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Titanium-Infused Garments, Retro Rain Gear, LED Tents

On the third day of Outdoor Retailer, Sierra Designs introduced its Elite Cagoule and Rain Chaps, reinvigorating two decidedly retro styles of rain gear for its 50th anniversary collection; Big Agnes showed a new series of mtnGLO tents with glittering integrated-LED technology; and Vargo Outdoors confirmed its mastery of all things titanium by introducing a line of titanium-infused performance apparel.


Sierra Designs Elite
Cagoule and Rain Chaps 

Sierra Designs Elite Rain Cagoule and Chaps
Sierra Designs Elite Cagoule with vent flap and Rain Chaps

Sierra Designs is challenging convention by reintroducing two older styles of rainwear that rely on "mechanical ventilation" to keep backpackers cool and dry (rather than waterproof/breathable fabrics) even on "steamy 70 degree days in pouring rain."

Both the Elite Cagoule and Elite Rain Chaps are made from light, polyurethane-coated fabric. Together they weigh about 10 ounces.

Made of two separate pieces, one per leg, the chaps can be hooked to your pockets or belt loops to keep your lap and seat uncovered for maximum ventilation.

The thigh-length Cagoule's front hip belt vent and side vents combine with the low-riding chaps to expose your center of mass to the largest volume of air possible.

Both pieces come from Sierra Design's 50th Anniversary Elite Collection of shelters, sleeping bags, and apparel.

Weight: 6 oz (Cagoule), 4 oz (Chaps)

Price: $109 (Cagoule), $59 (Chaps)

Available: Spring 2015


Big Agnes Gilpin Falls Powerhouse 4

Big Agnes Gilpin Falls 4 Powerhouse

From Big Agnes, the Gilpin Falls Powerhouse tent is a massive, durable base-camp and family camping tent for four. Clocking in at more than 12 pounds, this tent provides maximum of comfort at base camp during multi-day expedition ascents or family campouts.

The Gilpin Falls Powerhouse comes equipped with Big Agnes's new mtnGLO technology, a series of compact, energy-efficient LED lights incorporated into the seams of the tent. These little lights are so small and subtle they seem to disappear entirely when they're turned off.

The mtnGLO Collection will feature LEDs integrated into the construction of several tents, ranging from ultralight backpacking tents to car and base camping models, like the Gilpin Falls Powerhouse. It also includes an accessory tent lighting kit and a durable case for tablets and other electronic devices.

Weight: 12 lb 12 oz

Batteries: Integrated Joey T55 power unit

Price: $599.99

Available: Spring 2015


Vargo TiFusion Slag Shirt
The Vargo Slag Shirt with embedded TiFusion

Vargo Slag Shirt with TiFusion

Vargo Outdoors has a reputation for innovative use of titanium (such as in its Ti-Arc backpack), but the new Slag Short-Sleeve Shirt with embedded TiFusion takes the cake.

On the surface, the Slag appears to be standard performance top, but inside its fibers lurks a proprietary treatment, based on titanium dioxide.

Vargo claims that the titanium dioxide uses "light as a catalyst" to create a garment that is "self-cleaning and quick drying while reducing odors and increasing UV protection." In fact, Vargo says it will keep you "cleaner, smelling fresher, and dries 25 percent faster than standard shirts."

Vargo reassured us that since titanium dioxide is a common food additive, TiFusion treatment is not an environmental toxin.

Weight: 6 oz

Price: $50

Available: Fall 2014



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Titanium infused gear, what'll they think of next. I'd be interesting to see if it lives up to the hype of remaining cleaner and quick drying. Vargo definitely has titanium gear a-plenty!

Seth, I disagree that the SD Cagoule is "retro" as the name may harken back to the cagoules of the past, but the shape and length do not. The cagoules of the 60s and 70s were mid calf length and could be used as a bivy with the legs tucked up. A truly great piece of rain gear. Now it seems that only the name is retro.

Self cleaning????

I'd like to hear more about that.

Uh...never mind. Just send me one, and I'll test it for you. ;)

Erich, perhaps "retro-inspired" would have been a better choice of words. I had a long conversation with folks at Sierra Designs, and they made it clear that they were inspired by some "tried and true" designs from the past. We also had a good talk about Buckminster Fuller!

GOOSE, the "self-cleaning" thing might have something to it. Titanium is a fantastic catalyst, and in the presence of water, oxygen and sunlight, it *might* be effective in decomposing organic molecules that cause stink. Of course, we'd just have to see how it worked in the real world.

Seth, perhaps you should suggest to SD that they, or someone else should make a real cagoule. 

Patagonia has been making their original design cagoule available again for the last year or two. I used mine during my June-July trip to the Peruvian Andes. Since it is now considered "last season", they are available through their outlet stores (both on-line and in the brick and mortar outlets) at about half price. The material is a more modern and more durable version of a wpb (Goretex).

Not sure why the BD carbon fiber "Z" folding pole is listed here in the blog as "new". I got mine pair well over a year ago. I think I mentioned using them in my short TR about our trip to Austria last Fall. Unfortunately, Barb discovered they are the perfect length for her, so I lost control of it on one of our day hikes in the Stubai (section of the Austrian Alps south of Innsbruck).

One new interesting thing that Eric L and I saw that the TS OR Blog hasn't mentioned is that 2 companies (one of them TomTom, the Dutch car GPS manufacturer) have introduced GPS training watches that go on the wrist and do NOT use a chest strap for the heart rate monitor function. They use the same technology that pulse-ox meters use - LEDs that use a wavelength of light that detects the arterial pulse on the wrist (not the finger as do pulse-ox meters). I asked Garmin about whether they were considering this (since chest straps are rather constricting when you are bicycling, running fast, or hiking up steep hills). Their response was that "the technology is not perfected".  (Eric L was working the booth of the company he works for, but still managed to get a few minutes to visit some of the more interesting booths). Another interesting device I saw was a headlamp that has a small removable solar panel that the rep said will recharge the headlamps battery in 8 hours to give 6 hours of power to the light plus another 6 hours from a rechargeable battery. I told the rep to contact Seth to arrange for a full-scale headlamp test, for which I could obviously be the best reviewer (compare to my last 3 or so headlamp tests on my local headlamp test range on Mission Peak - hey, Seth - hint hint hint). 

So you will know why Seth was running around the OR Show like the proverbial chicken, there were a bit over 1500 gear manufacturer booths, each touting a bunch of NEWER, BETTER, GREATER items. There were a dozen or so food booths (and that does not include all the "bar" manufacturers). This being the summer Show, the "paddle sports" people were out in force (which do you prefer - standing, lying down, sitting on your floating device, sitting in your floating device, open top floating device, closed top floating device, trailers with various sized wheels to roll your device to and from the water's edge, numerous assemblages to attach your device to the top, side, or back of your vehicle, and much much more).

Clothing from socks to underwear to parkas and caps (insulated and wind cover) filled a large fraction of the booths. The term "lifestyle" appeared on large signs in most of these booths.

An annoyance to me was the number of "tent" booths that displayed "tents" the size of a small house, clearly intended for the car-based "camper". This appears to be a major trend - appeal to the folks who drive to their "campsite" and replicate their home. There were a dozen booths with varieties of foldable chairs and, what I would call "couches" based on the size. Even a number of companies that used to specialize in items for the backpacker displayed large multiburner stoves, with oven attachments and coffee presses (if they had a backpacking stove a all, it was way over in the back of the booth, sitting by itself on a shelf).

The "featured speaker" at the opening Industry Breakfast in fact spent most of his talk addressing how the vendors could adjust to the current trend, which he noted was "outdoors for the non-outdoors person".

Well, to look on the positive side, the more "outdoors" people who stay in the campgrounds, the fewer will go hiking into the hills or even progress more than a few hundred meters from the campground's edge.

