Sure, the airplane, the television, the computer–they were all nice little inventions. But this stuff set us free.
WHAT A CENTURY it’s been for outdoor gear–certainly the most revolutionary hundred years in the history of apparel and equipment. We’re not talking woolly knickers and bamboo rods, either. We mean innovations and inventions bestowed upon us by, and between, the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age. (Could it have been the launch of Sports Afield, in 1888, that inspired the outdoor craze?)
Call it the Gear Age. We now have stronger-than-steel Kevlar and air-filled soles, neoprene suits and hyperbaric oxygen chambers to deliver respiratory relief to climbers. Don’t forget fiberglass for skis (fat, shaped and Gumby green, for instance), roto-molded polyethylene plastic (same stuff as Tupperware) for kayaks, and aluminum and titanium for fat-tire steeds. And then there’s 4WDs, SUVs, WD-40 and navigational technology called GPS. Sure, it’s enough to make your head spin clean off with confusion. But that won’t matter if you’re wearing a vented polystyrene core helmet with a polycarbonate shell and tricked-out graphics.
So come, witness the evolution of toys and togs since the calendar last showed double zeros: Meet the masters (Klaus, Yvon et al.). Experience the essentials (indicated with red circles). See where things went right, where they went wrong (D’oh!), and consider some expert predictions (who knows?) about what lies ahead.
1890s Sweden’s Optimus Svea 123 stove is the first PORTABLE COOKER–and, of course, a boon to back-country chefs.
Late 1800s The U.S. geological Survey issues it’s first TOPO MAP, with squiggly brown “contour lines” detailing the rolling hills of Bastrop, Texas.
1890s A Swiss company, Victorinox, begins issuing cutlery to the military; thus is born the SWISS ARMY KNIFE. Wenger, another cutler, quickly follows suit.
1993: In line skating is all about legs and feet, so it’s no wonder The Grip, by Grip Inc. never passed eight wheeled muster. At least the thought was there: a HAND BRAKE FOR IN-LINE SKATES. So was a street-snagging aluminum shaft on the bottom of the skate, which tended to trip up the user.
1902 On a Mississippi bear hunt, President Teddy Roosevelt can’t bring himself to squeeze the trigger on a tired, bamboozled Ursus. A year later, toymaker Morris Mitchcom invents the the first TEDDY BEAR, modeled after a Washington Post comic depicting the huggable beast alongside the soft-hearted commander in chief.
Early 1900s The term SKI creep into the American vernacular. Previously, seven-plus-foot wood planks with leather straps for bindings–brought to the States courtesy of frosty Norwegians and popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849–were known by most as “snowshoes.”
1903 George Gray incorporates his Maine-based OLD TOWN CANOE Company; the HW (Heavy Waters) model, crafted from white pine, ash, cedar, spruce, mahogany and several combinations thereof, becomes the canoeing standard for nearly 50 years.
1903 America’s answer to the blot-action Mauser Model 98 (designed by German arms-smith Peter Paul Mauser five years prior): the U.S. Springfield 1903, the most imitated American BOLT-ACTION RIFLE of the century.
1905 Frenchman Paul de ViVie, who founded the magazine Le Cycliste and wrote under the pseudonym Velocio, modofies awkward and unreliable bicycle gearing schemes to test a two-speed DERAILLEUR called the cycliste. It takes until 1933, for Italian cyclist Tullio Campagnolio to fabricate parts in the back room of his father’s hardware store for the dual-rod–operated, back-pedal derailleur.
1906 IN the beginning, there was Henry Feuerstein’s MALDEN MILLS, a Massachusetts textile mill specializing in ersatz furs. When the 1970s roll around, Henry’s son, Aaron, asks his employees to research synthetic alternatives to wool. The results? Polartec, a polyester material with a fleecy finish that traps heat as efficiently as wool. Bye-bye, black sheep.
1906 Cameron Waterman, of Detroit, rigs up an air-cooled motorcycle engine with a chain drive to a propeller to fashion the first OUTBOARD MOTOR, building 25 models of the “Porto” (as in “portable”). Three years later, Scandinavian immigrant Ole Evinrude, after nearly blowing up his Milwaukee apartment by running an internal combustion engine for a horseless carriage, begins selling a 1.5-horse-power, 62-pound “marine propulsion mechanism” for $62. His slogan: “Don’t row! Throw the oars away! Use an Evinrude motor!”
1907 Long before the days of “adventure travel,” German Johann Klepper devises the FOLDING KAYAK, which he portages ever so simply from river to Deutschland river.
1908 Admiral Richard Byrd and crew make the first trip to the South Pole, slogging the icy fringes on ash and rawhide TUBBS SNOWSHOES.
1908 Improving upon rudimentary pointy climbing aids, such as spiked horseshoes used by medieval Alpine shepherds, Englishman Oscar Eckenstein creates the 10-POINT CRAMPON, a toothy climbing iron strapped around boots for scaling snow and ice. Eckenstein’s new development, however, is met with hostility from Victorian mountaineers who believe the treads take an unsporting advantage of the peaks.
1909 Strength shares the stage with aesthetics; Bristol rods (by Horton manufacturing) introduces a line of STEEL FISHING RODS, the first step toward the extinction of bamboo.
1909 Austrian skier Harms Schneider does the unthought of: “Stepping” through turns, then forming a right angle with his tips. The SNOW PLOW makes navigating the steeps more manageable–especially since previous sliders had neglected to turn altogether.
1910 FALSE SUMMIT: A 14-foot spruce pole flying the American flag is planted atop the 19,470-foot North Peak of Mount McKinley by a sadly misled American group; what they think is the summit turns out to be nearly 1000 feet lower than the mountain’s glowering South Peak.
1912 In search of refuge from uncomfortable, wimpy hunting boots, Leon Leonwood Bean sews a grippy, waterproof rubber sole to a cozy leather upper. The Maine Hunting Shoe, named after his home state and favorite sport, is a hit among dog-tired woodsmen. In the boot’s inaugural year, also Bean’s first in the business, he sells 101 pairs of the boots. Eventually, the name BEAN BOOT becomes synonymous with the Maine Hunting Shoe, and by the late `60s, L.L. Bean, now manufacturing all manner of outdoor gear, becomes synonymous with “catalog shopping.”
