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The Sad Decline of ExOfficio, a Once-great Travel Clothing Brand

What happens when some giant corporate conglomerate that sells everything from trash cans to pens takes over an iconic travel clothing brand that has been around for decades? We’ve seen this movie before and often that brand either disappears or goes into a steep decline. Unfortunately the former may be coming for Exofficio, but for now they’re on the steep decline path, becoming a mere underwear brand.

First let’s rewind a bit to when I last wrote about ExOfficio on this blog, calling them one of my favorite travel gear brands. Because their line-up of clothing looked like this just a few years ago and underwear was just one item of many:

ExOfficio best travel clothing

When I ran a multi-writer site called Practical Travel Gear for six years (and a few years before that alone on Blogspot), one of the brands I kept coming back to again and again was ExOfficio. They almost never disappointed me and despite me packing half my bag with their items when I traveled, not one item had ever totally crapped out on me.

Some of their shirts still looked new after I’d worn them a 50 times over a period of years. Despite a regimen of sink washing and machine washing, constant packing and unpacking, their travel clothing items outlasted every other brand I’ve used except Craghoppers. (More on them in a minute.) Despite usually being lightweight and quick-drying, their clothing is was some of the most rugged and durable you could find. 

Is ExOfficio going out of business? 

That question above is the one I posed to the company through several platforms last year when I noticed that all that was showing up on their website was underwear. And even the underwear wasn’t getting the enthusiastic reviews it used to in the past. Customers were complaining that “They don’t make them like they used to” and I was seeing more frequent comments about elastic wearing out and fabric getting thin over time. 

At first I just got autoreplies from the company so I got more aggressive, telling them I was a travel writer and wanted to get some answers from an official PR person, not customer support. I sent messages by e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, then also used the chat function on their website.

After all of that, I never did get a response from an official spokesperson, not even a corporate one at their parent company. I kept getting brushed off when I pushed for that and there’s no public posting anywhere with PR contact info they could point me to.  This is the closest thing I got to a straight answer: 

We do not have any confirmation as of if and when ExOfficio will have regular clothing besides undergarments.

The only thing we as Consumer Service are sure of is that BugsAway clothing has been discontinued.

After they couldn’t get rid of me so easily, someone saying they were a customer service supervisor apologized for all the inconvenience I had been through trying to get a straight answer and sent me a free shirt. . . from Marmot. It’s a nice enough shirt, but the front and back tails are way too long for it to be untucked, like most travelers would leave it, and it doesn’t seem as rugged as the ExOfficio shirts of old.

A nice gesture to compensate for my frustration, but an odd way to answer the question of “Is ExOfficio going out of business?”

travel clothing brands that hold up well

Me with my nice Exofficio raincoat hiking Peru in 2015. (I still use it.)

That shirt they sent did answer a follow-up question I sent though: “Has ExOfficio permanently stopped selling everything except underwear?” They never did provide a straight answer for either question in text. If actions speak louder than words though, apparently it’s goodbye ExOfficio, hello sister company in the brand conglomerate: Marmot. 

By the way, if you put the question from this heading into Google, you won’t get many results. There’s been no press release about the product transition either. What I’ve noticed in my keyword research tools though is that the out of business question is coming up more frequently, plus there are a lot of failed queries now such as “Exofficio pants.” Or searches with the brand next to lots of things they don’t sell anymore but used to, like shirts, hoodies, dresses, and treated fabrics that kept the bugs away.

The fans are still there, credit card in hand, but the products are not there to serve them. 

ExOfficio was the first to launch BugsAway clothing treated with Insect Shield, a brand name for Permethrin, back in 2004. They were long the leading sellers of this style of clothing. You can wash these items 70 times or so before the effectiveness wore off, which is more than most people probably wash the majority of things in their closet. It was great clothing to pack when heading to areas with a lot of mosquitoes, especially if there’s an outbreak of Zika or Dengue.

As that rep told me though, one thing she was certain of was that those products are permanently gone. (Thankfully Craghoppers still sells Insect Shield items.)

Apparently Newell wants us to buy Marmot clothing instead

ExOfficio started in 1987 and by the time I took off on my first backpacking trip around the world in 1993, they were already a household name among travelers. I still have a couple of shirts I wore back in the 199os in my closet and they’re still some of the toughest ones I own. I’ve got pants and three jackets with their logo on them too that are holding up strong. 

When I was researching what happened to this storied brand, I visited a lot of forums since that’s what Google seems to be putting at the top of the results these days, even though this “thin content” requires a lot of digging to find reliable info. I found one enlightening answer on one of these forums though: 

I did notice when signing up at the Exofficio website for purchase discounts today, that the “Welcome to ExOfficio” email that they sent to me, was sent from “Marmot Mountain, LLC.”

So once again, actions provide answers that the company is not willing to provide directly. Newell Brands—the conglomerate parent company that also owns Coleman, Sharpie, Elmer’s Glue, and a stroller brand—apparently thinks they can just get all their customers that used to love ExOfficio to start loving the other clothing brand in their stable instead. Without actually telling us that the former has been demoted beyond recognition. 

demise of exofficio

I like Marmot well enough. I have one of their jackets, which looks great and has a Gore-tex Windstopper membrane, but if I remember right the list price was north of $300 when I got it as a freebie on a Gore-Tex trip to their headquarters. Shirts on the Marmot site are certainly aimed at a higher-end consumer than the “trail to pub” ExOfficio line was.

They currently have a jacket listed for $475 and a fleece that sells for $130. Pants run $80 to $400 and are far more technical overall than most regular travelers need. Their gear seems to be aimed more at skiers and hard-core adventurers than travelers, so it’s not exactly an apples to apples transition. After all, they’re the makers of the “8,000 Meters Suit” worn by mountaineers scaling the world’s highest peaks.

Marmot is no slack brand and they’ve got plenty of cred: they’ve been around since 1971 and they were the first brand to use Gore-Tex in travel clothing, back in 1986. It’s just a different kind of market that doesn’t necessarily care about what nomads and world travelers are looking for. See more on the official website here

Here’s the website description their sister site is feeding to Google now, which makes the plans clearer than the company reps were willing to share: 

decline of exofficio

Alternatives to ExOfficio for travel clothing

I think the last new item I have from this company now is at least eight years old. I have plenty more than I’ve been traveling with for more than a decade. All of them are still in good shape and I haven’t managed to ever wear anything out to the point I had to toss it. You definitely got your money’s worth with this brand and they were one of the most recognizable travel clothing brands in the world. I used to feature them prominently in my post on the travel gear I couldn’t kill

Sadly, that’s all nostalgia now unless someone buys the brand from Newell and brings it back to its former glory. I wish I had gotten advance warning and could have loaded up on the clearance items.

The parent company clearly didn’t recognize the value of the asset they were killing off and did a “Musk takes over Twitter and Mucks Everything Up” move that sent it into a similar tailspin. They seem more comfortable managing Rubbermaid plastic bins, Crock Pots, irons, and canning jars than they are dealing with clothing. 

So here are the clothing brands I recommend that will provide similar durability and value. None is quite the same as the other brand was, but they’ll have to fill the gap since the original is underwear-only now

Craghoppers

If you’re looking for a true alternative to ExOfficio, this is your best bet. Craghoppers is a UK company that has been on this planet almost as long as I have. Some well-known survivalists from TV shows have touted their clothing and I have never managed to wear anything of theirs out yet.

They don’t make as many super-rugged shirts that will hold up for jungle exploration as they used to, the ones with strips of fabric holding on the buttons instead of thread, but if you want travel clothing built to last, at a fair price that won’t break the bank, this is the best option out there. 

Craghoppers is a UK company with a site based there, but they have a US version as well for stateside shipping. Highly recommended, see my Craghoppers rundown here

Unfortunately, just after I put up this post, I started hearing rumors that Craghoppers is in financial trouble and may be pulling out of the U.S. market. So this may become a Europe-only option soon. 

Columbia Sportswear

I wouldn’t put Columbia Sportswear in the same category as the one above, but I have had good experiences with the brand and they’re generally the best value out there if you’re looking to load up your backpack for a trip around the world. Their fishing shirts are a big hit with that crowd and I’ve hit the ski slopes in a few of their jackets. This shot below is when I was wearing some of their travel clothing to stay warm on an overland trip in Bolivia and Chile. 

Tim Leffel Columbia Sportswear

Colombia runs deep sales more often than any other travel gear manufacturer I’ve seen through their outlet store, so their website is a great place to go shopping when you need a new travel shirt, hiking pants, or skorts. 

prAna

When I packed up for a trip before, I used to load up my bag with the brand this post is about. For the last few years, I’ve been loading it up with prAna clothing instead. This is partly because I’m more often in situations where I need versatile clothing that will look good but perform well, partly because what I’ve gotten from them is holding up well and I like how it fits. 

