Sleeping bag kits from the 70s

A little help with my memory here!

Back in the 70s Frostline was the major marketer of various sew-it-yourself kits. Their method for filling bags, jackets and vests was to supply paper tubes of down which were inserted into the chambers and turned inside-out with a yardstick.

Another manufacturer supplied down in PVA packs. the idea was that you would wash the item to dissolve the PVA. Questionable in my mind, but so be it.

Problem is that for the life of me I cannot remember the name of the company! Started with “A” as I recall…not Alp Sport, not Alpenlite, not Alpine Designs.

Any of you fellow graybeards remember?


Remember what?

And what brought this to mind?
Your mention reminded me that I had a down vest from a Frostline kit years and years ago. My mommy sewed it for me.

I made a Frostline rain parka when we
lived in western Oregon. But the coating soon stuck to itself and pulled off the fabric. I would give Frostline an E for effort.

Altra and Holubar
Boy, that brings back memories!

You may be thinking of Altra kits (which were manufactured in Boulder, CO, by some folks who split off from Frostline.) I worked for one of the first east coast dealers for them and, having sewn quite a few Frostlines, I felt the Altra products were superior in design and materials. Also were much easier to sew for novices – I used to run intro classes at the shop for customers, using a lovely antique “red-eye” Singer treadle machine. They used the same technique for down insertion as Frostline – rupture a tube and invert it into the garment or bag casing. I sewed countless numbers of these kits for myself, friends and for pay for customers. Still have the wool lined mountain parka I sewed from them.

The kit company that used the PVA “water-soluble” down packets was not Altra, however, but Holubar, which was the kit division of Trailwise (which was the backpacking gear division of Ski Hut out in Berkeley CA.) I made one of their super-expedition weight 40 below zero down sleeping bags (with 4 lbs of down!!!) in my twenties back when i was winter camping and mountaineering. Darn thing had 14 inches of loft (I came back to a cabin with some firewood one morning to find one of my mates standing over the empty bag nagging me to get up – it looked like someone was still in it.) Couldn’t use the thing above zero or it was like a sauna. The PVA bags did a great job containing the down (you manipulated and tore them open through the nylon after stitching the baffle shut). However, after absorbing various moisture from the human in the bag and condensation without, the PVA shreds became little crunchy lumps which were noisy and weird. I loaned the bag to a buddy for an expedition to Aconcagua in Argentina – he reported it kept him warm but he felt like he was sleeping in a pile of candy wrappers sometimes.

Sold that crunchy bag years ago (tired of hauling the weight and went to a two bag system for cold weather). Still have my Trailwise down mummy bag though – they made excellent gear, both ready made and in the Holubar kits.

Yeah, it seems to be coming back to me now…Thanks for the “brain prod”.


Interesting post…
Very informative, never knew about kits until now, thanks!

No more kits, alas!
Far as I can determine, nobody makes the kits anymore. But Seattle Fabrics has some quite nice patterns and most, if not all, of the materials you would need to make a range of packs, raingear, tents, bivy sacks and other outdoor clothing and gear items. Don’t recall any down-filled garments or bags but they do sell down, i believe, for anyone brave enough to attempt to construct their own insulated items.

I suspect the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese-made down jackets and sleeping bags, and the fact that few people sew anymore or have time to do so, are likely the main reasons the kit market wasted away to nothing by the mid 90’s.

Well, I’ll Be
I had a a Frostline synthetic vest I bought from a place called “Ozark Outdoors” here in MO and paid a neighbor lady to sew up for me. Have to go through some old photos and find a picture. I remember it was rust colored with maybe tan, orange and brown on it. I wore it for several years. WW

Many patterns are available,
and from my time spent on Hammock it sure appears that many folks tackle sewing under and top quilts from scratch. Some use various synthetic insulation and many use down (available from several cottage sewing operations, either 800 or 900 fill power).


