Illustration by Lars Leetaru
Illustration: Lars Leetaru

Kayak Dock

As part of the city’s Wild Mile initiative, REI is helping to beautify the west side of Goose Island with a bike path, which will eventually join up with downtown’s Chicago Riverwalk, and a dock where paddlers can rent kayaks for trips to Chinatown’s Ping Tom Memorial Park. “We also have one of the nicest paddle sections of any REI,” boasts store manager Mike Daurio.

Camping Area

The emphasis is on equipment designed for city slickers cramped for space, which means collapsible and foldable everything. There’s also a community room for classes on, say, navigating with a compass or packing light for the trail.

The Shoe Department

A treadmill-like moving test trail lets you see just how those Keen hiking boots feel while descending a three-foot incline. Think of it as a StairMaster that re-creates rugged terrain.

The Outdoor Collective

An area upstairs is set aside for a rotating theme. The inaugural one focuses on sustainability, with clothing and gear from Patagonia, Vuori, Sunski, and Cotopaxi. An adjacent lounge encourages shoppers to hang out, use the free Wi-Fi, and maybe work with a Green Vest (as employees are called) to plot the perfect outing.

The Bike Shop

This area caters to the casual city cyclist, so look for the Electra Townie Go! 8D ($2,100) and the Co-op Cycles CTY 2.2 ($999), whose tires are flat in the middle to navigate potholes. They also teach classes on how to ride a bike (for both kids and adults) in the cul-de-sac just outside the store.

Travel Section

No excuse for getting too big of a carry-on: the cubbies sized to specific airline restrictions let you see if that North Face wheeled duffle can fly with you on United.