The Vintage Outdoors

The good people at Cold Splinters (which is fantastic and should be on your daily reading list) put me onto some amazing digitized vintage Backpacker magazines. More than the articles, I was drawn to the old-school ads for some of the same outfitters we are still talking about today. Companies like Sierra Designs, Danner, The North Face and Woolrich. It is cool to see the look and feel from the late seventies and early eighties. I especially love the illustrated ads. I remember reading magazines and catalogs like Campmor as a kid and dreaming over kick-ass camping equipment.






Note the price of the Quoddy mocs! 19.98…




Comments on “The Vintage Outdoors

    Christina on May 12, 2009 9:23 AM:

    Wow, I love that man’s mustachio in the second image.

    plaidout on May 12, 2009 10:08 AM:

    Google Books is the best. I’m on January 1979. In my spare time, I’ve been reading these cover to cover for the last several months. Great post!

    Randall on May 12, 2009 10:32 AM:

    Aaah, the days when The North Face and Sierra Designs were still in Berkeley. I remember Gore-Tex ads the most since family friends were involved in Patagonia and Black Diamond in their Ventura and SLC offices ages ago, it was an intense rivalry for Patagonia, they hoped their H2No system would be the Gore-Tex beater. Didn’t turn out that way. Good stuff here ACL.

    ruby on May 12, 2009 10:51 AM:

    thanks for the tip. cold splinters is amazing.

    Ivan on May 12, 2009 10:53 AM:

    That bit about Campmor catalogs is right on the money. Takes me back.

    andrew on May 12, 2009 11:46 AM:

    the Wilderness Experience ad is a hammer

    sam on May 12, 2009 12:39 PM:

    oh man – i also had a bunch of well-thumbed campmor catalogs – and u.s. cavalry also – anything with pocket knives will definitely keep a 10 year old’s attention for hours

    The Look on May 12, 2009 1:07 PM:

    Great stuff. Back in the early- to mid-70s it was REI, Eddie Bauer and cycling parts catalogs for me.

    The Ancient on May 12, 2009 1:12 PM:

    I really object to the use of the word “vintage” to describe things from the day before yesterday.

    OTOH, I remember being similarly offended, 20 years ago, when a shopgirl examined a wristwatch I had taken in for repair and exclaimed, “Oh, an antique!”

    (I was going to say, “No, it’s something my parents gave me when I graduated from high school” but I caught myself in time.)

    Michael Williams on May 12, 2009 4:11 PM:

    The Ancient — if you had a 30 year old car would it be safe to say it is vintage? Or just not new? Maybe slightly old…

    Jeff — We’ll posting a link like that is only going to make matters worse.


    robbo on May 12, 2009 6:22 PM:

    are you vintage m.wils

    Michael Williams on May 12, 2009 6:23 PM:

    I’m slightly old.


    Paco on May 12, 2009 6:30 PM:

    Some of the “good old brands” really aren’t anymore. I used and eventually wore out several Woolrich woolen products from the mid-70s (Alaska shirt, whipcord pants). The wool they use in their products today is unbelievably poor quality; must be from recycled Chinese army blankets.

    Bemidji Woolen Mills still makes a reasonably good quality 85% wool Alaska style shirt and other products.

    The quality of wool that C.C. Filson uses – especially in classic items like #110 Mackinaw Cruiser and #90 vest – is equal to or better than it was 35 years ago.

    The Ancient on May 12, 2009 9:15 PM:

    MW —

    When someone with a blog puts up a set of pictures from an old JPress catalogue, or something from Brooks or The Andover Shop, or Chipp or Tripler, and pretends they’re Howard Carter peering into Tutankahmen’s tomb, I find it deeply unsettling. (I had those clothes. I do not miss them.)

    As for your question — one of my cars is a 1956 Willys, and I am pretty sure I think it’s merely very old and an annoyance to keep in repair.

    (Strictly speaking, the answer to your question — in most states — is a matter for the DMV when it passes out license plates to cars that pass for “antique.” Bureaucrats in most places seem to put it at about 30 years. As in “never trust anyone over 30.”)

    Paul on May 13, 2009 11:13 AM:

    Thanks for reccommending Cold Splinters… it’s one of my new favorite sites to visit

    Bruce J on May 13, 2009 11:43 AM:

    I enjoyed the article but, as a researcher and writer in the area of “vintage” or “classic” outdoor gear, I was amazed to see the definition of “vintage” pushed up to that later 1970s and early 1980s! The really classic gear innovating companies were such illustrious names as GERRY MOUNTAIN PRODUCTS and HOLUBAR MOUNTAINEERING, which began right after World War II. There were a goodly number of very classy innovating companies ‘way before the later 1970s!

    Michael Williams on May 13, 2009 11:45 AM:

    Oh god, enough with the word vintage. You people are nuts.


    Bruce J on May 13, 2009 11:46 AM:

    If folks would like to view my 40+ pages of web coverage about classic outdoor companies, just Google a company name like “Holubar,” and my site comes up at or near the top.

    Paco on May 13, 2009 3:23 PM:

    Like Bruce J, I’m quite familiar with the innovative pre-WWII and early post-WWII American mountaineering/backpacking equipment companies. Perhaps the most innovative was Berkley’s famous Ski Hut – the role model for North Face, Sierra Designs and other Bay Area manufacturers in the 60s-70s – which originated, like REI, in the 1930s. Other pioneers were the Himalayan Pack company in Monterey and, of course, Kelty, originally in Southern CA and later Squaw Valley.

    All are long gone except for Kelty. They had innovative products and great technical skills but, more typical than not of small manufacturers, eventually failed as marketers and distributors.

    Paco on May 13, 2009 3:26 PM:

    “Vintage” is in the eye of the beholder. In an era when most people have little or no historic memory – “educators” know that it’s easier to manipulate people when they know nothing of their history – some folks consider the 1980s to be “vintage”.

    And consider: for today’s teenage boys the 1965 Mustang that debuted when I was a high school sophomore is more distant from their high school years than the last Model T to roll off the assembly line in 1927 was to me at the time the Mustang debuted.

    Michael Williams on May 13, 2009 3:32 PM:

    I was born in 1978. If shit was around before me I consider it vintage. Also, this puts a close to the vintage discussion here. No more comments on the matter. (I can do that because I run the joint.)


    Stephen on May 18, 2009 1:07 AM:

    I love campmor for it illustrations. It’s a shame that it’s such a rarity to find illustrations in catalogs.

    Alan Wenker on January 25, 2010 4:10 PM:

    Inspired by this post, last night, during the debacle that was the Viking’s loss to New Orleans, I flipped through my collection of Wilderness Camping magazines from the 1970’s and looked at ads. Wildernes Camping was similar to Backpacker and ran from 1971 – 1979 and was eventually merged into Backpacker in 1980. I had forgotten how good the Woolrich ads were during this time. The one above with the orange moutain parka was a favorite of mine as was one in which a guy smoked a pipe wearing gray knickers, a brown buffalo shirt and a tan down vest. Woolrich also had a great set of ads using photos from the K2 climbing expedtions during the 1970’s.

    My favorite ads were by Class 5, another of the Berkely firms coming out of the Ski Hut/Trailwise folks, similar to Sierra Designs, North Face and Snow Lion. Class 5 advertised in nearly every issue of Backpacker, but I only found two ads from nine years of Wilderness Camping magazines. Earlier in the week I flipped through copies of Mariah (eventually merged into Outside magazine) and could not find Class 5 ads either. I find this strange as they ran unusual ads and mad excellent products.

    I’ve always been a magazine and catalog addict for backpacking gear; great fun to look at these from time to time. The Hudson’s ads above were competively priced as I recall though what little gear I had in those days came from REI due to the dividend.

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