Jack Stephenson of Warmlite: RIP

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 19 of total 19 in this topic
oldgear

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 17, 2017 - 12:22pm PT
JACK STEPHENSON OF WARMLITE: RIP FEBRUARY 18, 2017, GUILFORD, NH.

Back in the late 70s Jack Stephenson had already been around for twenty years selling his pioneering “Warmlite” brand tents, packs and sleeping bags. Since the early 1970s, I had been aware of his existence because of his unusual equipment ads in The Last Whole Earth Catalog, which in 1976 had led me to order one of his information-packed gear catalogs. Stephenson was an aerospace engineer, so you had to be quite “techie” to appreciate the vast detail offered in those catalogs. Even I, with a background as Physics major, had questions, which in the late 70s led me to write letters to Jack. He replied in great detail and we had a lively discourse via letters. That led to my purchase of an exotic gold mylar tent called the 3X and one of his signature Warmlite Triple sleeping bags. I still have the gold mylar tent; its super lightweight, super strong design still competes well with the new generation of ultralight tents.

In 1992, Jack was a special guest at the annual Outdoor Retailers show in Reno, the largest event of its kind in the U.S. He was honored as one of the gear industry’s “Pioneers,” along with eleven others, such as the founder of REI, founder of Eddie Bauer, and the founder of LL Bean.
1958. Jack Stephenson wearing what was very likely the first commercia...
1958. Jack Stephenson wearing what was very likely the first commercially available hip-carry pack in America.
Credit: oldgear

After my two purchases from Jack, fifteen years passed. Now it was 1994, and I’d hatched an improbable plan to write a story about Jack and his pioneering but admittedly radical gear company. I had a vague plan to sell the story to Backpacker Magazine, but I had no “street cred” as a writer to toss at Jack, so I knew the odds were against me. I remember my anxiety over calling Jack, who I’d heard could be rude, but I screwed up my courage and called. Imagine my pleasure when he gushed with welcome, quick with support for my plans to write about him personally, yes, but also stating a strong support for my long-term goal to write about other pioneers of the modern outdoor gear industry. Over the next couple of years, he sent me piles of what journalists fondly call “original source material.” I still have one of his letters helping me with my larger goal: two pages crammed with his small, precise handwriting, listing for me two dozen outdoor industry sources, complete with personal phone numbers and addresses, insider “dope” which launched my history of gear project.

I created a website in late 1997, a couple years before Jack officially retired himself from Warmlite, turning over the business to his son William, who still runs Warmlite today.
A luscious gear display from the late 60s when Warmlite was based in S...
A luscious gear display from the late 60s when Warmlite was based in Southern California.
Credit: oldgear

Along about 2001, out of the blue, Jack invited me, a total non-sailor, to come along on one of his annual sailing trips to the BVI. Peter Barrett, famed Olympic sailing medal hero was coming along, but I was fairly freaked-out over the possibility of on-board nudity, so I declined. Heck, I sure regret that I didn’t go.

Due to the website, my history of gear project picked up strong momentum, and by 2007 the founder of Frostline Kits of Colorado was urging me to write a book, saying that my documenting of the pioneers was not being done by anyone else. In 2009, I wrote a book about the history of Frostline Kits, and in 2012 I corresponded with Jack to update my Warmlite materials and published a small book about Jack’s many innovations.

Jack Stephenson passed away on February 18, 2017. To me Jack was one of those humans blessed with talent beyond the rest of us. Generous, a free thinker, a pioneer in efforts to live a Life that was all his own. A man with warts like the rest of us, but in the history of outdoor gear in America, standing with the Best of the Best for all Time.

To find Bruce Johnson’s website material about Warmlite use this link: http://www.oregonphotos.com/Warmlite1.html
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Mar 17, 2017 - 02:30pm PT
Oldgear.... thank you for taking the time to post.

interesting read
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
Mar 17, 2017 - 03:39pm PT
oldgear,
Thank you for this & for the info that you have archived.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Mar 17, 2017 - 04:00pm PT
Cool, are you looking to do additional research interviews and writing with more modern pack/tent and gear makers?

Some neat advances lately and some tried and true small business manufacturers out there.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Mar 17, 2017 - 04:03pm PT
hey there say, oldgear... wow, thanks for sharing ... very interesting,
...

it is always good to learn about folks, and the lives that they had...


wow, as to this:
In 1992, Jack was a special guest at the annual Outdoor Retailers show in Reno, the largest event of its kind in the U.S. He was honored as one of the gear industry’s “Pioneers,” along with eleven others, such as the founder of REI, founder of Eddie Bauer, and the founder of LL Bean.

the things we learn here at the ol' supertopo, :)
Al Barkamps

Social climber
Red Stick
Mar 18, 2017 - 09:14pm PT
Before the innerwebs, I'd spent far too much time looking for VBLs for my feet. An old guy in some manky Santa Fe gear shop overheard my complaints and turned me on to Stephenson's gear. Imagine my surprise when I received my order and found waterproof fabric-like VBLs FITTED to my feet! His tents and sleeping systems were likewise crafted with the greatest attention to functionality and design.

Like the "other old guys" of yore, Bill Forrest and Paul Ramer, Jack Stephenson definitely makes the list of gear legends.
oldgear

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 18, 2017 - 09:22pm PT
To Mungeclimber:
To answer your question, I try to limit myself to what I call "vintage gear," what I also call the "Classical Gear period" roughly 1946 to about 1985. I'm always buried in material even with those limitations. Many of the pioneers of the great gear that got us all out on the trail back then are dying off so I feel some urgency to record their stories. Just since I began this work in 1994, many have passed away. Just in the last 6 or 8 years, several founders that I've had the privilege of interviewing are gone now: Gerry Cunningham, Dale Johnson the founder of Frostline Kits, Jack Stephenson of Warmlite, Penny Cunningham, the very knowledgeable daughter of Gerry Cunningham, to name a few.
I have six books out now, in hard copy or as PDFs, and one as a Kindle book. That just scratches the surface of the material I've accumulated. There are so many more books to write! So trying to become an expert about the tremendous advances in materials and designs of the modern companies is unrealistic for me! -- Bruce
slabbo

Trad climber
colo south
Mar 20, 2017 - 06:29am PT
i first heard about Warmlite around the time I started college(physics) it made sense, but made no sense....

