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
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.
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: 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.
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
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."
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
".... 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!
I had heard repeatedly of the existence of a book
about the History of Gear that was written by British (English)
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
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