COLIN FLETCHER -- The Father of Modern Backpacking. Another of the San Francisco Bay Area GROUP OF PIONEERS

Colin Fletcher was a Welshman born in 1922. During World War II, he served his country as a British Army commando, and after the War was a farmer in Kenya, Africa. By the mid-1950s, he'd crossed the Atlantic and was prospecting for gold in British Columbia.

1958 found him in the San Francisco Bay area looking in the window of Trailwise, one of the pioneer makers of modern backpacking gear. He walked out equipped with a Trailwise #502 frame pack and various other necessities. Somewhere else, he picked up a 5 lb. 10 oz. sleeping bag with down filling and an old-fashioned Egyptian cotton covering, probably Army surplus. Soon he set out on an ambitious 6 month-long hike that took him from south to north up the entire eastern side of California. This daring hike with a primitive frame pack weighing in excess of 50 pounds was to become the subject of his classic first book "The Thousand Mile Summer," published in 1964. At latest count, this book, and the many others to follow, have sold an estimated million copies worldwide.

Probably his most-known books have been the numerous editions of "The Complete Walker," last updated and reissued in 2002 at a voluminous 864 pages in length. Fletcher's literary agent says the most successful book has been his second one, "The Man Who Walked Through Time." At least one of Fletcher's books has now become a collectible, that being "The Man from the Cave," a 1982 paperback that is now selling used for $40 and up.

Page about Trailwise/The Ski Hut in Berkeley.

Meanwhile, still in the Bay Area, and still within the same general time frame of the mid-1960s, another outdoor gear manufacturer was just getting launched. George Marks and Bob Swanson, who had been with the manufacturing branch of The Ski Hut called Trailwise, struck out on their own and began Sierra Designs.

Thanks in good part to Colin Fletcher, scenes such as the one below became common all over America in the later 1960s and into the 1970s. The picture below was taken in 1970 high in Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Visible in the picture is a veritable smorgasborg of older-style frame packs, including even an old-fashioned packboard, in the left background.... The only sign of the modern soft pack revolution that was just dawning is the soft pack worn by the dog! Click here to visit my pages about the rise of the modern soft pack! Additionally, Gerry Cunningham's avant-garde Ultralight packing philosophy is conspicuously absent when you inspect the loads of these human pack mules! In fact, 1970 was the year in which Gerry's film "The Wilderness Traveler" was released and then taken all over the US by Gerry and his wife Ann in a series of lectures about the merits of "No Trace" and Ultralight camping.

Please Note: All Material on this page, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com. Material here is derived from interviews and/or correspondence with Scott Hampton, whose 17.5 x 22.5 inch pen and ink drawing circa 1974 was approved by Colin Fletcher himself, and is featured above. Much material also is derived from correspondence with Bob Woodward, and from his articles in Gear Trends Magazine, in particular Summer 2006... Editors: Please contact me if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon. Sponsors: the History of Gear Project is soliciting a few quality sponsors to support its continued research and publication efforts.

Colin Fletcher's autograph and appreciation of the pen and ink drawing. Reads: "For Scott Hampton- in thanks for his thought in sending me a print of his beautiful 1974 drawing from Backpacker Magazine # 1." date is 7/24/92.

 

A close-up of a Swedish-made Svea 123 stove such as was carried by Fletcher during his early trips

 

The Current Status of the Man

Colin Fletcher lived in the Bay Area for many years until his death in 2007 at the age of 85. The story of his passing is one of both light and dark. Wikipedia states, "In 2001, at the age of seventy-nine, Fletcher was struck and seriously injured by an SUV while walking to a town meeting near his home in Monterey County, California. His survival was attributed to his excellent physical condition. Within a year of the accident, he was back on his feet and walking daily."

"According to published obituaries, Fletcher died on June 12, 2007 in Monterey, California, as a result of complications from a head injury sustained from being hit by the car six years earlier."

 


GEAR ALERT: MY BOOK ABOUT FROSTLINE KITS WAS PUBLISHED IN THE FALL OF 2007. PLEASE VISIT MY FROSTLINE PAGE IF INTERESTED.

As of late 2016, I now have six history of gear books in total. The stories of GERRY Mountaineering Equipment Company and Holubar Mountaineering LTD were my second and third books. More recently came "MSR, Defying Tradtion," and "Warmlite, Still Controversial After All These Years." All are what I call "mini-coffee-table books." 10x8 inches, high quality papers and bindings, replete with full-color pictures and other illustrations. To see more, either visit my GERRY page, or Contact Me at: brucej@oregonphotos.com


 

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Main Page: Essays and pictures about the Pioneers of the Outdoor Gear Revolution, 1935-The Present, 45+ pages, six history of gear books published, and still ever-growing!

Trailwise, the Bay Area company outfitting Mr. Fletcher in the 1950s and 60s

Mr. Fletcher lived before the time of the modern Ultralight backpacking revolution of Ray Jardine

 

 

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Page last revised 11/25/2016