Despite its near-legendary status among today’s bowhunters for its respected hunting packs, and brand-new hunting apparel, Badlands actually found its start under the parent company Vortex Outdoors making backpacks for mountaineering.
“Instead of crampons and ice axes, we were actually looking for ways to strap our bows—and the rest of our hunting gear—on our packs,” remembered Bill Crawley, general manager and founder of Badlands. “Although the company’s original focus was mountaineering, what we really loved to do was bowhunt.
“The reason we were trying to repurpose the mountaineering packs was simple—better technology and they were readily available. It didn’t take long before we got the idea to take a look at the hunting industry and see what it was offering. What we found was essentially book bags with a camo pattern.
“It just didn’t seem right,” Crawley continued. “All of the technology and engineering we were doing was going into mountaineering packs where the guys were striving to carry as little gear as possible with as light a load as possible; stick mostly to the trails and simply transit around. Hunters, on the other hand, were carrying huge amounts of gear up the mountain and then adding meat and antlers or horns to that weight on the way back down.”
“We were a bit worried when we came out with our first fanny pack for hunters,” Crawley remembered “It was set to retail for $59. At that time, people thought we were smoking something to think hunters would buy a pack at that price. However, we started building them and the right people were buying. Before long, it was like a virus. Hunters really grasped the technology and even for those that didn’t fully understand it—they felt the difference.”
“We were the first to make hunting packs sized to the person who would be wearing it,” said Crawley. “Where our competition was taking square blocks of foam and wrapping fabric around it, we developed a system to mold the foam to the size and shape we needed. Instead of blocks of foam, we wanted the foam to fit the body and come together like two parts of a puzzle. One of our guys finally took a running shoe apart. It was easy to see how the heel was molded to fit your heel. That’s why your feet feel great at the end of a day wearing a tennis shoe and hurt after a day in an essentially flat-heeled dress shoe.
“After that we focused less on finding cool ways to carry a maglight on your pack and more on how you build a pack so your most-destructive friend couldn’t break it,” Crawley continued. “We started doing things that were considered crazy. Every piece of webbing had to go into a minimum of two seams. Then we discovered Kevlar thread, which at the time was $400 per spool, but amazingly strong. We started using it to reinforce all of the stress points. Essentially, we engineered a lot of things that simply were not being done in the hunting industry—many were not even being done in the mountaineering industry either.”
The last step was to guarantee the products unconditionally. “We took a lot of heat for that one. Everyone thought we would go out of business with a guarantee like that. That kind of guarantee builds a lot of trust. Today, we don’t understand how anyone can build a company without that kind of guarantee,” stated Crawley.
New Clothing Line Emerges Not wishing to just take a successful brand, develop a new line and throw its logo onto it, Badlands spent over six years designing, testing, and tweaking its new-for-2012 clothing line. “The Alpha Jacket is one of the new flagship products. We are very proud of it because of some of the advances in technology we were able to offer in seam taping,” Crawley explained. “The seams are taped with what we call Dynamic Taping. With this the membrane actually stretches to move with you.
“Adding to that are several technologies we sought out from different industries to ensure the membrane would allow the wearer to vaporize sweat while remaining 100 percent waterproof,” Crawley said. “We didn’t just look to build a jacket that had the best of what other manufacturers of hunting clothes called its best; we wanted a hunting jacket that would put a $600 mountaineering jacket to shame when compared head-to-head.”
“For our 2013 line, we’ll actually be offering garments with zero sewing,” Crawley explained. “Sewing is counter productive to waterproofing. By its very nature sewing punches holes through the material and the thread works like a wick. For 2013, we’ll be introducing new end-to-end RF welded seams.
Kali Series Targets Women Clothing companies have become strongly focused on garments designed specifically for women—both for fit and style. This concept was not lost on Badlands with the introduction of the Kali Fanny pack. “We didn’t want to simply take a pack off the shelf and throw a pink ribbon on it and call it a ‘ladies pack.’ We started looking at the female anatomy (There wasn’t a shortage of volunteers for this project).
Typically, women have shorter torsos; their hips are more curved than men, they have different ‘situations’ in the chest area than men. Women also carry their weight in the midsection where men carry it in the shoulders and pecs. “The Kali Series was designed with all of these factors in mind to make it more comfortable for women. We knew there were a lot of women hunters and no one was making packs that were ergonomically designed for them, but we really underestimated the demand. Women simply began coming out of the woodwork and clamoring for the Kalis. In the future we anticipate many more gender-specific offerings,” Crawley concluded.