Winter in West Michigan is an amazing time to get outdoors. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking are just few of the ways nature lovers connect with their happy place during the snowy season.

And when temperatures rise and the snow melts, we’ll be mountain, trail, and road biking, camping, fishing, hiking and backpacking. With so many trails, campgrounds, and waterways in West Michigan, it’s an outdoor-lovers dream.

Here are some local outfitters to consider when you’re in need of outdoor gear.

Switchback Gear Exchange has products for people of all skill sets that are looking for biking, hiking, and camping gear.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


Switchback Gear Exchange

Hours: Sunday and Saturday: 10 AM - 3 PM; Monday to Friday, Noon – 7 PM

Address: 2166 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505

Switchback Gear Exchange owner Rachel Posthumus is a self-professed outdoor enthusiast who loves helping others enjoy nature, too. As a child and young adult, she most often used hand-me-down equipment. As she got older and began buying new equipment, she noticed that she’d upgrade or switch to a different model before her old equipment had lived its full life. From that realization, Switchback Gear Exchange, which sells both new and gently-used outdoor gear, was born.

What they sell:

Switchback strives to carry everything customers need to get started with backpacking and camping. “Ideally, we have something used for you, so you can save a little money and get into it fairly inexpensively,” says Posthumus. “We also carry affordable, high-quality, strategically-chosen, new inventory that we would personally use.”

They also sell a full range of bicycles, including mountain, gravel, and road bikes. Switchback tries to offer something for every interest, whether it’s tearing around in the woods, competing in a road race, or riding the White Pine Trail with your family. In addition to the bikes themselves, they sell new accessories, like water bottles and bike racks.

What you can expect to pay:

Switchback’s goal is to price everything on the floor at a maximum of 50% of its original retail price. You might find a $500 or $2500 GIANT brand bicycle but you won’t pay those prices! In fact, Switchback tries to price every used bike on the floor at $700 or less, with few exceptions. Used camping and hiking gear is also typically priced at half (or less) of the original retail price.

Items for the whole family?

Yes, and then some! Switchback welcomes kids and pets, so feel free to bring both to the store. They have water bowls for the dogs, a basket of toys for the kids, and plenty of employees who love both. They’ve intentionally designed the shop so that nothing very breakable is at kid- or pet-level.

What makes them different?

“We say we’re a customer service shop that sells some goods!” laughs Posthumus. “We care so much about the experience people have in our shop and when they walk out the door with that backpack or bike. That’s what we’re all about.”

Switchback is the only store in lower Michigan that sells used outdoor equipment of this type. In addition to being a retail shop, Switchback is a full service shop. They provide affordable tune-ups for bikes (they’ll work on any bike), they offer rentals (if you’re not quite ready to buy that backpack), and they have a full line of guided expeditions you can join to experience cool places in Michigan and throughout the United States.

“We hang our hat on our knowledge and expertise...We want to share knowledge with customers and help guide them to the right choice.

Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus

Hours: Sunday: Noon - 5 PM; Monday to Friday: 9 AM - 8 PM; Saturday: 9 AM - 6 PM

Address: 1200 E Paris Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus specializes in selling equipment and apparel for winter sports, as well as backpacking, camping, paddle boarding and kayaking. But they consider themselves as much of a base camp as a store, a place where people with common interests in outdoor adventures want to hang out. They recently completed a big renovation, opening up the feel of the store inside and creating a comfy area with couches, where people can sit and revel in their recent or upcoming outdoor adventures. “We have a lot of people who make us part of their lunch stop,” explains Ryan Dean, General Manager of Bill & Paul’s. “They might not even be buying anything that day. They just want to talk about how their weekend went.”

What they sell:

Bill & Paul’s core business is winter sports: equipment and apparel for snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. They also sell kayaks and paddleboards for summer water enthusiasts and backpacking and camping gear all year long.

While they have plenty of gear, they also have an impressive apparel selection upstairs, featuring brands like Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Parajumpers.

