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Filson and Leupold, Two Great American Outdoor Firms

Time for a quick Thank You to two great outdoor products firms, Filson and Leupold.

Filson has been around since the 1890s Alaskan Gold Rush, providing rugged clothing to rugged men and women.

They use the best virgin wools, waxed cotton and canvas, brass fittings, bridle leather…this is super quality clothing that will never, ever wear out. Virgin wool is the washed wool right off the sheep, with super long fibers that hold warmth like a sheep would want, and it also wears like iron.

I have had the pleasure of owning many Filson sweaters, vests, socks, jackets, and canvas coats. They are made in America and of unsurpassed quality, especially in contrast to today’s mass produced Chinese junk.

Yes, they are more expensive than most clothing, but as soon as you wear them, you will agree they are worth every cent. Ten years later, when your garment has begun to show a bit of wear, you will be utterly amazed. In a world of built-in obsolescence, Filson’s is throwback, old-timey bomb-proof.

Just yesterday morning I was retrieving a live coyote I had trapped on a grapple (a drag that gets caught in brush). He had managed to go through a massive wall of brush made of multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, Asian bittersweet vines, raspberry brambles, and other assorted sharp, pointy, and painful trash brush that is impossible for humans to get through.

At first I used a chainsaw to cut my way in close to the growling, barking, gnawing alpha male. Then, I went back to the truck and put on an old Filson “Tin Cloth” hunting jacket, turned my back to the brush, and began bulldozing my way backwards through it. The various sharp things just bounced off the coat and in seconds I was standing in front of the nest raider (I trap predators to save ground nesting birds and for no other purpose).

There isn’t a Carhartt or Dickey’s anywhere that can do that, nor a Barbour, either. The downside to Tin Cloth is that when it goes on cold, you feel like a medieval knight putting on his steel armor. It is pretty stiff. But as you move and it warms up from your body heat, it flexes easily, and is indestructible. The way around this is to put it near a stove, heating vent, or in a warm vehicle before putting in on.

Anyhow, Thank You to Filson’s for their incredible garments. Nothing else comes close.

Leupold is the other firm I have had such good fortune with.

Leupold has made scopes and binoculars in Washington State since the early 1900s, and to most hunters their scopes are a household name.

What is amazing about their firm is not just the high quality products, but the incredible customer service.

To wit, this past November I fell while bear hunting in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Falling flat on my face in the thick mountain laurel, my chest crashed into a bunch of laurel trunks. They stick up like pungi sticks. A pair of Leupold Mojave binoculars was harnessed to my chest, and they took the brunt of the fall.

The diopter setting control popped off, and although I was able to find it and more or less get it back on, it did not work.

So I sent it to Leupold and asked them to fix it.

Instead, Leupold sent me a brand new pair of their latest model, the Pro Guide HD. Shrink-wrapped in the box and all.

This new binocular is really just the culmination of a series of slight improvements and modifications to the now discontinued Cascades, Mojaves, and other mountain-name-themed models I cannot recall now. But think about that, a company takes something you broke and gives you a new one.

Buddy, THAT is customer service!

Yesterday while flintlock hunting in the afternoon at French Creek State Park with my friend George, we met another hunter who joined us. We ended up doing three-man deer drives through the western end of the park. This new fellow, Gary Yoder, had around his neck a nice pair of Leupold binoculars.

When I told him my story about the brand new Leupolds on my chest harness, he told me the same story! He, too, had broken his previous pair, sent them in for repair, and instead had received this upgraded new pair, new in the box.

Needless to say, we were both very impressed by Leupold’s dedication to their customers.

A note about the new Pro Guide HD 8x42s: These have high quality glass, excellent, really. Looking through Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, I do not see much of an improvement over this Leupold glass. When you look at the price difference, there is no comparison at all, because the German glass is two to four times the price of the Leupold and only slightly, marginally better in terms of clarity and crispness.

