No escape to nature is complete without a trip to an outdoor recreational store or a browse through online offerings. This is the irony of the American outdoor experience: visiting wild spaces supposedly untouched by capitalism first requires shopping. With consumers spending billions of dollars on clothing and equipment each year as they seek out nature, the American outdoor sector grew over the past 150 years from a small collection of outfitters to an industry contributing more than 2 percent of the nation’s economic output.
Rachel S. Gross argues that this success was predicated not just on creating functional equipment but also on selling an authentic, anticommercial outdoor identity. In other words, shopping for the woods was also about being—or becoming—the right kind of person. Demonstrating that outdoor culture is commercial culture, Gross examines Americans’ journey toward outdoor expertise by tracing the development of the nascent outdoor goods industry, the influence of World War II on its growth, and the boom years of outdoor businesses.
“Who would have imagined that a 150-year history of recreational clothing from buckskins to Gore-Tex could offer so many unexpected insights—and so much sly humor—about the American past? Rachel Gross’s Shopping All the Way to the Woods will delight anyone who loves the great outdoors . . . or who dreams of far-flung travels while perusing equipment catalogs and sporting-goods stores.”—William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
“With lively prose and fascinating research, Rachel Gross opens readers’ eyes to the corporate history undergirding America’s culture of outdoor recreation and their mutual interdependence. A must-read!”—Annie Gilbert Coleman, author of Ski Style: Sport and Culture in the Rockies
“A fascinating lineage tracing our industry’s first moments through today’s cutting-edge goods and exploring how our products and messaging evolved through the years to inspire America’s outdoor identity.”—Beaver Theodosakis, prAna founder
“A great read for any self-respecting outdoor gear junkie. I particularly enjoyed the history of gear from the buckskin era of the nineteenth century through the WWII surplus era of the ’50s and ’60s.”—Steve Barker, cofounder, Eagle Creek Adventure Travel
“This tremendous work is a completely new look at American history, consumerism, and national mythology, told with equal parts diligence and wit. It will forever change the way you kit up for a hike.”—Avery Trufelman, host of Articles of Interest and Nice Try! and former producer of 99% Invisible
“This unique book confronts the ‘profitable paradox’ of outdoor recreation: the illusion that an escape to the wilderness is contingent on purchasing expensive, specialized equipment.”—Silas Chamberlin, author of On The Trail: A History of American Hiking