There are hundreds of gear manufacturers out there, and all have different policies on the level of customer support, warranty, gear replacement, and other services the provide. In my experience, when you are in a pinch on trail, they are eager to help. After all, the best advertisement for gear isn’t on a website or in a catalog – it’s in the woods, being used by a hiker that, though they and their gear reek, know what it’s all about.
In my personal experience, I had to replace many pieces of gear on the Appalachian Trail just due to normal wear and tear, but I did seek out customer service three times (twice on trail, once after). I’ll place a few links at the bottom to various company return policies.
The first time was for a broken trekking pole. I had a pair of Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles, and one of them snapped as I approached the Sassafras Gap shelter in North Carolina (around mile 144, though I had used the poles on previous short trips and hikes). I was a day or two from entering the Smokies, and the closest outfitter (without taking a LONG hitch into Gatlinburg) was past the Smokies. My boyfriend was picking me up at the end around the I-40 underpass, and I knew I could get to the REI in Asheville to replace it. I splinted the broken pole with a branch and duct tape, and after hiking more than 95 miles with it, finally got to the REI in Asheville. It had been less than a year since I purchased the pole, and REI has a generous return policy. I walked in and silently placed my broken pole on the customer service desk. The associate’s eyes widened a bit, and it was clear to both of us that a new set of poles was in order. He asked if I wanted to keep the broken pole for Katahdin as a memory. I told him I would but he’d have to carry it. I replaced the poles with Black Diamond Women’s Trail trekking poles (pictured in the featured image). Since they were the same price as the other poles, my cost to replace was $0.
The second time I had to replace gear was when my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent pole broke. It was Day 111, and I was somewhere past the Beakman Uplands trail around mile 1444, just before crossing into Connecticut. I was being assailed by mosquitoes and biting gnats. A mosquito bit me ON THE EYELID and I swatted and stepped back – right onto one of my tent poles, snapping it. I had a tent pole splint and duct tape, and so made do. (See a picture of it on my duct tape post.) One call to Big Agnes and they shipped me a new pole section, free of charge for both the part and shipping, to the post office in my next resupply town. They supplied repair instructions (which I didn’t need – tent pole repairs are super easy; if I can do it, I know you can) as well as a direct number to call day or night to speak to someone that could walk me through the repair if I needed.
For my third return (once I got back home), see my review post on my Patagonia wool baselayer.