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My Shopping Spree at REI (and you can win one too)

A few years ago, a blogger I will not name was supposed to move to my table as part of the BlogHer conference’s “speed dating” session.  I smiled at her and she turned to her friend and made this dismissive hand motion, and then WALKED BY MY TABLE.  She decided that it was not worth her time to sit and chit chat with eager, little old me.

Down the road, we met under other circumstances.  I was introduced as Melissa from Stirrup Queens and suddenly, she was as sweet as pie.  She just loved my blog and she had all sorts of ideas of how we could work together.

I am fairly sensitive to how I’m treated, and I believe we all deserve respect and attention regardless of what the other person gets out of the interaction.  I know the world isn’t perfect and usually doesn’t act this way, but I try my hardest to always keep this in mind with my interactions and I care about how I’m treated in various arenas.

Which is why when I was chosen for BlogHer’s REI program, I went to the store a week early to see how I’d be treated when no one there knew me or knew that I was writing about the store.  I was just a shopper, looking for a gift, and I walked around the store for an hour, jotting down notes about my experience.  I’ve shopped at REI dozens of other times, and I’ve never had a bad experience, but I wanted to make sure that I had tested this aspect of shopping before I put my name behind the brand.

I spent about an hour in the store, which was fairly crowded for a Friday morning. (Seriously, how were all of these people off of work?  They can’t all be writers who work out of their living room.)  Five different employees asked me if I needed any help.  When I held up my hand and said “no thanks,” they left me alone.  When I paused to ask some questions, they answered them politely.  One told me that REI is actually a co-op, much like my favourite bookstore, and people can become members, which makes them partial owners.  I liked hearing that, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.  It just made my little Commie heart happy.

I also walked around listening to how they spoke to other people.  How they treated women with children in tow.  How they treated men.  Probably my favourite interaction that I noted took place between two twenty-something men — one the employee and the other a German customer.  The customer was attempting to purchase a bicycle and wanted to give it a test ride, but he only wanted to test ride it inside the store.  I personally would have snapped at the customer and said, “you can’t freakin’ ride it in the store.”  But that’s why I don’t work in a store.  The employee patiently said over and over again, “I hear you, man, and I want you to test ride it, but you can’t do it in the store, man.  We can’t have you plowing down customers, man.  Let’s take this puppy outside.”  To which the German man would insist that he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t ride it inside the store and the whole exchange would patiently begin anew.

Undercover customer service investigation complete, I felt ready to actually participate in the program.

So far, so good.


BlogHer and REI gave me $250 to spend at the store as well as a two-hour guided tour of the store so I could ask all my questions (see, this is why I wanted to go undercover first).  Which was a good thing because even though I’ve been camping numerous times, go geocaching with some regularity, go hiking fairly frequently, I felt like I knew next to nothing when it came to gear.

Though I did some self-assigned homework before I left for the store, using their online tutorials and guides to understand what I wanted and why.  Even so, I was quite relieved to be paired up with John who gave me some background about the store (and did his own homework reading my blog) and then led me from item to item that I was interested in knowing more about, telling me how one goes about making a decision.

For instance, I knew I wanted sleeping bags for the twins.  It’s something they covet.  I know we’re going on a camping trip next summer to a music festival so we’d have them for that.  Slumber parties, camp, power outage in the house. (You laugh, but we have about 8 major power outages per year in the DC area and when they’re in winter, the house gets cold!)  But I had no idea how one went about choosing a single sleeping bag that would fit these very diverse needs.  John walked me through the pros and cons of each one, finally leading me to two adult men’s bags. (See, you thought I was going to say a kids’ bag, but no, we actually realized that these two bags would fit our needs better.)

When I got home, I rolled them out in the living room so they could slip their little bodies inside and snuggle down.

I wanted to be part of this program because I wanted us to geocache better.  We have been doing it in the most ass-backwards way — sans GPS — and while we find a few caches, more often than not, our hike is for naught.  There are only so many times your husband will believe you and drive to the opening of the trail before he’s onto the fact that you can’t really go geocaching without a GPS.

I also wanted the GPS to be easy for a child to use; I wanted them to own the activity.  And John helped me find that too.

The non-gear thing that interested me most were the classes that REI holds ranging from how to use your new kayak to hiking in the woods.  Some of them were also free; most were relatively inexpensive.  I’m considering taking the GPS class with the kids to ensure that we’re using it correctly before we get frustrated in the woods.