This company is best known for its yoga wear and its focus on sustainability, but over the years they’ve expanded more in the travel space and are putting out a lot of attractive but functional travel clothing. See my prAna clothing review post at that link, then check out what’s on offer and on sale on their website

They seem to have directly taken over one ExOfficio clothing line, so maybe they inked a deal with the old maker: the Sol sun protection clothing line. This prAna Sol Shade Hoodie looks exactly like one that had the same name that is still in my closet. I use it a lot for snorkeling and as a way to cut down on sunscreen on sunny beaches. 

Clothing Arts

The maker of Pickpocket Proof Pants for men and women (plus a dress and skirt option for the latter) has also made it onto my list for rugged clothing I keep packing and haven’t worn out. They make shirts and a jacket too and these are the best clothing items to take into cities known for being packed with people trying to separate you from your valuables, like Rome, Athens, and Barcelona. 

See my full review of the Clothing Arts brand

Others to Consider

I don’t have a lot of Mountain Hardwear items, but the ones I do have definitely live up to their name. I’ve also got a few rugged items from Patagonia, Mountain Khakis, Outdoor Research, and Adidas Outdoors that have held up well. My wife has some Lulu Lemon leggings that were pricey but are well-made. 

One way to mitigate your risk a bit with a brand you don’t know well is to get the items for half price when they go on sale. Get on my to be alerted when all the major retailers are running big sales. I usually send it out five or six times a year when the timing is great. 

Otherwise, if it’s between those key periods, surf the sale pages at Eastern Mountain SportsREI, or Backcountry.com. for deals. 

Who else is going into decline? I’m starting to get a bit concerned about Tilley Hats now that the new owners have been making changes that aren’t for the better. More on that later… 

 

Jean L

Tuesday 18th of June 2024

Excellent article. Just found you while looking up this topic. My spouse tore an ExOfficio shirt this weekend. Looking on my first stop, ebay, I saw that there was just a handful of new with tags shirts in his size. Worried, then more worried when the internet showed just underwear. Thanks for the tips for other places to look.

Tim Leffel

Tuesday 18th of June 2024

Jean, I guess after a while they won't be on eBay anymore either. End of an era.

Jim

Tuesday 21st of May 2024

Rail Riders, especially for their shirts. As pricy as ExO was, but really nice stuff. I got wind of the clothing sell off and got several items from ExO as they were flinging their final inventory to the four winds. A pair of hiking shorts with ingenius pockets and zippers, and a very light pair of vented hiking pants with the BugsAway treatment. They're the ones that you can roll the legs up and snap them in place. More ingenuity, since the pants only weigh a few ounces.

Joseph

Sunday 19th of May 2024

I haven't found any other brand that has the kind of long-lasting clothing these guys used to have--for the whole line I mean. I've found good pants here, a good shirt there, but they're one-offs instead of everything being solid. A sad decline is right. What a way to kill off a brand that people recognized and loved.

Wade Rome

Friday 3rd of May 2024

Tim, great article on what was an iconic brand. I’ve been wearing their underwear for 20 plus years. Lately, the quality of materials and construction has definitely declined. Do you have an alternative suggestion for Men’s underwear? Thanks in advance.

Keith

Friday 26th of April 2024

I first stumbled across ExOfficio when they were beta testing their website (I got my first two pair of travel pants for 25% as a tester). Continued to buy from them for years. At this point, I have 2-3 of their shirts and no pants left (finally wore them out with constant wear).

Like others, I've drifted to a few other brands. Moutain Hardwear, Rohan, and Rail Riders are all in my closet but I confess that seriously watch for sales (for Rail Riders in particular). Still looking for a brand that I like as much as I did ExOfficio.

One other that's seriously declined is TravelSmith. They had men's wear for casual business travel that I literally stocked my closet with (and have been very happy with). Turns out that the sale I took advantage of was them clearing out the last of their stock for that. They're now part of Magellans and most of the men's wear isn't theirs; it's ExOfficio underwear, Craghoppers pants, and a number of other brands.

I guess the message is that when you find something you really like, buy extras immediately.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 2nd of May 2024

I've finally come around to this strategy too Keith. I used to have a friend who went back and bought another pair of the same shoes a week or two later if he found a pair he really liked. I should have done that with Cushe before they shut down and I guess I should have bought more ExOfficio shirts before they turned into an underwear company. Bummer.