There’s plenty of room outdoors for gear manufacturers large and small. That was our realization this spring, where MJ gear reviews uncovered three impressive brands that you might not be familiar with. Products run the gamut from American-assembled optics for backcountry hunters and naturalists alike; a veteran Scandinavian apparel manufacturer whose stylish and functional clothing wares are just starting to make inroads on this side of the Atlantic; and a gear label originating in the Appalachian heartland whose unique camping accessories are generating waiting-list demand.
1. Maven Optics
We were blown away by the quality and attention to detail in Maven’s binoculars. The Wyoming-based company was founded by Brendon Weaver, Mike Lilygren and Cade Maestas in 2013 with a consumer-direct sales model to offer outstanding optics at great prices. Maven got ahead of the curve, promoting self-propelled backcountry hunting at just the right time, and dipping into the lucrative birding industry. We caught a glimpse of Maven’s quality during the spring migration, when our naturalist tester carried Maven B.3 10-power bins to keep tabs on new bird arrivals. The compact B.3s ($500-550, depending on magnification) are compact and lightweight at 16.5 ounces, with premium ED glass and a lifetime warranty. For a bit more viewing power in a somewhat larger package, check out the Maven B.1 ($950-1,000). The B.1s offer a more stable image with incredible brightness. Maven’s sales model means you can customize your new binoculars, spotting- or rifle scope with colors and engraving. [mavenbuilt.com]
2. Norrona Apparel
Norrona is an outdoor apparel staple if you’ve ever travelled to Norway, where the company originated in 1929. Founder Jorgen Jorgensen used traditional materials like leather and canvas to create outdoor equipment that excelled in Norway’s diverse landscape, which ranges from ocean fjords to skyscraping mountains. The company later expanded to design clothing with innovative materials like Gore-Tex and hybrid woolen knits, with distinctive European styling. Legendary polar explorer Borge Ousland is a long-time Norrona ambassador, using its products for Arctic expeditions since 1990. The Svalbard Heavy Duty pants ($239) live up to their name, with a cotton-polyester blend that repels mist, resists abrasion and feels comfortable. We immediately compared the Svalbard pant to comparable offerings from Fjallraven—and were impressed with the functionality and attention to detail. The Svalbard pants have just enough bells and whistles to be functional without being overwhelming, including convenient thigh vents and expandable ankles that allow the pants to be pulled over large footwear. The Falketind Warmwool2 hooded shirt ($199) features Norrona’s unique wool blend that’s stretchy for active use in the shoulder seasons or layering in the cold. The label’s great clothing comes with solid environmental cred and corporate responsibility. Norrona has outlets in New York City, Boulder, CO, and Castle Rock, CO. [norrona.com]
3. Appalachian Gear Company
We discovered this North Carolina upstart last fall, just as the company’s unique alpaca-fiber products started generating a serious online buzz. Co-founder John Gage says the Appalachian Gear Company was created to stretch the norms of what’s possible in lightweight outdoor performance garments—without the use of synthetic materials or chemical processing. “No one else had done it,” says Gage, “and no one seemed to believe we could pull it off.” Mission accomplished, we said, after testing the company’s versatile All-Paca Fleece Hoodie ($153). The cozy alpaca fabric is remarkably durable, compact and cozy—with natural anti-odor properties that makes it easy to maintain. We’ve been equally impressed by the Appalachian Gear Company’s All-Paca Sleeping Bag Liner ($112), which adds 10 degrees of warmth with minimal weight. All this innovation has us excited to see Gage’s latest innovation: A sleeping bag “unlike anything else on the market” that’s set for release this summer. [appalachiangearcompany.com]
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