To be honest, a large reason why I can put my name behind this review is because they are selling things that help you live longer, provided you use them correctly (have to put that caveat in because John scared me a bit while we were over at camping stoves with some propane stories).  If you go to some businesses that shall not be named and you use or consume what they’re selling, you probably will have a shorter life.  But REI is about getting you outside, getting you active, getting you to commune with nature, getting you to slow down and notice the world.

And beyond that, I liked that they didn’t feel their responsibility to me ended when the cashier rung up my purchase.  They have classes to teach me how to use the gear properly, how to do all the activities they propose safely.  John explained that it was obviously in REI’s best interests that you emerge from the woods in one piece so you’ll come back shopping again. (And they have an amazing return policy to keep customers happy and loyal.  I can call it amazing because I’ve also already tested it once.)  All businesses want to keep you alive so you’ll keep coming back, but REI is actually taking steps to ensure that you remain breathing.  It’s hard to find fault with a business that brings that level of responsibility to the game.

I have one more post coming about how we used the gear that I bought with the gift card.  But now here’s your chance to win a gift card from REI…


From BlogHer:

What outdoor activity do you pledge to do with your family this summer and how would a $100 REI gift card help you get there? Take the REI Outdoor Pledge and submit your comment to be entered.

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older and runs from 8/17 – 9/20/11.

Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail.

You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

Head to the BlogHer round-up page for more chances to win.


1 Magpie { 08.16.11 at 9:56 pm }

This is so cool. I love REI and all the gear. And I’m a co-op member, commie pinko me. 🙂

2 Jodifur { 08.16.11 at 9:57 pm }

Michael is starting to soccer and I really need to get him cleats.

3 jodifur { 08.16.11 at 10:04 pm }
4 Meg { 08.16.11 at 10:32 pm }

I love REI. Our closest one burnt down last year and I was so sad. 🙁

I’m currently coveting a taller tent, as my husband and I are both pretty tall. I also use it at renaissance faires (I’m in a singing/dancing group that performs at a few faires in the area), and it is SO hard to get into elizabethan garb in a tent that you can barely sit up in.

5 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 08.16.11 at 10:39 pm }

I wish I lived in the land o’ bikeability, but being in the foothills of mountains (and in a very bike-unfriendly area…), I cannot fathom just jumping on a bike with my boys and heading to the great outdoors– I’d die in the first five minutes, if not from angry cars, then from exhaustion from attempting to hoist me-plus-babies up some crazy steep hills! However, those same foothills make for a ton of righteous hiking, all within 30 minutes of my door. And pre-baby, we went hiking all the time, but with not-yet-walking twins, it’s hard. I would LOVE to use an REI credit to get some sort of hiking pack contraption for carrying a baby while hiking.

Oh, and count me as a Commie, too. While I’m not a member of REI, I was the membership coordinator for the student co-op where I lived prior to moving here, and also a member of the grocery co-op in that area. I worked on starting a local grocery co-op, but that sadly fizzled out when the group coordinating things kinda lost it’s center. Anyhow, yes, I knew that REI was a co-op. Count me as a co-operative business fan!

6 Audrey { 08.16.11 at 11:05 pm }

I’m going on vacation so I hope I’m a winner and I hope I have internet access to discover this in time 😉 BUT! We are going on vacation where we will be outdoors for most of two weeks enjoying lots of swimming, a smattering of sailing and with any luck some kayaking too. NEXT summer, though..we will be camping for three weeks all the way across the USofA to Yosemite and back with two small children and my teenage nephew…so yeah..REI would come in super handy. (We did it last year with my niece and my 1.5 year old..in a tent…but not all the way to California.)

7 Elizabeth { 08.16.11 at 11:20 pm }

As the weather cools down, I’ve been getting outside more for walks and playground time. I would likely use the gift card for a gorgeous new pair of shoes- LOVE REI’s shoes!

8 Justine { 08.16.11 at 11:36 pm }

I love REI. They’re just so darn … crunchy. 🙂

I’ve been walking a lot this summer, and we have a canal towpath near us that I love to take the kids on … and we geocache a lot! Not so much these past few weeks, but with fall and cooler weather almost upon us, we’ll be back on the trail. We’d probably use the gift card for some new hiking gear for my son, who has grown like a weed this summer!

9 Justine { 08.16.11 at 11:36 pm }

And … not sure if it’s just me, but the Official Rules link gave me a 404 not found …

10 BigP's Heather { 08.16.11 at 11:42 pm }


If you don’t know my real name to verify this, you can email me: bigpandme@yahoo.com

11 BigP's Heather { 08.16.11 at 11:44 pm }

We have a tent, but that is about it. We need sleeping bags and I would really like a camping lantern. I want to go camping!