What do you mean i won't sweat ?

Stuff works awesome when you use it right and really bad when you don't
feralfae

Boulder climber
in the midst of a metaphysical mystery
Mar 20, 2017 - 06:53am PT
Doug's favorite tent. He survived some challenging Alaska adventures with his Warmlite. I was never sure if it was the tents, or the advertising, that was the main attraction... :)

Glad to see someone writing on gear and its history from this perspective, thank you.
ff
Gunkie

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
Mar 20, 2017 - 08:39am PT
Makes me warm just looking at it...

Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Mar 20, 2017 - 08:43am PT
Looking for tent/sleeping bag etc 20+ years ago for a trip...contacted Warmlite and they sent me a catalog...nice folks!

I remember the catalog being slightly risque...

Please assure us that you are over 18 years of age as our catalog contains nudity.

Condolences to friends and family.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Mar 20, 2017 - 09:26am PT
Stuff works awesome when you use it right and really bad when you don't

I was always leery of the sleeping bag with the vapor barrier. It made no sense.
How would one misuse it?
Brock Wagstaff

Trad climber
Larkspur
Mar 20, 2017 - 02:08pm PT
In the mid 70's we bought a "Stephenson tent" for a trip to Peru. I'm assuming this is the same person that had the Warmlite brand name, and the rather interesting catalogs. It had an integral fly and was much lighter and more "high tech" than any other 2 person tent we owned.
Credit: Brock Wagstaff
The picture was taken on a climb of Chinchey in 1975.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Mar 20, 2017 - 07:41pm PT
That tent looks a lot like the Early Winters tents from back in the late 70's/early 80's. Who was the first to bring it out? I've got a pic of me and my wife on Sargent's Ridge of Mt. Shasta standing next to one of those (Early Winters).

BAd
oldgear

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 28, 2017 - 03:08pm PT
Let me answer a few of the questions and concerns brought up about Warmlite gear. I have researched the gear extensively, including interviews with the founder, one of his chief sewers, and many others.
Re: Vapor Barrier: The Vapor Barrier idea in his sleeping bags, his "NO-Sweat" shirt, and VB glove liners, sock liners, etc. I found the VB concept worked very well, unless you got yourself overheated -- under those circumstances being enveloped in warm sweat wasn't pleasant but in truth, the VB prevented anything dire from happening, eg. your insulation itself would not become sweat-soaked. For myself, I especially liked the extra warmth of the VB glove/mitten liners-- ones hands don't sweat much and therefore I never found the VB effect to be uncomfortable.

Re: Jack Stephenson's tent design (technically, "Elliptical Arc") far pre-dated Early Winter's Omnipotent tent. I have pictures (eg. old slides with Kodak date stamps on the cardboard) showing Stephenson already was prototyping the design in 1958, and in his earliest catalogs, he was selling the tents to the public in 1964. That's about 8 years before the Omnipotent came out.
deuce4

climber
Hobart, Australia
Mar 28, 2017 - 03:14pm PT
Sad news. Brilliant man, some of whose better, more functional, ideas have still not been accepted by the mainstream industry, including his curved pole concepts, and venting/material systems for tents.

Always highly entertaining catalogs, too!
oldgear

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 28, 2017 - 03:15pm PT
To Brock Wagstaff: The tent shown in your picture could be one of the Warmlite 3R tents, meaning 3 person, and R meaning Stephenson's standard double-wall design. It weighed something like 4 pounds (I would have to dig out one of his old catalogs to give you an exact figure)....HOWEVER,the tent in your photo, if it's a Warmlite, would be one that was customized and personally sewn, probably by Jack's brother George, who specialized in making expedition models-- thus the two midpoles, and other reinforcements. This expedition model was tested on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in 100mph+ winds with success. That was back around 1970.
Note: the front end of the tent in the photo doesn't look quite right for the Warmlite 3R, and if I had to wager, I'd say it's an Omnipotent.

In the evolution of tent design, given that Stephenson's design predated Early Winters by over ten years and was the only widely-available such tent, one must wonder how much influence Stephenson's design had on Early Winters.
WARMLITE 3R in Alaska, ca 1978. Note conical front and back ends.
WARMLITE 3R in Alaska, ca 1978. Note conical front and back ends.
Credit: oldgear
....
Early Winters Omnipotent. Note the four big flaps that come together i...
Early Winters Omnipotent. Note the four big flaps that come together into a single stake-out point.
Credit: oldgear
Brock Wagstaff

Trad climber
Larkspur
Mar 28, 2017 - 05:47pm PT
Good call oldgear. I think the tent in the picture is an Omnipotent. We were always looking for something light. Here's another candidate from a trip up Robson in 1979.
Chris Jones below the Cain Face.
Chris Jones below the Cain Face.
Credit: Brock Wagstaff
oldgear

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 29, 2017 - 11:01am PT
That yellow tent is almost certainly a Warmlite 2R, a two-man, double-wall tent of extreme lightweight, around 3 lbs.
Warmlite 2R in the Alaska Range, circa 1975
Warmlite 2R in the Alaska Range, circa 1975
Credit: oldgear
Messages 1 - 19 of total 19 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Review Categories
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews