Make Your Next Outdoor Adventure Made in America

By Scott Paul
Sep 01 2023 |
AAM President Scott Paul took a trek on the Missouri River in July, and took many Made in USA supplies along on his journey. Photos by Scott Paul

There’s plenty of American-made options for outdoor activities, from canoes and paddles to sleeping bags, tents, and more.

I’m going to first make a confession: This blog is mostly about posting pictures of beautiful scenery along the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana.

My boys and I spent four days and three nights along this remote stretch of the Missouri River in July. We did so to commune with nature and retrace a few days of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806. (If you’d like more information about the significance of the expedition you can reference Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, the Ken Burns documentary Lewis & Clark, and Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.)

This section of the river is popular for canoe expeditions because it is one of the few navigable and undammed segments of the Missouri River that looks today a lot like it would have appeared to the Lewis and Clark expedition, except with herds of cattle and the erosion they cause along riverbanks. We saw more bald eagles than we could count, and the white cliffs and sandstone formations along the route are truly unforgettable.

One awesome aspect of this adventure was the fact that so much of our outdoor equipment was Made in America. This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who try to shop Made in America whenever possible and spend a lot of time outdoors. While there are still plenty of imports in this market, even large retailers like REI and Bass Pro Shops have hundreds, if not thousands, of Made in America outdoor products in stock. And there are some great curations of Made in USA outdoor gear available on sites such as American Gear Guide, Gear Junkie, and USA Love List, in addition to our own coverage.

I’m going to highlight a couple of products that caught my attention on our excursion.

First, the canoe. We spent hours each day on the water, and while I not-so-fondly recall the heavy, metal canoes from the Boy Scout days of my youth, I was pleased that our outfitters supplied us with We-no-nah ultra-lightweight Kevlar canoes made in Minnesota. We-no-nah has been around since 1967 and handcrafts its canoes on the banks of the Mississippi River. Our journey was made so much more pleasurable by this company’s innovation.

Second, the canoe paddles. ZRE makes feather-light carbon fiber paddles in New York. It’s a go-to brand for many racing enthusiasts. And my shoulders and arms are forever grateful for the fact that the 70 or so strokes per minute we put in seemed effortless compared to heavier wood paddles.

Third, the dry bags. These were essential, as they kept our belongings safe and waterproof on the water and in transit to shore. Our dry bags were made by Seal Line in America from domestic and imported materials. Seal Line utilizes several manufacturing operations in the USA, including one in Reno, Nevada.  

Finally, the sleeping pads. After a wakeup at dawn, followed by a full day of canoeing and hiking, having a comfortable bed makes all the difference. And for that, we utilized Seattle-based ThermaRest self-inflating sleeping pads. Best I’ve ever used. ThermaRest has been manufacturing for more than fifty years and is committed to sustainable production. More than 97 percent of the energy consumed at its Seattle factory is renewable.

I spotted tons of other made in America gear, from our Made-in-Alabama Exxel sleeping bags and Craftsman storage totes to Cordova coolers, which we have featured on our podcast. It’s clear that outdoor enthusiasts have a special place in our hearts for Made in America, and the market is booming, currently estimated to be worth $5.23 billion in the United States and growing at nearly 5% yearly. Quality, durability, sustainability, and proximity to market are all factors that contribute to this growth.

My boys and I take away memories of a lifetime from this trip. None of it would have been possible without this quality gear and the expertise of our awesome guides Alisa, Shawn, and Colter of Upper Missouri River Guides. Be sure to spend plenty of time outdoors and keep it Made in America while you are at it.