Bill, the Patagonia Legacy Cagoule seems to be of the knee length variety. I prefer mid calf like my old one that Crag at Swallows Nest made for me. I just purchased a new one from Rivendell Mountain Works(Eric Hardee probably didn't have a booth at the show) that is mid calf.

I have seen the trend toward more comfort and gear designed for the non-outdoors person in the last 5-10 years. These include horseback or llama packing trips where you sleep in a tent. Of course, not the the tents we think of, but a miner's wall tent with a real bed and a down comforter. I have also seen ski touring trips advertised the same way. Partly, I think it is the non-outdoors people these things are designed for, and partly a trend from folks who have limited time and want a quick comfortable fix. The latter is a trend that has been written about before.

So Bill S and Erich,

You guys are experienced enough to have seen the cultural and fad type movements to and from backpacking. I’ve read in various places that, in general, backpacking as a recreational activity trended big in in the US in the 1970’s. If the current trends that are driving R&D, marketing etc.. are swinging towards non-outdoor type people and car-campers, do you think this will curtail, impede or otherwise be a negative for those that are the antithesis of car campers?

Seth, perhaps you should suggest to SD that they, or someone else should make a real cagoule.

Good question Erich! SD's brand manger and I had a very long (for OR!) talk, and he was considering a longer cagoule at one point. This particular model is designed to pair well with the thigh-high rain chaps SD is also marketing.


That's one of those things that only time will tell. As for the 1970s, the "backpacking lifestyle" was big then, and there were more backpackers. But a lot of it that I saw as a university professor was students coming to class dressed in "woodsey" clothing, carrying their books in everything from daypacks to oversized internal frame packs (and a few externals as well). While there were more people on the trails, a lot of people just drove to developed campgrounds, pulled their 2-person backpacking tent out of their expedition-sized internal frame pack, set their backpacking stove on the table, and maybe did a day hike from the campground, sleeping in their tent in the campground.

As I hinted above, I am hoping that most of the newbies will do the same - dayhikes, but sleeping in the campground at the trailhead. I think that the multi-day backpackers will remain fairly small (I am trying to be optomistic).

The gear companies do have to sell their product to stay in business. That probably means a lot of "lifestyle" - lots of clothing, fancy backpacks, stoves for 4-6 people (Primus and Jetboil both showed these at the OR Show). Sound a bit like EMS, MEC, REI, Sport Chalet, Dick's, et al?

Given that many of the specialty shops have already closed, I am going to yet again urge - PATRONIZE YOUR LOCAL SPECIALTY SHOP!!! Marmot Mountain Works is down to a single store. In the SFBay Area, we only have a single specialty shop (Sunrise in Livermore).

Sadly, this younger generation is completely detached from the "camp" now markets itself as a conference center, and we find more and more youth "summer camps" being held at hotels near the beach. While I am the caretaker of the nature areas & hiking trails at our facility, I RARELY encounter anyone using the trails while I'm out on them.

Before we old timers think, "Yeah! More solitude for me!" If this next generation is oblivious (or even hostile) to nature, then their political and development decisions will center on urban comforts--why are we funding National Parks? Why shouldn't we frack for natural gas in National Forests? What's wrong with development of the Grand Canyon? Why aren't we damming more rivers and streams?

I feel this is a very dangerous time for the environment. I'm not a tree hugger, but I continue to be amazed at the American mindset of consumerism at the cost of non-renewable resources.

Good observations, Goose and Bill. Perhaps somewhat differently than Bill's experience, I grew up in the PNW and there was a very real movement for backpacking and climbing in the 1960's and through the 1970's. I think much of this was motivated by the people that either lived here, or moved here BECAUSE of the recreational opportunities in the outdoors. Who didn't ski in the winter? Not very many. America's first artificial climbing rock(Schurman Rock) as well as the second at the UW were both built here. And the fact that many well known American climbers of the time were based here, helped. Add the outdoor's clubs like The Mountaineers and The Mazamas, and for the time, you had a very vibrant outdoors community. It was not whether you were going to do something outdoors on the week end, but what thing(or things). Waterskiing, sailing were popular, and even modern sea kayaking had early roots here.

