After over a decade of looking for packs at thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets I finally found a piece from The Great Pacific Iron works. I was relatively quick to discover the model of this frameless backpacking unit as the Ultima Thule. Digging further into some of the nuance of this bag compared to others, I believe its 1974 model. 73 would coincide with the first year of the shop label, but a catalogue for that year states the pack has a yellow duck canvas back. The difference between this and later models being the conjoined top flap strap. The two-to-one design is replaced by two individual straps for the 1975 catalog.
The early 70s were a coming of age period for backpacking and backpacking gear. While most other pack makers were designing and developing lightweight aluminum frame packs for multi night use, Chouinard and co were already bucking the trend. The Ultima Thule was designed for use to, from, and on the crag and slopes. For this reason, they forewent the frame and instead made a pack that hugged the wearers body to help maintain balance and center of gravity. If you’ve ever donned a loaded up frame pack you know the feeling. Load’s sit comfortably off your back but the slightest tip or tilt can have you quickly repositioning your feet below to keep from stumbling. For Chouinard, this instability simply wouldn’t due on the talus and slopes.
What looks like an over-sized day pack is thoughtfully designed with the wearer in mind. The bottom compartment, opens all the way around the waist into what are referred to as “dewlaps”. This compartment was meant to be stuffed full with a sleeping bag and other soft goods to create a firm base for the rest of the load to sit upon. The Velcro belt, enables a nice cinch around the waist and allows the load to ride on the wearer’s hips. “Let your hips shoulder the weight” one pack maker said in their advertisements. The top compartment is separated into to side-by-side silo pockets which is nice for equipment containing fuel, or anything that best rides upright. Reinforcing via rivets and nylon webbing ensured you could stuff this thing like a turkey without it splitting. When packed thoughtfully, it also helps maintain that center of gravity the company was going for. The top flap offers a good amount of space, but has no side gussets, so more practical for maps and smalls. An intentional design meant to keep from top loading weight of the pack.
The material on the pack is pretty standard for the time. A heavy, coated nylon in a royal blue. Perhaps the biggest wow factor, aesthetically at least, comes from the green duck canvas backing which extends from just above the shoulder straps down to the inside of the “dewlaps”. With this pack adhered to he wearer’s back, I am sure the duck canvas offered at least some sweat absorption. Shoulder straps are reinforced with a riveted leather backer and feed down into the body of the pack. There’s an ergonomic crescent shape to them and they’re lightly padded. Standard leather lashing points adorn the body of the bag for side canister compartment attachments, axes, skis, poles or whatever else one would need for the adventure.
This example is rather clean in my book. There’s some dust externally I haven’t quite removed, but the true mark is the condition of that inner nylon coating which breaks down with wear and improper storage. In this pack, it’s about as good as you could hope for. The Rocky Mountaineering cord lock is a fun add-on, probably deserving of some investigation of its own.
This National Park Service fleece is made in the USA by VF Imagewear an official supplier to the NPS as well as other land and wildlife management firms and governmental agencies. VF Imagewear is also owned by VF Corp, owners of The North Face, Jansport, Smartwool and others.
This quality fleece has nylon lined sleeves so undergarments don’t bunch. The patch is sewn onto the fleece but covered by the lining indicating it was added during production. There’s also something resembling a name bar adhered to the inside right chest. Pockets are also nylon lined.
At first take, it may seem like a bit of a stretch to lump bicycle bags in with backpacking. These days the two industries operate in their own lanes, with their own big-name brands. But at their core, both outdoor sports of self-sufficiency and adventure, they are more or less the same. Bike touring and “Pass Hunting” as it was known in Japan, rose in popularity with backpacking in the 1970s. Some suppliers saw the opportunity and produced packs for both endeavors. A good example is the Kirtland Tour Paks which were produced by Hine Snowbridge out of Boulder, Colorado.
I am not at all sure if there’s any direct relation to a backpack maker with this Overhill brand bag, but it seems to be a rare label, so I thought I’d shares some photos. The bag is a heavier cordura fabric with some foam inserted for structure. Well thought out pocket placement with the inclusion of an additional water bottle holder or stash pocket.
The tradition of quality handmade bicycle packing gear continues on in brands like Oveja Negra right here in Salida, Colorado, Revelate Designs of Anchorage, Alaska.
An age of innovation is evident in this beautifully functional anorak parka. First let’s talk about the fabric choice. While Gore-Tex had been around for over a decade by 1980, commercial use didn’t really begin until 1976. So at the time of this parkas’ manufacture, the breathable, waterproof fabric was still new to consumers and just beginning to overtake old standards like rip-stop nylon, 60/40 and other poly cotton blends as go-to shell materials. The early version of Gore-Tex used here is much thicker than what we know today, and actually has a weight closer to 60/40. The white label found in the hood, an early commercial example (earlier versions were white on black), has what I believe to be a month and year of manufacture on the back side. I have never fully authenticated this theory, but after years of looking at these labels and comparing to catalogs and other resources, it seems to line up. The markings seen on this label are IV/82, or April, 1982. The practice of this dating on the backside of labels also appears to continue in the early black version of the Gore-Tex Label.
