from the made in the USA sock maker:
Our unconditional lifetime guarantee is simple and without strings or conditions. If our socks are not the most comfortable, durable and best fitting socks you have ever owned, return them for another pair.