1913 The first ascent to the real summit of MOUNT MCKINLEY: 20,320 feet, with no cumbersome flagpole to speak of.
1914 Having built and sold lamps since the turn of the century, William Coffin Coleman downsizes an earlier creation. The COLEMAN LANTERN is now portable and, hence, worthy of a night in the bush.
1916 Be prepared! The BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA is founded.
1917 Nine years after Ford Motor Company introduces the landmark Model T passenger car, the Detroit firm rolls out a cargo-hauling vehicle with a stronger flame, greater wheel-base and stiffer rear suspension. Built as a labor-saving carrier for farmers, the “Fordson” is the first production PICKUP TRUCK.
1920s The SKEEBOGGAN hits the scene as an early snowboard. Needless to say, this one doesn’t set the sport on fire.
1921 Bucking dry-fly tradition, G.E.M. Skues designs the sub-surface NYMPH, still legendary for imitating just-hatched buggers.
1922 You name it, they shouldered it. The TRAPPER NELSON, simply comprising a canvas packbag attached to an arcane wooden frame, adorns the torsos of Boy Scouts, soldiers, firefighters, explorers and anyone else who travels greenish pastures.
1922 Brigadier General Honorable C.G. Bruce, along with George Mallory, leads the first British expedition on MOUNT EVEREST, unsuccessfully attempting the Rongbuk Glacier. No matter: His is the first team with good enough sense to use supplemental oxygen, essential when climbing in the “death zone” on 25,000-foot peaks. Two years later, Mallory (who said he’d climbed Everest “because it’s there”) and Andrew Irvine die on the world’s tallest mountain. Mallory’s body is found in 1999, 900 vertical feet from the peak.
1924 WARREN MILLER, auteur of gonzo ski stunt movies, is born.
Mid-1930s In need of a more accurate orienteering device, three Swedes–the brothers Kjellstrom–and instrument-maker Gunnar Tillander develop a liquid-dampened compass combined with a protractor that would take a fast and accurate bearing. The Swedish for forest.
Mid-1930s Screwed-in METAL EDGES appear on skis–grabbing the hardpack, rather than slipping across it, while turning.
1933 BALLOON TIRES, inspired by those on motorcycles, make their way onto Schwinn’s line of bicycles.
1936 A Finnish fisherman begins carving minnow-shaped plugs out of cork, pine bark and balsa, ornamenting the trinkets with shiny tinfoil and hand-drawn scales. Trout- and pike-fishing Europeans immediately covet them, making Lauri Rapala something of a regional hero. But it takes until 1962 for the RAPALA LURE to reach the United States.
1937 DuPont chemist Wallace Hume Carothers finishes work on NEOPRENE, a synthetic rubber made from the tempestuous acetylene family of chemicals. When stored under pressure, the otherwise explosive gases can be turned into a stretchy material with superior insulative properties–perfect, then, for wet suits and gloves
1937 Hobnailed boots prove too clunky and medieval for Vitale Bramani. The Italian Alpinist concocts the VIBRAM SOLE, that blessedly lugged rubber outer that to this day has adorned at least 100 million pairs of boots.
1937 Squinting becomes a forgotten instinct when Bausch & Lomb’s Army Air Corps PILOT-SHADES–created for military use in the 1920s–land on store shelves across the U.S.
1938 Tired of shelling out his savings for less-than-adequate gear, Seattle climber Lloyd Anderson founds REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), which works on the contrary premise (read: cheaper, better stuff).
1938 INFLATABLE RAFTS have been around since the 1840s, but Amos Burg’s “Charlie” makes the most impressive early run. Alongside paddlers Buzz Holmstrom and Willis Johnson (who steered a wooden boat), Burg floats an approximately 1100-mile stretch of the Colorado River between Green River, Wyoming, and Nevada’s Hoover Dam on his canvas and rubber invention.
1940 Willys-Overland’s four-wheel-drive Quad is designed specifically of the war; in the years to follow, it acquires the moniker JEEP for reasons still unknown and becomes a popular off-road vehicle (and arguably the first SUV) for “civvies.”
1941 G.I. Java: The Coleman G.I. POCKET STOVE debuts, fast becoming a military staple–despite its three-pound heft.
1941-42 Forebear of the Sno-Cat and the snowmobile, the Army-issue STUDEBAKER WEASEL–with its conveyor belt–style tread–looks like a small tank and covers snow hike one, too.
1943 Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau and French engineer Emile Gagnan perfect the AQUALUNG, a cylinder of compressed air connected through a pressure-regulating valve to a face mask, enabling divers to stay underwater for hours.
1945 Grumman Aircraft Engineering’s new 13-foot-long ALUMINUM CANOE, the answer to heavy wood-and-canvas crafts, is made from the same material as WWII fighter planes. A 17-footer follows–and has been in use ever since.
Post WWII Military surplus stores (a.k.a. ARMY-NAVY STORES) open across the country, hawking all manner of leftover gear to the public. America goes afield.
1946 In a precedent-setting move that eventually spreads through the outdoor business, the Shakespeare Company introduces FIBERGLASS FISHING RODS. The aptly named Wonderrods are stronger, more responsive and lighter than their bamboo and steel counterparts.
1946 No more backlashes with winchlike baitcasting reels. The Mitchell Company’s French-made Model 300 SPINNING REEL debuts without bells or whistles but with tangle-free performance previously unknown.
1947 After selling hundreds of thousands of its four-blade knives (cutting blade, can opener, screwdriver, hole punch) to the military during WWII, Camillus issues the official BOY SCOUT KNIFE. Little about it has changed through the years.
1948 Early ski couture is inspired by the stylish Bogner STRETCH PANTS, which hug the aft-ends of the “fashion conscious and glitterati of the times,” the company boasts. We know that Ingrid Bergman, Jane Mansfield and Norma Jean herself sported the daring britches. Whatever, these pants were it.
