Producers of outdoor sporting goods thrive in Montana

Montana State Roundup

Published January 1, 1996  | January 1996 issue

An ancient native legend tells how to judge the coldness of the night by how many dogs are needed in igloos or teepees for a comfortable night's rest, according to a brochure by Three Dog Down, a company in Polson that builds on images of rugged outdoors life in Montana to promote its products. A company thermometer shows that if three dogs are needed, it's below zero.

Three Dog Down, which sells down comforters and manufactures sleeping bags and products for horse riders, is one of several small producers of outdoor sporting goods that are finding their niche in Montana. Nestled in mountains and streams, these companies are taking advantage of their location in Montana's reputed outdoor recreation area, says Gene Marcille, state director of Small Business Development Centers. "Most of these companies have seen good growth in this state," Marcille says.

Four years ago Three Dog Down introduced the Doctor Down Rescue Wrap, a medical rescue bedding popular among ski patrols, says president Robert Ricketts. Two years ago "The Bob"—a fully adjustable sleeping bag that is comfortable from temperatures of 70 above to 40 below and named for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area—went into commercial production. Now, up to 30 bags are in production each week at Three Dog Down, which has 14 employees.

Crazy Creek Products in Red Lodge produces a light-weight fold out chair designed for backpacking, canoeing and watching sporting events at the stadium, says John Elsberry, business manager. The company employees 44 in a community of about 1,900 and distributes to over 1,000 outlets. Most sales are in the United States, with some in Canada and Japan.

Another Montana entrepreneur, Molly Strong, designed her first boot in 1989 with principles that she claims go against conventional boot making, but are in sync with nature. She was inspired by observing how animals keep their feet warm. "I noticed that my dog never had cold feet and never fell down," Strong says.

Instead of using leather and rubber, her patented design uses fabrics that aren't waterproof, but keep your feet warm. The lightweight, machine-washable boots have a flat, soft sole with "unbelievable traction," Strong says.

As an independent inventor, Strong has spent much time securing financing and protecting her patent, leaving little time for advertising; nevertheless the orders keep coming. "The fact that it works is the best advertising we have," Strong says.

Strong's handmade boots take 12 to 14 hours to produce, but production of a machine-made boot is just starting on the East Coast. The manufactured boot will eventually be made in Montana, Strong says.

Rob Grunewald