The History of Gear Project Presents:

The Backpacking Revolution

This presentation by "The History of Gear Project" is under continuous development. Already well over 45 of the classic American outdoor gear pioneers and their innovations are discussed and illustrated. Listed on this page are many Works in Progress about vintage backpacking and climbing. In addition to this website, I offer professional consultation about the history, values and current status of the great classic gear companies. Also to note: I've also published five books in this area (click here). Below is my site search engine. Use it to see if I have material about a classic company or gear topic.


American Gear Pioneers 1935 to the Present

BOOK ALERTS: My first book was "Frostline Kits of Colorado" (click). The second book in the series was released May 2008 and updated in late 2010; it is titled, "GERRY, To Live in the Mountains" (click). The third book is "Holubar Mountaineering Ltd." (click). It was recently honored as one of the year's best "Local History" books at Chautauqua in Boulder, Colorado.... All three books feature major contributions from their founders or their Presidents. This fourth book concerns the early history of Larry Penberthy's Mountain Safety Research (MSR). And the just-finished fifth book is about that most-notorious of the early gear companies, Stephenson's Warmlite. You may order either directly from my Publisher, or directly from me. I am a verified PayPal seller.

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Frostline Kits of Colorado, old gear repairs, raw sewing materials, and several famously classic labels

Holubar Mountaineering, begun 1946-47

GERRY, nominated by me as the original outdoor gear pioneer, begun 1945

Rivendell Mountain Works and Jensen-type soft packs (five pages)

Stephenson's Warmlite, since the late 1950s, a big Ultralight Pioneer

Why does anyone care about this old gear anyway? -- Core values of this History of Gear Project

Gary Neptune's Mountaineering and Ski Museum in Boulder, Colorado is World-Class and International in Scope

Swedish perspective on this History of Gear Project from the folks at OurCulture

Oregon-based Gear Pioneer Companies

FIRE, the original and greatest Innovation

Invention of Nylon in 1935, the key to Outdoor Gear Innovation!

Please Note: All Material below, 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. Much of my material has been derived from interviews and correspondence with various company founders and management, as well as "common" folk who have owned, used and cherished the gear..Gear Lovers: 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: if your outdoor company is interested in sponsoring this site, please contact me for details. Publishers: currently I publish via "POD" technology, which has freedoms but leads to books that are relatively expensive; thus, I seek a traditional publisher. Finally, please see below for Disclaimer (click here).

Kelty Packs, A16 Packs, Moss Tent Works, Class Five, EMS, Gregory Packs, Patagonia/Chouinard Equipment, JanSport, REI Co-op, Eddie Bauer, Yak Works, Mountainsmith, Hine-Snowbridge, Moonstone, Pendleton and Filson, the GI-can opener, Ropes Knots and Slings for Climbers, a page about Really Old Gear, pre-WW II, and many others are under development

Trailwise/The Ski Hut

Sierra Designs (6 pages)

The North Face

History of the Sierra Cup

Colin Fletcher, the Father of Modern Backpacking

DownHome, custom down sleepings bags with a Big Head! (and other Oregon-based companies)

MSR and Larry Penberthy (Mountain Safety Research of Seattle)

MSR Thunderbird
Ice Axe with metal shaft and innovative pick adze design by Larry
Penberthy of Seattle

What's the Big Picture, why did most of these great old companies vanish? Essay under development.

The Geodesic dome tent Story, including the key role of new technology tent poles in the revolution of tents

Snowlion, and tent designer Bob Howe

Early Winters of Seattle-- a pioneer with use of Goretex

Alp Sport/Alpine Designs/Camp 7/Camp Seven/George Lamb

Jack Stephenson and Warmlite, since the late 1950s

Back to Marmots, Marmot Mountaineering

Alphabetized listings of 60+ gear pioneersI

A great book about the History of Gear from the British perspective

Back to Mazama Climbers Main Page

Back to Delights of Snow-Camping, and NorthStar Tents and Wil Steger

Back to Pacific Crest Trail Main Page

The Buckminster Fuller Institute home page (dozens of pages of material related to geodesics)

 

Home

Last Revision 04/19/2014 April 2014

Disclaimer: This Disclaimer applies to all the contents of my "History of Gear" site. The material on these pages represent only the reports of the correspondents and my own interpretation of those reports. In many cases "History of Gear" material is difficult to independently verify and that is a "given" in this type of research. It is important to keep in mind that the events, gear, and personages reported in the "History of Gear" lie far in the past, in some cases as much as 65 years in the past. It is common that even people who were within the same company so many years ago will remember/interpret happenings in quite different ways.


Why Does Anyone Care About Old Gear?


"Equipment is your Life. You have to be prepared to deal in extreme temperatures and extreme weather. Simplicity is important, be it packs or outerwear."

-- Peter Whittaker, quoted from '95-96 Marmot catalog (click for more about the famed Whittakers)

Author's Core Value Statement

I believe that many of the classic companies and their products represent a Better Way than the curses of modern consumerism that are presently ravaging our environment, and peoples worldwide, whether they be rich or poor. The best of the classic companies built products that were meant to last a lifetime, and often did. They used no overseas "off-shoring" that hurt their country's manufacturing base. They treated their employees like family in the truest sense of the word. They treated their customers personally and with great friendship and respect. The modern emphasis on Planned Obsolescence and Perceived Obsolescence* were unknown to them. Their adherence to keeping up with ever-changing "fashion" trends was minimal. They were not part of the "Fashion Industry." In a way, they represented a form of anti-consumerism, anti-consumption, and anti-capitalism.... I hope that my readers will come to appreciate and act on these kind of old-fashioned values through learning about these old classic gear companies. * these terms from Annie Leonard, "The Story of Stuff."-- A Swedish company with a US presence has a very strong dedication to these values, and states these very cogently on their page about their philosophy. And then there is an outdoor store in Portland, Oregon which has a large commitment to such values--- Click here for a link about "Next Adventure," which has an entire floor dedicated to the buying/selling/trading of used outdoor gear... Thank you.- Bruce Johnson, author of History of Gear website.

From: Steve W., August 7, 2010: Nothing Worth Saving

Steve contrasts the material goods of his childhood with what we have now in the 21st. Century --- "[in the1960s] all the material goods that filled our summer houses or basements--old fishing poles, reels, leader boxes, wooden hand painted lures, lawn furniture, tools, lamps, etc. [items made}. from the 20's to the 60's, all had weight, substance, and a richness in their materials; Mostly wood and metal. Today, a child looking back on their lakeside summers ... will remember a partially deflated high color vinyl air mattress that probably provided service for less than a week, and a range of other plastic toys. Nothing worth saving. There are luxury brands that continue to produce beautifully made products today, but the products from the past that were affordable to the middle class or upper middle class were made with the kind of care and materials that only the luxury brands are imparting today. It seems that many of the consumables today have next to no residual value once purchased. I am resigned to hoping that at the very least our recycling programs can deal with all the junk."

From: this Author: THE FIVE Rs

Steve W's words are sobering. The only answer I have is to try to live by what I call THE FIVE Rs as often as one can: 1. Reuse. 2. Recycle. 3. Repair. 4. Rejuvenate. 5. Rethink.... this last one, "rethink," requires a bit of explaining-- rethink "why" do you need to buy a new one? Perhaps more thinking will reveal more ways that you can use what you already have, perhaps a small modification or upgrade is all that is really needed.... In terms of THE HISTORY OF GEAR, we support buying used gear, fixing up what you have, cleaning, repairing, and modifying that durable classic gear. You will find the efforts deeply satisfying. My page about Frostline Kits has links to many vendors who will help you with this. And please visit Patagonia's site and join up to their very similar vision, which they call "Common Threads," http://www.patagonia.com/us/common-threads/

From: J. K. in Oregon
To: Bruce Johnson
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2007 10:17 PM
Subject: Why does anyone care about the old gear?