1948 Hiking with his dog, amateur Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral is fascinated by the burrs sticking to his canine companion and to his own pants. Later, looking at the burrs’ stiff hooks under a microscope, de Mestral envisions a two-sided fastener, one side with stiff hooks (like burrs) and the other side with soft loops (like the cotton fabric of his pants). He comes up with the name VELCRO, a combination of the words “velour” and “crochet,” but not until 1955 does de Mestral patent his invention.
1948 Betcha didn’t know Zebco is an abbreviation for the Zero Hour Bomb Company, the Tulsa outfit that cranked out the first SPINCAST REEL (though credit for the invention goes to R.D. Hull).
1970-88: Amazing, really, but they managed to endure nearly two decades of use–and, alas, abuse. Honda’s US90, the original ALL-TERRAIN CYCLE (ATC), was designed for farm and ranch jobs; by the mid-’80s, however, motorized tricycles–now available by the boat-load–were synonymous with outdoor recreation and, of course, accidents: We partied, we crashed, we sued, and, in 1988, anti-ATC laws deemed the raucous sport a bad memory.
1950 More than 7 million of the Remington pump-action 870 WINGMASTER have been sold since its mid-century birth.
1951 Cubco makes the first STEP-IN BINDINGS for skis, which work by dint of a metal plate at heel and toe that then fastens to a device on the ski. Not perfect, but they no doubt influence the design of your Markers.
1952 With sharp corners, or chines, where its hull meets the water, the ALCORT SUNFISH (now the Vanguard Sunfish) is refreshingly resistant to capsizing, yet it can skip atop the brine at a raceworthy clip. Add that to five minutes of assembly time, and it’s no wonder the 13-foot 9-inch darling is still the world’s most beloved and well-known recreational sailboat.
1953 Not that we wouldn’t settle for flimsy, sink-happy silk-gut line, but Cortland’s NON-SINKABLE FLYLINE, plastic-coated and buoyant as it was, takes the frustration out of flyfishing.
1953 Water, water, everywhere, but nary a disease to ingest. Katadyn’s HANDHELD WATER FILTER is the answer to the purification recipes of old: Boil for 10 minutes or add iodine.
1953 A strapping Kiwi beekeeper named Sir Edmund HILLARY and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing NORGAY reach the 29,028-foot summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain; they climb before the advent of front-pointed crampons, wearing wool clothes and primitive vapor-barrier boots and drinking weak, sugar-laced tea for energy.
1955 Metal edges hold on ice, but skis made entirely of metal will flex and turn on command; so went the conceit behind Howard Head’s short-lived but much-appreciated HEAD STANDARD SKI.
1956 By mounting an off-center, or eccentric, wheel in the body of a hunting bow, Missourian Hollis Allen perfects a system that relieves an archer of nearly half the weight he’s pulling. The COMPOUND BOW, as it’s called, yields accuracy and ease-of-use unmatched by tricky traditional longbows.
1957 Today’s Fabiano Rios LEATHER BACKPACKING BOOT has seen little change since its sock hop-era debut (the ones sold now are glued, not stitched, to the hide). But it’s a far fiscal cry from ’57, when the boot cost a mere $30.
1957 Berkley brings forth flexible, resilient nylon, or MONOFILAMENT FISHING LINE.
1957 Equipped with only a short-wave radio, climbing tools, shovel, tow chain, first-aid kit, stretcher, ax and a surly sense of conviction, EDWARD ABBEY embarks on his first sojourn as an Arches National Monument ranger; 10 years later, he chronicles the experience in Desert Solitaire, today’s unofficial Good Book of enlightened Western rogues.
1957 Inquisitive fisherman Carl Lowrance turns to transistor and early echolocation technology to fashion a FISH FINDER, an instrument to spot the critters below you. Lowrance’s invention yielded an era of spotting fish with “electronic eyes.” About 6 million units with more modern features, such as liquid-crystal display and GPS capabilities, have sold since then.
1958 The marriage of fiberglass and balsa wood in surfboards had been around since the late ’40s as an alternative to boards made of lead-heavy redwood and koa. But the real change comes in 1958, when Hobie’s foam and fiberglass FLEXI-FLYER SURFBOARD catches its first wave. Suddenly, everyman–not just muscle-bound jarheads–is able to maneuver and, for that matter, carry one.
1958 After seven years of tinkering, Harvard philosophy major Richard Fisher, of Braintree, Massachusetts, perfects the “Unsinkable Legend.” The BOSTON WHALER, a 13-foot sprite of a motorboat with an amazingly stable fiberglass hull, is able to support the weight of a man perched on the gunnel. Later, the company fires more than 1000 rounds of ammunition into one hull, and still it stays afloat.
1958 Bob Lange’s stiff and surprisingly responsive PLASTIC SKI BOOTS redefine the art of weight transfer, though it takes a small army of lifties to lace them.
1958 Edward “Scotty” Scott debuts his ALUMINUM SKI POLES; wood poles fall by the wayside.
1984: As if booty-shaking, disco-style, feet-together skiing wasn’t offensive enough, along came the Rossignol MONOSKI to make matters more gaudy. Sure, you could tear it up through the bumps as the bunnies looked on with admiration. Then again, you could also topple over in the lift line. Gone from here, still popular in France. Kinda like Jerry Lewis.
1961 Before fleece there was PILE, behind which was Helly Hansen. So those early jackets from Scandanavia were frumpy, but those petroleum-based fibers gave rise to the age of synthetic fabrics.
1962 The Variant, the original version of the VOLKSWAGEN BUS, predates the flower power that fueled it.
1962 The fiberglass C-1, or YUGO KAYAK, designed and built by David Kurtz and his Yugoslavian exchange student and pal, Natan Bernard, has the makers of aluminum models shaking in their skirts.
1963 A lifetime of knife-making pays off for Al Buck in the form of his BUCK 110 FOLDING HUNTER: The first folding, locking hunting knife, Buck’s 3 3/4-incher has sold steadily for the past 36 years, to the tune of some 13 million units.
1964 It flexes. It holds an edge. And it doesn’t feel like the hull of a catamaran. The wood-core and fiberglass ROSSIGNOL STRATO is the most responsive, lightweight, race-ready ski to date–a trait equally appreciated by recreational skiers. Following its introduction, metal skis would be done with, and other planks would strive to emulate the blood-red racer.
