A North Face store? Really? Walking through the tourist district in La Paz, Bolivia, I passed by a combination of artisan souvenir stands, tour offices and, out of nowhere, “The North Face Adventure Store,” logo and all.
It might make sense, I thought, given the altitude and proximity to some hardcore Andean summits. Adventurists come from near and far looking for nearby peaks to bag. Huayna Potosi, for example, is an especially popular three-day feat.
Bolivia is the only country in the world where McDonalds franchises pulled out completely. Has North Face really set up shop where even the Big Mac failed?
Curious, I walked into the unlikely “North Face Adventure Store” wedged between an artisanal alpaca sweater stand and an internet cafe. I started to browse.
“Do you think they’re real?” A fellow tourist looked at me and asked, North Face soft shell in hand.
I was wondering the same thing myself. “Goretex XCR” read the stitching on the cuff of the soft shell I decided to try on. “Summit Series” claimed the label on the right shoulder. And on the chest, of course, was the “North Face” logo, convincingly embroidered.
Alongside the jackets was a rack of hiking shoes and Timberland boots. In similar outdoors shops, big brands were everywhere — Columbia Titanium, Chile’s authoritative outdoor label Doite, France’s Quechua, even Marmot. Jackets, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, all with labels. Was any of this merchandise legit?
In Spanish, I asked the woman attending the shop. “Is this jacket really the brand it says it is?”
Looking down, she said “no, but they’re made with the same material.”
“Is it waterproof?”
The woman took an uncapped bottle of water, pressed the top against the jacket, and turned it upside down. Not a drop of water leaked through. The jacket passed her test.
The fact was, I had lost my soft shell jacket (i.e. essential travel layer) earlier on the trip, and I needed a new one. The woman in the store had a kid with her, and she could use a sale. So, I bought my “trucha” North Face jacket for 300 Bolivianos (about $42 USD). Was it worth it?
What I like about my fake North Face jacket:
• I’m nearly convinced it is indeed made of Goretex. Light, breathable, waterproof, windproof. Everything I was looking for in a soft shell
• The purchasing episode taught me a new word in South American Spanish slang. “Trucha” (literally “trout”) is the word for anything knock-off
• It’s lined with micro-fleece, which gives it a little extra insulation
• It’s a great souvenir. I don’t know anyone else with a real fake North Face jacket from Bolivia
What I don’t like about my fake North Face jacket:
• It’s a bit crispy and stiff. Maybe it just needs to be broken in a little more
• The stitching on the seams is shoddy – the thread isn’t a good match, and it doesn’t look very high quality
• The zipper gets a little stuck sometimes
• The color isn’t awesome. It’s this mossy tree trunk shade of brown. I opted for that over bright magenta
Bottom line: If you lose an essential item of outdoor clothing while you’re in Bolivia, the fake North Face stores got your back. If you’re planning to outfit yourself entirely with “trucha” gear, however, there’s no telling how long after your trek it will last.