If you're going outdoors, you might as well go local. Some of the most trusted, innovative, and iconic outdoors products were born and bred in>"/>
If you're going outdoors, you might as well go local. Some of the most trusted, innovative, and iconic outdoors products were born and bred in the Northwest, the country's outdoor capital. A few of them have gone soft, of course. Founded here in 1920, Eddie Bauer made and marketed the first down parka in the U.S., but that company, now owned by Chicago-based Spiegel, is mostly a casual clothing brand for urbanites. So what local gift for your favorite mountain man or mountain woman still has street cred where there are no streets? Fortunately, there are still some homegrown favorites (even if they're now mainly manufactured overseas). Our recommendations:
THE KAVU STRAPCAP
Barry Barr's "eureka!" moment wasn't spawned by an item falling on his head, but rather by an item's insistence on falling off. The young commercial fisherman kept losing his hats to the Bering Sea winds. Fed up, he found some old canvas, nylon webbing, and a stapler, then fashioned the prototype cap that would inspire KAVU, Barr's Ballard-based rugged clothier.
At season's end in 1991, Barr took his prototype home and experimented. He developed the Strapcap. Lined with nylon webbing and secured by a gliding clasp, it was designed to stay put. And it did—even as its wearer hung out the window of a fast-moving car. He sold Strapcaps from home and car until their popularity dictated a larger operation.
In 1993, a 22-year-old Barr founded KAVU with his personal savings. Nearly 10 years later, the outdoor-clothing company is a local fixture with international distribution, and the Strapcap ($18.50) is sold by the thousands—12,000 a month, to be exact.
KAVU—which stands for "klear above, visibility unlimited"—has since expanded into sunglasses, hardy T-shirts, and jackets. Barr's philosophy is the same as it was in the beginning: to outfit people for the idyllic Northwest-ish day, when crunchy types want to get out and play.
"It's about taking advantage of each moment and enjoying nature," he says. "Don't get complacent and take it for granted." Then, in a moment of morbid truth reflecting his dangerous old occupation, he adds, "You never know when your plug's gonna get pulled."
KAVU Retail Store
5423 Ballard Ave. N.W. 206-783-0060, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; noon-5 p.m. Sun., www.kavu.com
THE FILSON MACKINAW CRUISER
When my grandfather passed through Seattle on the way to the Klondike, he outfitted for hard work hauling freight in sub-40-degree temps.
He wrote, "We wore heavy woolen underwear . . . from ankle to wrist, a heavy flannel shirt and over this . . . a canvas or drill shirt. Then came a blanket-lined canvas coat . . . blanket-lined canvas trousers, and three or four pair of the heaviest wool socks. . . . " Sounds like Grandpa could have shopped at C.C. Filson then or now. Filson is the last frontier for rugged outdoor gear made from fine natural fibers (wools and cottons) that hearken back to a Northwest style that existed between Lewis & Clark and Gore & Tex. Founded in 1897 to cater to gold rushers, Filson specializes in stuff like mackinaws, packer coats, and surveyor's vests made from hardy tin cloths, oil cloths, moleskins, dense wools, and rugged canvases.
The archetypal Filson garment: the Mackinaw Cruiser ($236 and up), a wool jacket patented in 1914 and one-time standard issue for the U.S. Forest Service. It was designed for surveyors and scouts—the timber cruisers—who blazed trails through the old growth ahead of the whipsaws and whistlepunks. It has a slot pocket for writing instruments and a wide map pocket in back for your notebooks. It comes in either a single, 26 oz. 100-percent virgin wool or, if you lack all body fat, two 24 oz. layers. It's the closest thing to armor a sheep can produce. The Cruiser will fend off the dense mists of the Hoh or keep you snug facing the Arctic Express. And like all Filson goods, it's guaranteed for the life of the garment—which likely will exceed your own.
