In the SNEWS Outdoor summer 2010 magazine, we explored the relationship between the outdoor industry and the Boy Scouts, as the organization celebrates its 100th anniversary, in a special feature titled, “The Disappearing Partnership.” As a special web extra, industry veterans Skip Yowell of JanSport and Royal Robbins share their experiences as Boy Scouts as youths and how it influenced their entry into the outdoor industry.
To download the full issue, starting in August, go to www.outsidebusinessjournal.com/magazines.
Scouting Memories: Skip Yowell
While growing up in western Kansas, JanSport co-founder Skip Yowell didn’t have any mountains in his backyard to climb, but fortunately, there were always family vacations.
“My mom and dad were really outdoors people to begin with, so many of our vacations were to Yellowstone and all throughout the West,” said Yowell.
After participating in Cub Scouts, Yowell naturally progressed into the Boy Scouts and joined a Kansas troop that made the most of the available terrain. “When we got our hiking merit badge, we actually hiked the country roads,” he said. “And we had other adventures — we found a wounded hawk, and got him healed up and let him free again.”
Yowell’s Scouting memories stayed with him when he helped launch JanSport in 1967. “In the early days, nobody made frame packs for young people. So one of our earliest designs was a frame for kids in the Scouting age, and we actually called it the Scout,” said Yowell. “That product actually got us into REI and opened up the doors in many places.”
These days, Yowell keeps close ties with the Scouts, giving talks on Leave No Trace principles at the Philmont Scout Ranch, which hosts more than 35,000 kids each year. In the past two years, he has given Philmont trip leaders prototypes of JanSport products to test and diaries to keep notes. “I’ve always believed it’s important to test things in the real conditions,” said Yowell. “And we get great feedback from them.”
Scouting Memories: Royal Robbins
“Joining the Boy Scouts was the smartest thing I ever did,” said Royal Robbins, pioneering climber and founder of the apparel company bearing his name. His statement makes sense when you consider that he was once a juvenile delinquent.
When Robbins joined the Scouts in 1948 at the age of 13, he had just been released from juvenile hall in Los Angeles after serving time for burglary. Looking for a better direction in life, he thumbed through the phone book to find a Scout troop and, ironically, joined one sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department. That move made a huge difference in his life.
“It got me outdoors and I owe them a debt of gratitude for that,” said Robbins, who noted that he had not spent much time outdoors prior to joining the Scouts.
He said one of his first Scout hikes was in the San Gabriel Mountains. “They insisted we leave the place cleaner than we found it — a good early lesson,” he said.
The Scouts also introduced Robbins to climbing. “We went up to the Ray Lakes area in the High Sierra,” he recalled. “We were on Fin Dome in King’s Canyon National Park. I was 14 years old, and it hooked me because it came naturally, and it was something I could throw myself into.”
Robbins has continued his relationship with the Scouts and now climbs with two troops in Modesto, Calif., where Royal Robbins has its headquarters. He said that if there is a direct connection between his early Scouting trips and his eventual work building an outdoor apparel company, it’s that both were an adventure. “You never know how it’s going to turn out,” he said. That especially rings true for a guy who once did time in juvie.