In 1980, Ron Gregg and his climbing partner set out to ski 100 miles to the base of Alaska’s Mount Denali with all their climbing equipment, summit Denali, and ski back. About halfway up the mountain, Ron’s partner’s gaiters filled with snow, forcing snow down into his boots. He was eventually airlifted from the mountain with severe frostbite. Ron, however, refused the ride back, opting instead to descend the mountain and ski back under his own power. Somewhere along that lonely trek, Ron decided to dedicate himself to improving outdoor equipment and devote the rest of his life to his passion for the outdoors. Outdoor Research was born.
Ron’s first mission was to design a gaiter that could stand up to the punishment that he dished out on Denali. His X-Gaiter was snug, insulated, tough, and popular enough to launch an outdoor gear company. Outdoor Research was, and still is, based on the idea that a new piece of gear should solve a problem, and create a better outdoor experience through innovation. Early examples of this direction are the Water Bottle Parka, the first soft-side medical kits designed for outdoor adventure, and Modular Mitts—two-piece mittens with a liner and a removable Gore-Tex shell that made it easier to dry the mitten overnight. These and other innovative products, such as a Gore-Tex rain hat and the famed Brooks Ranger Overboots, earned OR a reputation for innovation and, by the end of the ‘80s, had solidified the Outdoor Research name as one of the most trusted in the outdoor industry.
Outdoor Research enjoyed a long period of growth through the end of the ‘90s. It stuck to its original goal of only designing products that offered something new, such as a line of bivvy shelters that revolutionized the category. Everything was going well until 2003, when Ron was killed in an avalanche. OR, and the entire outdoor industry, were rocked by the tragedy. After several months of assessment, it was decided to sell the company. Fortunately, the buyer was Dan Nordstrom, a passionate outdoor enthusiast who has managed to ably move OR forward in the same direction that Ron Gregg had established in the ‘80s—creating functional solutions for human-powered adventure.
Since then, every aspect and category of OR has been scrutinized and improved, with careful upgrades for the classic favorites and the introduction of new equipment and clothing. Today, in addition to gear like gaiters, bivvies, hats, gloves, storage systems and backpacks, it offers a full line of clothing. This encompasses not only technical outerwear and layers for just about every outdoor pursuit, but jackets, pants, and other clothing as well for when it’s time to kick back and relax.
The future looks bright for Outdoor Research. Under the direction of its new ownership and with the feedback of hundreds of dedicated ‘Lab Rat’ outdoor enthusiasts, its products continue to evolve and its goal remains the same: to improve the outdoor experience through innovative design and real-life testing.