The First Bag I Made

Tom Bihn's G.I. Joe External Backpack and Ice Axe

When I was first learning to sew, I made backpacking equipment for my G.I. Joe. I was about ten years old at the time, and I had already moved on from “playing” with G.I. Joe: he got dragged out of early retirement as a model for my first attempts at making outdoor gear.

He was one of the “up-to-dated” versions of GI Joe, more or less as pictured with the flocked hair instead of plastic, and a matching flocked beard (see this article about the evolution of Joe).

I made a sleeping bag for Joe too. I don’t know what happened to that; I do recall it was a bit snug on Joe and its half-length side zipper barely closed.

Fast forward to 2015. As we embarked on the redesign our Seattle Factory Showroom, we decided to devote the only real wall in the showroom to our history: early designs, a down jacket I made, photos from over the years, and even the collection of letters of recommendation I received from various jobs that I had before starting my own business making bags. (Though you’re always welcome to come visit our factory, there is an online version of the History Wall just in case you can’t make it.)

Darcy asked me if I could remember the very first bag I ever made, and I shared the story of Joe’s pack. She asked if the original might be around somewhere and I said no. Seldom willing to take no for an answer, she then asked if I could make a replica, and I said sure.

When I set out to recreate Joe’s external frame backpack for the history wall in our Seattle Factory Showroom and headquarters, I had nothing but my memory to go on. On eBay I scored a G.I. Joe action figure of the same vintage of the one for which I had made the original. Having Joe back brought more memories of the pack itself, and I was able to re-create something thematically quite similar. I couldn’t help adding the tiny label, which of course the original lacked, and when I found some very small side release buckles, my internal 10-year-old couldn’t say no.

(And eBay yielded another tiny item which I’m pretty sure I never had: a GI Joe ice axe. It was too good to pass up, so it got incorporated into the new version as well. Interesting to note that I was only 13 – a few short years later – when I got my own ice axe for a backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington: it’s an ice axe I still own and occasionally use.)

The 21st century version of the pack is yet an homage to that era as well: I made it from our 420 Parapack fabric, which back in 1970 was becoming a ubiquitous backpack fabric.

Tom Bihn's G.I. Joe External Backpack and Ice Axe

Tom Bihn's G.I. Joe External Backpack and Ice Axe

Tom Bihn

Tom just finished listening to Anna Karenina. Whew – 36 hours . . . awesome!

2 Comments

  1. Brian on 19 October 2017 1:26 pm at 1:26 pm

    I have Anna Karenina on my audible list of books to read (purchased but unread)! It sure looks daunting!

  2. Randall on 24 October 2017 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm

    I have the same G.I. Joe. And still have him and one from earlier after all these years. Thanks for the memories.

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