1964 California surfers remove the fins from their boards and try to ride the slopes. SNOWBOARDING is getting there.
1964 For years, Southern Californians Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer were believed to have invented the first WINDSURFER sometime in the late ’60s; but it turns out a Pennsylvanian named Newman Darby did the honors. A signmaker and tinkerer by trade, Darby hooked a door-shaped wood slab to a kite sail and rode the chop on his local Trailwood Lake. Suffice to say, his product, the Darby Sailboard, didn’t fare as well as the Windsurfer brand by his West Coast competitors: Boards by Darby are long gone, while Drake and Schweitzer’s are still around.
1964 A DuPont chemist irons out the wrinkles in KEVLAR, a synthetic fiber five times stronger than steel; unlike plastic, it does not melt, which explains its immediate use in bulletproof vests and, later, in everything from kayaks to bike gloves.
1965 Michigan engineer Sherman Poppen builds the SNURFER, a bonded-together pair of children’s skis with a rope at the tip. His daughters ride the slopes, wavelike, that winter. Nearly a mil lion of these wannabe snowboards sell within 10 years.
1965 San Franciscans begin shopping at THE NORTH FACE, then a mere retailer of climbing and backpacking gear, founded on about $5000 by Doug Tompkins. A few years later he sells The North Face and starts the Esprit clothing company.
1966 Nat Young rips to victory at the World Surfing Championships in San Diego while onlookers tilt their heads in suspicion at his 9-foot 4-inch SHORT SURFBOARD (compared to 10-feet-plus), made by shaper Bob McTavish. By winter of ’67, a shortboard craze has begun, and by the early ’70s, boards are barely taller than the people who ride them.
1966 Needing bright, photogenic equipment for an expedition to Mount Ellsworth’s Vincent Massif, National Geographic coaxes Dick Kelty into making a COLORED PACK–fire-engine red, rather than Army olive drab.
1966 It’s the year of THE ENDLESS SUMMER, that corn-ball cinematic surfers’ travelogue. Goofy, yes. But henceforth surf culture drops into its freight train tube ride through all facets of American lifestyles … like music.
1967 Like the Adams fly from the 1920s, Russell Blessing’s versatile WOOLLY BUGGER earns its reputation as perhaps the best all-purpose fly.
1967 “We’d stuff it like a garbage can, then beat it into shape,” jokes Greg Lowe of his pre-Summer of Love INTERNAL FRAME BACKPACK. But Lowe’s brainchild, homemade for his first attempt at a winter ascent up Grand Teton’s north face a year later, was one serious carriage: Two stays (a.k.a. the frame), cleverly concealed beneath the bulging packcloth, rendered it both spine-hugging and free of an unwieldy exoskeleton. That, combined with a chest strap to snug the load to the torso and pull the shoulder straps toward each other, allowed–would you believe?–the freedom of movement to actually climb with a pack.
1968 SIERRA DESIGNS debuts the 60/40 Mountain Parka, a respectively cotton/nylon jacket that’s gone unchanged for 30 years–except for the price. Then: $32.50. Now: $150.
1969 To Bob Gore, engineer and keeper of his folks’ plastics business (W.L. Gore), polytetrafluoroethylene–a.k.a. Teflon or ePTFE–was just a waterproof polymer used to make computer cable. That is, until the day he discovered that when heated and stretched, the slippery stuff was rendered porous and permeable. When bonded to fabric, a garment could thus turn back a rainstorm and keep you fresh on the inside while doing so. After six years of testing, the Gores got their recipe right, and by 1976 Early Winters was using GORETEX on its line of winter jackets. Today, countless imitators crowd the outdoor market, while the company continues its weather-fighting tradition with a litany of high-tech materials: WindStopper (1991), which lives up to its name; the wonderfully downlike jacket and sleeping bag filler Dryloft (1993); and highly water-resistant and shockingly breathable Activent (1995).
1969 By duct taping a plastic shield to the front of his goggles, dentist Bob Smith keeps the Utah powder out of his eyes, but his specs continue to fog. Thus blinded, he devises a DOUBLE-LENS GOGGLE with foam-covered vents. Ingenious: Snow stays out, fog-thwarting air rushes through.
1980: Anyone willing to risk having their hair stand on end could pick up the WG6-S or WG8-L WORM GETTER from Handy Marketing Company. Lucky for the originator of this electric, shock-’em-to-the-surface rod, it was the subsequent knockoffs that did the most damage: Thirty deaths occurred among unwitting worm hunters using similar devices, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety commission cited the energized sticks as a hazard. A word of advice: Get the worms without one.
Early 1970s What started as chemistry lab equipment developed by the Nalge company evolved into NALGENE WATER BOTTLES, the finest ever made. So what if they become odorous when not washed: They bounce, they roll, and the polyethylene jugs almost never break.
1971 University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman (below) eschews culinary etiquette for the sake of cushy footwear, pouring a rubber compound into a waffle iron to devise the Waffle Racer, sold by his 10-year-old company, Blue Ribbon Sports. A year later, he and business partner Phil Knight–who ran under Bowerman a decade earlier–rename their business NIKE, after the Greek goddess of victory.
1971 Logic would have it, surmises Jim Henry, that if ocean vessels rely on a drastic V-shaped hull to slice the water, so too should a piddly canoe. His idea plays out with the MAD RIVER CANOE, built at his home in Vermont, which schools the flat-bottom competition at the ’71 National Whitewater Open Canoe.
1971 “The first DOME TENT was conceived after a bad experience on a Cascades cross-country ski trip,” says Jansport’s Skip Yowell (left), who joined company founder and cousin Murray Pletz (right) in the early ’70s. “A-frames were always getting shredded in a storm, so the logical step was to try the igloo thing instead.” And it worked. The resulting Trail Dome and Mountain Dome–held upright via bendable fiberglass poles (and later Easton aluminum)–earned their stripes by shrugging off wind on Mount Rainier; soon they were used as the template for modern-day tents.
