Contest celebrates outdoor gear made in the USA

The annual American Made Outdoor Gear Awards (AMOGAs) honor some of the cleverest products sourced and manufactured right here in the U.S.

Jeff Turner, sales manager at Kokatat, a California-based paddle-sports company and founder of the award program, told GrindTV, “Each year we receive so many great applications, from companies with facilities all over the country to two guys building backpacks in their garage. We all share a common bond: We are proud of what we make and even more proud that we are directly supporting our local communities with good jobs.”

A worker at Flowfold, in Maine, helps makes minimalist gear using some lightest yet most resilient fabrics in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Flowfold
A worker at Flowfold, in Maine, helps make minimalist gear using some of the lightest yet most resilient fabrics in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Flowfold

It’s not always easy pledging support for local sources. “Many companies find it difficult and sometimes impossible to source raw materials domestically,” says Turner. “Even when they can, sometimes it’s cost prohibitive, especially when the competition is having their goods made overseas.”

Vying for the prize in the 100-plus-employees category, sock maker Farm to Feet, out of tiny Mount Airy, North Carolina, is making it work. The company sources wool from ranchers in the West; blends, cleans and spins yarn in the Southeast; then knits the socks in their own factory.

Farm to Feet out of North Carolina makes all of their wool socks here at home. Photo: Courtesy of Farm to Feet
Farm to Feet out of North Carolina makes all of their wool socks here at home. Photo: Courtesy of Farm to Feet

The tight-knit group celebrates its American roots, naming all socks after stories and locations close to the brand. “We feature real people on every sock package: a rancher who supplies wool, a spinning technician, a quality inspector,” vice president of marketing David Petri told GrindTV.

Farm to Feet also sponsors Floyd Fest, a multi-day music festival celebrating the “Floyd” sock’s “music in the mountains” motif, connecting with new audiences by sharing the camping and music experience with them, according to Petri.

Exploring further in an American-made packraft by Alpacka Raft. Photo: Steve Fassbinder
Exploring further in an American-made pack raft by Alpacka Raft. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Fassbinder

A much smaller outfit vying for the AMOGA win in the 10-to-15-employees category is Alpacka Raft, which handcrafts every pack raft out of tiny Mancos, Colorado. The company actually started in a basement in Chugiak, Alaska, as a collaboration between Sheri Tingey, who has 50 years of experience in design and sewing in the outdoor industry, and her son Thor, who was just wanting a packable raft durable enough to withstand major backcountry traverses.

“When we started, the only people in the world who knew of or had any interest in pack rafting were a small group of Alaskans that had a higher-than-average tolerance for suffering. It’s about as small of a niche as a company can have,” Alpacka co-owner Sarah Tingey told GrindTV.

“American manufacturing is a core part of our identity and it is essential to our brand and our success,” she says. “Starting with innovation, having the factory in-house allows us to design, build and test new products and ideas in a fraction of the time of having to go through a third party, much less overseas.”

Hand-crafted and built on a deep history, Stormy Kromer caps are one brand on the finalist list. Photo: Courtesy of Stormy Kromer
Handcrafted and historic, Stormy Kromer caps are also on the finalists list. Photo: Courtesy of Stormy Kromer

Alpacka also takes pride in providing sustainable manufacturing jobs in a small town. “We’ve all been to visit a mountain town, had a great time and wished we could move there, only to find out that getting a living-wage job is nearly impossible,” Sarah says.

The hats made by Stormy Kromer, a brand slotted in the 50-to-100-employees group, have been coined the unofficial cap of the northern Midwest, with a legend that dates to 1903 yet is very much in line with hipster bents of today.

According to company president Gina Thorsen, the hat, which is known for its adjustable ear band and a lifetime guarantee, was “born from point of function and necessity, which really appeals to customers of all ages.”

The business recently hosted an event in Marquette, Wisconsin, where over 100 people had tattoos of the Stormy cap inked on their body. “They all had great stories about their caps or the caps that their parents or other relatives wore,” Thorsen says. “Our customers feel like they are a part of [a] community when they wear our caps.”

A tough hand-made wallet from Flowfold goes the distance. Photo: Courtesy of Flowfold
A tough handmade wallet from Flowfold goes the distance. Photo: Courtesy of Flowfold

From hats to rafts, these American-made outdoor products have one thing in common, according to Turner: “We all believe in what we are doing and know that we are making goods that we can stand behind 100 percent, because we know the people who sewed the seams, inspected the quality and boxed it up.”

While AMOGA winners won’t be announced until Jan. 11, 2017, in Salt Lake City during the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, you can check out all the finalists or follow the countdown on Twitter: @AMOGAward.