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.
Buck Knives 110 Folding Hunter - 50th Anniversary Edition
This year marks a half century for the Buck Knives' best selling model, the locked-blade 110 Folding Hunter. "We make 7,000 to 8,000 of them a day, here in the USA," says Chuck Buck. Its signature look – hardwood handle capped by brass bolsters, with a 3 ¾" blade – is almost identical to the one you might have seen your father hold, minus the anniversary badging. It's heavy (7.2 oz.), but ultra-sturdy; buy one to hand down, or just to hold onto until the 100th anniversary model arrives in another 50 years. [$73; buckknives.com]