Silver anniversary for CamelBak, Chaco

By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

CamelBak hydration systems and Chaco sandals have both been innovative in the outdoor industry since 1989, celebrating their 25th year in business in 2014.

CamelBak has come a long way since it started as a hospital IV bag inside of a tube sock. The Petaluma, Calif.-based company was the first to sell hands-free hydration systems, and now offers a wide product lineup of hydration packs, bottles, vests, belts and filtration pitchers.

In 2009, CamelBak introduced the first ever BPA-free water bottle, which is now the best-selling reusable bottle on the market, and the company entered the housewares marketplace earlier this year with its Relay double-filtration water pitcher.

CambelBak was popular with the spandex crowd in the '90s. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMELBAK

CambelBak was popular with the spandex crowd in the ’90s. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMELBAK

“Much has changed since 1989, but our goals remain the same,” said CamelBak CEO and President Sally McCoy. “We are fully dedicated to what we make, how we make it, for whom we make it and the way it impacts people’s lives.”

CamelBak has its roots in cycling – the founders imagined the idea of hands-free hydration during the Hotter ‘N Hell 100-mile bike race in Texas – and the company continues to engineer and update products for bikers. Available next year, its Kudu mountain bike hydration packs will have fully-integrated, foam impact protection, and the company has also re-engineered its NV Back Panel, a ventilation system designed for maximum airflow.

“I’ve had a lot of CamelBak products, since I’ve been an avid cyclist for a long time,” said Marc Lange, a bicycle mechanic at Grizzly Outfitters in Big Sky Town Center. “I got turned onto it by a triathlete in the late ‘90s.”

Lange, 38, said he used to carry water bottles in his pack and would have to stop riding to hydrate, as he didn’t have a water bottle cage on his bike in those days.

“It was one of those blinding flashes of the obvious moments,” Lange said of his first CamelBak. “Why would you ever go back?”

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Chaco’s founder Mark Paigan – a whitewater rafting guide living in Paonia, Colo. – started making sandals out of his home in 1989 under the brand name “Gecko,” selling them to some of his clients and fellow guides. In 1993, the company moved out of Paigan’s home and into its first commercial facility, and in 1995 the company changed its name to Chaco, to avoid confusion with a T-shirt company also named Gecko.

In the past 25 years, Chaco has built a passionate consumer base of river runners and outdoor enthusiasts.

“I got my first Chacos in 2003,” said Lange, who also started guiding rivers in 1997. “I took the plunge and got into the Z/2 [model] and really appreciated how the toe loop allowed me to boulder around the side canyons of the Grand Canyon.”

To celebrate the company’s silver anniversary, Chaco this summer embarked on a nationwide brand experience tour, held multiple contests, and launched a line of limited edition, vintage products.

“We see this anniversary celebration as a meaningful opportunity to give back to our friends and loyal customers,” said Chaco Marketing Manager Colin Butts.

The company also launched a “Fit For Adventure” tour that started in Houston, Texas in May and is stopping at whitewater events, music festivals and Southeastern Conference college football games. It made stops in the southeastern U.S. and as far west as Telluride, Colo. The tour will end the last weekend of September at the Nantahala Outdoor Center Guest Appreciation Festival in Fontana Dam, N.C.

“We’re excited to… engage with our most loyal consumers face to face, and thank them for making the brand what it is today,” Butts said. Chaco also posted an interactive timeline on chacos.com for its fans to upload their own images and stories, and be entered to win Chaco footwear.

Whether you’re a cyclist, river enthusiast or just appreciate well-made, functional gear for your outdoor pursuits, 1989 was a watershed year with the launch of Camelbak and Chaco.