There is an independently owned outdoors store in Te Anau where, if you say the words ‘Kathmandu’ or ‘Macpac’, the owner will ask you not to use such filthy language. A few years ago when I first encountered this, I found it a bit curious. However, after more encounters with shoddy, overpriced and mass-produced outdoors gear than I care to remember, I now completely identify with wanting to wash people’s mouths out with soap when they mention those companies – aka the Kings of 'Holiday Fashion'.
The latest offence? Charging my mother $10 to renew my defunct Summit Club membership at Kathmandu before they would let her exchange some leggings for a different size.
At her request I bought my mother two pairs of polyprop leggings from Crapmandu for Christmas. She wanted them. (I know, I know! I’m putting her in therapy.) I was asked for a Summit Club ID when I bought them and so I told them my name. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so misguided and soft in the head as to buy anything from Kathmandu (well over a year) but nobody asked me for a renewal fee at the time. However, when my mum went to exchange them, they made ‘a hell of a fuss’ about it (never mind that the products were Kathmandu-brand and therefore couldn’t have come from anywhere else, you fools) and she ended up paying a $10 renewal fee for my Summit Club membership. A membership I don't use, don't want, and would like to set fire to, were it possible.
My mother, of all people, is well acquainted with the low opinion I hold of Kathmandu’s products and customer service.
A couple of examples, I hear you ask?
Try a pair of tramping boots, which I used on a total of 14 nights away tramping. We’re talking the Milford Track, Abel Tasman and Lake Waikaremoana – all Great Walks, well-benched tracks and easy tramping. Not exactly bush-bashing on the Dusky Track, if you know what I mean. The boots had metal eyelets and lugs, and despite being almost new were rusting badly. Moreover, the stitching was coming apart.
Kathmandu’s response, after sending them away to their ‘testing centre’? Supposedly I 'got them wet' and 'didn’t dry them immediately'.
I don’t know which flavour of lunatic is in charge of boot-making at Kathmandu, but perhaps they should try getting out into the New Zealand wilderness occasionally. There, they might discover a world where people go tramping – in non-Kathmandu gear, that is to say, gear that actually works and lasts and can be relied on – for days on end, in boots that are wet through on the first day and stay that way.
Then there was the tramping jacket, recommended to me by someone at the Sylvia Park store. On the first day of a five-day trip in the Kawekas, it got wet right through in nothing but light mist. I would’ve been better off sheltering underneath a cocktail umbrella.
The staff at Sylvia Park told me it was my fault as I’d selected the wrong jacket. On the advice of this particular person, of course, who shall remain nameless but let’s just say that once they realised who had recommended it to me, there was instant backtracking and credit notes aplenty.
The second jacket was no better. I returned the second jacket, advising them that it was the anti-Christ and I never wanted to see it again. I gave up my credit notes for dead.
Then there was a pair of socks that had holes in them from new. As did the second pair. And the third.
And then there was the pack they butchered (seriously, they took a knife to it – without my permission) rather than sending it away to be fixed after the chest strap came off and couldn't be replaced with the new style of strap. It was like Jack the Ripper meets Bear Grylls. My heart, it wept.
I was in a hut on Ruapehu over the summer break and conversation there turned to Kathmandu’s lack of quality and disproportionately high prices. There was the requisite amount of Kathmandu bashing, the same sort of useless anger and despondent head-shaking I’ve seen at other times with other trampers. There was the conversation in the T-bar queue on the ski field last winter where all five lines of people were joining in to talk about how rubbish their Kathmandu and Macpac gear was. I could go on...
It’s becoming a familiar topic and a common refrain. The days of Jan Cameron as a fearless entrepreneur sewing together gear in her garage because she didn’t like the quality of Fairydown are long gone. And my heart, it weeps.
Perhaps it’s time for the next Jan Cameron to push Kathmandu and Macpac aside and create a new, real, quality Kiwi brand for outdoorsy people?
And please, make it people who would actually get their boots wet.
Oh, and Kathmandu? I’d like you to refund my mother her pointless $10.