1972 Putting his latest creation through its paces–the first winter ascent of Haft Dome’s northwest face–Greg Lowe slumbers, with white knuckles, on his trampoline-bottom portaledge, the LURP (Limited Use of Reasonable Space), with a zipper floor so he can, uh, lighten his load from on high.
1972 No fancier than an old pair of Keds, the simple canvas and rubber EB BOOT arrives from France; for 10 years climbers covet the gaunt sneaker–which functions as the first climbing shoe–for its snug fit and, most of all, its sticky rubber sole.
1972 “You just wait till you feel that whitewater under you, Bobby,” says a mustache less Burt Reynolds to Ned Beatty in DELIVERANCE, the story of a group canoe trip gone disturbingly amok. In the screen version of James Dickey’s novel, a muscular Reynolds bolsters his rep as Hollywood’s machismo-in-chief; Ned Beatty doesn’t, and the rest of us think twice before heading into the wilds. Interest in paddling swells nonetheless: Grumman canoes, whose boats are in the film, hit record sales.
1973 What to do when you lose your engineering job at Boeing? “Make something other than airplane parts,” says Jim Lea, who, with the help of pals and his brother, John, wraps a nylon shell around an open-cell foam pad, adds an air valve, and dubs it THERM-A-REST, for both its insulative and sleep-inspiring qualities. Rest assured, snoozing outdoors has never been the same.
1973 Intrigued by the possibilities of Arizona motorcross enthusiast Clayton Jacobsen II’s droning one-man water machine, Kawasaki begins mass-marketing the JET SKI. The original annoyance is a stand-up model with a 400-cubic-centimeter engine and handlebar steering. Peace-loving water enthusiasts will forever rue its advent.
1973 Hollowform’s River Chaser kayak, known dialectically as the HOLLOW DOG, makes a splash among paddlers: Rather than fiberglass, it’s fashioned from roto-molded polyethylene plastic (same as Tupperware), strong enough to withstand knocks on boulders.
1973 GRAPHITE, which is lighter, snappier and stronger than fiberglass, makes its way into rods by the Fenwick Company–and virtually every stick that follows.
1975 The exact origin of this paddle-to-camp vehicle is a touchy subject, but Greenlanders and Aleutian hunters have us beat by hundreds of years. In recent history, SEA KAYAKS helped propel the sport into the mainstream, with the fiberglass Eddyline WT-500 credited by boating veterans as the craft that popularized big-water paddling.
1975 Helly Hansen bestows upon us POLYPROPYLENE, the first synthetic undergarment that draws sweat from the skin and sends it evaporatin’ away, known as wicking.
1975 Bell Biker: The first foam-on-the-inside, plastic-on-the-outside BIKE HELMET. A few of the relics still adorn the noggins of grizzled old men around Vermont in blue jeans.
1975 Subaru sees potential for a FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE PASSENGER VEHICLE that isn’t unruly and trucklike. Approximate sticker price on the adventure-hungry Loyale Passenger Wagon: $4000.
1976 Norman Maclean’s Montana-based fish-o-rama, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, is published.
1976 Yes, the BASS-O-MATIC, presented by outdoor culinarian Dan Aykroyd in a Saturday Night Live mockery of the decade’s spate of infomercials, is the magic gadget for pureeing largemouth bass. What’s green and red and spins? A bass in the blender, of course. Wow, that’s terrific bass!
Mid-1970s In the days when shaggy ‘dos, massive sideburns and prepare-for-takeoff collars are all the rage, so too is DOWN: down sleeping bags, parkas, shirts, etc. (Remember Mark’s dorky down vest?) Down has been in vogue in outdoor form and function ever since early editions, such as the boxy-looking Sierra 60/40 Parka (cotton/nylon filled with gown) and the Marmot down sweater Clint Eastwood wore in The Eiger Sanction. Let’s say today’s designs are much more streamlined.
1977 Improving on the Hollow Dog’s shortcomings –namely its habit of essentially melting in the hot sun –Perception introduces the POLYETHYLENE QUEST (a.k.a. plastic). “Hollowform paved the way for polyethylene boats,” says Perception founder Bill Masters, crediting his Quest’s ancestor. “But we weren’t willing to paddle in glorified trash cans.”
1977 Synthetic clothing is now produced Stateside, making it more accessible–and downright fashionable. But remember the way the carpetlike PATAGONIA PILE JACKET was worn? Fuzzy side in, burlap side out.
1978 The U.S. Department of Defense puts its first tracking satellite into space; the Global Positioning System, or GPS, is out there.
1978 PADDED RACE WEAR, like Spyder’s Slalom sweater, made us feel fast … while making us look rather silly.
Late 1970s Hardly a brilliant invention, but no one’s complaining when they slip on dry clothes after a splash-filled clay on the water. Waterproof DRY BAGS, like the early Standard Manufacturing brands, are a perennial favorite of all watergoers.
1972: Do we bless Ron Popeil for his POCKET FISHERMAN, he miniature “famous fishing pal that has thrilled generations”? Or do we blame him for helping spawn the age of infomercials? (He did, after all, bring us the Food Dehydrator and the Show Time Rotisserie and Barbecue.) Hokey indeed, with its hook, line, rod and sinker tightly bundled in a one-foot package. But you can still pick one up for under 40 bucks. We’ll let you decide.
1986: Because climbing shoes wear out under the big toe first, La Sportiva comes up with the MANOLO, a slipper that’s archless, hence “interchangeable” between left and right feet. In theory, climbers thrash the slipper-like footwear and then switch ’em up for a good-as-new grip. In practice? Well, if the shoe doesn’t fit …
1980 Twin-fin surfboards had come in and out of vogue through the ’70s, but it was the TRI-FIN THRUSTER, first shaped and surfed on by Simon Anderson, that really stuck: Enabling more powerful turns and greater maneuverability, virtually every shortboard now comes with a three-fin setup.
1981 Looks like a running shoe. Feels like a running shoe. But offers more support on rough-and-tumble terrain. It’s the NIKE LAVA DOME, and it brings the term “approach shoe” into the outdoor lexicon.
1981 Leki makes adjustable SKI/TREKKING POLES–an essential for all-terrain athletes.
1981 The PETZL ZOOM headlamp, introduced six earlier in Europe, frees up many an American hand.
1982 Nearly two feet shorter than the standard Olympic-size boats (11 feet 7 inches vs. 13 feet 2 inches), the PERCEPTION DANCER shows off its “park-and-play” proclivities in swirling eddies and hairy drops. Powered by performance, it becomes the best-selling whitewater boat of all time.
1982 Arguably the first mass-produced mountain bike: The SPECIALIZED STUMPJUMPER proves that marketing along with advertising can take an underground pastime into the mainstream.
1982 Refusing to leave Austria without a definitive “yes,” AVALANCHE SNOWBOARD founder Chris Sanders convinces stiff-lipped ski engineers to produce a metal-edged, laminated snowboard similar to their bendable planks. “Snowboarders came from the skiing world,” he says. “But it took a while to realize that we needed to borrow the technology.” The next year, Avalanche’s Flex 160 hits stores, though Sanders admits that by today’s standards “the board really wasn’t flexible at all.”
1983 The answer to tippy three-wheelers–Suzuki’s four-wheel LT125 kicks off the ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE craze.
1983 Eight years after a tool-less–if not epiphanic–trip through Europe, Tim Leatherman introduces the LEATHERMAN POCKET SURVIVAL TOOL (now called the PST). Among its eight implements, the $40 stainless steel arrangement includes a knife blade and needle-nose pliers for such disparate tasks as “slicing bread and jimmying the faucets at cheap Italian hostels.”
1984 Troubled by his paltry river-shoe options–cheap flip-flops or old sneakers –raft guide Mark Thatcher hooks heel-strap to rickety thong and calls it a “sports sandal,” thus inspiring his all-terrain TEVA brand. “It was hardly a new concept,” insists Thatcher, who’s toying with the idea of a sandal museum. “Romans were wearing sandals to play sports long before I came around.”
1984 K2 everywhere! Credit the visibility and ubiquity of the brand’s green logo-embossed slalom skis to late-’70s and mid-’80s brother act of Phil and Steve Mahre. Wearing the colorful, telegenic planks, the twins win 60 World Cup medals and finish first and second (Phil takes first) in the 1984 Olympic slalom.
1984 Black Diamond’s three-pin TELEMARK BINDING, the XCD, and the 411 cable binding reset the free-heel standard by using aircraft-strength aluminum and high-grade steel-essentially adding a dose of steroids to otherwise flimsy, easily broken cross-country setups.
1986 Protective? Absolutely. Fashionable? You be the judge. Garishness aside, OAKLEY BLADES are the catalyst for a movement in sports-shade design.
1986 Leave it to a guy named Igor to invent the Frankensteinian hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The GAMOW BAG, dubbed in honor of the creator’s surname, administers a hit of [O.sub.2] to woozy mountaineers.
1987 Chuck Barfoot’s TWIN-TIP SNOWBOARD debuts at a Banff contest, giving pause to those riding swallow- and flat-tail boards–and all-new notion of riding “fakie,” or bakcward.
1988 The Rossignol 4K adorns more garage sales than ski slopes, but its mark on skiing–newfound as it is–remains: The pale-green Kevlar plank (a.k.a. the GUMBY STICK) is still the best-selling slalom ski of all time.
1988 Tired of jostling for his water bottles, paramedic and avid cyclist Jeff Wemmer perfects a “hydration system” he’d created two years earlier, in which he slipped an I.V. bladder and tube into a sweat sock, and then sewed it to the back of his jersey. The CAMELBAK–not to mention countless imitators–is virtually as widespread as water bottles themselves.
1989 ROCKSHOX introduces the first shock-absorber for a bike’s front fork. Suffice it to say, the attributes of riding with the springy contraption –less fatigue, fewer flats, safer descents–are recognized immediately. “if you want to appreciate front suspension, go back to a bike with a rigid fork–it’s unpleasant,” says six-time national mountain bike champion Ned Overend, who races RockShox to victory the next year at the big event in Colorado. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a respectable steed without one.
1998: High-tech boat or hamster wheel? This $2500 craft, the HYDRO BRONC, is available to those daring enough to put in at their favorite rapids and run in place like a frenzied household rodent. Not only is it still around, a company spokesman assures us that “Hydro Bronc is where snowboarding was 20 years ago.” Mark his words.
1990 Countless one-offs surely saw terra firma throughout the ’80s, but the Prod-Flex Offroad was the first FULL SUSPENSION BIKE to hit pay dirt. By ’92, they were selling by the tens of thousands.
1991 Enhanced pedal strokes. Easier entry and release. That satisfying “click” at the beginning of a ride. It didn’t take much convincing to get the masses into Shimano 535 CLIPLESS PEDALS, or the scores of similar versions that followed.
1991 Engineers at Atomic momentarily ditch their skiers’ pride, bisecting (gulp!) a snowboard and mounting a pair of ski bindings to create the refreshingly buoyant Powder Plus, the model for today’s so-called FAT SKIS.
1991 The first HANDHELD GPS units appear. The industry is reportedly on its way to the $8 billion mark.
1993 Kneissl’s Ergo and Elan’s SCX allow skiers to link turns worthy of cheers from lift-riding spectators. The ensuing PARABOLIC SKI boom resuscitates a down-trodden business.
1994 Following some odd primatial instinct, La Sportiva introduces the crescent-shaped MARIACHER CLIMBING SHOE; its severe arch, imitating a cupped hand, enables sport climbers to perform the same grab-and-pull maneuvers as our nimble hairy relatives–albeit less gracefully. Sounds gimmicky, but you’ll find nary a competitor without some sort of comparable knockoff.
1994-95 Snowboarders weary of sitting on their rumps at the top of each slope rejoice at the advent of STEP-IN BINDINGS, like the K2 Clicker and the Switch Autolock. Hordes of skiers contemplating single plankdom decide to give snowboarding a try; step-ins now account for 30 percent of the market.
1999 Three amateur filmmakers in Burkittsville, Maryland, make for an essentially gore-free but exceedingly terrifying work of cinema verite, scaring a whole generation of would-be campers on the silver screen and via cyberspace (blairwitch.com). THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is Generation X’s Deliverance. Once again, you may think twice before heading into the wilds.
1999 Sure, the seven*ounce, seemingly Star Wars-inspired GIRO REVOLUTION 5 HELMET “provides absolutely no protection,” says a company spokesman. But the polycarbonate airfoil–purely for aerodynamics–looks pretty cool on a Tour de France-winning Lance Armstrong.
Jake Burton: The Snowboard King
Jake Burton, 45, the owner of Burton Snowboards, will be the first to tell you he didn’t invent the sport that made him famous. But two decades of hearsay–and perhaps the American Express commercial in which he appeared–have led people to believe otherwise. “Any ambition I had was to make snowboarding legitimate,” he reiterates from headquarters based in Burlington, Vermont, where he caters to a clientele of more than 4000 shops worldwide. “No one can take credit for inventing the snowboard, that’s pretty vague stuff.” What Burton did do, however, was bring snowboarding to the people in the embryonic days of the sport. (Winterstick had started the previous year, and skateboard-maker Tom Sims, who’d tinkered with snowboards since childhood, was in the midst of starting a company.) On a self-dare and a shoestring in 1977, the 22-year-old quit a slick Manhattan finance gig, moved to Vermont, and set about making his first snowboard, the Back Hill, essentially a hopped-up version of Sherman Poppen’s Snurfer (see time line entry, 1965). A few of the primitive models sold, complete With waterski bindings, fins (“the only way to keep it from sliding”) and a rope on the tip (“that’s how you steered through a turn”). He upgraded them. They kept selling. Moreover, despite countless detractors who called snowboarding a fad, Burton turned his living room enterprise into the sport’s leading corporation, worth a reported $150 million. “What set us apart wasn’t some great invention, but the potential for a young sport to grow and the fact that I stuck it out,” he says, in tones that say get over it. “All I ever did was make snowboards–not the cure for hair loss.”
Klaus the Clothier
“Eet was colder dan hell to be 15 minutes on da chairlift,” says Klaus Obermeyer, of his Aspen ski instructor days, circa 1947. “My students kept dropping out so I had to do somezing about eet.” To stave off the Colorado chill, the perennially cheerful German expat fashioned a ski parka out of his bed comforter, whose quilt squares kept the feathers within from shifting. “Den I’m on da chairlift and a stranger offered me $375 for eet–and I thought, man, you could buy a new Buick with dat.” Wisely, he duped the prototype and sold enough parkas to buy a lotful of Buicks. So it is, as the owner of the eponymous Aspen-based skiwear giant, he’s led the charmed life of a man who’s spent 50 of the last 80 years hitting the slopes. Obermeyer, though, is no one-product pony. Glimpse his other innovations: the 1955 “flow boot,” with its grease-filled interior pouches, to prevent heels from sliding; turtlenecks (in the mid-’50s) with then-unheard-of Lycra to keep the garment taut; bent-finger gloves in the early ’60s; and, lest your memory for fashion betray you, that psychedelic windshirt from your hotdogging days. “Those were hippie times,” jokes Obermeyer. “Vee thought da prints vould only sell to big women who made their own clothes, but dey sold like hotcakes to skiers.”
Yvon Chouinard: The Indomitable Snow (and Ice) Man
Few innovators of outdoor gear warrant a time line of their own, but the accomplishments of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Chouinard Equipment (now Black Diamond) and, later, Patagonia, could fill the heftiest outdoor tome, especially when it comes to climbing. From his Southern California workshop, his craftiness resulted in a laundry list of industry firsts. With big-wall heroes like Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, Chouinard tested and honed his creations, from Yosemite Valley to Chamonix, France. Ultimately, the fruits of his forge defined technical climbing as we know it. Below, a sampling of some gifts that Chouinard has bestowed upon geardom.
1957 > CHOUINARD CARABINER
What’s the big deal? Weight. Iron is lighter than the soft-steel European ‘biners available at the time.
1960 > THE RURP (REALIZED ULTIMATE ROCK PITON)
What’s the big deal? Soft steel pitons (a.k.a. rock pegs), until then the anchor of choice, buckled on the Yosemite granite favored by technical climbers; Chouinard’s hard pitons don’t, as is quickly proven on successful climbs up Half Dome and countless other big walls in the valley and abroad.
1968-69 > RIGID CRAMPON, PIOLET ICE AX
What’s the big deal? Stiff chrome moly crampons allow climbers to “front-point” into frozen ice, rather than rely on the old “step-chopping” method required of malleable steel ones. The curved ice ax hooks over bulges and creates otherwise impossible holds–suddenly, the Ice Man hangeth.
1971-72 > HEXCENTRICS, STOPPERS (KNOWN GENERICALLY AS CHOCKS)
What’s the big deal? Jam them in a crack, and who needs pitons? Essentially a nut (either flat or six-sided) tied to a rope, Chouinard’s are stronger than their makeshift predecessors, and the first to be available in a wide variety of uniform sizes. Plus, they spare rock faces from being marred by ugly metal spikes, introducing the environmentally friendly concept of “clean climbing.”
1977 > FEATHERWEIGHT ‘BINERS
What’s the big deal? Much less weight byway of tubed, rather than solid-core, aluminum means climbers can carry more ‘biners, scale bigger walls, and brag more on their merry way to see Jim Croce at Red Rocks.
Dick Kelty: Pack Pioneer
Next time you strap on a backpack or slide into a pair of jeans, think a warm, fuzzy thought about Dick Kelty. Clad in denim in 1940-something, Kelty and a camping pal were slogging the Sierra Nevadas under relentlessly heavy loads. Their backpacks–canvas Army surplus jobs with wooden “side members” for support–were bearing down hard when the realization hit. “My friend put the wood pieces into his back jeans pockets,” says Kelty, now 80. “The weight was properly distributed so it wasn’t all on the small of the back and the shoulders–we saw that our packs primarily needed hipbelts.” At home in the L.A. area, the former WWII Lockheed mechanic had another flash: Build lighter frames by using aircraft-grade aluminum, stockpiles of which were still lingering from the war. By 1951, Kelty was advertising his olive-green haulers in Sierra Club pamphlets, though at $24 each they merely supplemented his home-builder’s income. Five years later he went for broke, ditching carpentry for full-time entrepreneurship. Correctly, he asserts, “That’s when backpacking evolved from a rugged he-man thing into a real family affair.” Which can also be credited to the quality Kelty tents and sleeping bags that followed. Yet, having sold his company in 1972, Kelty declares some skepticism toward the arguably excessive gear craze: “One day we need to say `That’s enough!’ and go back to a simpler way. Look at the old VW,” he points out, drawing an analogy. “That was a tough little number to beat.”