So what changed? Paddler Kevin Callan has written that overall, people don't spend the time in the outdoors that they once did. In the 1930's the average canoe trip was several weeks long. Now it is several days. Partly, it is a function of a busy lifestyle, with everything from kids and work pulling people different directions. There are also other distractions. I see many here who cycle for recreation. That, in the US, is a relatively new sport and has taken people who might otherwise have found hiking. Backpacking long distances was never going to be ultra popular. But, in my opinion, people who might have chosen to do it, have found other means of getting there time in the outdoors. And it takes time. The proliferation of climbing gyms and the hoards of people on local boulder spots shows that many just want a few hours of an outdoors fix, rather than a week end long adventure on Liberty Bell.

And the trend of skiing from yurt to yurt and the like? As my generation, the generation that hiked and climbed in the 1960's has aged, many have become more affluent and can afford and appreciate such comfortable adventures.

Trends do come and go as Bill alluded. I remember in the 1970's there were lots of ads for great used hiking gear. "Kelty B4 for sale. Used once. $25.00 OBO".

Interesting discussion guys. I too am torn between savoring the wilderness for myself and the need to introduce others to the wonders it offers. It's so rewarding to help younger people find passion for being outdoors, even if it's only for a few hours. I'm of an in-between generation at 35, so I feel like I can connect well with the 20 somethings in demonstrating that outdoor sports/activities aren't just for retirees. We really need to encourage new generations to 'find' the precious little wilderness remaining so that we can ensure it is cherished and protected in years to come.

Titanium dioxide (not really titanium, which would be the metal) is indeed a good catalyst and strong UV absorber.  I'd be interested to know if it avoids stinking as badly as most polyester.  They don't list the SPF which would be the real test of whether there is enough for any serious UV absorption.

I enjoyed the philosophizing.

tpar - Vargo does claim that this garment will "increase UV protection," but does not quantify how much protection it will offer over similar shirts without titanium. This is a very new product, so I expect we will see more details emerge soon.

Hi All:

Glavin from SD here.  Our ELITE Cagoule is certainly not a "proper" cagoule, which vented the key areas from the pack belt down by creating a skirt that could be worn without any rain paints whatsoever.  The problem with this system was that it did not vent the chest (what we call "zone 1"), and the length was heavy and restricted leg movement in more "active" terrain.  The beauty of the cajole/chap combo is that by adding the "sweep vent", the "skirt" now ventilates the lap area (zone 3)  as well as the chest area (zone 1).  The arm areas (zone 2) have a brilliant always-open and weather-proof awning vent that we think make the pit zip look silly.  It's more like a tent than a garment in zone 2.  The other advantage of chaps is that they can be worn without the cagoule (short gaiters recommended underneath, or no gaiter) in dew conditions or after a rain to keep brush from soaking your legs and boots.  They come up high so they protect from most ground brush, but don't soak you in sweat because the key heat and moisture producing lap area (zone 3) is always vented.  Also, note that these garments rely on ventilation, but the fabric is still 30,000+ g/m/day MVTR (JIS) (HIGHly waterproof-breathable).  We really think that by combining new technology and historically proven desing concepts, then elevating both, we have created the best rainwear ever made.  


1st comment - I am a bit surprised that a brand rep would rely so heavily on spell checkers - you have more than a few typos in your post. but never mind.

Sierra Designs was started by George Marks and Bob Swanson in 1965 when they left the Berkeley Ski Hut (Trailwise). Somewhere in the 1980s, SD was taken over by The North Face for a couple years. We had an SD outlet (in Menlo Park) and a TNF store (on University Avenue in Palo Alto), plus the TNF outlet in Berkeley and the SD main store in Oakland (or Emeryville or Berkeley, near the mutual junctions of those 3 city boundaries anyway), which got combined to make the current TNF store on Alma in Palo Alto and TNF outlet in Berkeley. Somewhere in the 1990s, SD got spun off again, and was later taken over by Kelty (which is part of a larger conglomerate). Swanson and Marks were later involved with Walrus tents.

