Sisterhood of the Traveling GORE-TEX Pants
Learn how a pair of iconic GORE-TEX pants helped stitch together one family's love of the outdoors season to season and generation to generation.
The pants began their life in 1977, stitched together on a small sewing machine at the tiny Crag Customwork facility in Index, Washington. My mother, younger than I am now, chose the colors—bright green and blue—to match the tones of the forest and sky on a bluebird day in the Pacific Northwest.
She first wore the pants on a stormy climb of Mount Rainier, thankful to have replaced her sweltering nylon with the new waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX fabric that had recently become the talk of the town. The pants made it up the Grand Teton, into the wild Valhalla Range, and remained—thankfully—stuffed in her backpack on many fair-weather trips through the North Cascades.
The pants were well used and very cherished. In the summertime especially, they found themselves in the high country more often than not, and the mountains are certainly where they felt most at home. The pants retained their waterproof and breathable nature throughout the years and—despite my mom’s proclivity toward hard use and a spoken passion for glissading down snow slopes on her backside—developed no holes or tears.
Then, shortly after my sister was born in 1983, the pants were folded and placed in a box in my grandfather’s basement. It wasn’t long before they forgot about the freedom of the hills, sunk into their folds, and grew accustomed to the dark.
In those days, extra diapers and baby wipes were more vital than rain gear, and most of our days spent outside were under sunny skies anyway. My parents embraced new adventures with their two young children: day hikes, trips to the ocean, living in the Middle East. My mom was the organizing force, my dad the packhorse. They went to great lengths to raise their two daughters to feel at home in wild places; a large effort, although they wouldn’t have wanted to spend their time any other way.
And yet, throughout all those years, the pants stayed tucked in the box, idle, but not forgotten.
Despite a great deal of family adventure, my parents’ lives had certainly changed. No longer did they get out into the mountains every weekend, or for entire months during the summer. There were soccer games and art groups, play dates and work responsibilities.
Planning a trip meant packing for four instead of two, and for my dad, it meant carrying upward of 80 pounds. My family had moved to the Midwest, and the mountains were far, far away.
And climbing, climbing had taken on a whole new meaning.
Sometime during those years, the box in my grandfather’s basement was cracked open, and my mother’s hand reached in to pull out the pants. For a while, the blue and green GORE-TEX pants mostly kept out city rain, worn by my mom during wet bike commutes. Occasionally they would make it out on the trail, through dripping Midwest forests, a daypack bouncing spiritedly above. Little did the pants know, they would soon be back in their mountain home.
Once my sister and I were school-aged, the pants began making an annual week-long pilgrimage into the mountains each summer—the Sawtooths, Tetons, Olympics, Sequoias, North Cascades—where they would again keep my mom’s legs dry and breathable, just as they had all those years before. And while Crag Customwork came and went, the GORE-TEX brand GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® promise never faded.
Those trips are woven deep into my being, the golden thread standing out amid years of memories. My mom poured over guidebooks to bring us to the most beautiful areas. My dad always set a timer while we hiked: 45 minutes on the trail, 15-minute break, 45, 15, repeat. We sang hiking songs, constructed backcountry toilets, and read books as a family. Every trip, my dad would carry a surprise pop for my sister and me, extracting the cans from the depths of his pack on day four or five, just when we were really craving a refreshing drink.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always easy bringing young kids into the mountains. But it was always, always good.
My sister and I carried our water and snacks on our backs, and as we grew, took more and more weight from our parents. Each summer’s trip was longer and more involved, and soon we were traveling cross-country, over glaciers, and up rocky peaks. We began repeating trips that my parents had taken before we were born. And as we walked in the footsteps of our parents, we even grew to fit into those blue and green pants.
The pants never lost their functionality, and still haven’t, to this day. My sister and I are grown now, as old as my mom and dad were when they became parents. We’re both avid climbers and adventurers, the mountains ingrained in us like the ABCs and multiplication tables. We have picked up right where our folks left off: repeating their favorite climbs and adding more to the list, visiting their favorite areas, and finding more of our own.
And sometimes…sometimes we even sport the pants.