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The North Face

Putting your best face outdoors

Most of us city dwellers like to escape the noise and the pollution of urban living from time to time. For those of us who don’t want to fork over the money to spend the weekend at a B&B in Mendocino, we can take advantage of the hundreds of state, county and national parks throughout California. For this reason, you’d think that we’d have quite a few places in San Francisco to buy gear so that we could spend the night under the stars, but that isn’t the case. For some odd reason, it seems like every camping supply store is either in Berkeley or the South Bay.

Instead of hopping in the car and paying the $3 bridge toll, visit The North Face in downtown San Francisco on Post near Grant. Founded in 1966 in a small store in North Beach, The North Face has a long history of providing the most top of the line products for experienced climbers, mountaineers, explorers and the average weekend camper.

The North Face -- the name was selected because the north face of a mountain in the Northern Hemisphere is normally the coldest, iciest and most difficult to scale -- began designing and manufacturing its own brand of high-performance mountaineering apparel and equipment in 1968. By the end of the 80s, The North Face was the only supplier in the United States to offer a full line of outerwear, skiwear, sleeping bags, packs and tents.

When you visit the store, unless you need to supplement your wardrobe, skip the women’s clothing on the first floor and make your way up the escalators to the second floor. Pass through the men’s and boys’ apparel and make your way to the back corner to find the backpacks, sleeping bags and tents.

Hanging against the west wall like pod people, you’ll find a wide selection of sleeping bags in a range of primary colors, a couple designed to withstand temperatures as cold as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero like the red and gray trapezoidal-shaped Inferno for $649 or the Dark Star for $299, also in red and black. If you are unlikely to camp in sub-zero temperatures, there’s the much more affordable Dolomite, a rectangular sleeping bag made to be comfortable down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for $79 in green and black or red and black or the Aleutian “mummy” bag in blue and black or red and black for $79. To put a little more cushion between you and the cold hard ground, The North Face carries Therm-a-Rest self-inflatable mattresses in moss green for $60.

Temporary outdoor shelter has come a long way since the canvas tent. The North Face has an eight man expedition tent (think Everest) called the 2-Meter Dome that sleeps eight for $5,000. But for those who aren’t embarking on a team mountain-climbing exploration, there’s the much more affordable silvery white and green Tephra 22, a two-person tent for three-season use for $149. For the serious backpacker who needs to lighten their load, the store has a series of ultra-light tents weighing a little over two pounds to as much as four and a half pounds, such as the Flight Series Spectrum 23, a single-walled tent for two people, weighing close to four pounds for $259.

When it’s time to hit the trail to haul your gear, you’ll need a sturdy pack. The North Face carries the blue and gray Spire 45, a large-capacity alpine pack for all-season use for $129. Specifically designed for women, there’s the Spire 33, a mid capacity alpine pack for all season use also in blue and gray for $99.

The North Face also stocks a load of other packs, including hydration packs like the Hammerhead in alkaline blue and zinc for $85 with a 100 oz. reservoir for liquids and plenty of room for additional necessities. Smaller day packs, such as the “Bandwidth” with organizational pockets, run for $65.
Smaller accessories available include 32 ounce Naglene bottles in red, blue or pink for $9.95, or flasks with a shot cap for $12. A camping kit for women with insect repellant (essential after this spring’s excessive rains), liquid soap, sunblock, skin repair with aloe and lip balm goes for $26. A similar family kit will cost you $40.

Demonstrating a solid commitment to the serious outdoor enthusiast, the North Face sponsors events such as the Ultimate Bolivian Peak Bagging Trip, where a team of six climb 21 mountains in 21 days, and athletes like runner Dean Karnazes who later this year will take on 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. Their products have been tested to withstand severe conditions most of us will never endure. So, even if you are only car-camping overnight, I’d advocate investing money in their equipment as you know it can withstand the elements and give you many weekends of outdoor enjoyment.