I had a Reevair cagoule that was made by Sierra Designs in the mid to late 1960s - Great design, but the rubberized microporous coating tended to delaminate from body oils, leaving you looking like you had been in a snowstorm of red flakes. It worked great until the delamination set in. Barb and I also had a Sierra Designs tent (actually still have it in the garage) which we used in our climbing trip to Switzerland in the late 1960s and a SD expedition dome tent (still have that one as well). After the Reevair cagoule, I got a different one in the 1970s that used a polyurethane coating - worked well, except it didn't breathe well when hiking hard.

Erich, my Patagonia cagoule is in fact mid-calf length. It does breathe quite well, as I have found when using it in a fairly hard rain while wearing a day pack (does get sweaty on the back where the pack rides, though). I wish I could find a modern version of my old early 1960s Cairn rucksack with the foldout liner. The combination of the cagoule and foldout liner worked very well for bivouacs - you could put your feet with climbing boots on into the Cairn with the cagoule and pack lining overlapping to stay fairly dry - take the crampons off, though.

Bill, I had a Karrimor rucksack with a fold out waterproof liner that sounds similar. The waterproofing came off finally and it went to Goodwill. I wish I still had it. Using a cagoule and a rucksack with a liner was a great lightweight system. I used it a number of times with my elephant's foot(I made it from a  McKinley bag) and a buzzard proof Eddy Bauer jacket.

I’m very interested in this “new” rain suit design. It sounds promising. I never found a good use for standard rain pants outside of very cold conditions where I’ve used them for wind and snow blocking.

I’ve tried two different rain pants (Gore-Tex and eVent) and like most other “breathable” fabrics, they are only kind-of breathable and generally make me sweat so much that I might as well just get rained on.


There are rainsuit designs and there are rainsuit designs. The rain chaps that SD announced is far from a new idea. As I have mentioned numerous times elsewhere in Trailspace, I grew up in the middle of the Sonora Desert, where all the kids "grew up to be cowboys." Which means we grew up riding horses. If you rode through brush (especially mesquite and other thorn-bearing plants), you wore leather chaps (Levis don't protect well enough). Good leather chaps are waterproof enough to keep your legs fairly dry when you are in the saddle.

Over the years, I have used rain chaps (some were oiled cotton) and later chaps made of poly-coated nylon and various salopettes and bibs, often with ponchos instead of rain jackets. The salopettes and bibs were mostly intended for snow conditions, but I have worn them in rain forest and jungle conditions. The ones with full side zips in many cases can be partially opened (a la pit zips for jackets) to provide plenty of ventilation. But the advantage of rain chaps is that they allow more ventilation when worn under ponchos or eve rain jackets, since the top of each leg is open under the poncho or jacket.

Some wp/b fabrics are a lot more breathable than others, and some "soft shells" are actually quite good at shedding water (see my gear reviews of the Patagonia Knifeblade jacket and pants for a highly water resistant, pretty breathable top and bottom). Then again, some people (like me) can end up sweating profusely while wearing T-shirt and shorts (old saying is "like a pig", although pigs don't really sweat)


Thanks for taking the time to tell us more about the development of Sierra Designs' Elite Cagoule and Rain Chaps. 

We'll be interested to see, and field test, some of the apparel and gear from the 50th anniversary collection.

Thanks for adding good information to this conversation Michael and for taking the time to meet up at OR!

I should have noted that I still use the SD tents I have bought over the years, except for the Clip Flashlight, which I gave to a couple of Scouts in the Troop for which I was SM when I replaced it with the Sleeve Flashlight.  The others I still use a lot are a Expedition Stretch Dome and a MeteorLite. SD makes great designs that last a long time in harsh conditions. I think it was TNF's loss when they spun off SD.

