Made in Colorado: Great Stuff for the Great Outdoors
Creative Colorado makers appeal to the nature enthusiast
Richard Jones Convertible Backpacks
Richard Jones was bicycle touring in the 1970s and ’80s when he started making backpacks for himself. Because his bags were attached, “I’d drag my bike up the trail,” Jones says. “It seemed like a stupid way to get around.” But his convertible concept transformed bike-mounted bags to a wearable pack and allowed him to stash his bike at the bottom of the hill.
Jones started selling packs he sewed himself in 1981, then teamed with seamstresses in Fort Collins five years later. “That worked out a lot better,” he laughs. Making backpacks was Jones’ side hustle while he worked in the QA industry by day. Now retired, he redesigned and relaunched the product in 2012 after a hiatus of more than a decade. “It’s a much better backpack than it ever was,” Jones says.
» 320 to $550 retail.
» Made by Richard Jones Convertible Backpacks, Fort Collins, www.pannierbackpacks.com
Colorado Camper Vans
Derek Weber cut the top off of an old van in a Greeley junkyard with a Sawzall in 2008 to make his first camper van. He started Colorado Camper Van the next year and started adding pop-tops to customers’ vans and decking out the interiors.
A decade later, the company has 25 employees and a reputation as the Rolls-Royce of the camper van industry. “Of the three companies that do this, maybe four, Colorado Camper Van is the best,” Director of Marketing Chris Gorski says. “It’s the best-engineered camper van.”
There are no Sawzall surgeries in junkyards anymore. The company works with vendors for some components and sews, welds and otherwise manufactures in-house. Customers provide the van; Colorado Camper Van works on a variety of models from Mercedes-Benz, Ford and other manufacturers.
Gorski estimates the company will work on 200 vans in 2019. “It’s an international market,” he says. “We just shipped a van to Switzerland.”
» About $13,000 for pop-tops, $20,000 to $40,000 for interiors and $45,000 for a “fully decked-out” camper van.
» Made by Colorado Camper Van, Loveland, www.coloradocampervan.com
Deli Fresh Design Fly-Fishing Bags
After graduating from Fort Lewis College in 2011, Ross White worked in security at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Denver Art Museum before pursuing a career tied to his longtime passion of fly-fishing. "I've been fishing my whole life," he says. "I've been an avid fly-tier since I was a kid." It follows that White bought a pair of "sturdy” Singer sewing machines — one from the 1910s and the other from the 1950s — and started sewing fly wallets, chest packs and other accessories in 2017.
Many products feature old sailcloth and other repurposed materials. "At a certain point, it needs to be thrown away," White says of sailcloth. "It's a great material for bags, and it has a second life in my products."
» About $20 to $200 retail.
» Made by Deli Fresh Design, Denver, www.delifreshdesign.com
Outdoor Element Survival Bracelets
Engineer Michael Mojica made his first survival bracelet about five years ago. Called the Kodiak, it includes a fire-starting buckle and cord that doubles as kindling, as well as fishing line and a hook, just in case the wearer is lost in the woods. Mojica filed for a patent on the Kodiak and funded it via Kickstarter but didn’t quit his day job until teaming with consumer products veteran Joe Brown in 2017.
The Kodiak and its counterpart Woolly Mammoth bracelet (no hook or line) are sewn in Aurora by the Kahase family, refugees from Eritrea. Outdoor Element also works with contract manufacturers to make other products, including Firebiners (fire-starting carabiners) and backpacks, with new products slated to debut at the National Hardware Show in May.
» 14.99 to $24.99 retail.
» Made by Outdoor Element, Centennial, www.ourdoorelement.com. Website includes a dealer locator.