For over 40 years, Mike Pfotenhauer and his team at Osprey Packs have been creating high performance gear “that reflects our love of adventure and our devotion to the outdoors.” Like so many of the fascinating companies profiled in our Made in Colorado series, Osprey has an amazing story to tell and many enduring successes to celebrate.
The Mother of Invention
Like so many entrepreneurial innovators, Mike Pfotenhauer stumbled upon his life’s work organically and by fortuitous chance. He tells of family backpacking trips as a teen in Oregon, suffering under the weight of a pack with a bad fit. His mother mentored him in sewing, and at age 16, the prototype for his life’s work was birthed.
At the tender age of 21, Pfotenhauer opened a retail shop in the front of his Santa Cruz, California rental house. Like some modern-day Baba Yaga, word of his legendary skills spread, drawing backpackers and travelers in search of custom-fitted, made-to-order packs to his door. A company was born.
The same man who happened to dream the Straightjacket suspension compression system in 1998 just happened to spot a big old white building in Cortez, Colorado, in 1987 that happened to contain a Gore-Tex factory that happened to be closing that very day!
Mike Pfotenhauer’s partner in business and life, Diane Wren, recounts the serendipitous unfolding of the early years in this great video:
After many successful years in Cortez, Osprey realized in 2000 that in order to stay alive, they would have to move some production offshore to Korea and Vietnam. After commuting between Cortez and Vietnam for a few years, the Pfotenhauer family moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in 2003, living there for several years. Osprey has a fully-staffed product development office in Vietnam that interfaces with the production factories, where over 2,500 workers currently enjoy a livelihood, thanks to Osprey’s popularity.
Pack DominationOsprey has a huge line of packs for hiking, biking, snow play and even travel in the form of wheeled bags. Out of the box, creative thinkers are encouraged to apply for work with this company. The canary yellow Poco Raincover child carrier is a star of the kid’s line, providing the wee ones protection from the elements.
Osprey sponsors an eclectic mix of passionate athletic souls in the form of professional climber and foodie, professional mountain bike rider, ski mountaineer and environmental scientist, global explorer, and cross country mountain bike racer, to name just a few.
Their commitment to the environment is deep and wide. For 15 years Osprey has sewn labels inside their larger packs listing the Principles of Leave No Trace. Osprey supports dozens of organizations that protect wildlife, preserve ecosystems, maintain foot trails, and recycle. Half of the posts on their very active Facebook page are related to supporting their athletes and partners in preservation and conservation.
Any Product, Any Reason, Any EraOsprey’s All Mighty Guarantee promises that they will make every effort to repair one of their backs whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If repair is not possible, they will replace it, free of charge.
After reviewing the abundant historical documentation that Osprey has so lovingly preserved in its online archives, this Joseph Campbell quote came to mind:
If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure… then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.