12 Heather { 08.16.11 at 11:51 pm }

We pink puffy heart REI and have been members for years (love the annual rebate we get as part of our membership). We’ve been doing a lot of car camping as a family this year and really need to invest in some better pads to go under our sleeping bags.

13 Heather { 08.16.11 at 11:53 pm }
14 Jill { 08.17.11 at 12:36 am }

I hope it’s okay that I am not pledging to do something in the summer because I live in Phoenix and it is way, way too hot and dangerous to do anything outside in the summer. Except swim, but I already do that and don’t really need any gear. BUT, I would like to try geocaching once it cools down. My husband thinks it is lame(he’s never tried) and so he would never let me buy a GPS that I would need to do it. But if I had a gift card I could get one and then force him to at least try it for free!

15 Kristin { 08.17.11 at 3:42 am }

I took the pledge and before I even got to the pledge box I was thinking, “I sure would like to get some good hiking gear with that gift card.”

16 Kristin { 08.17.11 at 3:44 am }
17 T_Lee { 08.17.11 at 8:22 am }

My family and I do outdoor things pretty often (wearing down a 5 year old is tricky business). We camp every summer, we hike, and I kayak. With the gift card I would probably get some new hiking boots (to help with keeping up with said 5 year old, haha), or pick up a GPS so we can try out some geocaching!

18 T_Lee { 08.17.11 at 8:27 am }
19 April { 08.17.11 at 8:38 am }

I am not a camper as an adult, which amuses my husband to no end because as a kid I loved to camp. He would get more use from a gift card from REI as he loves to shop there before going on his boys weekend camping trips during the year. The Young’un also loves REI and we do go hiking at a nearby state park during the summer and fall.

20 Josey { 08.17.11 at 9:16 am }

I love REI for outdoor gear – it’s a great store!!

21 Jess { 08.17.11 at 9:30 am }

REI is my FAVORITE store. I just love to walk around there over and over. I love the clothes, the gear, everything! I can’t wait to gear up my baby there! REI has supported us through adventures in 6+ national parks so far.

22 Jess { 08.17.11 at 9:32 am }
23 a { 08.17.11 at 9:38 am }

We just did our hiking in the woods! I do want to get a bike though…

24 Robin (noteverstill) { 08.17.11 at 10:14 am }

My husband is the only person in our family who doesn’t have a bicycle and I’d put this gift card toward that purchase.

25 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.17.11 at 10:22 am }

I would love to try camping with the family.

I love that you researched REI so thoroughly. You are a blogger of integrity.

And, guess what! I’ve had the same blogger experience — maybe even with the same blogger!

26 HereWeGoAJen { 08.17.11 at 11:42 am }

I would love to start jogging, but I need a jogging stroller before I could do that.

27 Lindsey Hunter { 08.17.11 at 12:59 pm }

I love REI! I also completely agree with the review you gave, they are always helpful and knowledgeable. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop there over the internet because I know I’ll always get good intel. Also me and the hubs pledge to hike this summer and enjoy the Alaskan mountains!

28 Kelly { 08.17.11 at 6:34 pm }

REI is great. Love the classes. I’d use the gift card toward a new tent!

29 Jolene L. { 08.17.11 at 6:50 pm }

I pledge to camp with my family. REI can help me get there with this double sleeping bag:


30 Jolene L. { 08.17.11 at 6:51 pm }
31 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.17.11 at 9:50 pm }

I have been so curious which business it would turn out to be! I didn’t have a solid guess (thinking furniture maybe?) but I definitely didn’t expect a store like REI.

I am a coop member but don’t live near a store right now. We joined not for commie reasons but for capitalist reasons: the savings on a particular order was greater than the cost of the membership.

Heavier-duty bug protection like permethrin would encourage us to go explore all of the woods near us. I am so paranoid about Lyme.

32 Trinity { 08.17.11 at 9:57 pm }

We just returned frome Lake Tahoe where we hiked the gorgeous, gorgeous Tahoe Rim Trail. The lake from the trail’s view? Something I don’t think I could ever take for granted. Sigh. Lovely.

