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There’s no mistaking the current collective interest in the great outdoors. With recent years inspiring new interest in Mother Nature, there are more folk than ever obsessed with being outside, in all the forms it takes. To wit: ecotravel is off the rails, trailhead parking is a nightmare and campsites are fully booked. Yet thankfully, established outdoor retailers are meeting record-breaking demands.
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If you are one of the newly minted outdoor adventurers looking to test the pristine waters of alfresco adventure, the beginner’s guide to getting outside starts with the right gear. Without the proper boots, tents, tools, backpacks, sleeping bags and equipment, you won’t have a chance to venture far.
Currently, the catalog of outdoor brands is endless, and they can sometimes seem indistinguishable from one another. Which is why we’ve created a comprehensive list to help you source gear from the most reputable companies. Sure, there are popular brands, from Patagonia (ever heard of Baggies?) and The North Face to Columbia and Arc’teryx. But if you’re looking to support the lesser-known outfitters, we’ve compiled 20 outdoor brands every man should know.
The Best Outdoor Brands Every Man Should Know:
Founded: Wisconsin, USA
Best For: Hiking Boots
The Beta: A Pacific Northwest powerhouse known for long-lasting durability, Danner makes boots for hikers, laborers and everyday outdoorsmen. Unlike their competitors, a good percentage of Danner boots are designed and made in the U.S. with high-quality materials for years of use, and our preferred boot just so happened to have its own Hollywood cameo in the film, Wild. After all those miles, they’ll recraft your footwear so you can keep exploring, even if you don’t have plans to hike the PCT.
Founded: San Jose, California
Best For: Sleeping Bags
The Beta: Founded in 1970 by a couple of San Jose climbers, Western Mountaineering is famous for its commitment to designing lightweight down sleeping bags and apparel that will stand the test of time. Bags are double stitched and balanced with superior fabrics to prevent traditional wear, and managing director Gary Peterson insists they “should last 1,000-1,500 nights.”
Founded: New Zealand
Best For: Merino Wool Midlayers
The Beta: The market for Merino wool is competitive, but Icebreaker takes the top prize with head-to-toe apparel and sustainable practices that do right by Merino sheep. Based out of New Zealand and founded in the 90s by an ambitious 24-year-old, the company’s layering system helps us identify the gear we need without the hassle. We especially appreciate the business casual pieces and the training apparel for all-weather workouts.
Founded: Montreal, Canada
Best For: Trail Running Footwear
The conditions on the trails outside of Montreal, Canada get tough, as the founders of Norda can attest — the 2020-founded running shoes were tested through fields and mountains that span miles of serious altitude and temps ranging from -35℃ to +35℃. The result speaks for itself: built with premium sustainable biomaterials (namely, 15x stronger than steel Dyneema and Vibram), these trail shoes are some of the fastest, strongest and generally best we’ve seen.
Founded: Perth, Australia
Best For: Camping Gear
The Beta: As the name implies, Sea to Summit designs gear for a wide range of outdoor activities, from backcountry watersports to hiking. That said, we frequently employ the brand’s camping equipment to enjoy the comforts of home in the great outdoors with durable cookware, cutlery and sleeping equipment. For river floats with friends and days at the beach, the Big River Dry Bag is one of the best options on the market for keeping valuables dry and dirt-free.
Founded: Telluride, Colorado | Best For: Minimalist Adventurers
The Beta: Western Rise designs versatile clothing for daily life. Fabrics are waterproof and stretchy as you transition from work to play, and styles are adaptable — functioning from the peaks to pavement. As a brand that encourages you to “own less and experience more,” we’ve found ourselves parting with worn threads to make room for their versatile lineup of tops and bottoms. Fabrics are Bluesign approved to provide safer and more sustainable environments for work and living.
Founded: Utah, USA
Best For: Sleeping Gear
The Beta: Utah-based outdoor brand Klymit understands that nothing ruins a camping trip like a poor night’s sleep. This is why its created a line of easy-to-use sleeping gear for every occasion. Though the company’s first product to launch back in 2009 was a rather curious inflatable vest, products have since blended simple materials with affordability to help improve access to the outdoors for newbies. Klymit may be one of the younger brands on this list but its quickly found a home with thru-hikers and car campers alike.
Founded: Derbyshire, UK
Best For: Cold-Weather Clothing
The Beta: Rab began with hand-stitched sleeping bags in the UK’s Sheffield Peak District, but has since expanded its line to include technical jackets, pants, footwear and shelters. Apparel is simple and functional to reduce unnecessary mishaps on the mountain, and everything is designed to be repaired rather than replaced.
Founded: Solna, Sweden
Best For: Cooling Solutions
The Beta: Dometic’s Swedish-founded tech has been revolutionizing outdoor eating since 2001, and the cooler-maker shows no signs of stopping down, with recent releases in their CFX-powered cooler line that are making it easier than ever to pack a whole trunk of refrigerated wares for all your outdoor endeavors.