70’s colors
Yep, back in the day (1970’s) most outdoor gear came in 3 basic colors: navy blue, forest green and rust (rust was rarer and highly prized). There was a smattering of red and royal blue (remember Gerry gear? And Camp 7 and Snow Lion sleeping bags? And Camp Trails and Alpenlight frame packs? Anyone remember that bike maker Cannondale used to make tents and backpacks as well?) Funny how “fashion” even penetrates the “pragmatic” arena of wilderness equipment.

Seems nowadays that a lot of outdoors folk look like Special Ops commandos in all black (especially if they get most of their kit from Campmor). Navy used to be the “generic” color for gear and now it’s black.

Personally, I’m happy about the huge range of cool colors you can get for outdoor gear now. I look like a fruit salad when I paddle – lime green or red kayak, pumpkin orange PFD, yellow dry top, purple polartec hat, electric blue deck bag. But you’d be hard pressed to find much gear in navy or forest green anymore. And rust? Forget about it! (I loved my rust Altra mountain parka – wore it out, in fact.)

I still like making my own stuff
It really doesn’t save a LOT of money but I still like sewing and/or customizing my own gear. Planning to make my own Goretex storm cag by modifying a nice anorak pattern (Green Pepper designs, I think) I got from Seattle Fabrics. Also got their bivy bag pattern (though I’ve made those from scratch before.)Stuff like drybags and cockpit covers are easy and cheap to sew. Though I’ve got a fancy serger and electronic regular sewing machine I inherited from my mom, I still prefer to sew on a 115 year old Singer treadle – nice tight stitches, good control and that thing would stitch through a 2 by 4 as long as you put a strong enough needle on it.

I found in my years of teaching people to sew the kits that many of the best gear sewers turned out to be men rather than women. I think the problem with women who were experienced sewers is that they thought they knew better what they were doing than the instructions would direct them and tended to ignore the pattern directions. The guys followed the instructions to the letter and many were very inventive once they figured out what they were doing. It always tickled me to see a big gruff sportsman all excited and proud of the down vest he’d managed to sew by himself.

Wow, that brings back memories!
That was the time when there was an explosion of alpine-style gear hitting the market. Everything was designed with mountain hiking in mind, and doing backbacking trips “out west” was all anybody in my neck of the woods ever talked about.

Speaking of styles and colors, particularly that “rust” color, remember how once the alpine-gear explosion leveled off, the next cool thing was contrasting colors, and every vest and jacket had a contrasting color (usually rust) in a cape, or yoke sewn-in across the shoulders?

When was the last time you saw a down vest of any kind? I think that fleece shirts are the “down vests” of the present time. Before down vests, it was wool sweaters.

Old Gear
Can’t fine the picture I remember. Of course, back then pictures were rare and only took the few snapshots with the little 110 camera.

My backpack was a navy blue Camp Trails Adjustable II that matched my navy blue North Face Superlight that I still have and is my sleeping bag that still use since purchased in 1976.

Anybody remember seeing the “Rainbow” sleeping bag? Don’t remember the brand, but there was one that had colored baffles and was the sleeping bag I really wanted. But the North Face was about 1/2 the price and my $1.25 an hour working as a “Curbhop” required discretion! WW

I’ve made kits from both
Frostline and Altra, way back. Had a down filled vest with zip off sleaves that I used for years. I remember filling it with the down, insert the plastic tube, turn it inside out, hold the opening shut, and pull out the tube. Except it was wiinter, and the static made the palstic tube attract the down like a magnet. Which released it when you pulled it out, it looked like a small snow storm by the time I was done. Anyway, the stuff was pretty well designed, and as well made as you could make it. And it taught me a skill I still use today. When my daughter needs help sewing, and asks her mother, she usually says “Ask your father”.

Ah, the 70s
I started hiking with an REI down sweater purchased in 1974 (with my CO-OP membership) and a wood and nylon rope frame backpack made by an older brother from plans he found somewhere. What a torture rack! It was a pleasure to step up to a hand-me-down, steel-frame REI backpack with an ACTUAL WAIST-BELT in about 1977. I wore the down jacket out about 10 years ago. I think I still have the pack somewhere, time to empty a closet. I still have an old fiberfill mummy bag too, in surprisingly good shape.