Fisher or Breeze: Whodunit?
“Bicycles have been ridden off-road since their advent in the early 19th century,” says Joe Breeze, owner of Breezer Cycles and the man often credited–controversially, to say the least–with fathering the mountain bike. But, retorts bike manufacturer Gary Fisher (left), somewhat hungrier for recognition, “I’m the one who saw the need for the bikes that became popular, and mine are the most imitated setups to date.” Surely, the sandbox quarrel will continue, but Breeze and Fisher, former Marin County, California, road-riding pals, both deserve due credit: Breeze for putting knobbies on his one-speed clunker in 1973 and careening down Mount Tamalpais, Fisher for one-upping him in ’74 by slapping a derailleur and hand brakes on a likewise ancient Schwinn. “We used to have to walk our bikes to the top of each hill,” recalls Breeze. “Then one day Gary started riding past us on the way up.” Meanwhile, neighboring NoCal bike cults adopted the concept, riding piecemeal steeds in the unsanctioned, but now legendary, Marin Repack race (as in repack your hubs after each event). Then, the epiphany. Why not build brand-news bikes for the trail, instead of scrapping together old beaters? Hence the first batch of fully spec’d Breezers in 1977, and the 1979 birth of Mountain Bikes, cofounded by gary Fisher and a friend (the company eventually became the Gary Fisher Bicycle Corporation). Ultimately, the question of who’s the true patriach of the mountain bike should really be: Who cares?
Experts’ Fantasy Gear
Ever fantasize about a piece of outdoor equipment so honed, so convenient, so fantastically futuristic that it would quell all your gear-begot woes? Well, you’re not alone. We caught up with a handful of veterans, long-revered in their fields, and asked what they’d like to find–be it modest or implausible–in their 21st-century stockings.
GREG “H-BALL” HERBOLD
Retired downhill mountain biker, holder of eight NORBA national titles, master of the 55-mile-per-hour turn (yes, on a bike, on dirt), self-proclaimed “free-riding legend,” notorious joker: “What I look forward to, which isn’t that out of reach, is cockpit adjustability for suspension systems–you’d just hit an electronic button on your handlebars to suit the terrain you’re riding, like washboard or sharp rocks, climbing, downhilling or whatever. There could even be a button that turns your bike into a cool little low-rider for cruising.”
Four-time world champion snowboarder, professional rider for 19 years, co-owner of the powder-blessed backcountry haven Island Lake Lodge in British Columbia, Canada: “My biggest snowboard fantasy is a board boot and binding system that’s all one piece, so you feel as close to the board as possible, with no obstacles like shanks or bindings taking away from your connectedness to the board–basically, I want snowboarding to feel as natural as surfing. Another great thing would be a board that’s circular, with a tail and tip that connect; you could do somersaults all the way down a run. It’s kind of a gag idea, but if it makes one person laugh and have fun, it’d be worth it.”
Legendary whitewater kayaker, the first paddler to pull off a cartwheel in a kayak (one of the many “screw maneuvers” that he founded while pioneering the sport of “squirt-boating” in the early ’80s). “Boat technology is very progressive, but spray skirt technology is slow and lame. What I’d like to see is a spray skirt with a hood. That way you’re using all your body heat when you’re doing winter paddling or if the ocean’s getting really gnarly. That’s how the Eskimos used to stay warm–but then again, Eskimos didn’t wear helmets, so fit wasn’t really an issue.”
TED “THE NUGE” NUGENT
1970s rock `n’ roll guitar showman, famous for such “brain-removing” compositions as “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold”; bowhunter since 1953; author of Blood Trails: The Truth About Bowhunting; host of The Commando Radio Show and The Ted Nugent Morning Show on WWBR in Detroit, Michigan; member of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association: “[A fantasy piece of equipment?] You ever met my wife? Really, though, I’m a gearaholic; I’ve got seven of everything and I break ’em all. But I think [the gear of the future] is already made: It’s called a Glock Model 20–the 10 millimeter’s such a wonderful caliber, loaded with Cor-Bon [a brand name of ammo made in Sturgis, Idaho] ammo that Peter Pi makes specifically for me, called the Whackmaster load; it’s such a terminally ballistic piece of wonderment, from carjackers to pissed-off wild boars. It’s a genuine 100-yard deer cartridge (believe me, I have the back straps to prove it) and an extremely functional carry-gun in this modern world of paroled assholes. Just drop me naked in Brazil with my Glock and about 12 clips and I’d be king in about a week. I’d run the country, man! And I wouldn’t need nothing else–I’d make a house outta dead shit. Basically, butt naked, I’m already more prepared than your average white guy.”
Former U.S. Ski Team member, two-time winner of World Hot Dog Skiing Championships and poster-boy for extreme skiing: “It’s far-fetched, but I’m hoping for ski bases that need no tending to. Imagine that, self-healing bottoms! I do all my own waxing; I carry this big wax kit around when I travel and everyone’s like, `Plake, what are you doing with that?’ It’s a real hassle. But hey, there’s nothing worse than a bad wax job; it can make getting down the cat track seem like the hardest run of the day.”
Big-wall free-climber specializing in first ascents up the vertiginous likes of El Capitan’s Salathe Wall and the War and Poetry route on Greenland’s Ulamertorsuaq, the highest big-wall climb on record: “Uncuttable rope! That’s my fantasy. Nylon can wear through from abrasion and even melt when hit by a falling rock. If a rope breaks at a hanging camp at 3000 feet, someone’s gonna die. We should fix that.”