Historic Gear Companies

alphabetized by company name (whenever appropriate)

Green "G" means some version of company still in existence

A16, aka Adventure 16: Andy Drollinger, began in Southern California in late 1950s. Drollinger perfected perhaps the first truly effective hip-carry pack system. Mic Mead and his son have run the company since about 1970. G

Akers of Maine, Alfa boots and more: I am including Leon Akers, (Akers of Maine) because he was one of the very first to popularize cross-country skiing in America; in 1967 his store was virtually the only place in the USA where we at the University of Oregon Outdoor Program were able to purchase the gear that allowed us to begin the cross-country ski program!.(interview with Bob Woodward).... Among those gear brands, and still existent today, is "Odlo" of Norway. Others were Jarvinnen skiis, and Alfa boots.

Alpenlite Packs: Don Douglas of Alpenlite Packs in California (may be spelled Don Douglass)...

Alp Sport/Alpine Designs/Camp 7: George Lamb, who worked with GERRY in the very early days and then formed three companies of his own (in order) Alp Sport, Alpine Designs, and Camp 7.

Altra Kits: Jon (Jonathan) Hinebauch (not in the picture from the 2008 Reunion in Boulder). He formed the highly successful Altra Kits of Colorado.

Abercrombie & Fitch: David T. Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch: selling upscale camping gear since 1892. As the early Holubar gained a following around 1950, Roy and Alice Holubar received a letter from this company grudgingly admitting they were of good quality and allowing that they were gaining quite a following among climbers and backpackers! The original A&F company went under in 1977, but the brand was revived and revised in 1988 and now has little or nothing to do with camping and climbing.

Banana Equipment Company of Estes Park, Colorado; principals were Nancy Grimes and Jim Heiden.

Bibler Tents: Todd Bibler tents since 1977, I think originally from Colorado. It was acquired by Black Diamond, which in turn was acquired recently by a big corporation named Clarus (see more next listing). The brand "Bibler" doesn't appear to be in use on the tents anymore, although some of the designs look Bibler-like and a couple of the tent names are the same as before.

Black Diamond: it’s the employee-owned successor to Chouinard Equipment Company. BD formed Dec. 1989, after the original Chouinard went bankrupt.. (Go to: tents@bdel.com) In 2010, BD and also Gregory Backpacks were acquired by a shell corporation named Clarus Corporation. In early 2010, both Black Diamond and Bibler tents appear under the company www.outdoorplay.com G

Blue Puma, very high quality down garments primarily. Also, close neighbors with the formerly tiny Moonstone Mountain Equipment, also of Arcata, CA.

Bugaboo, founded by John (last name?) circa 1970, in Monterey, California. Manufactured quality down jackets/parkas and sleeping bags, faded away approx. late 1980s. Named for one the founder's favorite places to climb, the Bugaboo Range in Canada.

Below is a picture from just below the summit of California's Mt. Shasta volcano. We're 14,000 feet high, the air is very thin, the light blinding, the wind unceasingly sharp. Seen through a haze of headache and fatigue, the summit seems impossibly remote. To the founders of Blue Puma, Moonstone, and Downhome, this icy giant was their closest high altitude equipment testing ground. The famous pioneer environmentalist John Muir was caught by a blizzard one afternoon near here. He was alone, with primitive clothing only, and not prepared to spend an overnight, but the resourceful Scot survived the night by lying in a hot springs/mud pot just below the summit. The hot spring is still there, at the base of the spire, just a bit off the left edge of the picture.

Caribou Mountaineering of Chico, California. Timeframe was approx. the later 70s. (10th listing)

Carikits: the original name of the kit-making branch of Holubar Mountaineering of Boulder, Colorado. Later called just “Holubar Kits.”

Chouinard, Chouinard Equipment for Alpinists, Great Pacific Ironworks (GPIW), and other permutations: these were the earlier manifestations of Yvon Chouinard's genius, which eventually led to his pre-eminent status at Patagonia. (see also Black Diamond above)

Class Five: Justus Bauschinger of Ski Hut who went on to be a major part in the stories of several other companies such as first North Face and later, in 1971, he founded Class Five. Class Five lasted a bit over ten years and has been gone forever.

Comfy: akas in later years were several versions of Comfy, such as "Comfy Downwear." These products in the early years were produced in Seattle by Seattle Quilt Manufacturing Co,(SQ), and both names appear on the label. The Comfy trademark was registered by SQ in 1936. SQ was founded in 1915. For more on SQ, see the "S" section below.

Cosy Quip: Ocate' foam bags/CosyQuip.

Crescent Down Works of Seattle since 1973 (but in recent years no longer a retailer). G

Dana Designs/Kletterwerks: Dana Gleason and Renee' Sippel-Baker of Kletterwerks (1975), which then became Dana Designs (early '80s), which was the well-known predecessor of the current pack-making company "Mystery Ranch." G

DESCENT MAGAZINE: I think Warren Harding authored the short-lived "Descent" magazine, a notorious foil to the AAC's prestigous "Ascent" magazine, and perhaps also tongue and cheek about the long-lived "Summit" magazine (see "S" listings below). (AAC = American Alpine Club)

Dolt-ironware for climbing: Bill Dolt gear, and the Dolt Hut catalog of 1960. Another person like Warren in being an "in" figure in the early history of rock-climbing in California, and also an unusual guy whose life ended early.

Donner Mountain Company: Pivetta boots of Italy, such as the Pivetta 7, 8 or Eiger, imported by a Trailwise off-shoot called DMC, Donner Mountain Company

Downhome sleeping bags: tiny little custom companies like Down Home of Arcata, Calif. (later moved to Deadwood, Oregon) (Denice and Chuck Kennedy). (20th listing)

Early Winters: Bill Nicolai's "Early Winters Co." (his tent the "Light Dimension" in 1976 was probably the World's first tent utilizing Goretex, and his 1976 mountain shell parka is reputed by some to be the World's first garment product using Goretex).

Ensolite for sleeping pads, by United States Rubber Company, trademarked in 1953, but apparently not generally available to backpackers until the later Sixties. Link.

Fjallraven: Swedish company of wide distribution in Europe, since 1960. Ventile garments are one of their specialties. They also have a strong and growing presence in North America. G

Feathered Friends of Seattle since 1972, and still a wonderful company. www.featheredfriends.com G

Forrest Mountaineering: Bill Forrest, Boulder-area pioneer company; sold to Dick Olsen's Olsen Industries in 1985, according to Bill. This is not a currently operating mountaineering company, and hasn't been for years.

Frostline Kits: Dale Johnson, a long-time partner with Gerry Cunningham who formed his own highly successful kit company Frostline Kits in 1966.

GERRY: Gerry Cunningham of "GERRY" in Colorado (Penny Cunningham, daughter of Gerry, was at the conference but isn't in the picture). Although there is not current GERRY produced outdoor gear, there is a current European-licensed GERRY company that markets a limited line from its base in Sweden. G

GoreTex: W.L. Gore and Associates (William "Bill" Gore and his son Bob, who created Goretex circa 1974-76) G.

Granite Stairway Mountaineering: also of Santa Barbara was Granite Stairway Mountaineering, which produced a good-looking clone of the Rivendell Jensen pack originals.

Gregory Packs: Wayne Gregory founder, formerly founder of “Sunbird” in 1970. Very recently acquired by Clarus Corporation. G

Helly Hansen, of Norway. Probably credited with introducing the World to pile garments, fishnet underwear, and the first versions of poly-pro underwear. G

Hilleberg Tents: On the other side of the Atlantic, in Europe, I include Hilleberg Tents of Sweden. (Bo Hilleberg, founder in 1970-73, with first production tent, the Keb, in 1973). This family business has greatly expanded, with son Rolf now running most operations in Europe, while daughter Petra Hilleberg has moved to the Pacific Northwest and is running most US operations. I have met Petra personally. Key innovations have been the connected inner and outer tents, and the use of a new silicone-coated fabric that is six or seven times stronger than most usual tent fabrics (trade name is "Kerlon"). G (30th listing)

Himalayan Industries, of Monterey, CA. on Cannery Row. Packs. It is made of aluminum with cast magnesium lugs glued together.  I believe they were used on a number of ascents on Everest, wrote one correspondent.

Hine-Snowbridge of Colorado, Ted and Greg, brothers began the company. I've met one of them. Same time period as Holubar. They made mainly packs, including as I recall, for bicycles. I have a CD that they sent me with full details, excerpts from which I may post here someday.

Holubar Mountaineering, begun in 1946-47 by Alice and Roy (LeRoy) Holubar of Boulder, Colorado (pictured is Jim Kack, who bought Holubar from the founders in the late Sixties and turned it into a huge business success; Linda Holubar, their daughter, helped me write my History of Gear book about Holubar. G

JanSport: JanSport, orginated near Seattle, founders Jan Lewis and Murray Pletz-Murray McCory, who slightly later added in Murray’s cousin Skip Yowell. G

Jungmaven/Manastash: Robert Jungmann , begun 1993. Included because of their breaking ground status in terms of an innovative fabric (hemp), green environmental stance, and commitment to "Made in the USA exclusively..... Quoted: "... an outdoor hemp clothing line from Seattle with everything made in America. The mission is to create environmental awareness with hemp in an effort to slow deforestation and climate change." Robert's original company Manastash Inc. became the World's leading outdoor hemp clothing company.

