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.
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.
Late 1960s early 70s model Gerry Vagabond Pack. This is the pack that help solidified Gerry’s role in the outdoor sports manufacturing industry. The design was applied to frame packs and became an icon and a signature style. Whether you’re a fan or not of the horizontal pockets comes down to personal preference I suppose. While allowing for maximum compartmentalized storage and organization the pockets were somewhat limiting of the objects that could fit within.
This pack is an earlier model as denoted by the Gerry Boulder, Colorado logo, Coats & Clark zippers and the very interesting straps. These are unlike any other’s I’ve seen. Nylon straps with a foam pad. The pads are coated like that of a floatation device and adjustable on the strap to provide a good comfort level. The “wish bone” style pack support is removable and is secured by three snap anchor points.
This model pack was one of several featured in issue five of Backpacker Magazine (1974) and received good marks.
You are looking at a nice Alpenlite internal frame pack. Alpinlite, I believe originated in Claremont, California and plenty examples of earlier goods can be found bearing that city name under their mountainous logo. Based on this design and the city of Ventura, I would guess it’s a later label circa late 70s or 80s. Similar to some JanSport packs this Alpenlite maintains a day pack type look and feel, in a larger reinforced package.
This pack has an interesting ‘X’ braced frame structure and suspended strap rigging. Pack construction consists of one large main compartment, two side canister type pockets, one front pocket on the flap of the main compartment, and a small top pocket above the shoulder straps. I added the red lashings I had lying around and they will come with it. My guess is the original would have been yellow like that of the loop. It’s a little hard to tell in the photos but the bottom is khaki, loop is yellow which make for a nice color combo. Leather lashings top and bottom with the metal D rings on the front. padded waist strap as well.
1980s The North Face Bullfrog tent. This is a later “brown label” model, a label that was used into the early mid eighties. I would classify the tent as a two-man, three season tent. Tent is a three pole free-standing tent. Sometimes referred to as a “bent pole” model as the shock cord poles are not perfectly straight when linked together. Two poles crisscross from the corners with another looping from side to side around the front for an easy yet sturdy structure. The rain fly includes a decent size vestibule. Zippered opening into the vestibule and through the fly screen and nylon door. Inside venting flaps are closed by Velcro in a weight saving exercise.
94″ head to toe
45″ high at entrance
54″ wide at entrance
Early to mid 70s Gerry leather bottom backpack. Two compartments, stacked in the so-called “tear drop” fashion. Sturdy strap construction with thick padded shoulder straps and large D ring /leather top attachment. This model could be considered transitional from the earlier era of felt padded and leather straps. Front lashing with original nylon strap for holding poles or axes. Waist strap features the innovative Gerry two-pronged buckle.
Early Gerry external frame pack. This pack bears the Gerry Boulder, Colorado label and denotes production prior to the company being purchased by Outdoor Sports Corporation. This pack exhibits many of the common traits that came to dominate external frame pack construction in the 1970s up through the 1980s, but has its differences. The white leather bottom for instance is a great touch and common for construction of day packs which are often sat on the ground, but the added weight of the leather and lack of need for a toughened bottom would mean it was a feature not built to last. Secondly the one main compartment could make getting to what you needed on the trail difficult if packed incorrectly. This one large compartment construction would soon give way to more compartmentalized construction. (Gerry’s later Vagabond pack would take compartmentalized to whole new levels). The primitive waist strap is also an area later designs would improve upon. Though this bag does feature the patented buckle design it bolts directly to the frame and does not form a full padded belt. This is before the notion of “shoulder the load with your hips”
Beyond its shortcomings the pack is still beautifully designed and constructed. There are four canister style side pockets with leather pull tabs (missing on one). The bag is constructed of 100% nylon which was probably still somewhat exotic in its time. Padded shoulder straps. There’s also a pretty ingenious handle built into the frame.
The label is marked ‘Second’ meaning they found there was something wrong enough with it to not be sold as new, or possibly it was a prototype model later sold as a second. A small tag above the label has it sized a medium. Definitely a cool bag for any collection or use for its intended purpose.
Hine Snowbridge – One of the great old labels from Colorado. This is a large pack measures about 17″ around the waist 6″ high top to bottom. 5″ deep. YKK zips, large metal clasp waist.
Exit Expeditions International – Not familiar with this label and have not seen it anywhere else. This late 70s or 80s pack features Ideal zips, large Fastex clamp waist. Clean and in good shape
Maran – Popular maker of packs of all sizes in the early to mid 1970s. Smaller pack than the hine or exit. 12″ across waist 5″ high 3 1/2″ deep. Unique design with the YKK zipper across the top. Seatbelt nylon waist strap with interlocking metal buckle. Clean, nice shape
Mark Pack Works – Albany CA.Little known about this maker and a seldom seen label. Medium size pack 13″ across waist, 6″ high 4.5″ deep. Has one main compartment with two internal compartments and removable foam which helps the pack keep its shape. Two side pockets, one on each strap arm. Skinny seatbelt nylon strap with small Fastex clip. C&C zippers
Famous Trails – A prolific maker out of San Diego California and contemporary to Kelty. This medium waist pack measures about 11.5″ across the waist, 6.5″ high top to bottom. 5″ deep. Awesome color combo of brown and cream. Features one main compartment with two smaller side pockets. Ideal zippers, large Fastex clasp waist. Full color Famous Trails label pops.
This is the first pair of knickers from Holubar I’ve coma across, though I have seen similar styles from Woolrich. These grey tweed knickers are constructed from an 85% wool, 15% nylon blend. White cotton pockets and waist band. The bottoms have velcro closure for cinching and are lined with nylon on the inside to reduce chaffing. Slack style hook closer with small gauge Talon zipper fly. 2″ high by 3″ wide belt loops. Slack style front pockets with button close back pockets. The seat is double pained for strength.
31″ from top of waist to bottom
12″ from top of waist to crotch seam