The OR show wasn't all business. Here is a photo of me on GoPro's climbing tower. I didn't have my rock shoes with me, but made do with the pair of Rockports I was wearing. {8=>D   The guy who was supervising the tower just happens to have a student of mine in last year's High Adventure Training course, and the photographer is a friend who works for Rite in Rain (the waterproof notebook people)


titanium clothing? Sure why not everything else has some titanium. The best use for me is the rod that holds my femur together.

The outdoor retailing industry continues to respond to the marketplace. We used to have the Outdoor Show in Reno. Tent camping and backpacking are described by those in the know as sunset industries. Meanwhile glam car camping, RVs, dayhiking/running, mountain biking, SUPs, cheap kayaks, and fishing continue to expand.

I lived in Seattle in the 1970s and we always noticed all the "city backpackers", "city farmers", and "city climbers." People made some lifestyle choices and were serious about them. I remember seeing people barefoot all year even in the snow.

We used to wait all night in line for a chance at the annual sale at the old REI store. Eddie Bauer at that time before it was sold to Spiegel and became a "sportwear" company had used bamboo fly rods and shotguns for sale at their main store. My Dad used to take me to Warshal"s on First Ave. just to look around. Those were the glory years in the outdoors in a sense. People still did traditional activities but had modern equipment for the first time.

After WWII my folks came home and spent every weekend in the outdoors for a year. Mostly backpacking, fishing, berry picking, and hunting. My grandparents had a cabin at Green Water. The old trad equipment except for Filsons and logging boots was not so great.

To go in a sporting goods store today is an odd experience for me. As a reformed gear junky, most of it has no appeal. The amount of golf equipment, running equipment, and biking equipment can be overwhelming. Stores with hiking and backpacking equipment are around, but sometimes I can't talk with the salepeople. Especially if they are young and have only been in the sport for 3 years. I am still trying to figure why the main REI store in Seattle has 100 packs on the wall but not one external frame pack.

Bill S said:

I should have noted that I still use the SD tents I have bought over the years, except for the Clip Flashlight, which I gave to a couple of Scouts in the Troop for which I was SM when I replaced it with the Sleeve Flashlight. 

OOOOPS! Other way around! I still have and use the Clip Flashlight, and gave the Sleeve Flashlight to some Scouts. A disappointment with the Clip is that it is a couple pounds heavier than the Sleeve, which is a lot, going from 4 pounds to 6. The Clip is faster to set up than the Sleeve, though. All the SD tents I have and had are great tents.


I am curious that you describe horse and llama packers as non-outdoor types. You are thinking of guided trips perhaps. I have been in a lot of horse camps and have yet to see a bed and a comforter. Many people that use pack animals bring more elaborate tents and food than backpackers. It allows them to travel further and faster and be more comfortable. Pack animals are really popular with people like elk hunters that are out late in the season in some serious weather and often have hundreds of pounds of meat to pack back to the trailhead. They are among some of the best outdoorsmen I have ever met. 

ppine, I was referring to guided trips. "horseback or llama packing trips where you sleep in a tent. Of course, not the the tents we think of, but a miner's wall tent with a real bed and a down comforter." As I had said previously, the last few years, with greater affluence, many urban recreationalists have gone to what I call "comfy" trips. Among many of those, the thought is that they want their quick nature fix, but don't want it to be too rugged. A friend of mine regularly takes fishing trips to the Wallowas. But he and his friends have a packer bring in all their gear and food for the week and they set up a nice base camp and then spend the week doing day hikes. Not a bad way to spend a week, to be sure, but to me, it lacks something when your experience comes without all the work. Certainly the horse packers(the ones who run commercial packing) are often very experienced. But that fellow who goes out elk hunting in the fall, may have spent his summer packing affluent people to those same areas. In a way, we are seeing a return to the outdoor recreation of the late 19th century. "Sports" would stay in a lodge and spend time with a guide, fishing or hunting. They spent more time there than today, but philosophy was much the same. Richard Attenborough's "Grey Owl" gives some insight into this type of thing.


