- Buyer's Guide
The Best Gear Retailer You’ve Never Heard Of
Altitude Sports, quite possibly one of the best outdoor retail powerhouses that you may have never heard of. I tried my hardest to not use this phrase in this article, but I just had to do it…think of them as the REI of the North. But with a fistful more of style points.
As with all great success stories, they seem to start out in an incredibly humble manner. And it’s no different with Altitude Sports’ origin story. They first opened their doors in 1984, a small Mom & Pop style outdoor store located in downtown Montreal. It didn’t take long for the stereotypical active Montrealers to discover the shop and for it to become a destination. Upon further investigation, a better word to describe the shop would be an “institution”.
For decades, their customers came through the front door from all over the Montreal area, Eastern Canada, the USA, and ultimately folks would make a pilgrimage to visit this shop boasting great prices with the best selection of legit outdoor gear anywhere on Earth. Keep in mind, this is really when the outdoor industry giants were in their early stride. And finding all of “the best” under one roof wasn’t an easy task (both as a customer and certainly as a retailer).
In a fairy tale spin on things, two of the long-time hourly employees of the shop partnered up together to buy the shop from the original owners. This tiny shop kept its cult-like status until they opened their second store in Mont-Tremblant, a mountain ski town for the affluent.
But in 2016, the folks at Altitude Sports realized that the business model of a brick and mortar retail shop paired with e-commerce simply wasn’t working for them. 100% e-commerce was the future. So they closed their doors and dove into digital.
The result of this gamble? Ditching the bricks and beams really let them open their wings and gain the freedom to branch out beyond simply a retailer of gear.
Their focus as an online retailer is still finding the very best of the very best of gear on Earth. Thanks to the digital age, it’s much easier to find and connect with these brands. But it’s not as simple as some mouse clicks and an email. These folks LIVE the outdoors and they refuse to carry something subpar just because it will make a quick sale. Their team goes out and tests the gear, with a difficult internal vetting process (by actually putting the products to use for days, weeks, and months) to get the thumbs up to carry the goods.
Beyond that, they work directly with powerhouse brands to test gear and provide feedback directly to their design teams. While on the phone with their team, I had to pick my jaw up from my desk, agape with jealousy. Recently they’ve gone on a motorcycle trip with The North Face team in California, visited icebreaker sheep farms in New Zealand who produce high-end merino wool, and dropped into Osprey’s new Vietnam HQ. Pretty dreamy, yeah? And with these close partnerships, you can imagine they’ve earned some exclusivity.
Just like we’ve been exploring with here at Carryology, Altitude Sports has been crushing collaboration projects. From the simple things like unique colorways only available on their webshop, to detailed dives into design and new products, they’re always on the hunt for the next one. Admittedly, they’re careful on collabs and Canadian brands are a massive plus. Lucky for them, some of the greatest outdoor brands share a flag with them. While we’re not at liberty to say exactly what collabs they’re working on right now, they hinted at something about working with a leading winterwear parka brand something something. Yep, sign me up for one of those.
Living the dream of testing and vetting new products around the world with giant companies and working closely behind the scenes with designers certainly gives Altitude Sports a killer point of view. And one that should be shared with the world. Well, they share this knowledge in a high-quality editorial print bi-annual magazine which highlights their travels and experience with gear via vivid storytelling and photography. Though they have been releasing this for some time, they’ve doubled down and have started investing heavily on the editorial side of things which fills out their newsletter, balancing out the hundreds of unique-to-them discount codes for brands and products on their site. Pair this with a slew of exclusive deals and perks for their loyal members, a killer discount wing, free returns for Canadians, a running club, and you’ve got one of the most dynamic and interesting retailers on the planet.
Ultimately, we’re fans of these Canadians who happen to be living the dream. They’ve got an extremely vetted and careful selection of curated brands, oftentimes made or designed in Canada. They make sure that the gear they carry can handle the harshest outdoor environments on Earth, from the sweltering summers on their oceans, to the well below freezing Arctic conditions in their mountains. If it can survive Canada, it can survive anywhere. And lastly, take a peek at their customer reviews…they have quite possibly one of the best customer service departments of any online retailer out there. Just like the products they sell, these folks will take great care of you.
Sound a little too good to be true? Well, our polite friends (sorry, had to, love y’all) have offered Carryology readers an exclusive discount code: CARRY5 to score 5% off your first order. Valid from Aug 1 to Aug 31.
Coupon can be applied to: Adidas, Reigning Champ, Reebok, Smartwool, Bellroy, Carhartt WIP, Chrome, Dakine, Timbuk2, Ciele. Topo Designs, Alchemy Equipment, Blunt Umbrellas, Hydrapak, INOV-8, Goal Zero, Bern, Abus, Mystery Ranch and Leatherman