".... Why does anyone care about the old gear? I'll put in my two bits worth--the old backpacking gear from the 50s, 60s & 70s represented an era of freedom for a lot of people--a freedom to get out and explore anywhere from the woods behind your house and to the highest mountain ranges, a freedom to expand one's inner mind to unlimited boundaries and a chance to get back to the beauty this world has to offer. The old gear also represents an era of innovation, a willingness of companies to strike out and try different designs and materials in pursuit of the perfect product--be it a backpack, sleeping bag, tent or clothing. These companies each had an ethic that is hard to find in gear today--to make the highest quality backpacking gear of that era and for all time. Who can not love the loft one found in a Trailwise Slimline chevron-baffled down sleeping bag, the quality and durability of a Kelty Tioga external framepack, the versatility of a Sierra Designs 60/40 Parka and the sweeping lines of a North Face Oval InTention tent? Holubar, Gerry, Ski Hut, Rivendell, Class 5, Camp 7, Alpenlite, Hine/Snowbridge, Schonhofen, Maran, Snow Lion, Caribou, Adventure 16, Warmlite, Early Winters, Alpine Designs, Bishop, Petzoldt, Sunbird, Universal, Great Pacific Iron Works, Bugaboo Mountaineering, Forrest, MEI, Synergy, Alpine Style, Wilderness Experience, early Lowe, JanSport, Gregory, Cannondale, Camp Trails, EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports), REI, Eureka, the early MountainSmith, Bristlecone Mountaineering, and others I've forgotten--all these companies turned out gear that truly has been unsurpassed in its functionality, its appeal, its originality and its excellence. Sure, nostalgia is part of this vintage gear appreciation--the memories of trips past--but one needs a historical record of a time when quality was truly quality, and of those pioneers who sewed up the gear that started a revolution in backpacking, mountaineering and spinoff pursuits that continue to this day. We owe the 'gear pioneers' the recognition and apprecation they deserve by preserving and restoring the equipment they created for our enjoyment! " (image of old climbing and backpacking gear collection compliments of contributor Dan D.)


Above is an old-fashioned strap, the type popular during the 60's, 70's, and 80's. This one, I've had in my strap collection since about 1972. It still functions perfectly. As "J.K." asserts in his essay, it's truly a piece of "old gear" that was a near-perfect marriage of form and function, done in the new materials that had become available to backpackers during the Post- WW II period. Unfortunately, as the 1990s progressed, this elegant and perfect design was scrapped, replaced with plastic buckles of various designs. I tried them all; none worked nearly as well as my old trusty toothed buckles; a major flaw is how difficult it is with most of the plastic buckles to easily clamp down tight and be sure the buckle will hold, come thick or thin, as you crash through the brush. So my vote goes to this great classic strap design-- a hard nylon webbing of the proper width and thickness combined with a strong metal (not plastic) rivet, topped off with a simple, easily-operated, corrosion-resistant METAL buckle with teeth, and all nickel-plated! Long live Classic Gear!

1970 Cross-Country Ski Trip, lots of classic gear contrasted with a picture of a modern ultralight gear camp!


I had heard repeatedly of the existence of a book about the History of Gear that was written by British (English) writers. I finally obtained a copy, actually the personal copy of Gerry Cunningham. I've been finding it to be refreshing-- quite a different look at the subject compared to what I've done in my own History of Gear Project.

The book is named "Invisible on Everest- Innovation and the Gear Makers."

It bills itself as covering a time period from 1850 to 1995. It had four corporate sponsors: Grivel, Karrimore, The North Face, and Trangia AB.

As I read it, I was struck by the total absence of any interview material from the great American pioneers like Gerry Cunningham, the Lowe brothers, or George Marks and Bob Swanson. The book's perspective is wholly European, with a real focus on British history of gear and climbers. Don't buy it to find out more about American pioneers and companies, but do buy it to broaden your horizons considerably!

The authors are Mike Parsons (past owner of Karrimor) and Mary B. Rose. It was published in 2003 by Northern Liberties Press, which lists offices in London, Paris, Philadelphia and Kuala Lumpur... . The price on the dust cover of my hardback is marked at $36.00. It is a 292 page book, with limited illustrations and scattered black and white pictures. The size is 9 1/4 inches x 6 1/2 inches. You may be able to order the book from OldCityPublishing.com