Plowshares into swords

While the outdoor equipment manufacturers have been busy wooing you with rugged, lightweight and expensive gear, their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the military.

The folks whose lives depend upon having the best gear covet the same gear that we do.

As the Outdoor Community (aka Outdoor Industry) goes from being run and staffed by furry hippies to being corporate owned and operated by impersonal, publicly traded companies, profits have become an issue.
In the old days, making a profit was secondary, bouldering and fly fishing came first.

What were once cool little companies are now owned by big players.

For example, Arc’teryx is owned by Adidas, The North Face is owned by VFC (the world’s largest apparel company, known primarily for massive layoffs and denim), Sierra Designs is owned by ARC, which is in turn owned by Kellwood, which mandates drug testing for it’s employees. (in the old days, drug testing was done by it’s employees)

The outdoor equipment manufacturers want to make a profit for their stockholders. The Armed Forces need quality gear for their employees. It’s a marriage made in hell.




This has been going on for years, albeit quietly. The Pakistani Army approached The North Face (TNF) many years ago, and inquired about sleeping bags. Could we (The North Face) make a –70 degree f. sleeping bag with a white shell? They needed quite a few of them. Anyone who watched the news knows what they needed that bag for. The TNF President at the time turned down that contract. Later, under the tutelage of big money, TNF bid on several military contracts and won a few, lost a few. We lost a good one to the folks at Johnson Outdoors, makers of Eureka! Tents, who knocked off our own design using our own contractor. Dang!

At the most recent Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, military contracts were all the rage.

Arc’teryx just won a contract to produce 200,000 battle-ready backpacks for the US Marines. The pack in question? The Bora, except it’s in camo.

And it goes on and on: The largest user of Goretex? The US Army.
The biggest customer of Camelback? The US Military.

There is a side benefit however, occasionally a new trick or design feature is learned while in partnership with the military. For example, tent webbing loops at the bottom of tents are now folded over before sewing, (that way they cannot lay flat) and that way they can be easily picked up by someone with gloves. Added cost? Zero. Who taught us that trick? The military.

The other side benefit is keeping my friends in the outdoor industry employed when sales are otherwise dismal. Sales are dismal because of the economy, the economy is in bad shape partly due to our military endeavors.

May peace prevail on earth so that we can all go back to fly fishing.