5 Outdoor Companies Started by Badasses
The following people were badasses in their respective outdoor sports, but they also found the time to found cool companies.
Patagonia / Chouinard Equipment
Badass Founder: Yvon Chouinard
Chouinard is first on this list because he accomplished more in his life, in both business and sport, than anyone else on this list.
Parts of Yvon Chouinard’s biography read like the apotheosis of climbing dirtbag. For a number of years, he lived out of his car and supported himself by forging pitons and selling them to climbers. He made just enough to get by and to keep climbing. As the Patagonia website recounts: “Before leaving for the Rockies one summer he bought two cases of dented, canned cat tuna from a damaged-can outlet in San Francisco. This food supply was supplemented by oatmeal, potatoes, and poached ground squirrel and porcupines.” Eating ground squirrel and porcupine = badass.
When he wasn’t eating rodents, Chouinard also put up a breathtaking number of first ascents around the world.
Other parts of Chouinard’s life read like the biography of an industrious businessman — very unlike a dirtbag. He had a knack for inventing and innovating on climbing gear, and in the 1970’s, he co-founded Chouinard Equipment in the 1970’s (which turned into Black Diamond after it filed for bankruptcy in 1989.)
In his life’s next chapter, Chouinard started Patagonia, one of the most successful outdoor apparel companies in history.
The North Face
Badass Founder: Douglas Tompkins
In 1968, Chouinard took a roadtrip in down to Patagonia with Douglas Tompkins. They went down to surf, sail and climb hard stuff (like a new route on Mount Fitzroy!) It just so happens that Tompkins, like Chouinard, would found one of the world’s most successful outdoor apparel companies. (Their portentous road trip was commemorated in the documentary film 180 Degrees North.)
Tompkins co-founded The North Face, which began as a rock climbing and camping company in San Francisco, in 1968. It has since taken over the world with retail stores and ]their clothes have achieved mainstream popularity.
Badass Founder: Royal Robbins
With a name like “Royal Robbins” — the regal first name, its stately alliteration — you’re marked for greatness. Robbins didn’t disappoint. He made a name for himself in Yosemite Valley, where he put up some of the boldest first ascents in the history of rock climbing. That would be enough accomplishment for most lives.
But in the last few years, Robbins has had a second act as a clothes manufacturer. The Royal Robbins brand, begun by Robbins and his wife, sell a luxury line of outdoor inspired clothing. Kind of like a high end L.L Bean.
Stone Master Gear
Badass Founders: the Stone Masters
The Stone Masters were a group of Yosemite climbers who climbed about a decade after the heyday of Robbins. Masters of Stone like John Long and John Bachar revolutionized the sport of climbing. They completed the first one-day ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite, and bumped up the world’s hardest climbs by several grades.
In addition, many members of this fraternity of climbing badasses started Stone Master Gear, an outdoor clothing company. The brand took inspiration from the insights and badass example of its founders.
Badass Founder: Fernand Petzl
Fernand Petzl began to explore caves as a teennager in the 1930’s, and quickly ran up against the limits of the sport. The problem was that cavers couldn’t go deeper with the technology they currently possessed. At the time, cavers used ladders to explore their caves.
Petzl began to innovate, pioneering the use of nylon ropes in caving and creating the rope ascender. These inventions allowed cavers to reach unprecedented depths and previously unexplored caves. In 1950, Petzl was part of the team that first reached a cave 1,000 meters deep.
Petzl began his eponymous company in 1975, and since then they have pioneered all sorts of technical outdoor equipment.
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