C.C. Filson Store
1555 Fourth Ave. S., 206-622-3147, 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., www.filson.com
THE CASCADE DESIGNS THERM-A-REST MATTRESS
Some campers may dimly recall an era when a comfy sleeping pad for your tent meant one of those huge, bulky inflatable models better suited to the pool than the mountains. The alternative, those skinny blue Ensolite foam mats, barely cushion you from the rocks, roots, and pine cones; sleeping on them in the snow means a night of constant shivering. Enter Boeing engineer Jim Lea, who led the construction of the first Therm-a-Rest design with the aid of a sandwich press (!) in 1971; local manufacturing and sales began two years later, while today there are 12 models in the line—fat, skinny, short, long, you name it.
As anyone who's watched as a Therm-a-Rest gratifyingly unrolls and self-inflates—thanks to its neat little valve—can tell you, roughing it is no longer quite so rough with one of these babies. Best of all, unlike the old puncture-prone pool-sized models, Therm-a-Rests ($35 and up) are entirely reparable, either at Cascade Design's friendly repair shop or via your own valve replacement and patch kits (it's not a bad idea to have the latter in your pack for a longer trip, just in case). Although, as one frustrated customer discovered, stabbing your Therm-a-Rest with a knife to deflate it—use the valve, moron!--is not covered by warranty.
Fine, but can they be used to float in a pristine alpine lake? Individually, no, but nothing's stopping you from buying a few dozen, lashing them together, then napping in the middle of the gentle waves. But please—no white-water rafting.
4000 First Ave. S., 800-531-9531, www.cascadedesigns.com
THE MSR WHISPERLITE STOVE
It looks like part of the Apollo moon lander, the ugly part that got left behind while the other, more glamorous module enjoyed the televised splashdown and ticker-tape parade. Don't let appearances deceive you. The basic WhisperLite Shaker Jet model ($59.95) is a rugged, reliable blowtorch based on the innovative original 1984 design, which has since become the oft- imitated standard for easily portable stoves. And, per the name, it's L-I-T-E (under a pound, sans fuel), which is the stove's real genius. By separating the fuel bottle from the spider-legged burning unit, the WhisperLite also packs up in a modular fashion—instead of one big heavy brick that always pokes through your pack and into your spine.
Another advantage—the thing disassembles easily in case of in-the-field malfunction. Extra parts are cheap and light enough to pack some extra ring seals—or even an entire pump—if you're planning a long trip on snow. And "shaker" refers to the method of cleaning, not a minimalist design school— although the stove has that aspect, too. This is the entry-level white-gas model (the most common stove fuel in the U.S.). Special tip: Wrap the aluminum wind screen around the fuel bottle, then secure with rubber bands.
Originally founded here in 1969 by maverick inventor Larry Penberthy (1916-2001) to test and manufacture safer climbing gear, Mountain Safety Research has since diversified and changed hands a few times, most recently passing from R.E.I. to Cascade Designs last year. The new ownership is a good fit, and the WhisperLite remains a good deal for any hungry outdoorsperson who wants to boil some water and eat in a hurry.
THE REI HALF DOME PLUS 2
If R.E.I. has become synonymous with "outdoors gear," it's for good reason. Founded in 1938 by two dozen local climbers (full disclosure: My grandfather was number 22), the co-op has come a long way from its original function to import pitons, ice axes, and crampons from Europe. Granted, most of today's 2 million-plus members are more interested in fleece sweaters and quick-dry T-shirts than technical climbing hardware, but the company's heritage is still reflected in this humble, entry-level dome tent.
What's so "plus" about it? It's a little bigger, boasts Featherlite aluminum poles and attic (for drying socks and storing gear), plus factory-sealed seams, but the tent's real merit lies in its simple two-pole setup. The Half Dome is a no-brainer, like Camping for Dummies (which most of us are, at one time or another, whether pitching despite howling rain, total darkness, or frozen-cold fingers).
And the real plus? In an age when extra-fancy, extra-expensive outdoor gear can make a weekend outing seem more like a trip to the spa (when it shows up on your credit-card statement), the Half Dome is both modest and affordable ($149). Weighing in at under 6 pounds, it's fine for extended backpacking or out-of-the-trunk car camping, and it's not made of some precious space-age wonder fabric that's too pricey to allow your dog to sleep inside when it's raining really, really hard.
(A related footnote: Founded in Seattle in 1967, JanSport claims to have originated the dome tent in '71, but the company was bought and moved to Wisconsin in '93, where it now only makes packs, not tents.)
222 Yale Ave. N., 206-223-1944, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun., www.rei.com
THE RODRIGUEZ WOMEN'S STELLAR SPORT BIKE
Founded in 1973 by Glenn Erickson and Angel Rodriguez and in its same U District location for almost as long, R+E Cycles established its reputation with Rodriguez's beautiful and highly coveted hand-built frames. Those two men left the shop by '79, but R+E has continued its frame building tradition with signature tandem and women's-only models (where most of the company's growth has come in the last half-dozen years). All bikes are built right there on-site, a rarity in the sporting-goods business, where most things are made overseas.
R+E's best-selling Stellar Sport is hand-made (as opposed to a more expensive "custom" job measured like a suit to fit your body). Prices start at $1,250, rising upward with different component groups. Frames come in a full variety of sizes, and you don't have to wait eight weeks as for a custom model. Visit the shop, listen to the expert salespeople prattle on about the "true temper double-butted Cro-moly" frame construction, take a test ride—and you're ready to roll!
Slap on some fenders and you've got a commuter; take 'em off and you're set for a triathlon or the STP. It's not a super lightweight racing frame (hence "sport") but one suited to all-around riding. How much does the whole thing weigh? Less than a big bag of groceries—which you can also carry, with panniers, if you're one of those "my other car is a bicycle" types.
5627 University Way N.E., 206-527-4822, noon-7 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., www.rodcycle.com
THE SEATTLE SOMBRERO
Here's the dumb thing about a baseball cap—climbing up high on a glacier, it leaves your ears and neck scorched by the sun. Hiking down low in the river bottom, the rain pours into the back of your jacket, obviating its supposedly waterproof properties. (Sure, you can use your jacket's hood, but then your peripheral vision is too limited to see that BRANCH! of devil's club that's about to hit you in the face.) Enter Outdoor Research, already famed for keeping your feet dry with gaiters and hands warm with gloves and mittens. Ron Gregg, who founded the company in '81, schemed up the brimmed, crushable Gore-Tex hat five years later. Today, some 25,000 are sold per year.
Priced at $50 in five different color schemes, the sombrero's brim can be flipped up with neat little Velcro tabs when you don't need the protection. A toggle on the chin strap keeps the thing secured when the wind starts gusting—or for the self-generated breeze of skiers or sailors who brave our wet Northwest winters.
Some may say the sombrero wins no points for style. I say, gentle reader, if you can't appreciate how fashion-forward it is to wear your quick-dry shorts over your long johns, with knee-high gaiters providing even more couture contrast, then top off the whole ensemble with a mismatched polypro shirt, then the Seattle Sombrero isn't for you. But if you're more apt to be seen on Sahale than in SoHo, this hat's for you.
2203 First Ave. S., 206-971-1496, 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., www.orgear.com
THE K2 SETH
Vashon Island's own Bill Kirschner made the world's first viable fiberglass-wrapped, spruce-core ski back in 1961, launching a company that's since produced millions of the things—plus a fair number of snowboards since '88. Kirschner sold the company in '69, which has changed hands several times since, but its core management and R&D team has remained on V.I. (The bulk of its manufacturing moved offshore last year, although prototypes and racing boards are still made in-house.) To anyone brought up on the Cascade crud that covers our mountains, K2 is still synonymous with skiing.
The signature model of extreme free rider Seth Morrison, the Seth Pistol is constructed more or less in line with the Kirschner legacy: triaxial-braided glass wrapped around wood. However, Kirschner might not recognize the fat width, big sidecut, short length (189 cm max), and twin tips—for launching backward, dude! Forget the old knees-together, upright-stance style suited to 210 cm long boards; the Pistol's designed for cruising, pow, terrain parks, half-pipes, and even grinding on handrails (although you might not want to waste your bases thusly when they cost $750 a pair.)
OK, you can also go with cheaper K2 models featuring more sedate graphics if you're feeling past your punk-rock days. And if you need to catch your breath at Crystal this winter, don't stop in the landing area beneath any big cliffs—or you might find a pair of Seths bearing down upon you. (Good thing K2 also makes helmets.)
www.k2skis.com, sold through R.E.I. and other retailers
THE MONTRAIL VITESSE
Remember One Sport? Revived here by CEO Menno van Wyk in '93, the outdoor footwear company had to change its moniker in '97 because some damn French company had already claimed the name. (First we save their whimpering Gallic asses in WWII, and this is how they pay us back?) Originally, the beefy all-leather Moraine alpine boot built the brand; since '97, it's been the lightweight Vitesse trail runner ($80) that carries the flag. What's trail running? Think of it as a romp around Green Lake, only uphill, at high altitude, and on a surface of roots, rocks, and slippery logs. (Oh, and it's probably also snowing.) It's popular with those who find ordinary marathons, you know, just too wimpy. These ultramasochists who run ultramarathons appreciate the Vitesse's light weight and sturdy construction.
Here's a dirty little secret: Nothing's stopping you from buying a pair of the shoes, wearing them on your ordinary training runs around Green Lake, then basking in the admiration of mere urban joggers. ("Out of the way! Out of the way! Mr. Vitesse is coming through!") You can even pretend you just logged 100 clicks and order whole milk with your latte—you deserve those extra calories! The barista need never know the truth.
Best of all, the Vitesse has all kinds of technical features like TerraFlex, lateral outrigger, and "elastic bootie style collar." We have no idea what they mean, but such intimidating terminology is sure to keep you safe from attacking mountain lions and wolverines on your next trail running excursion (although the company offers no such guarantee). Particularly if you stick close to Green Lake.
www.montrail.com, sold through R.E.I. and other retailers
THE EX OFFICIO BAJA LITE SHIRT AND AMPHI CONVERTIBLE PANT
How many technical specs can there be on a shirt? Plenty if it's the classic Baja Lite, introduced in '87 and, with a few design tweaks and fabric improvements, still flying off the rack in its original form. The Baja Lite ($79) offers security zip pockets in the sleeves for keys, passports, and army knives; closable mesh ventilation panels in the torso; plus the faintly salacious "Action Back," an elastic expander that provides enough give for long strides. All of which is supposed to be, more or less, invisible. Founded in '86, the Ex Officio idea was to create clothing that's outdoorsy but doesn't make you seem like a jodhpur-clad lad on safari. In the Northwest, where everyone's trying to look like they might have just descended off a glacier (but, you know, it's no big deal), the look has been a hit.
While the Amphi Convertible Pant ($66) couldn't quite pass at Canlis, it also has a casual utility suited to street or stream. Originally intended for fishermen and others who have to wade in the water, the pants with zip-off legs have become much-imitated warm-weather hiking essentials. (Ex Officio was the first company to make convertible pants from synthetic fiber—previously they were all-cotton.)
Without any consumer advertising, Ex Officio is relatively low-profile, but the company caught the attention of Orvis, the giant outdoor gear maker, two years ago, and got snapped up. Founding president Rick Hemmerling is still on board, though, and the company sees a large percentage of its merchandise move at early partner R.E.I.
Mark D. Fefer
1425 Elliott Ave. W., 206-283-4746, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sat.; closed Sun., www.exofficio.com