Some things we encounter in life stay with us (in one way or another) for years and even decades. One thing that certainly hasn’t changed for me over the decades of my life is my magnetic attraction to being in the outdoors. Even now, listening to the sound of rain falling on the roof of my house, my mind wanders to rainy days over the years when I’ve gone for hikes in the woods of Castle Rock State Park (my favorite local haunt) in the rain and enjoyed the dry comfort of a cave while reading a good book and enjoying a coffee.
Outdoors “fashion” hasn’t really changed much over the years, at least not the years that I’ve been around. A classic 60/40 “mountain parka” would not look out of place on the rack next to a $600 GoreTex jacket by Arc’teryx. But what has changed is where that gear is made.
From the 1950s through the early 1980s, a handful of companies dominated the outdoors clothing scene. Some area familiar household names now (North Face, Sierra Designs, Marmot, Patagonia, REI, LL Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, etc.). But the ones that are no longer around are the focus of my peculiar obsession.
This trend started, you guessed it, in a thrift shop. I happened to spot a particular shade of burnt orange on a rack from across the store. A shade of burnt orange that brought to the surface a long-forgotten memory of one of my uncles wearing a parka in that same color. Long forgotten, because I was probably a couple of years old when that memory occurred. I recall nothing more than a flash of color and a view of a rushing creek (which I’m fairly certain was Yosemite Creek at the foot of Yosemite Falls).
Back to the thrift shop, what I spotted, and honed in on, was a pair of circa 1981/82 Trailwise GoreTex parkas. Now, you may not have ever heard of the company, but Trailwise was a prominent player back in the day. It was an offshoot of the old Ski Hut outdoors’ store in Berkeley, CA. It was their in-house brand, and stood on its own as one of the best of the best. These two parkas were in immaculate condition -one women’s and one men’s. Obviously a husband and wife had held onto them for many years before finally donating them to the GW. And there they waited for me. I pondered holding onto the men’s one, as it fit me reasonably well. But being the good capitalist that I am, I sold both, profiting to the tune of $149. Not a bad turnaround for a small investment!
Fast-forward 10 months to November of this year. As I wandered the aisles of a thrift shop in the suburbs of Denver, CO; I happened upon another iconic brand jacket, in a similar vintage of GoreTex. This was from Class-5 (proudly declaring itself “The standard of the world”!), yet another Berkeley, CA based company. This parka was again in the classic mountain parka pattern, in GoreTex, and in mint condition. I picked it up for $3.49+tax! And yes, it did sell… For $99.99.
Lest you think I don’t care about companies from outside the Bay Area, I bring you my final show and tell for this evening. Holubar Mountaineering was started by Roy and Alice Holubar in Boulder, Colorado in 1946. They made some of the finest gear available until selling their stores and product lines to The North Face in 1981.
This final piece on display here is notable for several reasons. First of all, this thing fits me like it was made for me. Secondly, It’s a 33+ year old down vest that is as close to perfect condition as I can imagine such an item being in in 2014. I bought this one off of Ebay for quite literally, a song ($16.35 shipped if you really want to know). The third reason? Remember the color I was waxing poetic about a few pararaphs ago? Yep, this late 70s/early 80s down vest is in that most iconic of outdoors colors, burnt orange!
So yeah, that’s the briefest of introductions to the world of vintage outerwear you might encounter. Here’s a brief rundown of my favorite vintage brands, including ones I have not yet stumbled upon.
- Trailwise (Berkeley, CA)
- Class-5 (Berkeley, CA)
- Holubar (Boulder, CO)
- Chouinard Equipemnt (Ventura, CA -precursor to Patagonia)
- The North Face (brown label and older)
- Sierra Designs (Berkeley or Oakland label)
- Marmot Mountain Works (Berkeley)
- Frostline Kits (Boulder (oldest label), Broomfield, or Denver, CO)
- Early Winters (Seattle)
- REI (Seattle)
- LL Bean (Freeport, Maine)
And yes, there are many others… If it looks cool, speaks to your soul, is built well, and is Made in America, chances are it’s something worth keeping if the price is right!