I also just checked out a book called Wild Play from the library today, which is all about parenting adventures in the great outdoors. I love this Thoreau quote listed in the book’s first pages:

“The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”

33 tash { 08.17.11 at 10:12 pm }

OMG, I heart REI, my family joined when I lived at home, and my husband and I joined back when we shared an apartment together. We still do. We are, as I type, hemming and hawing over bike trailers for the tot and bike carriers for the car. We want desperately to hit the trails not only close to us here in the city, but the wonderful ones a bit further out in the country. I pledge to get out and bike more with my family! I plan to do this *anyway* but $100 certainly wouldn’t hurt!

Thanks, Mel! Loved hearing your story.

34 Turtle Hope { 08.18.11 at 9:41 am }

I have been a REI faithful since I purchased my first pair of hiking boots back in 1995. My enthusiasm for the outdoors increased throughout my IF journey. My spirituality was found in nature. I now have 2 small children and we go outside as often as possible, but I am seriously lacking some gear. I am currently saving for a creative way to get them into our kayaks, carry them through backcountry, and pull them behind our snowmobiles. I realize some things would be better if I give them time to grow, but it is important to me to raise them where I prayed for them!

35 Sharon { 08.18.11 at 11:40 am }

My girls have started Girl Scouts and I see lots of camping opportunities in our future.

36 Susan { 08.18.11 at 12:02 pm }

We are taking the kids to the Indiana Dunes for Labor Day weekend. We’d love some gear!

37 Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) { 08.18.11 at 11:00 pm }

We plan many more hikes with our daughter. At age six, she is finally able to keep up for longer distances.

38 shel { 08.19.11 at 12:54 am }

More camping; we haven’t gone in at least a year and the kids are always asking when we’ll go again. My son could use a new sleeping bag from REI…those “kiddie” ones just aren’t build for sleeping outside. I think it’s time to delegate the X-men sleeping bag for sleepovers and get him a “real” sleeping bag for camping.

39 shel { 08.19.11 at 12:55 am }
40 Rick { 08.19.11 at 1:22 pm }

REI is my toy store. I’ve fitted up myself and a couple of boy scouts over the years and every year I seem to be replacing equipment with something lighter-stronger-faster-cooler. 🙂

41 Chip Jackson { 08.19.11 at 1:27 pm }

I pleadge to camp this weekend and every weekend I can. I will bring anyone who wants too go. I will make sure those with me are safe and have the best time possible. Rei can help me with this, I really need a Garmin GPS. (tierd of buying maps and running out of room for them all)

42 Tim { 08.19.11 at 1:28 pm }

Hiking with the family has been great, our daughter loves being in her Deuter Carrier.


43 Jayson { 08.19.11 at 1:30 pm }

I love REI…..I think I spend more time on their website at work then I do working somedays…. maybe REI will pay me a salary for surfing their site?

44 Melodious { 08.19.11 at 1:36 pm }

I’m getting back into cycling and I’d love to take one of the bike maintenance classes at my local REI. I have all the tools in my bike bag, but I’m not sure how to use all of them properly! I know the experts at REI would be just the ones to teach me. That $100 GC would pay for the class, as well as leaving some to purchase other bike items I might not have considered necessary.

45 RunnerGirl { 08.19.11 at 1:37 pm }

This commie pinko outdoorsy person loves REI too. I pledge to do a ton of hiking with my kids this summer. So, we need trail maps, safety whistles, and sun hats! REI here we come.

46 Liberty { 08.19.11 at 1:40 pm }

My husband and I are hikers. Now it’s not just my husband and I, it’s my husband, myself and our toddler. We can’t wait to take him hiking with us but we’d like to have a child carrier when his little legs run out of steam. A $100 gift card to REI would be a wonderful thing!

47 Janice { 08.19.11 at 1:42 pm }

I’ve been a mystery shopper before too. REI does have great staff!

48 Matthew Turner { 08.19.11 at 1:42 pm }

Glad you talked about the employee knowledge factor, they strive to find employees with a love of outdoor activities and knowledge of equipment, I wish people realized it and asked more, I overhear people in the stores picking up equipment that isnt right for what they want to do all the time.

49 Jenna { 08.19.11 at 1:43 pm }

I pledge to fit in a camping trip, even if the weather isn’t “perfect.” Sometimes it’s a lot of work to pack up the car and submit to the weather, but it can still be fun if you have the right attitude.

I love R.E.I, but I also love borrowing gear to make camping trips more enjoyable without breaking the bank. I would LOVE to win a gift card to R.E.I so I can stock up on much-needed gear for my family, like a new, bigger tent!

50 JTKessOH { 08.19.11 at 1:45 pm }

Nothing is worse than a bad sleeping bag. I pledge to hike with my family and friends at least once a month, including winter (although many may not join me then).

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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