Compass: Charting the Evolution of Outdoor Gear

The North Face History

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The North Face started as a small retail and mail order operation, in San Francisco, by Doug Tompkins with $5,000

name chosen because the north face of a mountain is generally the most formidable to climb, i.e., the north face of the Eiger

sells own brand outdoor gear, eg., sleeping bags labelled ‘Made for The North Face by Sierra Designs.’


Doug Tompkins sells The North Face's two stores (also Palo Alto) for $50,000 to brothers Glen and Arne Hiersoux


Dick "Hap" Klopp buys three TNF retails store, with designer Justus Bauschunger as a minor shareholder

Jack Gilbert employed (stays for 20 years)

move to Berkeley, and with a few sewing machines manufactures the first TNF gear in the back of the store.


the Sierra parka hits the market and becomes a classic in down outerwear.


The North Face factory opens in Berkeley, CA. Credence Clearwater Revival serenade while rehearsing next door

Mark Erickson employed, later becomes head of product development

patented Ruthsac released, precursor to internal frame rucksacks - pre-curved parallel staves and load lifter straps


Morning Glory tent is introduced

catalog promotes the use of solar power


Bob Gillis shows his geodesic dome tent idea to TNF, he and Mark Erickson work to commercialise the design

Easton Aluminium offers to adapt archery arrow shaft tubing into tent poles for the product

the Oval Intention, first geodesic dome backpacking tent design debuts, also first to use flexible aluminium poles

The North Face inaugurates Ice Nine Award for the entity contributing most to ecological destruction.


Back Magic pivoting hipbelt external frame pack released (or was it in 1972 ?)

Big Foot synthetic sleeping bag using Polarguard shingle construction


the VE-24 tent unleashed embodying R. Buckminster Fuller's theory of sphericity maximum efficiency with minimum materials


introduce overlapping shingle construction for synthetic sleeping bags


acquire the Holubar brand from Johnson Worldwide


introduce Stowaway: lightweight 2 layer Gore-Tex jacket and overpants that folded into their own internal zippered pocket


Extreme Gear ski clothing introduced

acquire a manufacturing plant in Glasgow, Scotland

begin producing Euro focused product line for European outdoor industry


employs 800 staff, sells into 700 speciality stores

20% of annual sales ($40 million USD) coming from own retail outlets (17 in total, including Holubar brand stores)

Scottish factory staff doubles to 110 people

export to 22 countries, with manufacturing licence agreements in Japan, Canada and Australia

largest producer of down sleeping bags in the USA


Mountain Gore-Tex jacket is introduced (its black shoulder patches would define a generation of outerwear)


Tadpole tent hatched

Snow leopard pack launches onto the backpacking market

Windy Pass economy line developed to test quality of Far East manufacturing, before moving TNF brand 'offshore'


Mountain Light jacket introduced

sales exceed $50 million USD

expedition integrated ski clothing system developed

company was acquired by Bill Simon’s Odyssey Holdings,oner of 30 outdoor brands

Erickson resigns, to later start Erickson Outdoors, a design and manufacturing consultancy

Jack Gilbert resigns, later to be CEO of Sierra Designs, And Mountain Hardwear


The North Face is a co-founder of the Outdoor Industry Conservation Alliance

designed special polar clothing and equipment for the six nation Trans Antarctic Expedition


Steep Tech ski clothing, designed by Scot Schmid released

develop No-Hitch-Pitch tent pitching system


debut Radial Baffle Construction of down sleeping bags


introduce Polarguard HV (high void) insulation for synthetic sleeping bags

paremt company, Odyssey Holdings, Inc. (OHI), files for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code


Company purchased by private consortium of Whitney & Co., Cason, and William McFarlane, at public auction for $62 million

incorporated as The North Face, Inc.


Vaporwick fabric unveiled

Climbing magazine rates Mountain Tent, the best two-person expedition tent


Tekware, technical sportswear/travelwear line launched

Polarguard 3D insulation provided as an intitial TNF exclusive

acquires A-5 Adventures, Inc., makers of big wall climbing gear

sales of $158.23 million USD, distributed to 840 US retailers who have about 1,200 retail stores,

25 'Summit Shops' shop within shops

518 employees, including staff in nine own US retail stores


Backpacker magazine bestows company with Silver Service Award for 25 years of innovation, citing Oval Intention tent


TNF Footwear launched


Company, (with annual revenues of about $240 million, yet on verge of bankruptcy) acquired by VF Corporation

The North Face now