1966 REI Catalog Outfitting Adventure

In the pre-internet age, the arrival of a mail-order catalog brought with it a sense of anticipation and the unknown. The 1966 REI catalog invoked such feelings in many who received it.

The 1960s saw a vast expansion in the number of people engaged in outdoor activities. The burgeoning environmental movement and the 1964 Wilderness Act helped shift popular perceptions of the wilderness. High profile climbs like the 1963 American ascent of Mount Everest helped inspire the movement. Increasing numbers of college students headed outside to hike and camp. Rock climbing, once the sport of a fringe group of misfits, was becoming more mainstream. Hiking, skiing, and backpacking were becoming popular. Many of these required gear, some of it specialized, that was at times hard to get and often expensive. The arrival of the 1966 REI catalog helped accommodate the growing enthusiasm for outdoor recreation across the northwest and the nation.

1960s era climbing gear and clothing, Ken Hollingsworth Collection VM1994.009

Founded in 1938, Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) provides quality gear at affordable prices. Mazamas caught on early to the value of REI as an outfitter. No trip north of Mt. Saint Helens was complete without a stopover at the downtown Seattle Pike Street store. Already a Northwest powerhouse, between 1960 and 1969 membership in REI grew by over 500%, and sales shot up by three times that amount. Fueled by the growing interest in the outdoors, REI rose to meet the demand. By the end of the decade, REI was shipping to every state in the nation and fifteen countries around the globe. Besides manufacturing gear, REI was importing equipment from nine European countries.

Jim Whittaker on the summit of Everest, from LIFE magazine, 1963.

REI was not only outfitting adventurers around the globe, their employees were grabbing headlines as well. The highest profile employee was Jim Whittaker. Jim was REI's first employee and the first American on the summit of Everest.

Back cover, 1966 REI Catalog

Jim used his clout to outfit the 1963 Everest expedition with gear, some of which was hand-picked from REI's shelves. REI was soon outfitting expeditions to peaks across the country and around the globe.

Northwest mountaineering legend Fred Beckey also helped fuel the fever for climbing and REI's growth. Beckey's book Challenge of the North Cascades, published in 1969, chronicled his more than 250 climbs, many of them first ascents. Along with others, these two high profile individuals inspired more and more people to embrace outdoor recreation.

Fred Beckey

The 1966 REI catalog was not only a product of the times but also a driver of the outdoor recreation movement. Each year’s catalog introduced new products or features that improved on the previous years. The new products were lighter, easier to use, and more efficient at protecting the user from the elements. The 1966 catalog sold many products we now take for granted such as waterproof pants, down jackets, Vibram boots, and aluminum frame backpacks, to name a few.

While REI was not the first nor the only outdoor recreation retailer at the time, there is no underestimating their influence on the future of outdoor recreation for years to come.

1960s climbers showcasing gear and apparel from the era. Ken Hollingsworth Collection VM1994.009

1966 REI catalog objects from the Mazama Library and Historical Collections

1966 REI Catalog, page 19
Lightweight aluminum cups, 1992.185.047 and 1991.181.007

Austrian & Swiss Sepple style mountain hats, available in wool and fur felt in a variety of colors, $4.95 - $8.95.

1966 REI Catalog, page 8
1992.185.006 Erwin Rieger Collection
A018E1 Austrian Rock Hammer, 1995.255.022 Edwin J. Dolan Collection

Primus Stove, No. 71L

1966 REI Catalog, page 15
Primus Stove No. 71L, 1995.255.060 Edwin J. Dolan Collection
1966 REI Catalog, page 38
Wind meter, 1995.255.020 Edwin J. Dolan Collection

Atlas Junior Rucksack, Randall B. & Rachael Kester Collection, 2009.025.001

1966 REI Catalog, page 44
1966 REI Catalog, page 43
Trapper Nelson Packboards #2 and #3, 1989.158.001 and 2009.003.001

Simond (Claudius) Dismountable ice axe, 2011.017.001 Ed Wortman Collection

1966 REI Catalog, page 32
1966 REI Catalog, page 32
Cassin Ice Axe, Standard size, 1996.270.002 Gordon L. Doty Collection

Be sure to stop by and check out these and other physical objects on display in the Mazamas Mountaineering Center Holman Auditorium.

Mazama Library and Historical Collections

The Mazamas have extensive collections of archival documents, photographs, and historical climbing equipment going back to the earliest days of Pacific Northwest mountaineering. The collections are open for research by appointment.

Created By
Mathew Brock

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