Kelty Packs: Dick Kelty of California, begun in the early 1950s in California. G

Life Link: the Carmans of Life Link in Jackson, Wyoming. G, probably

Lowe Alpine Systems: Greg Lowe, with collaboration of his relative, famous climber Jeff Lowe. Founded 1967 in Colorado. Some say invented the first commercial US-made internal frame pack. Nowadays, very corporate, owned by Asolo; address: Lowe Alpine International S.r.l. in Italy, with US base in New Hampshire. G

Madden Equipment of Boulder, Colorado. Madden Equipment was started in Boulder back in 1974 by Outward Bound instructor, Dan Madden.. Very high-quality, all Made in America backpacks. Owner was Rob Lewis in the 90s. Madden ended in the early 2000s, but in 2014 has re-started, under President Michael Valvano, offering their original designs and Made in America manufacturing. Link to Madden Equipment. The company also maintains a Facebook page under the name "maddenequipment." G

Marmot Mountain Works: Eric Reynolds and his designer George Hundley of Marmot, originally based in Grand Junction, Colorado. In recent years, Eric has been key in the formation of the very innovative and very "green" clothing company named "NAU," General Manager Mark Galbraith. G

MEI of Fresno, California, since 1973. This company in the old days made very high quality backpacks, but now they specialize in travel packs which are also comfortably back-packable. Their claim to fame in the history of gear is that they created the first true travel pack. They also make their packs here in the USA. You can find them on Facebook. G

MERRELL BOOT COMPANY, 1981, RANDY MERRELL. (and 2 co-founders). Mr. Merrell is a major success story -- a real-life, small-time custom bootmaker hitting the bigtime, now one of the major hiking boot brands in America -- now selling many other outdoor products that are not boots, and doing so internationally. A very provocative footnote: Mr. Merrell sold his share of the company in 1986, and went back to his profession of custom bootmaking! Since that time, the company has had, and two bigtime corporate owners. Back in 1984, my new Merrell heavy-duty backpacking boots came with a Boot Care info sheet signed by Mr. Merrell, still one of the best boot care info sheets you will find. Here's the link to it....G

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Moss Tents: in the Northeast (Maine) since 1975, let's not forget Bill Moss and Moss Tents-- Moss is the artist-engineer-architect guy who invented the first "Pop-up" tent in 1955, but now his firm has moved on to "Tensioned fabric solutions," a new Moss catch-phrase that marked their move out of the retail tent business in the mid-90s. There is quite a cult following of old Moss tents, and astoundingly high prices are paid for good examples. G, but no more backpacking tents

Mountain Master packs: Denali/Mountain Master packs. (40th listing)

Mountain Products Corporation (MPC) of Wenatchee, Washington.

Patrick Smith of Mountainsmith packs and sleds, originally a tiny one-man operation in Colorado that made only serious sleds; eg. for expeditionary use in the Arctic regions. G

MSR: Larry Penberthy's Mountain Safety Research (MSR) of Seattle. (40th listing). (since 2001, owned by Cascade Designs) G

Noall Tents: Steve Noall of Noall Tents of California, begun about 1983.

North Face: Mark Erickson, Head Designer for many years at The North Face in the San Francisco area of California. G

Orvis, since 1856 brags its label. Not an outdoor gear innovator, but included because Orvis became one of Holubar's corporate partners after Johnson&Johnson bought Holubar in the late 70s. G

Pacific Trail: another early maker in the Seattle area. Established 1945, a maker of down gear, mostly jackets, but never seen as an innovative force. The company finally closed in about 2008.

Plain Brown Wrapper Kits. One of the many kit companies that sprung up in the large shadow of Frostline Kits.

Powerhorn Mountaineering of Jackson, Wyoming, begun by John Horn, who was friends with Bob and George at Sierra Designs in the very early days.

Rivendell: (RMW) One of my own personal favorites among the classic companies was Rivendell of Idaho/Wyoming (Larry Horton and currently Eric Hardee). G, only custom packs of great variety and color! Chief pack-maker Eric Hardee. Retail outlet now in Bend, Oregon at "Wiggys Oregon" store on Newport.

Schonhofen Packs of Seattle created what were almost custom packs that were widely acclaimed for their superb features and durability. Mike Schonhofen ran the company. I am not clear about the history of this company, but think it was mostly active during the 80s, and ended sometime in the 90s due to financial things.

Seattle Quilt Manufacturing Co.: founded in 1915 in Seattle; added the trademark name "Comfy" to their labels in about 1936, the same year that Seattle neighbor Eddie Bauer famously invented and sold the first quilted down jacket, the Skyliner. KING TV in Seattle did an extensive story/interview on SQ in 1959, and I have a copy of that very informative TV show. I hope to extract material from that old tape and post it into a new webpage for SQ/Comfy (1/8/2016). Here is my page about Seattle Quilt/Comfy.