Remember down booties?
And everybody shuffling around camp with them, looking like big-footed cartoon characters? The suckers were warm, though. At least until you sat with them too close to the fire and melted the nylon.

Rainbow sleeping bag
Re that “rainbow” sleeping bag. There may have been another source (maybe Camp 7?) but I seem to recall Altra kits made up a few of those as a promo item. I coveted it too, but the shop where I worked used it as a promotional raffle give away.

Working minimum wage selling that stuff at outfitters in my early twenties, seemed like most of my pay went to payoff my shop account of new gear I couldn’t live without. Every time UPS brought a shipment it was like Christmas! I lived on peanut butter sandwiches, rode a battered 10-speed bike year round for transport, got my clothes at Goodwill and shared a crummy rowhouse with 5 roommates, but I had top of the line backpacking gear! Those were the days…

ok so…
I always wondered why my dad’s old stuff was all rust and navy. Now i know! He still has some old Snow Lion navy blue down jackets and super fuzzy polypro jackets.

Anyways, down vests are back again even with the contrasting western shirt style yoke. Down booties haven’t gone anywhere and if you want low top pink ones North Face can hook you up.

Don’t remember the rainbow
but my down bag is a Camp 7 in purple (grape, I think is what they called it). 1973 graduation present and still going strong (I’ve gone throug a few synthetics, however). Snow Lion synthetic parka in rust (seen in pics from the other post). I still have an wear synthetic down booties from EMS, too.


– Last Updated: Nov-04-10 8:29 AM EST –

I bought a down bag (not kit) from REI back then by a company that I believe was Seattle based called Thaw. It was my first lite weight bag as prior to that we had very limited places to find decent out door gear here in the Northeast as stores like EMS or IME had not even come on to the streets.

In the earliest of days (60's) we relied heavily on trying to find a large scale Army - Navy surplus store. Shopped for gear and clothing labeled as "Jungle weight" to be used for summer time use and "Winter weight" stuff for the colder months. The down bags were well constructed, beefy, but not the lightest and I think used feathers other then goose down. The clothing was tough, loose fitting and worked well in the outdoors. Used a lot in my early rock climbing days as cheap enough to replace if you blew holes in it and not to restrictive for movement.

Outside of either doing kits, Army - Navy surplus or mail ordering (REI) the remaining two options was Limmers the boot maker in Intervale, N.H. as off of their barn they had a small room with gear they imported from companies like Edelweiss, Millet or Salewa, Svea, Optimus or Lowe. I don't remember them having bags, but, ropes, pitons, carabiners, packs, stoves, gaiters, tents etc. in that room or set up on the barn's floor They even had white water kayaks from Germany, long before that sport had truly arrived. Over on the Franconia side in North Woodstock in the basement of the old Ski Meister ski shop you also could find a limited, but quality (for the day) climbing and hiking gear. Beyond that there was just a smiter of old Yankee combo Hardware- Sports shops that might have random gear like Lahouts in Littleton.

Many of us manufactured something of our own may it been an anorak or bag or gaiters and out of that came several who turned their self taught adventures into a business like Chuck Roast (Chuck Henderson) who started making and selling packs and gaiters then switched to be one of the first in the nation to see the merit of pile clothing or Log House Designs that was one of the first in the nation to see the merit of simple Gore-Tex clothing and shelter systems. Unfortunately the exporting of American jobs pretty much buried both of those manufacturers who did employ a number of people locally. You also had Stephenson Tents that originally started in the 60's in California then moved to the Lakes Region of NH to set up shop as one of the country's first manufacturer of truly ultra light-weight outdoor gear with their line of tents. sleeping bags, packs and some clothing. Decades later I am still using some gear from most of the above.