Most people can rattle off the outdoor world's equivalents to Coca-Cola or Levi'sThe North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, Sierra Designs, Marmot. Brand-name companies that drive the market with their pipeline of highly specialized offerings. And in fairness, all of these outfits make great gearthe outdoor industry is just too competitive to do otherwise.
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But keep in mind that NOBODY makes their own stuff in their own factories any more. Its all sewn together (or equally often, welded or molded) overseas. And other companies have access to the same production facilities used by the name-brand outfits. So REI, L.L. Bean, Campmor, or Eastern Mountain Sports all have "house-brand" goodsclothing, packs, even bootsthat they design, then contract with another company to make. And because there the retail chain is shorter (REI has its jackets made, then sells them directly to you), these items typically cost 25 to 30 percent less with no discernible loss of quality.
Case in point: L.L. Bean sells an excellent Gore-Tex jacket called the Mountain Guide XCR for $279 (www.llbean.com). It uses Gore's latest membrane, has a durable nylon shell, and comes with goodies such as taped seams and a well-designed hood. In terms of performance, it's designed to compete with a high-end jacket such as Mountain Hardwear's Tenacity Parka, which goes for $395 (www.mountainhardwear.com).
You get a little trimmer design in the Tenacity, better color choices, and spiffier design touches such as padded chin flap, yes. But otherwise they're both solidly made three-ply Gore XCR jackets. At this point, you should be weighing what you want your jacket to do: A tough, high-performance piece for technical ice climbs? Drop the extra green on the Tenacity. A reliable shell for an Alaska backcountry trek? Beans Guide XCR will do you nicely.