Shelter Works: Bob Gillis of Shelter Works in California. Make very large geodesic domes up to 24-30 feet in diameter. These are not for backpacking; instead, used for shelter and even short-term habitation. G

Sierra Designs: Bob Swanson and George Marks of Sierra Designs; Link to my six pages about company history. G (43 rd listing)

Sierra West of Santa Barbara, CA, which Dick Kelty's son Richard Kelty tells me was co-founded by he and Rick Scott in 1971 (both men also part of "Big Dogs" company);

Snowlion: main founder was Bill Simon, Berkeley, California. Early-on was named "Snowline."

Sling-Light Chairs: by Stephen Wheeler at Freeform R&D, for decades in Newport Beach, Calif. I got mine in 1976 and it’s still going strong.

Sno-Seal: since 1933. A new and much better form of waterproofing based on beeswax; for boots for climbers, skier and hikers. The brainchild of renowned Seattle-area climber Ome Daiber (George C. Daiber, born 1907), a friend of MSR founder Larry Penberthy and others; see more at: http://www.atsko.com/... G

Summit Magazine: published from 1955 to somewhere around the mid-late 90s. Long-time editor John Harlin, last known address Hood River, Oregon.

Synergy Works: Daniel Sherman's Synergy Works of of mid to late 1970s, based Oakland,CA, later sold to Ken Koerwitz. Had a limited product line of mostly parkas and packs; many would say they produced the best-ever Made in America VENTILE Mountain Parka.

Trailwise/Ski Hut: George Rudolf and designer Allen Steck of Ski Hut/Trailwise in Berkeley, Califorinia; I think defunct since about 1983 or '84.

THERMA-A-REST. Founded in 1972 by John Burroughs, Jim Lea and his brother John Lea, is now a part of the large corporation Cascades Designs, Inc.(CDI), based in Seattle. This company takes accolades from me (after touring their huge factory)--- nearly everything they make is MADE IN THE USA, and in fact nearly all is sourced right in the local Puget Sound area. CDI owns a number of other brands, including MSR since 2001, as well as Platypus, Sealline and others. G

Walrus Tents, founded circa late '80s, by Bob Swanson and George Marks after they exited the company they had founded (Sierra Designs). As of 2013, Bob Swanson is the primary tent designer for Big Agnes, while the Walrus company is not producing its own gear anymore.

Warmlite, innovative, technologically advanced ultralight gear since the early 1960s: Jack Stephenson of Warmlite in California/New Hampshire. G

Western Mountaineering: founded in 1969 and into production in 1970 by Jeff Jones and Gary Schaezlein. Western Mountaineering still makes wonderful “Made in the USA” down bags and other gear out of San Jose, California. I own one of their newest models, a roomy 25 degree bag, the Terralite, weighing in at a touch over 2 pounds! G (52nd listing)

Wiggys of Grand Junction, Colorado. MADE IN AMERICA....Founder is Jerry Wigutow, with whom I have corresponded. Pioneer in the use of synthetic insulation Lamilite since the 80s. Makes primarily sleeping bags and insulated clothing, much of it under military contracts. "The Only Sleeping Bag Factory in the U.S."

Wilderness Experience: (WildX) of Chatsworth, Calif., founded in 1973 by the brothers Jim and Greg Thomsen; Jim left the company in 1984, and his brother left in 1985. Re: WildX the very good news is that Jim has put together a very interesting and comprehensive history website about his company, click to visit his pages.

Willis & Geiger: Willis & Geiger Outfitters was an expeditionary outfitting company in the United States. In 1902 Ben Willis developed clothing for his Arctic explorations and founded Willis & Geiger Outfitters. Among the company's early customers were famous explorers such as Roald Amundsen, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Sir Edmund Hillary, the Flying Tigers and other legends of the 20th century. Abercrombie & Fitch outfitted Teddy Roosevelt with clothing designed by founder Benjamin Willis. And in 1936 Ernest Hemingway designed his own bush jacket and had it made by Willis & Geiger Outfitters. A version of the Navy G-1 was made under contract during World War II, and designed by Eddie Bauer. The company was sold in 1980 to Lands' End, and was liquidated in 1999.
Lands' End occasionally still releases a shirt or pants for men under the W&G name, sold on the Land's End web site. However, since 1999, no new Bush Poplin clothing has appeared. (credit: Wikipedia)... (Note: I am not assigning the
G to this company because the true company is long-gone)

Yak Works: Yak Works of Seattle, defunct since the early 1980s. (chief designer, Don Wittenberger, who’s also the current owner of Rivendell Mountain Works, based out of Monroe, Washington). (62 total listings)

Bruce B. Johnson, March 28, 2016

 

 

Link back to my page with the Un-alphabetized list of Pioneers

Link back to my History of Gear Main Page, over 45 pages, five books published, and still ever-growing

Page last revised 5/8/2017