A familiar theme emerged when we talked to eight of the people at the reins of the premier family-owned-and-run outdoor gear companies in America. "It all began as a hobby," says Hal Stephens, speaking of his father’s interest in scuba diving, the ignition for a business that early on sold a single diving flashlight – and over 35 years became now a multi-million dollar tactical lighting company the younger Stephens now runs. "It wasn't overnight, of course. there were quite a few hard knocks on the way."
In fact, each of these companies, from a bootmaker whose wares last for decades, to a paddle-crafter working in high-tech carbon fiber, in some part spun out of a free-time pursuit. These families aren’t making widgets to fill some blank space in the product universe; they’re making the gear they’d want to use go to out and explore the world in the open air on Saturday and Sunday. We talked to each of these leaders about their company’s heritage, and one product which evinces it best.
Beckel Canvas War Bag
This small Portland manufacturer has become known for its luxurious canvas tents, built to stand out in the elements for seasons at a time – but that doesn't mean you should disregard its line of canvas luggage, which exudes the same classic look and durability. We're fans of the War Bag, a maximum carry-on sized weekender with fat, leather-trimmed cotton straps. Like the tents, this is a back-to-basics product: don't expect a hidden pocket for your iPad mini (or any pockets whatsoever). But if you're on a budget but looking for American-made gear, Beckel's bags are a steal.
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco