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OK, I know this is a section for gear review, and this is "only" a place where you can buy gear, but it's THE place, and I have to write about it. This is the best outdoor-related store ever, hands down. Not so much for the products they're selling – great selection, though you can get all those things on the internet – but for the friendliness, coolness and knowledge of the people who work there.
The first time I ever heard about A16 was really late, in January 2012. Em's birthday was coming up, and – amongst other things – I wanted to get her one of those tiny Sea-To-Summit silnylon backpacks, but forgot to order it in time, and was left scrambling. A quick search showed me that several stores in my vicinity were supposed to carry it. REI was the top result, so I called them first. They had no clue what the hell I was talking about. It took me several minutes to explain which product I was looking for and then again several minutes for them to check if they had it – and then they couldn't even tell me what colors they had in stock. I'm usually very patient and nice with customer service people on the phone, but I can't stand it when I call an outdoors store looking for a backpack and they're talking to me like I called a grocery shop looking for a car part.
So I called the next hit, which happened to be A16 in Tarzana. The female voice who picked up knew right away what I meant and she was rattling off the prices and colors in a second. I hopped in the car and arrived half an hour later. The voice I talked to turned out to be Katie, the then-manager, and sure, I bought the backpack, but as soon as I stepped into the store, I knew I was "home". It was not so much that all the gear we needed for our adventures was right there, but how the people working and shopping there made me feel – like I found my flock. I couldn't wait to tell Em about it and take her there, but of course I had to wait a few days until her birthday, otherwise she'd start asking questions about how the heck I ended up there. Of course, now she loves the place just as much as I do.
This is a local store, started in the sixties by some ingenious guys in San Diego County who came up with the shoulder-saving revolutionary idea of designing a pack with a hip belt that distributes the weight more evenly. Our not-so-sore muscles thank them ever since. (Full story on their about page). Side note: "16" in their name refers to 16mm film, which used to be my favorite medium to shoot movies on, too, so I felt even more kinship with them when I learned about this.
They have four locations, out of which we've been to three (West L.A., Tarzana, San Diego), and they're all great. The West L.A and San Diego stores are huge, and they even have parking lot sales sometimes. The Tarzana store is much smaller, but also much cozier (and they can get any item from the central stock anyway).
The other main draw are their events. For totally free, you can attend all kinds of workshops and presentations to hear and learn about everything related to the ourdoors. We were actively planning the Mt. Whitney trip when we discovered A16, and learned that they have a three-part Whitney clinic, explaining pretty much every aspect of how to conquer that mountain. We ended up going to all three, and this, plus the other conversations we had with the speakers, store employees and customers, provided invaluable information for what became a very nice 5-day trip via Horseshoe Meadows with a successful summit in August 2012 (trip report here). Em even baked and delivered a huge batch of cookies to the Tarzana store after we got back.
Also, there are their "challenges". Do something fun and interesting in a certain amount of time and get something in return, while also raising money for charity. For example, they had the PCT Challenge: hike 3 sections of the PCT, each at least 16 miles. We loved it. Then they have the 3-Peak Challenge which we did in three months, then in three days. There's also the Trifecta Challenge: play in the mountains, the desert and on the beach, all within 24 hours. Supposedly the L.A. area is the only place in the world where you can do this without a helicopter. When you sign up to these challenges, you donate a bit of money to their really awesome charity, Donate-A-Pack. Then, if you successfully complete said challenge, cool prizes await you.
I'd guess we got about 50% of our backcountry gear directly from them. Their prices are great, and most importantly, the knowledge of the employees is just mind-blowing. They have the necessary training to know everything about the products, but each of them is also an avid outdoors-person, usually a rock-climber, long distance hiker, mountaineer, caver, etc., so they actually share personal experiences about pieces of equipment, techniques, or places to visit.
We love going back there sometimes just to have a chat and to check and how everybody's doing.
More pictures of the store in this gallery.
Official website: adventure16.com.