An Ode to Vintage Gear

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I've got a confession to make. During my lifetime, I've purchased a fair amount of crappy gear that I found, for one reason or another, appealing. And because it was cheap. These days, I've got less stuff and I'm more selective about what I buy. I try to only spend my good money on gear that's well-made—U.S.-made is a plus—by transparent, sustainable companies.  

I also try to consume less, in general, which is made easier by these three stellar items that you'd have to pull from my cold dead hands.

1: Centurion Dave Scott Ironman road bike, circa 1986. I bought this steel steed, with its bitchin' Miami Vice facade, a few years ago from a sweet woman (who hadn't used it much since her long-past triathlon days) in Hercules, California, via Craigslist. It was possibly the best $100 I've ever spent. I'm not planning on entering an Ironman with this bike (I'm not planning on entering an Ironman, period) but it's the most comfortable frame I've ever ridden and is such a trusty vehicle. It's my main around-town ride.

2: Duluth Pack Double Shell Bag, circa 1995. I bought this bag while attending Northland College, not far from Duluth, and in a region where this brand, especially its portage bags, is popular. I've rotated my bag in and out of heavy use, based on my job and commuting requirements, over the years. I work at home these days so don't need to carry much with me when I leave the house. This bag carries my U-lock, wallet, phone, and other sundries with room to spare, and it has withstood heavy use. Aside from a chew-hole in one inner pocket, courtesy of my treat-hunting dog, it's good as new. Duluth Pack still sells the bag, which costs $75. I can't recall how much mine cost, but given that I was broke it couldn't have been more than $30, or so.

3: Patagonia Capilene mid-weight zip-neck shirt, circa mid-90s. I honestly have no recollection of when or where I bought this. Maybe it was a gift. I feel like I've always had it, but it must have come into my possession during college, or soon thereafter. I do know that it has withstood many hundreds of multi-day, sweaty trips and just as many spins through the wash. The right cuff is starting to fray. Otherwise, it's like new-ish. Even better, it has developed a soft, subtle hand over the years. Who knew polyester could be so appealing? Capilene is still a staple of the Patagonia lineup, but Patagonia would just as soon you not buy one if you don't need one. And if you're looking for that time-tested look and feel, you'll find some vintage Pata-Gucci on EBay.

These three items weren't made to look old, like many of today's offerings. They just are old. I don't mean to pooh-pooh the trend in “heritage apparel,” which Jeff Thorpe (who I should note also blogs for Outside, via From the Lean-To) has seemingly single-handedly brought into vogue, through his always compelling website Cold Splinters. The site is an homage to the heyday of external frame packs and the origins of the modern-day gearhead. And Thorpe likes to memorialize bygone brands that have developed a niche following, both for their long-lasting quality and their current appeal to today's heritage gear fanatics. Wilderness Experience is a perfect example.

The trend in heritage gear has cast a new spotlight on old brands, such as Filson and Pendleton—brands that you are now as likely to see worn by Manhattan fashionistas as by backwoods survivalists in Utah. Even my beloved Duluth Pack is seeing a renaissance. And I just noticed that Thorpe is now advertising his consulting service on the site: “Cold Splinters is a full-service creative consulting company specializing in outdoor + lifestyle marketing, design, public relations and brand development.”

This is very telling. It shows the direction that old school and up-and-coming brands (Thorpe lists Danner and Fjallraven as clients) are taking in their marketing efforts. 

Let's just hope that their heritage offerings live up to that moniker. They'll need to log a lot of miles, storms, spills, smells, grime and changing tastes before they earn it.  

–Mary Catherine O'Connor

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