As good as the clarity is, all Leupold binoculars come with the worst and strangest eyepiece covers of all binoculars. While hunting in Scotland last October, I did a belly crawl up a hill to take a shot at a distant red stag. On my chest harness was that prior pair of Leupold binoculars. Behind me lay a trail of Leupold eyepiece covers, all of which came off and lay in different places in the bog. There has to be a way for Leupold to improve this one odd, inconsistent anomaly. Otherwise, their products are quite perfect and their customer service is even better than that.


Kudos to Filson clothing

Filson is a clothing manufacturer in Seattle, making pretty much the most basic American clothing styles for the past 130 years.

Little has changed in their styles or fabrics. Boring? Maybe.

Flannel and wool shirts, wool and canvas coats and pants, wool long underwear, leather boots with wool insulation, tote and carry bags and purses, every item is made in America of virgin wool or different weights of canvas.

One short phrase describes Filson products: Brutally tough.

Or, “Last a lifetime.”

In an era of cheap Chinese crap and Asian sweatshop “designer” clothes, Filson stands alone, or probably alone. I am a consumer of top-quality outdoor clothing, and I cannot think of another manufacturer who makes anything like Filson’s clothing line.

Oh, sure, there are plastic and Gore Tex outdoor clothes galore. Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Mountain Hard Wear, and others make some pretty good ones, which our family wears. Fleece coats, mountaineering parkas, super-sophisticated PhD plastic fiber clothes for the outdoor lifestyle. Some are married to goose down, which is genuinely warm.

But all of these synthetics catch on fire and turn the wearer into a large, running, screaming torch when exposed to flame. Or at the least they wilt, melt, smell very bad, and cease being useful when exposed to a camp fire hot enough to dry your damp undies and wet socks. In other words, the newfangled modern synthetics may weigh next to nothing and stop wind faster than a speeding bullet and locomotive, but they lack certain basic physical properties necessary to truly enjoy or survive the outdoors.

Wool and waxed heavy cotton canvas are nearly fireproof and can withstand tremendous force before tearing. Wool keeps the wearer warm even when wet. Yes, it is heavy compared to synthetics, but it is a lot quieter, actually it is silent, whereas even the best of synthetic fleece hunting clothes will leave a telltale “zip” sound when dragged across a sharp branch.

Filson forms a big part of my winter clothing selection. Mackinaw vests and coats of different colors and patterns form the core of the selection, and the double mackinaw coat in “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” red-and-black buffalo check plaid has kept me toasty warm in sub-zero temperatures day after day. This past week I wore the double mackinaw coat while flintlock hunting, and I never got cold. It was sub-zero every day.

Other wool clothes I wear are heavy camouflage Columbia hunting pants, Bass Pro Redhead heavy wool socks, Danner wool socks, knee-high SmartWool ski and hunting socks, and SmartWool long underwear. Yes, once in a while I break out the Eddie Bauer and Woolrich Adirondock plaid pants, jackets, and so on. They are real testaments to a world long gone, which dinosaurs like me cling to in misty eyed memories.

David Petzal is the gun writer for Field and Stream Magazine, and among many other witticisms and pithy one-liners, years ago he noted that all synthetic long underwear makes you smell like someone slaughtered a cow after a day, but wool long underwear can be worn for days without you or them being cleaned, and yet you don’t smell…too badly.

That’s the thing. Wool is natural. Like leather and fur, it is natural and fits the human body perfectly. We can sweat into wool for days on a hunt, and it just doesn’t smell bad. Oh, it may not smell fresh, but compared to the polypropylene synthetics, it does.

My Filson Mackinaw coat accompanies me on all my Adirondack wilderness hunts, serving as a blanket at night when the temperature inside the tent dips to 18 degrees. And yet after many years of being worn through thorn patches and rugged mountain brush, it shows zero signs of wear. That says it all.

Other favorites include the now discontinued styles of Tin Cloth logging jacket and Double Tin field coat, both of which I wear when hunting for small game in January and February, when thorns are a big part of the day. Some of these discontinued tin cloth coats have become collector’s items. Each one will last you your entire lifetime, and if you wax it at the end of the season, it will serve your kids, too.

So, kudos to Filson for making Best-quality, “old fashioned” clothing for a tech-happy generation. www.filson.com