This parka featured fully taped seams inside. While most of the glue holding these in place has broken down and the loose strips removed, some remain as evidence of TNF’s commitment to building an advance take on an old design and getting the most out of this revolutionary fabric. The design intentionally avoids seams at the shoulders to further improve the overall waterproof effectiveness.
The closures on this parka get an upgrade in the form of the custom TNF zipper pulls. While The North Face embossed snaps had been around for probably a decade at this point, the proprietary zipper pulls are a new add. If we look at the back of the zipper head, we can see that the zipper is Manufactured by YKK. My guess is that custom zipper pulls offered YKK a great way to expand their business, attract customers and gain the dominance over the industry they have today. Prior to this time, there seemed to be a handful of zipper makers used in outdoor gear such as Talon and Coats and Clark or C&C. I am a little surprised the Fastex cord locks at the hood and waist drawstring are not The North Face labeled, but those were not too far off from this time period.
Maybe one of the biggest differences a vintage TNF fan will notice is the label update. Up to now there have been a few minor variations of the brown logo on white background, but now we’re looking at a white logo on navy background. This parka features only one small sleeve logo I think in an effort to preserve the integrity of the Gore-Tex being used. The Gore-Tex label is carefully tucked away in a seam of the hood drawstring. A material tag inside the jacket is maybe for a reason, brown print on a white tag. Not long after this piece was made The North Face would introduce the Extreme series, which continued this trend of innovative designs and construction for outdoor sports.
One of the more rare packs I’ve found hailing from just up the road, Fort Collins, Co. This early 90s DeFrance pack is technical for its time, but based on sound pack design. The plastic wing hip flairs remind me of an early Gerry model with a removable rigid foil (I think there’s a post buried somewhere in the archive).
Great use of vibrant colors indicative of the early 1990s. Yellow compression straps almost encompass the main body
for a secure gear fit. I can imagine the popularity with those looking for lightweight loads and secure, fast paced travel up trails and extreme terrains, perhaps even climbing or skiing. The top becomes a waist pack for satellite journeys. The top detaches to become its own oversized waist pack. I’m unsure if this pack may have had a removable rigid spine, as found there was none.
Second to last pic is from the April 91 Backpacker Buyer’s Guide issue detailing DeFrance offerings. I believe this is the Trixter model.
The last pic is from a waist pack I found of the same name, but hailing from Sedona, Az. The Sedona examples I’ve come across utilize more muted fabric colors and appear to be overall less technical. Not sure the relationship, but I believe it to be a pre or prior iteration by the same maker.
I haven’t yet found a lot to support this other than similar tents listed as such, but should the internet turn out to be telling the truth, this here is an early Bill Moss designed tent. I see this tent at the crossroads of traditional and modern camping. That intersection being the use of old school materials such as heavy canvas and vinyl, with modern construction of slim, adjoining poles creating a freestanding structure.
Construction of the tent includes interlocking six fiberglass poles, the top piece fixed into a mount, that when compressed, bows the poles outward into grommets at the bottom creating a freestanding dome tent. A large bolt at the top along with the internal locking lever, provide the stable tension and a means of adjusting it ever so slightly.
It’s easy to see early flashes of Moss’s legendary design in the construction and maybe the beginnings of a signature red color in the pole sleeves.
Rare label I don’t have too much information on. After scanning old Backpacker Magazine issues I can say that Back Country was like many of its contemporaries a store that both created it’s own products and sold other company’s as well. Earliest mention I’ve found of the shop is a 1976 ad for Woolrich with Back Country of Buena Park, as a retailer. I suspect they go back a little further than that though.
The pack itself is similar to the designs of others. It does have a few differences that I am a fan of. For one the leather seems to be of exceptional quality. It’s thick, yet still soft and malleable. I suppose this may have some to do with its previous owners treatment, but I have seen enough to know it was good quality leather to begin with. Secondly the use of nylon on the lower straps and waist belt. where as Alpine Designs would have used leather throughout the strap, Back Country save a tiny bit of weight and ads a little style of their own by carrying over the orange nylon to these elements.
Good example of this somewhat iconic tent. Not free-standing but keeps itself up when staked at the corners. Very sturdy when rain fly is pulled over the top. Fly comes all the way to the ground. Guy lines provided added steadiness in any weather situation. Great shape. Allows two occupants to sit fully upright with plenty of room to spare over head. Tabs in the corners of the ceiling lead me to believe a gear hammock was available for inside. Not a ton of space for gear with tow occupants and only enough vestibule for the rain fly for boots, and other odds and ends not needed inside.
Great 1950s Lee Riders. Half Selvedge denim construction with a Scovill Gripper Zipper zip. This particular pair of jeans measured about 28×28, but had been taken in at the waist and down the outer seams of both legs to construct a slimmer fit. The indigo was still dark, a desirable trait for jeans of this age. See my other Lee Riders post for an example of a slightly later pair.
Unique early TNF Bivy Sack. Simple construction of one ply rip stop nylon in blue and green. Grommets at the corners for staking down. Not entirely sure if this was the complete unit or if there would have been a tarp or tube tent covering. Good for a layer of wind proofing and would keep your bag clean as is though.
Measures 92″ overall. 76″ foot to neck and 39″ wide.