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.
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.
This is a legitimate expedition weight REI down parka. You’d probably have to collect the down from about 4 of your average TNF or Holubar down jackets to get up to this thing’s standard. When fluffed the thing sits about 8″ thick laying flat zipped up. Contains about 2.5 lb worth of down fill. Has heavy gauge zip closure with snap over flap. Also has an a line of snaps on the inside storm flap so you can close the jacket without zipping. Not sure if this is so one doesn’t have to work a zipper in freezing cold or so that the wear can breath just a little if they chose. Double snap option runs all the way up through the snorkel hood. Has two insulated pockets outside and one inside.
Get this thing fully buttoned up and cinched and you’ll look just like Kenny from Southpark. In today’s age this would be easily four figures worth of down fill goodness.
I’ve not yet found a great deal of information into the production and use of these old denim US ARMY fatigues. With so much militaria being of OD Green and khaki descent, denim pieces are seemingly unique. After finding a few other examples of similar jacket labels, it’s safe to say that this item does date back to the 1940s and was succeeded by a few other denim jackets before the army discontinued. This, the earlier version, has amazing zinc embossed buttons which are surprisingly thin, yet sturdy. The lines on the jacket are much like you would see on any civilian chore jacket. Which makes sense as the military often times contracts from suppliers who also make civilian work wear. This one here is missing the neck tag which would have had the pertinent information. Manufacturers of this style include Reliance MFG and Lutece MFG.
The always innovative Camp 7 line is descendant of the Alp Sport and Alpine Designs lines conceived by founder George Lamb of Boulder Colorado in the 1970s. This coat is exemplifies the company’s innovative spirit in the cut and construction of this outdoor staple.
Notice specifically the construction of this coat around the arms. Where many competitors would join the torso with the arms in simple perpendicular fashion, the Camp 7 design utilizes a more complex design that includes additional quilting to form a more contoured fit and eliminates a hard shoulder seam. Additional details including the internal seam finishing in black along the back and front panels reduces fraying on high friction areas. Designers also chose the use of Polargaurd for the pocket insulation as opposed to down. Polarguard, a relatively newer product for the period was probably seen as a more durable alternative for an often used, well-worn area.
Subtle differences in the hood color, embossed snaps, which differ from the coats snaps and individual materials tag suggest the hood was a sold separately option for this coat.