In business since 1938, REI is America’s most successful cooperatively run company, with more than 60 stores scattered across the country. Its 80,000-square-foot flagship store (222 Yale Ave., 206/223-1944 or 800/426-4840, www.rei.com) is a favorite of locals and visitors.
The building’s main attraction is a 65-foot indoor climbing wall—the world’s tallest—just inside the entrance. It’s open to all levels of ability; ask the belay experts for help. Test hiking boots or mountain bikes on the loop trail outside, enjoy an espresso next to the waterfall, try out Gore-Tex jackets in the rain room, plan trips with the help of Park Service or Forest Service personnel at the in-store Outdoor Recreation Information Center, or simply wander through the clothing and gear.
REI also rents all sorts of outdoor equipment, including backpacks, climbing shoes, tents, sleeping bags, ice axes, and skis. The store features an auditorium where you can watch outdoor presentations and clinics most evenings. Below the store are three levels of free underground parking.
A lifetime REI membership ($20) entitles you to yearly rebates of around 8 percent of full-price purchases. REI Adventures (800/622-2236) leads treks all over the world, including such close-in places as the Olympics, San Juan Islands, and Mount Rainier.
Other major outdoor outfitters include The North Face (1023 1st Ave., 206/622-4111, www.thenorthface.com), Eddie Bauer (1330 5th Ave., 206/622-2766, www.eddiebauer.com) and Patagonia (2100 1st Ave., 206/622-9700, www.patagonia.com).
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition