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.
Bluewater Ropes 9.3MM Dynamic Wave Rope
Thin climbing ropes are generally lighter to carry but trade on durability. Carrollton, Georgia manufacturer Bluewater – which makes all of their product in-house – has tweaked their construction methods to build a more robust sheath on the skinny 9.3MM Dynamic Wave rope, allowing it a longer life. "Its smaller and lighter, like a skinny racing tire," says Bluewater president Scott Newell. Believe it or not, some of the most technical climbing rope in the world – the stuff used by Alex Honnold, Conrad Anker, and Tommy Caldwell – comes from a small family-owned plant in Western Georgia. [$183; bluewaterropes.com]