Founded: Salt Lake City, Utah
Best For: Clothing, Backpacks
The Beta: Named after an active volcano in the Ecuadorian region of the Andes, Cotopaxi is a beloved brand among outdoor enthusiasts looking to blend style and function. The company is a certified B Corp, meaning profits help improve communities through social and environmental aid, and its products are “Guaranteed for Good” — if your gear doesn’t hold up, Cotopaxi will help resolve the issue through repair, replacement or refund. Some of our favorite packs are one-of-a-kind models made from unique reusable fabrics that can’t be replicated.
Founded: Two Harbors, Minnesota
Best For: Backpacks
The Beta: Your hiking and camping setup isn’t complete until you’ve found a backpack to carry the essentials, and that’s where Granite Gear comes in. The durable packs have withstood extreme conditions from the Poles to Everest, and its tactical gear created for military use further demonstrates a commitment to enduring products. The Blaze 60 backpack was recently crowned the best backpacking backpack by Outdoor GearLab, so we feel comfortable recommending it for those looking to snag a worthy backcountry companion.
Founded: Vermont, USA
Best For: Merino Outerwear
What Icebreaker and Smartwool are to Merino baselayers and socks, Vermont-founded IBEX is to the wooly outerwear. Their Wool Aire Hoodie, in particular, has made serious waves since the brand’s return to the outdoor space for myriad reasons — ultra-warm, breathable comfort and an intense shelflife are high on that list.
Founded: Montreal, Canada
Best For: High-Fashion, High-Performance Wear
One of the newest entrants on this list, Ostrya was founded in 2019, but what the label lacks in history, they make up for in a function-first ethos and next-level small-scale production. Using remnant, recycled and organic fabrics to create outdoor performance wear that scratches a sartorial itch, too, the label is one to watch, both on the trails and on the runway.
Founded: Maine, USA
Best For: Lightweight Gear
The Beta: After bagging a few strenuous peaks, you’ll come to appreciate the importance of lightweight gear. To shed the unnecessary pounds and ounces, Hyperlite Mountain Gear designs incredibly lightweight and easily packable equipment for hikes both short and long. A preferred brand among thru-hikers looking to save weight, gear is designed and manufactured in a repurposed textile mill with Dyneema, a fiber featuring tensile strength that’s 15 times stronger than steel.
Founded: Boulder, Colorado
Best For: Mountain-Modern Style
The Beta: Topo Designs first earned a reputation for durable packs back in 2008, but they’ve since expanded across apparel categories. Now offering jackets, pants, packs and more, the Colorado brand blends urban style with mountain culture to deliver transitional outdoor equipment for everyday life. Everything is made in the U.S. from domestically sourced materials, and the brand’s lifetime warranty illustrates its dedication to producing quality goods. A sustainable repair program allows you to ship your goods in for fixing to reduce the number of pieces that are discarded or left unused.
Founded: Vermont, USA
Best For: Hiking Socks
The Beta: Some outdoor enthusiasts prefer exploring the backcountry on bare feet, but the rest of us need a pair of durable socks to help tackle the terrain. For that reason, we prefer Darn Tough socks for their soft blend of merino wool and nylon which wicks moisture and prevents odor. Merino socks aren’t uncommon, but Darn Tough manufactures their socks with a unique fine-gauge process to make the fabric more comfortable and durable than many competitors. Plus, Darn Tough sells each pair with a lifetime guarantee, so you can send yours back, no matter how long you’ve had them, for a new pair — free.
Founded: Seatle, Washington
Best For: Technical Apparel
The Beta: The name references founder Ron Gregg’s dedication to perfecting products through diligent R&D. To his credit, Outdoor Research remains hell-bent on supplying extra capable outdoor apparel. Proudly based in Seattle, the company takes a different approach to adventure, understanding that the journey, not the destination, is an experience worth living. A versatile line of equipment from pants to travel packs is designed to award-winning perfection, and the brand’s comfortable facemask was dubbed the best all-around mask we’ve ever worn.
Founded: San Diego, California
Best For: Cookware
The Beta: There once was a time when backcountry food was freeze-dried and dull, but brands like GSI Outdoors have since revolutionized the way we eat food beyond the home. Founded in 1985 by three siblings, GSI manufactures award-winning cookware from its Spokane headquarters after initially selling blue enamel Tupperware. Products are designed to maximize space, reduce weight and last for years to ensure you’re never without food and fuel. Blog recipes help us find clever ways to prepare our favorite meals in the backcountry.
Founded: Dillon, Montana
Best For: Locally-Sourced Merino Wool
The Beta: Duckworth has been operating from their Montana sheep farm for over four generations. The gear is super strong, like most true-blue brands, and the Sheep-to-Shelf process instills peace of mind through every step of the Merino supply chain. A deeper understanding of the manufacturing process has allowed Duckworth to innovate development, resulting in breakthrough proprietary wool products and practices. The abundance of beautiful land and open skies further speaks to the brand’s dedication to outdoor pursuits.
Best For: Camping Gear
Bringing up the rear is Japanese camping gurus Snow Peak. While their titanium designs have been serious serious folk for nearly 70 years, the brand has remained relatively unknown. We think it’s time for that to change.
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