Retro outdoor gear is in. Fueled by nostalgia, along with an increased interest in apparel and equipment that won’t get you to the top of Mt. Rainier but outwardly presents an outdoorsy lifestyle, brands have been leaning into low-tech items and making fresh decades-old designs. In the case of Wilderness Experience, this trend has proved enough of an impetus to revive a brand you’ve probably never heard of.
Wilderness Experience sprang to life as a mountaineering guide service in 1971 and began making products in California in 1972. By the eighties, the company made sleeping bags, tents, clothing and backpacks. After giving up ownership in 1986, Wilderness Experience’s founders moved on hold noteworthy positions elsewhere. Jim Thomsen became the president of an international division of VF Corp, the company that owns The North Face and Vans along with a host of other brands, and Greg Thomsen did a stint as the director of marketing at Nike and is currently the managing director of Adidas Outdoor. But those roles came after this brand of brothers played a crucial role in the creation of the outdoor industry as we know it today.
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And now it’s back. Jim Thomsen recently re-acquired the Wilderness Experience trademark and launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back the Klettersack, a pack first sold in 1974. If the simple nylon rucksack adorned with patches and straps looks familiar, that’s because it’s one of the most iconic outdoor backpacks of all time — and contemporary brands have riffed on its design in the decades since the Thomsens introduced it.
The reissue of the Klettersack stays true to the original; the team behind it dug into the archives to find the fabrics, buckles and even colors that the company used to make the first versions of the pack. Scans of Wilderness Experience’s original catalogs show that the bag used to sell for $26.50 (or $31.50 for a leather bottom upgrade), and the new version maintains that affordability — on Kickstarter the Klettersack sells for as little as $75. It will go for $125 at full retail and $150 for the leather version.
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