Whatcom County is one of the best places in the Northwest (dare I say the earth?) to enjoy the outdoors. Not only is our natural environment beautiful, but it’s also accessible, thanks to the efforts of countless men and women who have worked tirelessly to protect and set aside public lands, trails and waters for our enjoyment. All we have to do is take advantage of all their efforts! Need ideas on what kinds of adventures await you in Whatcom County?
Todd Elsworth’s Insider Blog is packed with outdoor adventure inspirations. And if you need help figuring out what kind of gear you need to enjoy camping, climbing, skiing, hiking or boating, Bellingham’s multiple outdoor recreation retailers are ready to fix you right up.
If you’re looking to rent gear, check out this list of outdoor gear rental places and services here.
Chris and Erica Gerston opened Backcountry Essentials nine years ago on Holly Street in downtown Bellingham. They’ve since expanded their store to cover two full floors of their location, with a focus on quality clothing and footwear, plus equipment for skiing, camping and climbing. Backcountry (as it’s known around town) also dedicates an entire floor to used clothing and outdoor gear.
Whether you love to find bargains while you practice reusing and recycling, or want to find a new home for your gear, BCE can help. They buy your gently used items and pay on the spot with your choice of either cash or store credit. Selection turns over really quickly, so keep checking in to see what’s new! The used floor is also where the closeouts go, so head up there for all the deals.
Backcountry sells the top-rated brands on everything you need to go camping (from tents and backpacks to sleeping bags and fuel), skiing, snowshoeing or snowboarding, climbing and hiking. And they rent skis, snowshoes, crampons, ice tools and more, in case you’re just starting out. In fact, they welcome newbies because they recognize that nobody starts a new activity as an expert.
Backcountry’s shop services include ski boot fitting, custom footbeds, ski tune-ups and custom fitting for backpacks. As for clothing, you can grab a new jacket to protect you from the elements, a super-cute dress for date night, and a pair of Chacos to take you on all your summer adventures—all in one fell swoop.
You can also pick up lightweight backpacking gear and travel accessories to make either your backpack or your suitcase as light as it can be. And don’t worry if your new purchase doesn’t quite work out—Backcountry has a generous return policy that will set your mind at ease. You’ll love the store so much, you’ll probably want to sign up for their Loyalty Program so you can get birthday coupons and extra store credits. And guess what! You can pick up a beer or two to take with you on your adventure. Backcountry carries approximately 99 beers (in a cooler, not on the wall) and many of them are in cans—ideal for backpacking.
Like so many Whatcom County retailers, Backcountry Essentials is owned and staffed by people who know what they’re selling. They’re actual backpackers, climbers and skiers, and know what gear works best in the Pacific Northwest. They love what they do and where they live, and they invite you to explore the outdoors with their help.
Backcountry Essentials 214 W. Holly St. Bellingham 98225 360-543-5678
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Sunday: noon – 5:00 p.m.
Backcountry Essentials on Facebook
American Alpine Institute Retail Shop
Attention all climbers (and those who aspire to be): here’s a hidden gem for you, right in the heart of Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven District. The American Alpine Institute’s Equipment Shop has all the specialty gear you need to attempt any summit. The shop is located at 1513 12th St., adjacent to the offices of AAI, a mountain climbing school, guide service and expedition provider that was founded in 1975, and is dedicated to teaching climbing skills to people of all levels, from beginner on up. The Equipment Shop is not only for participants in AAI’s climbing courses and expeditions but for locals and visitors looking for the very best equipment for climbing, hiking and other backcountry activities.
Inside the cozy shop, you’ll find a range of high-tech clothing, mountaineering boots, crampons, poles, ice axes, carabiners, gloves, packs and more. They only carry the best clothing and equipment—and most items have been field-tested by experts who spend a lot of time in harsh conditions at very high altitudes.
Tom was running the shop the day I stopped by. He clearly knows his gear and clothing and enjoys talking about how to stay warm and dry when it’s cold and rainy outside. And if you want to keep your pack light when you’re adventuring, he’s the guy to see. The Equipment Shop carries both familiar brands, like Petzl and Mountain Equipment, and lines you won’t find elsewhere, such as Salewa packs and shoes.
The best-quality gear, tested by experts and perfectly matched to your needs: that’s what you’ll find at American Alpine Institute’s Equipment Shop. Get yourself to Fairhaven and check it out!
AAI Equipment Shop, 1513 12th St. Bellingham 98225 360-671-1570
Store hours: Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)
American Alpine Institute on Facebook
LFS Marine & Outdoor
If you’re more of a boater than a climber, then Bellingham’s LFS Marine & Outdoor is your version of a toy store. LFS has a huge retail location on Coho Way in Squalicum Harbor, right on Bellingham Bay, which caters to boaters’ needs, whether they’re out for an afternoon of family fun on the water, or making their living from it.
LFS can outfit you from head to toe, with gear to keep you visible, safe and dry, as well as comfortable clothing and shoes made for people who motor, sail and work on the water. And don’t get me wrong—landlubbers would find plenty to love in the clothing department, too! LFS carries names like Grunden’s rain gear, Helly Hansen jackets, casual wear and shoes, Bogs boots, and many, many more high-quality brands.
If you enjoy fishing and crabbing, you’ll find LFS has you well covered, with rods, reels, tackle, nets, crab pots and more. And, they’ll even supply you with a kayak so you can get out there and check your pots!
At LFS, boaters can find everything from anchors to zincs—and just about anything in between. Wander the aisles and you’ll see teak furnishings and rails, shelves full of paint and epoxies, hardware, motor parts, pumps, lines, floats and so much more. I’m pretty sure that you don’t need it if LFS doesn’t have it. The staff is super knowledgeable and very helpful, so when in doubt, just ask for what you need (or think you need).
LFS Marine & Outdoor, 851 Coho Way Bellingham, WA 98225 360-734-3336
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
LFS on Facebook
Additional Outdoor Gear Retailers in Bellingham
Read my Insider Blog article: Uniquely Bellingham for 90+ Years: Yeager’s Sporting Goods
3101 Northwest Ave., Bellingham WA 98225
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.