Have you ever wondered why Outdoor Research is called Outdoor Research? There’s a great story behind it. One that involves a job being quit for a dream adventure, testing out frozen peanut M&Ms and an open bivouac on Denali. Ron Gregg, the founder of Outdoor Research, was a quirky guy who started the company because he wanted to perfect gear that had let him down. Here are 18 facts about Gregg and the founding of OR that you may not know—and might even make you laugh.
Ron Gregg was a physicist—and helped invent a laser to help measure the settlement of earthen dams. It was traveling for this work that helped hook him on the life of adventure.
Gregg was known for his substantial mustache.
He quit his job to be able to try a new route on Denali.
While many outdoorspeople tend to gravitate toward specializing in a single type of adventure, dividing themselves into categories like “mountain people” or “river people,” Gregg was an all-around explorer. Not only was he an alpine climber, he also spent months of his life on river trips.
Before this Denali trip, he tried on EVERY SINGLE mountaineering boot at REI, taking each one apart and weighing all its components.
In order to save weight by cutting his fuel consumption on the expedition (he planned to eat only one warm meal per week), he stuck different foods in the freezer to test how they reacted to cold. The top performers, he found, were peanut M&Ms, peanut butter, Havarti cheese and summer sausage.
Instead of having a plane drop them on a nearby glacier—like most Denali climbers—he planned a human-powered expedition skiing from the highway 100 miles away, and hauling their own gear and 45 days’ worth of supplies on sleds. His “sled” was made from a pair of his sister’s skis.
For that trip, he customized his gaiters to attach to his boots using a wire or cord that tenioned around the welt between the boot and sole and then crossed underneath the boot—whereas previous gaiter designs has used a rubber band stretched over the boot. The new design held the gaiter down for insulation over the entire boot.
The backpack he took to Denali was a boxy, handmade design called “the Refrigerator” that was so durable it lasted for 17 more years after that.
When his partner was air-lifted off the glacier after suffering frostbite on his toes following an open bivouac at 12,500 feet, Gregg turned down the flight back at the last minute, opting instead to ski the entire way back alone. That way he could pick up all the food caches they’d left, instead of leaving anything behind on the mountain.
It was his partner’s frostbite—possibly due to inadequate protection provided by those customized gaiters—that inspired Gregg to dedicate himself to making outdoor equipment designed specifically for the type of environment it would be used in. He founded Outdoor Research.
The first product Gregg dived into perfecting was the X-Gaiter—the one they’d used on that fateful Denali trip. And there must have been a real need for them because the new company, OR, sold $50,000 worth of the gaiters in their first year of production.
To see which type of bagel would perform better as expedition food, he bought five different flavors and left them out on the counter to see which ones molded last.
Gregg was famous for swearing while skiing. Having refused telemark lessons, he used what friends describe as “gorilla style” to make it down the slope, falling left and right—and projecting a stream of expletives the entire way.
In the mid-90s, Burton offered to buy Outdoor Research at an eight-figure price. But when Gregg was on his way to Vermont to close the deal, he stopped partway, missing his flight to Burlington from Chicago and boarding the next plane back to Seattle—aborting the deal.
The beginning of OR’s foray into apparel was Gregg’s trip to Aconcagua, where he wore a pair of Spandura pants he’d sewn for himself, reverse engineering his favorite pair of Sears polyester jeans.
Gregg was obsessed with perfection—but not with work. Each year while he headed the company, he took between one and three months off for his own adventures.
In 2003 Gregg passed away, buried along with two other skiers in an avalanche while skiing Grizzly Bowl in BC’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
Source: Designed by Adventure: 30 Years of Outdoor Research by Topher Donahue