Everything Starts at The Base Camp

June 1, 2024

Written by Stephanie Hobby | Photos by Seth Kroft


Being outdoors just goes with the territory of life in the Treasure State. We have an abundance of opportunities to get out there, whether it’s to fish, hike, camp, ski, paddle, or just hang out by a campfire. Sometimes we need a little help to make it all happen. That’s where the Montana staple, The Base Camp, comes in.

 In the mid-1970s, outdoor enthusiasts Scott and Deb Brown were living in Helena and struggling to find quality backpacking gear, so in 1975 they made the leap and launched The Base Camp, just off Last Chance Gulch in downtown Helena. Business was good, and by 1990, they expanded into Billings. Along the way, they had two daughters, Cody and Lauren, and continued to build their store, eventually offering a range of gear, clothing, footwear, and gifts.

 When Scott and Deb announced their retirement in 2023, many longtime customers across the region were delighted - and relieved - to learn that their daughters would be taking over as owners. While the sisters are making plans for some changes, including more community outreach, the heart and soul of The Base Camp will remain intact.

The Brown family’s mission is to widen access to the outdoors by pairing the best gear with knowledgeable and friendly staff. “Really, it was created to provide our local Montana communities with the best gear and the best level of customer service,” Cody says. “It’s a family business, and we like to maintain that feeling within our customer base that it’s not just a big box store. It’s really got Montana roots and a lot of soul.”

 Being outdoors doesn’t have to be some grand event, Cody and assistant manager Matt Hoffman emphasize; it can be as simple as having the right picnic blanket when going to Lake Elmo or the Rims. And, as the old joke goes, even sitting on the patio, wine in hand, qualifies as being outdoors. 

 This is where The Base Camp excels: it drills down to the experience a customer is seeking and then delivers, whether for the more domestically minded or someone venturing out on a 50-mile backcountry trek.

 “We hire people who love to be outside, and whether that means a weeklong backpacking trip or day hikes, or you just like to hang out in your hammock at Zimmerman Park, we try to get a good representation of people,” explains Matt. “We do have some folks who are hardcore backpackers, and we have some who like their sunhat while they’re sitting in their yards; I think we have a good balance to figure out what customers are after and use our knowledge to find good fits for them.”

Sometimes, that means gently steering customers to something they might not have otherwise considered. “So much of it is about meeting people where they’re at while helping maybe crack the door on some other options,” Matt says.

 If you aren’t up for the commitment of buying something new, The Base Camp offers a wide variety of rentals. The expert staff can even help you plan the adventure. If you have an hour and want to be outside in Billings, Matt suggests Zimmerman Park and Skyline Trail, with its miles of trails to walk or ride, Dover Park north of the Heights, the Shiloh Conservation Area, and the city parks. If you want to get out on the water, Lake Elmo, Cooney Reservoir, and parts of the Yellowstone River are great ways to get started with paddling. Farther out, options abound.

 “It all goes back to what customers are looking for. Do they want a more wild experience, or do they want something a little more controllable?” Matt says. “If you want more of a car camping setup, we have a lot of great cook setups, and we have super lightweight stuff for backpacking. We have blankets and Hydro Flasks that are great for picnics. It’s really about what you’re looking for.”

 The expert staff at The Base Camp can help you make the most of whatever you have planned, particularly when kids are involved. “Both Matt and I have little kids, and Lauren has kids, and it’s a really important time to teach your children to take a break from digital devices,” Cody says. “Admittedly, gearing kids up for crazy adventures is not always the easiest feat, but the more you do it, the better you get at it. It just takes practice.”

While other outdoor stores have made their way to Montana in the years since the Browns launched the company, Cody says what sets The Base Camp apart is its people. “We have an amazing staff, many of whom have been with us for years and years, so the business in and of itself is a family. So that’s something that’s really important to our business, and to share that with our communities and extend that level of familiarity and commitment. It is just to provide the best products and the best level of customer service.”

To learn more about how The Base Camp can help launch your next adventure, or to check their calendar of events, visit thebasecamp.com.

Originally printed in the June 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

Check this article out in the digital issue of Simply Local here!

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