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.
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.
This is an early Gerry rucksack. As I’ve probably mentioned in other posts, the earliest outdoor gear was simply repurposed military surplus and this bag shares many characteristics. Beyond the olive drab nylon the bag resembles very much a European military pack. Specifically one from a company called Bergans of Norway , which was made of more traditional materials, canvas and leather.
Though the design itself may not have been revolutionary or visionary the removable lightweight back panel is. I believe the panel to be made of fiberglass, but may just be something similar. The removable panel replaces metal support systems used on earlier packs. The updated support system with the use of lightweight nylon saved this traditional design many extra pounds.
Example of a civilian model jacket design based on the N-1. The N-1, to a lesser extent of then the Air Force A-2, MA-1 and N3-B became somewhat legendary for being a well-serving, functional jacket. The problem is one had to enlist and end up in certain positions to receive one. Post WWII patterns and probably sometimes even surplus were converted for civilian use. Today you still see similar jackets being produced by everyone from Schott to Abercrombie and Fitch.
The Jacket seen here has a very similar cut and fabric composition as a Navy issue N-1. Unfortunately the liner is made up of a blended pile and not what would have been alpaca. Still the rugged cut and warmth make these civilian versions a great option for someone who wants the style at a fraction of the price for an original.
Barker Shoe Co. 10th Mountain Division ski boots. Boots are dated 1943 Produced in Boston. This example has original waxed laces with metal ends. Also the wool foot bed for insulation. Goodyear heavy lugged sole provides traction when not full of snow or mud. From what I understand the original design had a flat sole, but traction was impossible so they later retrofitted these boots with the lugs. Squared off toe allows for maximum heel lift during cross-country maneuvers.