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.
Peter Limmer & Sons Custom Boot
The Limmer boot is made from a one-piece leather upper crafted to fit your foot perfectly. What that perfect fit requires is first a tracing and five measurements of your foot, then, ideally, an in-person fitting and final tracing at Limmer's New Hampshire shop. Limmer makes a foot model from rock maple, exact to two millimeters, which he uses to create your custom boot. With care, they'll last ages. "It's not uncommon for our repair department to get a pair of boots that are 25 or 35 years old. Two years ago we got a pair that were between 60 and 70 years old," says Limmer. [$650; limmercustomboot.com]