back packing section of gear store
A local gear store is a gathering place for people who love the outdoors (Photo: Byron Flesher)

Why I Love My Local Gear Shop (More than Any Big-Box Store)

A new gear store in Santa Fe reminds me why small, locally owned retailers are still important

back packing section of outdoor gear store

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Growing up, I have fond memories of walking into local outdoor gear shops across New Mexico with my mom while she delivered her self-published hiking and cross country skiing guides. We’d often visit stores around Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos with names like “Basecamp” or “Mountains and Rivers,” which carried her guides to local trails. 

My mom also sold her books to the one REI in Albuquerque, but I much preferred wandering around the small gear shops. I loved each one’s unique curation and felt like the compact space put me face-to-face with the gear in a way I could actually take it in. Even as a kid, I appreciated the welcoming environment, and I’d walk out feeling inspired to get outside and put all that cool gear to use. We were too poor to ever afford most of the stuff the shops sold—from new plastic Scarpa ski boots to crinkly Gore-Tex jackets—but I knew then that these shops were a portal to adventure, and I loved visiting them every single time.

Fast forward three decades, and, as you might have guessed, all those gear shops are gone. If I want to shop in a store, I can buy gear (and hiking books) at one of New Mexico’s two REI stores. But any time I walk in to check out a new piece of gear or get a pair of skis mounted, I end up wanting to leave as fast as possible. The stores feel like retail outlets in a mall instead of laid-back meeting places for like-minded adventurers. 

A couple of months ago I was browsing Instagram and saw a friend’s post about a new small-scale outdoor shop that just opened in Santa Fe. The shop is called Tourist and it’s run by Thayne Nord, 42, who moved to Santa Fe a few years ago, bringing decades of outdoor and consumer retail experience with him. I was inspired by Nord’s chutzpah to open a store in this internet- and REI-dominated gear world, and immediately drove an hour north from my home in Albuquerque with my kids. Walking inside was a total flashback to my childhood. 

front of the Tourist gear shop in Santa Fe
(Photo: Byron Flesher)

Nord’s store is located in an old bridal gown shop on a small side street in a nondescript part of town. Its footprint is smaller than the shoe section at REI. But, like the small gear shops of my childhood, it’s packed with highly curated gear that’s beautifully displayed. Over a third of his shop is also dedicated to used gear, and another chunk is set up with chairs, a sofa, and books and magazines where people can chat and relax.

As a gear writer for Outside, I’ve tested countless products, but as I browsed Nord’s store, I repeatedly came across small brands and cool items I’d never heard of before, from new straps to crazy ultralight sandals. My kids and I ended up spending over an hour picking through almost everything on the shelves—cries of, “Dad, look at this thing!” repeatedly ringing out across the aisles. That was the first time I’d felt excited in an outdoor retail space in a long time. 

Before leaving, I set up a time to talk with Nord to learn more about the shop and his agenda. When I got him on the phone a few weeks later, it quickly became clear that he had done a lot of thinking about opening a local outdoor shop. Like me, he had grown up visiting cool local stores (his were in Salt Lake City and the Bay Area) and he wanted to bring that vibe back to Santa Fe. He also understood the role of the small outdoor shop as a gathering place, education hub, and space for inspiration

We talked about his product selection, which at the moment is focused on two categories: lightweight gear for hikers, backpackers, and bikepackers, and glamping gear for folks who want to car camp or overland. Nord says he decided to start there because those are areas he’s familiar with, but also because they’re accessible to most people and are more about the experience than the achievement.

“I feel like so often we’re told that being outside is about the sport itself—what you’re doing versus just appreciating where you are,” Nord says. “I wanted to create a space where you’re not intimidated by images of people ‘doing things’ but instead can find gear that will help you enjoy the sites and sounds and all you experience along the way.”

Nord says he’s hoping that through smart gear selection, he can help people find new and easier ways to get outside. The lightweight gear will catch the eye of someone planning a multi-day bikepacking trip, but it will also appeal to someone who’s new to the activity and is looking for a way to help them get out regularly for a weekend hike. 

“If I can help someone make their outdoor experience simpler and less cumbersome, then I can help them make that outdoor experience more enjoyable,” he says. 

Thayne Nord looking at camping gear in the Tourist gear shop
Thayne Nord carefully curates all the gear in the Tourist shop. (Photo: Byron Flesher)

On the camping side, he stocks brands like Snow Peak that make pricey but quality tents, stoves, and cookware. The Japanese brand emphasizes using time outside to build community and connections—a mission that aligns with Tourist’s overall ethos. When I questioned Nord whether people would spend $40 on one of their titanium coffee cups, or hundreds of dollars on a huge car camping shelter, he didn’t back down.

“When I’m looking at expensive but well-made gear, there’s a value proposition because I know the buyer will buy once and cry once but then be super excited to still own it in five years and/or be excited to pass it down to their kids,” he says. 

Good gear, he says, bucks the “buy new” mindset we’ve become accustomed to.  

“I don’t want to pressure people to adhere to a season or a fashion cycle,” he says. “I want to stock brands and products that feel timeless.”

On the accessibility side, Tourist’s used gear section is curated as carefully as the new gear section. Secondhand items are hand-picked for their quality and functionality. If someone can’t afford or justify buying a new puffy, there’s one for a fraction of the price in the used section that’s little worse for the wear. Plus, it has the added value of heritage and a built-in patina. 

Looking ahead, Nord is planning to put the event space to good use. He just hosted a well-attended grand opening that was catered by local restaurants, and he’s resisted turning his sitting area into more retail space to encourage lingering and conversation. His goal is to create community spaces and events that work in tandem with the gear for sale. 

“All this gear on the shelves is great, but the dialogue around sharing knowledge and experiences is the more important commodity at the end of the day,” he says.  

His other long-term plan is to grow in a sustainable way. Right now, he’s just a one-man band, but he eventually wants to hire employees. Those people can help operate the store, but more importantly, he says, they can bring their own expertise to offer customers. 

Ultimately, Nord says he wants the shop to be a place where he and others can share the love for the outdoors. He’s happy when someone pulls up in an Outback or Tacoma and walks in, kitted out, knowing exactly what they want to look at. But he’s also happy when someone wanders in who doesn’t know anything other than the fact that they want to spend more time outside. 

“Inclusivity is definitely the goal,” he says. “It’s okay if you don’t already have your outdoor costume picked out. Come in, let’s talk, and let’s find a way to help.” 

As one of those people who pulled up in my overland vehicle clad in my outdoor adventure costume, I can’t wait to go back. I follow Tourist on Instagram, and every week Nord posts stories about some beautiful new products he’s tracked down that I’ve never heard of—but I want to know more about. I look forward to spending more time picking through his selection, letting his carefully selected items motivate me and my family to chase new adventures, and watching the store evolve and hopefully stick around for a long time.

Lead Photo: Byron Flesher