What you can expect to pay:

Bill & Paul’s tends to start at upper-entry level equipment – something that’s reliable quality for beginners and will enhance their outdoor experience. “We want to help create skiers, kayakers, and backpackers,” says Dean.

They also carry higher-end goods that appeal to customers with more experience or who are focused on the quality that comes with products at that price level.

Items for the whole family?

Not only is the store kid-friendly, with books, games, TVs and couches, they’re also dog friendly.

They have a trade in program for kids’ skis:buy new or used equipment from them one year and the next year you can trade it for 50% - 70% of the price you paid. (Early birds get the best deal: September is 70% of the original price; Oct-March 50%.)  It’s a great way to keep your kids in skis that fit and they throw in lift ticket discounts and other goodies while supplies last. Check with the store for details.

What makes them different?

“We hang our hat on our knowledge and expertise,” says Dean. “We don’t just point you to sleeping bags,” he says. “We want to share knowledge with customers and help guide them to the right choice.”

They also do a lot of custom fitting for ski boots, backpacks, and other gear and they carry an extensive selection of products in both equipment and apparel.

Visit Nomad Anglers Fly Fishing Outfitters for comprehensive fly fishing gear.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids


Nomad Anglers and Fly Fishing Outfitters

Hours: Sunday: Noon - 4 PM; Monday to Saturday: 10 AM - 6 PM

Address: 1600 E Beltline Ave NE #116, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

The staff at Nomad Anglers and Fly Fishing Outfitters loves to fly fish. Beginners and experienced anglers will find expert guidance, whether you’re planning to fly fish locally, further afield in Michigan, or even at a far-flung destination. They even have employees who are knowledgeable and can share information about saltwater fly-fishing.

What they sell:

“We offer everything from entry level to advanced fly fishing products, as well as a large selection of fly-tying materials,” says Justin Wegner, one of Nomad’s managers.

They carry a wide variety of products, including flies, rods, reels, and all types of outerwear, including both technical and lifestyle gear. They also carry fishing-specific jacket and layering systems, hats, packs, bags, and more.

In addition to fly-fishing equipment, they also carry upland hunting products (a type of bird hunting). They’re an independently-owned Orvis retailer, which means they carry Orvis products and can order anything in their catalog, but also carry other brands, like Filson.

What you can expect to pay:

Nomad Anglers offers products in every price range, from entry level to top-end fly fishing equipment including Scott fly rods, Hatch reels, Sims waders, Sims boots, Patagonia outerwear, and more.

Items for the whole family?

“We’re absolutely kid friendly,” says Wegner. Nomad carries some gear for kids, including entry-level rods.

What makes them different?

“Our staff has been fishing in Michigan for the better part of their lives,” explains Wegner. “When you shop here you get more than a wide offering of products. You get our local knowledge, our knowledge of current conditions, and we’re able to help set you up for success for whatever time of year it may be.”

Nomad also offers classes both for beginners and experienced anglers, as well as fly-tying classes. For newbies, their staff will do one-on-one instruction with you in a local river. “We want to streamline your path to success,” Wegner says.

River Bound Fly Fishing Outfitters

Hours: Monday: Closed; Tuesday to Friday: 9 AM - 6 PM; Saturday: 9 AM - 5 PM; Sunday: closed until mid-February

Address: 30 E Bridge St NE, Rockford, MI 49341

River Bound Fly Fishing Outfitters is a small store, with a laid-back atmosphere, that sells all the gear you need to get started fly fishing.

What they sell:

Whether you’re looking for rods, rails, lines, waders, vests, boots, or chest packs, River Bound sells it. “We also carry a lot of material for tying flies,” says Chris Herman, store Manager.

What you can expect to pay:

River Bound caters to beginners and experienced anglers looking for a good product in the low- to mid-price range.

Items for the whole family?

River Bound carries a beginner set of fly fishing rods for kids and they’re happy to have your kids in the shop. If they join you, be sure they pet Herman’s friendly golden retriever!

What makes them different?

River Bound location is ideal for a fishing outfitter: “We’re right across the street from the river,” Herman says. “You can come in, buy gear, and get started.”

The store places an emphasis on carrying a wide variety of fly-tying materials. If you’re interested in learning more about tying flies, or casting, talk to Herman and he’ll arrange a lesson for you.

One thing that separates us is that we carry a lot of local manufacturers or lure makers/designers that that you won’t find in other areas.

Al & Bob’s Sports

Hours: Sunday: 11 AM – 6 PM; Monday to Saturday: 9 AM – 7 PM

Address: 510 68th St SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49548

For more than 50 years, outdoor enthusiasts have consulted the experts at Al & Bob’s Sports for their fishing and hunting needs. The congenial atmosphere beckons customers of all ages and experience levels. “We have a lot of customers who come in and talk about their hunting and fishing experiences,” says Merle Shoemaker, one of the partners who owns the store. In addition to a carrying full array of merchandise for fishing and hunting (bow and gun), Al & Bob’s is also a full-service shop that offers bow and gun maintenance service and repair, as well as knife and auger blade sharpening.

Al & Bob’s recently moved to a new location. They’re now housed in the same space as Millbrook Tack, which carries equestrian apparel and supplies, including what might be the largest boot selection in the Grand Rapids area!

What they sell:

From accessories to apparel to gear, Al & Bob’s has you covered, whether you're brand new to fishing and hunting or have been enjoying the sport for years.

Anglers can find live and artificial bait, casting, spinning, and trolling rods, as well as reels, apparel, and more.  “For fishing, we carry every full-line lure company, like Strike King and Yamamoto,” says Shoemaker. They stock all of the major brands of rods and reels, as well as a few you might not be as familiar with. “We also carry AFTCO fishing clothing.”

Beginning in the spring, Al & Bob’s will cater to a new market, as well. “There are a number of fishing tournaments with kayaks,” explains Shoemaker. “We’ll be sponsoring some and carrying a full line of fishing kayaks.”

Hunters will find a wide range of guns, compound (vertical) bows, and crossbows. They also sell a full line of the major brands of handguns. “We stay up on the latest demands in handguns and rifles,” Shoemaker explains. “.450 Bushmaster caliber rifles are the hottest thing going right now in Michigan and we carry a full line of that caliber in rifles.” And if you’re into PCP airguns, which are growing in popularity in the US, you can find them at Al & Bob’s, too.

What you can expect to pay:

Because they sell such a wide array of brands and equipment, you’ll find inventory priced accordingly. Al & Bob’s has merchandise for every budget – they sell products priced at the lower end, mid-range and high-end.

Items for the whole family?

Kids, dogs, and horses are welcome at Al & Bob’s! “We love to have kids in here,” says Shoemaker. “They tend to really like our store. It’s like a toy store to them.” Holiday tip: Al & Bob’s also carries lots of cool western stuff that make great gift items for kids!

What makes them different?

While you will find lures made by major manufacturers, you’ll also find niche products at Al & Bob’s. “One thing that separates us is that we carry a lot of local manufacturers or lure makers/designers that that you won’t find in other areas,” says Shoemaker.

In addition, they have an impressive depth of products in each area – you’d be hard-pressed not to find what you’re looking for at Al & Bob’s.

Because they’re a full-service shop, they can also help with repair and maintenance of archery, guns, and fishing equipment, including honing and sharpening knives. You can also buy your hunting and fishing licenses right on site.

When you’re hunting for that just-right piece of equipment, there’s no shortage of outdoor outfitters in West Michigan to help you find what you need. Check out this map of the locally-owned outfitters featured in this story:

In addition to local stores, Grand Rapids is home to many chain outfitters as well, including Moosejaw, Orvis, Duluth Trading, Co. Sierra Trading Post, The North Face, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s and, soon, REI.

What’s your favorite outdoor activity to do in Michigan and where do you like to get your gear? Let us know in the comments below!

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