I always like to hear from you. The "Sport " idea really started recreational camping by the wealthy a little before 1900. Horseback riding was very popular until about 1980 with the public. We have already passed peak horse ownership in the US. The professional horse and mule packers are actually seeing a long slow decline in their summer trips. They are making up the difference with guided hunting trips and hauling freight under contract with various US agencies like the Forest Service and the Park Service that have made a choice to use less helicopter time and more mule strings.

It is hard for people that have been around the outdoors for a long time like you and me to understand glam camping, cushy trips, lodge to lodge trips, etc that seem to have become in vogue. Urban people drive the outdoor industry. They have the money and they want more and more luxuries.

Many of the old USFS campgrounds are still set up for tents, and people try to shoehorn their RVs into sites that were never designed for them.

As an old timer, it amazes me that we that we spend so much time talking about titanium infused garments, silnylon, solar chargers for devices, expresso makers, and half the stuff that a major retailer like REI carries. Recently a lady made the comment that Colin Fletcher's classic book "The Complete Walker" was dated and you had to have the latest version because "equipment has changed so much." I think that is an open point that depends on your opinion.


What ppine refers to as "glam camping" actually was originated and popularized by groups like the Sierra Club  at the turn of the 19th-20th Century with their High Trips, Base Camps, and similar outings. The goal of those trips to introduce people to the wilderness and the need to preserve the wild places. One of the slogans was "In wildness is the preservation of the world". Even before that were the Big Game hunting trips where brave explorers would go on safaris to bag trophies to hang on the walls. The explorers (from many countries - remember that the Indian Rajas had big tiger hunts on the backs of elephants) lived in luxury in their tents with comfortable beds and servants who laid out tables with exotic foods. Teddy Roosevelt, who is also responsible for much of the early impetus of the conservation movement was one of those hunters. Don't forget the hunting trains on the Great Plains, where the passengers would shoot bison by the hundreds from the train windows. This kind of "sport" dates back well before the 19th Century.

The main change is the growth of the middle class in Europe and North and South America. With the spread of "leisure time" and availability of automobiles to get them there, more people could get out into the outdoors, while taking their comforts with them. The current trend, as was expounded on at length by the featured speaker at this summer's Outdoor Industry Breakfast (the kickoff event of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show, is the spread of "glam camping" well beyond the upper class and upper-middle class. I will note, however, that even in the 1950s and 1960s, Yosemite and other National Parks had giant RVs filling the campgrounds, with their generators running late into the night (and their occupants complaining to the rangers about all us "dirtbag climbers" sleeping out there in the dirt).

The old Sierra Club trips often involved a hundred people. It was popular for them to lead donkeys to the basecamps set up in the Sierra. Now the backcountry is highly regulated and the group size is often limited to 12 for pack trips.

I met a lady named Irene on a pack trip out of Mammoth, CA whose last name escapes me that was the cook for the old High Trips and Basecamps. She has recently written a book about living in the backcountry each summer and being the head cook for hundreds of people. She rode in on a tall white mule.

The old camps made it easy for urbanites to learn about the outdoors. They could walk to camps where meals were prepared for the and there were canvas tents. I have never thought of this style of camping as glamorous.

Now the trend for some is to sleep in tipis with Hudson Bay blankets and electricity, yurts, old Airstream trailers and spend $500 or more a night. There are some odd things going on now in the outdoors.


Bill, you are certainly correct that comfy camping existed before the turn of the 19th century. The bison hunting trains were post Civil War and TR's trips were also post Civil War. The great Indian tiger hunts were really something that came in the Edwardian Age. Much before that and the tiger hunts were less cushy and there was always the danger of Thuggees and various rebellious tribes. But these hunts were always for the wealthy. What changed at the end of the 19th century, was the interest in outdoor recreation. Bicycling became popular, and the wood and canvas canoe was born. Health resorts were the rage, with guests going to places like Radium Hotsprings for the cure. Hut to hut hiking was established in the Canadian Rockies. Though Whymper had climbed the Matterhorn four decades earlier, climbing really bloomed. The 1890's and early 1900's saw a very real interest in getting into the outdoors by the growing middle class.

