Outside Magazine, August 2015

The Encyclopedia of Gear



The coolest outdoor toys don't always cost a fortune

What do world-famous pilots like Jeb Corliss and Joby Ogwyn have in common? They all wear suits sewn by Tony Uragallo, a garden-loving designer who helps daring men zoom through the sky.

Gear companies know how to make packs lighter, jackets more waterproof, and skis burlier. The only problem: young people couldn’t care less.

Chamois: A diaper-like pad first used by cyclists around 1900 to prevent saddle sores and chafing on their nethers.

Chip timing: The practice of using a small wearable transmitter to track race participants’ times at regular checkpoints along a course.

Base-Camp Duffel: A large, 155-liter bag often seen loaded on yaks in Nepal’s Khumbu region for a few simple reasons: it can take a beating, it has straps that convert it into a backpack, and mountaineers know that it can carry all their gear.

Crowdfunding: A method of raising capital to launch commercial ventures in which small individual donations are made through an online platform.

Direct to Consumer: A business model in which a company sells its products via its own website, catalog, or store, reducing retail markup and passing the savings along to the consumer.

Dithering: The intentional degrading of a satellite’s signal to discourage unauthorized use, which deterred citizens from tapping into the Department of Defense’s Global Positioning System, or GPS, for ten years.

BMW GS: An iconic adventure motorcycle introduced in 1980 to compete in the Dakar Rally race, the famed long-distance off-road endurance event.

Dropper Post: A mountain-bike component that can be raised or lowered with a button mounted on the handlebars.

Lifa Shirt: The first commercially available base layer made from polypropylene, released in 1970 by Helly Hansen.

Bill Bowerman: A legendary Oregon track coach who cofounded the shoe company Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964; 14 years later, it became Nike.

Sports Bra: A groundbreaking invention that lets women participate comfortably in a range of vigorous athletic activities.

CamelBak: A hands-free hydration system that can be carried in a backpack.

Camouflage: A varying pattern of earth-colored prints designed to obscure the wearer from view, worn by hunters and members of the U.S. military

Canned Beer: A usually cheap, thirst-quenching alcoholic beverage in a durable package, now commonplace on rafting and camping trips.

Royal Robbins: Climber, businessman, and archetype for the modern clean-climbing ethic, which espouses the use of removable protection instead of pounding pitons into rock.

Rollerblade: A roller skate with soft, linearly arranged wheels offering fast, smooth glide.

Rubbermaid Bin: A polyethylene storage container commonly used for gear.

Carabiner: A gated aluminum fastener used with rope and other equipment to arrest rock climbers’ falls.

Snowboarding: A snowsports alternative to skiing.

Jacques Cousteau: A French explorer and arguably the most prolific marine scientist and ocean conservationist of the 20th century.

Spork: An eating utensil that adds fork tines to a spoon and never fails to amuse its users.

Denali Jacket: A popular performance fleece garment made by the North Face and commonly seen on mountaineers and college students.

SUP: Short for stand-up paddle-board, a stable floating platform that combines the cool of surfing with the practicality of a spin workout.

Double Plastic Mountaineering Boot: A highly reliable style of footwear that prevents frostbite in alpine environments.

Duct tape: A cloth-backed metallic gray adhesive that fixes anything worth saving.

Tech binding: A lightweight binding system that transformed backcountry skiing and put telemarking on the path to obsolescence.

Teva sandal: A water shoe that came to define a generation of river athletes.

Tough-ass pants: A term for rugged work trousers that are particularly good at handling abuse.

Utility bike: A bicycle built for hauling children, gear, or grocery bags full of organic quinoa and local honey.

The raw materials that make up the tools for hiking, running, paddling, skiing, and cycling. These 36 building blocks are indispensable to the design and function of gear, from mankind’s first wool layer to the latest lab-born membranes. (Some things just look better in print. To see this in all…

An incomprehensive history.

Washing a single polyester jacket can send 1,900 tiny synthetic micro-fibers into waterways, where they can soak up toxins and get eaten by fish. So what is the outdoor industry doing about it?

Duluth pack: A heavy canvas rucksack, patented in 1882 by French Canadian Camille Poirier in Duluth, Minnesota, along the shores of Lake Superior.

And how it's going to change the way you see all of your stuff

Blake Mycoskie: A 38-year-old philanthropist and entrepreneur who founded Toms Shoes (originally Shoes for a Better Tomorrow) in 2006.

A rapid sequence of radical innovations, such as appeared in cycling between 1984 and 1987, the sport’s Age of Enlightenment.

Nalgene bottle: A durable, wide-mouthed vessel originally designed to hold chemicals.

Double Vacuum: A technology dating back to 1892 that suspends one container inside another, leaving a small amount of air between the two to insulate the inner contents from external temperature changes.

Nike+: The original wearable technology for athletes.

Vasque Sundowner: A svelte hiking boot that serves as a testament to how well-made products can endure despite evolving design trends.

Gatorade: A sports drink formulated in 1965 for the University of Florida Gators football team and currently produced by PepsiCo.

Velcro: A two-piece fastening material that features hooks on one side and a swath of loops on the other.

Jack O’Neill: A former commercial fisherman widely credited with inventing the neoprene wetsuit.

Garmin Forerunner 201: The world’s first all-in-one GPS-enabled running watch, released in 2003 by Kansas navigation company Garmin.

Vibram: A vulcanized-rubber sole that revolutionized footwear.

Gel: A sugary fuel used during races and serious training, typically packed into sealed foil pouches.

Pack Raft: A small inflatable raft that can be rolled up to fit in a backpack.

Waffle: A repeating inverted cube shape adopted by sporting-goods manufacturers, beginning with Nike, which used the pattern on the sole of its iconic waffle trainer.

Fat shoes: Shoes with roughly 20 millimeters of foam underfoot

Elk Skin Gloves: Hand protection made from the skin of the great wapiti.

P-cord: Parachute cord, also known as paracord, the world’s most versatile survival tool.

Filson, a Seattle-based maker of high-quality leather goods.

Westfalia: A breed of Volkswagen camper van prone to expensive repairs, yet beloved by those who own them and coveted by road-trip dreamers everywhere.

Howard Head: The founder of ski brand Head.

Portaledge: A collapsible sleeping platform for climbers.

Dutch Oven: A large cast-iron pot and the campfire cooking vessel of choice for pioneers, cowboys, and river guides.

Pour-Over Coffee: A method of brewing coffee by passing near boiling water through grounds held in a paper filter.

Surfboard Fin: A structural element, usually made of wood or fiberglass, attached to the bottom of a surfboard to aid maneuverability.

Leatherman: A multitool invented by Tim Leatherman after wishing he had a pair of pliers while working on a rust-bucket Fiat with a pocket knife during a 1975 European road trip.

Hummer: The civilian version of the military’s Humvee off-road vehicle, which was produced by AM General from 1992 to 2006.

Gary Fisher: A major figure in the development of mountain bikes.

Jeep: A four-wheel-drive vehicle first produced for the U.S. Army during World War II.

Puffy: A lightweight jacket insulated with duck or goose down or synthetic fill.

Little Things: Those items that mark the difference between a miserable experience and a joyous one—pit zips on jackets being a prime example.

Fly rod: A skinny stick, usually 6 to 13 feet long, used in conjunction with a reel, a line, and hand-tied simulations of in-sects to catch fish.

Pulaski: A wildland-firefighting tool that combines an ax and an adze and is used to clear brush and small trees.

Greg Lowe: Inventor of the internal-frame backpack.

Jogging Stroller: A stroller that allows parents to run and, theoretically, get their toddlers to nap.

Sick Footie: A visual recording worth replaying for others.

Lumbersexual: A fashion-conscious male urbanite whose clothing and accessories project an aura of rugged manliness.

Lululemon: A yoga-apparel brand founded by Canadian entrepreneur Chip Wilson in 1998.

Doug Tompkins: Businessman and crusading conservationist who cofounded the North Face and Esprit.

Jeremy Jones: A pioneering big-mountain snowboarder and snowboard designer.

Lifetime Warranty: A company’s promise to repair or replace an item that breaks.

Wetsuit: An insulating garment that allows individuals to spend more time in cold water.

Backcountry.com: Online retailer of a wide range of outdoor gear.

Suunto Vector: The original smartwatch.

The original American road-trip trailer, designed in 1931 by Wally Byam, was inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Founders of the Recreational Equipment Co-op (REI), which the couple started in their West Seattle home in 1938 as a way to help climber friends gain access to cheaper ice axes and harnesses by ordering bulk gear from Europe.

Phil Knight: Cofounder of athletic-shoe company Nike.

Recall: A request by a manufacturer, and usually the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to return a product after the discovery of safety issues.

Sunglasses designed to protect a pilot’s eyes against high-altitude sun.

A category of gear that came into being in the late 1960s as more and more skiers ventured beyond resort boundaries.

The surprising tendency for technical products and trends from the outdoor world to find their way into mass culture.

An instrument of mass exhibitionism.

A bindingless monoski invented in 1965.

Repurposing: Taking a product and adapting it for a different use.

A packable device producing fire for camp cooking.

Fat Skis: Skis that are at least 115 millimeters underfoot.

A pioneering social-fitness app released in 2009.

PowerBar: The first portable energy bar.

Catalog: A magazine-like print presentation of a company’s or retailer’s products.

Polarization: A lens technology that cuts glare created when light reflects off materials like plastic and glass.

Odor Control: The relentless attempt by apparel makers to tame human stink.

Mountain House: Maker of 33 varieties of tasty freeze-dried meals packaged in polyester, aluminum, and nylon pouches.

Kite: A lightweight aircraft—often erroneously considered a toy—propelled by the wind and controlled by a user on the ground via a line or set of lines.

Swiss Army Knife: The world’s first consumer multitool, designed by cutler Karl Elsener with two blades, a screwdriver, and a can opener.

Therm-a-Rest: The first mass-market inflatable sleeping pad.

Headphones: Any device used for playing music close to or within a wearer’s ears.

Thule: A company founded by Swedish outdoorsman Erik Thulin, originally to make fishing gear.

Blimp-tired bicycles were developed for one of the most grueling endurance races in the world. But then everyone else realized how much fun they were.

Heart-Rate Monitor: A device that measures a wearer’s heart rate; particularly useful for monitoring exertion in athletes.

USGS Topographical Map: A detailed representation of a landscape, created by the United States Geological Survey, and a rare example of something every bit as beautiful as it is useful.

The Perfect Size Wheel: An elusive and controversial hoop that allows mountain bikers the ability to optimize progress over rocky terrain.

Helmet: An apparatus designed to protect the wearer against head injuries.

These innovators-in-chief changed the way we play

The most valuable currency in gear marketing of the past 40 years.

The world's leading design center for outdoor footwear—everything from featherweight climbing shoes to hard-shelled mountaineering stompers—is a small city in northern Italy where craftsmanship reigns.

Caves, tepees, wall tents, those green canvas triangles that caused hypothermia in so many Boy Scouts—in one form or another, ideas borrowed from these flawed shelters appear in their modern descendents.

Telescoping front forks and articulating rear frame triangles that absorb bumps and shocks.

A sturdy, purpose-made fishing boot that has become the gold standard of footwear in the 49th state.

A cooler company whose two-inch-thick, double-walled products are so effective that its creation, in 2006, began a new era in rafting.

The brand of zipper that is likely keeping your britches up at this very moment. Headquartered in Tokyo, 81-year-old YKK (short for Yoshida Kogyo Kabu­shikikaisha, which translates as ­Yoshida Company Limited) was founded by Tadao ­Yoshida, who started making cus­tom zippers to take advantage of breaks and…

Tenth Mountain Division: An Army outfit specializing in mountain warfare, devised during World War II around the idea that it was easier to make troops out of skiers than skiers out of troops.

The Encyclopedia of Gear
187 amazing stories about everything we use.

The Best Little Boat in the West
How a humble wooden fishing craft became the quintessential Grand Canyon ride. By Kevin Fedarko

Runaway Inflation
Blimp-tired bicycles were developed for one of the most grueling endurance races in the world. But this is the story of how they became the hottest trend in cycling. By Nick Heil

The Founding Fathers of Fun
These innovators-in-chief changed the way we play. By Abe Streep

Birth of the Boots
The world's leading design center for outdoor footwear—everything from featherweight climbing shoes to hard-shelled mountaineering stompers—is a small city in northern Italy where craftsmanship reigns. Christopher Solomon went there to see how it's done.

Washing a single polyester jacket can send 1,900 tiny synthetic microfibers into waterways, where they can soak up toxins and get eaten by fish. So what is the outdoor industry doing about it? By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Fly Guy
What do world-famous pilots like Jeb Corliss and Joby Ogwyn have in common? They all wear suits sewn by Tony Uragallo, a garden-loving grandfather who helps daring men zoom through the sky. By Matt Higgins

The Young and the Tentless
The outdoor industry knows how to make packs lighter, jackets more waterproof, and skis burlier. The only problem: millenials couldn't care less. By Michael Roberts