If the glam camping gets more people out into the outdoors, then I think it could be a good thing. A caveat here is that more people means more wear on the environment. These glam campers may not understand their impact. Dozens of people on mule and horseback would have had a major impact on places like Yosemite Valley 100 years ago. Think of what the valley would be like today were there fewer people there. Maybe there would be a grizzly bear or a wolverine.

Interesting stuff guys, thanks for the reading.

Erich that’s a good point about getting more people involved and a good counter balance about the impact.

Last spring my wife and I wound up sharing a big site in the smokies with a trout fishing guide operation. We were initially in awe of how the clients could stay so clean and shiny (we shared the camp for two nights). Every single one of them had bright shiny clean shirts that looked brand new and even their boots seemed immaculate. We eventually saw that the guide had a wheeled cart and would make over twenty trips per day to and from his supply boat for various things. In addition to all these large base-camp like tents, the guide had setup a shower, portable toilet, multiple gas powered devices like a grill and water heater for the shower, etc….

I try not to subscribe to notions of class warfare but it was admittedly hard not to have disdain for these people for being so catered to but hey I’m sure people less well-off than me could have the same thoughts about the way I roll……

Pat, that's a very good story. I had a similar experience in 2009. I was at Laslui Lake Lodge in the Spatsizi Wilderness awaiting a flight out. I had spent some time in the Spatsizi working on an article about the richness of the environment and the risks from resource development.(Imperial Metals, which just had a major dam collapse in BC, is also involved in a large copper/gold mine in development in the Spatsizi.) I was pretty bush worn and tired when my friend Wendel came in with his DH Otter. At the dock, he unloaded a new group of guests who had come to fish and enjoy the area. I don't know where they were from, but they were obviously well off, and the two women were dressed head to toe in white with high heels. Something better suited to the Hamptons than the Canadian bush. The men were an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch. As is common in the bush, I helped the lodge crew unload and load. Cases of wine, suitcases of clothes, everything under the sun. These people were spending thousands of dollars a day each to be there, plus the plane fair and other add-ons. Truly a brief look at how others experience the outdoors. Let us hope they tell their friends at the Boone and Crockett that it needs to be preserved.

The origins of camping in the US have always involved the wealthy. It took a lot of time and effort for the average person to access the outdoors with trains, wagons and stagecoaches until cars became popular around the late 20s, early 30s. The auto changed everything. Wealthy people have always been able to pay their way and have demanded a lot of services and equipment. We seem to have inherited that style of travel with champagne, cots and porters from the English.

Guided hunting and fishing trips have maintained some of that traditional affluence, although there are drop trips, spike camps and other unguided but outfitter supported options that cost less.

What is important with this group, in my opinion is to not to have animosity about the style that some people chose for their vacations.

For those of you that have never been in an elk camp, it is an amazing experience to be out there in the late fall at high elevations in the snow and below zero cold, and live in a stove heated wall tent. Fresh food is the norm. Now there are hot water tanks that hang on the side of the stove.

I have never been on any cushy trips, but the difference that the equipment described above makes is remarkable. I have lived in a wall tent for a month at a time running tree planting crews. My walltent was once affectionately know as the "Flagstaff Hilton" and became very popular every time it snowed iin a camp with 30 people.

Although backpackers necessarily have some Spartan elements due to weight restrictions, the demography of that user group leans toward the well off. Few bluecollar working class people are backpackers. Plenty of highly paid urban types are. There is no use in differentiating between backpackers as a group and the wealthy that travel in a fancier style.

Mountain Hardwear has been using Titanium-oxide coatings on a number of their expedition tents that not only can take a beating but are long lasting workhorses.  Among the many things they do will is their very very well adept at handling UV rays which is my nemesis regarding the longevity of tents that would other wise last decades. Those tents would be the Double Wall Satellite, the Single Wall Satellite, the Stronghold and the Space Station.


Double Wall Satellite:

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