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Filson is one of those brands that you’re as likely to see on an Alaskan river in the Beartooth wilderness as you are in the suburbs of New York City. It’s something that chief creative officer, Alex Carleton, has witnessed time and time again. On a trip to Montana a few years back, he ran into a couple of ranchers on horseback herding cattle through the snow. Both had on Filson Cruiser jackets. Later that night, he went to the local dive bar and saw college guys wearing—you guessed it—the same coat.

We had the opportunity to chat with Alex about the incredible history of what he calls a “127-year-old startup.” Here’s how Filson grew from a family-owned hardware store in Seattle into the legacy workwear and sportswear brand it is today. Plus, Alex shared some of his favorite Filson pieces, including the OG jacket that was patented back in 1914.

Field & Stream: Start from the beginning. What was Filson before it was what we know it as today?

The company—which was founded by Clinton Filson—started as a hardware store here in Seattle in 1897. It really got lucky with being in the right place at the right time when the gold rush started. Filson quickly calibrated its business to become the premier outfitter for anyone going up to the harsh climate of the Alaska Klondike or the Yukon to prospect. After the gold rush, which lasted about 10 years, came the golden age of forestry in the Pacific Northwest. So Filson took its reputation and its acumen for producing hardware and wool products and applied it for forestry workers.

Imagine you’re in the wet climate of the Pacific Northwest in a very rugged tough trade as a logger. The material of Filson gear was both strong and tough for the work you were doing and also kept you dry. The most famous piece was the Cruiser coat, which was patented in 1914, with a unique pocket configuration for surveying tools (more on that below). We later introduced our tin cloth fabric.

At our core, we’ve always been more or less a workwear brand. For most of the 20th century, our products were oriented for folks in the trade, specifically forestry.

But a lot of the people who were using our products for their work week would also use them for outdoor recreation. So in the late 70s and early 80s, we began to tweak some of the styling and the designs to be suitable for outdoorsmen for hunting and fishing. The assortment grew to have a number of pieces—including jackets, fishing vests, and hunting coats—all built off of the core DNA.

What are your favorite Filson pieces? Or rather, what have been the most popular over the years?

Mackinaw Wool Cruiser

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The Cruiser remarkably is still one of our top-selling jackets to this day. This year is actually the 110th anniversary of the jacket. Very little has changed from the original design. There’s a large pocket in the back of the jacket that a lot of folks mistake as a hunting jacket but it was actually originally used for storing maps. It’s a great example of a product that was incepted to really help outfit forestry workers.

Alaskan Guide Shirt

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Our Alaskan Guide flannel shirts have been part of our repertoire for around 40 years now. It’s really an iconic flannel shirt that’s one of our legacy products.

Mackinaw Wool Field Pants

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Our number one selling pant is Mackinaw wool. It’s a heavy 24-ounce field pant, which, as you can imagine, is a real warm pant. I’ve heard stories of people using it for everything from ice fishing and outdoor work to just a cozy pant in the winter you’d wear with base layers.

Guide Sweater

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Our guide sweater is a very tightly spun knit jersey wool sweater that’s been produced in the U.S. for decades. It’s a three-season classic. We use a long hair fiber that’s spun so tight the fibers don’t stick up. It stays really compact so it’s really smooth and you can wear it with a T-shirt. It just does not itch. It’s really popular among outdoorsmen.

Henley Guide Sweater

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Our Henley Guide Sweater has tin cloth overlays for shooting. It’s very popular with upland hunters.

Tin Cloth Field Jacket

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This tin cloth field jacket is fantastic, and it’s another favorite among outdoorsmen. We’ve used tin cloth for decades and decades in our apparel, and we still source it from our original suppliers. It provides a lifetime of service.

Tin Cloth Chaps

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Our tin chaps are a big hit with upland hunters. When we get into hunting season, we sell quite a bit of tin cloth accessories like these.

Rugged Twill Duffle Bag

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Along with the Cruiser jacket, the Filson bag lives in the American Sportswear Hall of Fame. Back in the 80s, we introduced a proprietary cotton twill fabric that is super dense and very rugged. We also use bridal leather for the trim, handles, and straps.

What makes a Filson jacket unique?

Filson products have a little bit more grit. They’re very rugged, and we haven’t compromised quality at all over the years. It’s really incredible when you put a Filson coat down on the table and you look at the competition. Usually the differences that jump out are weight, density of material, and the quality of the make. These are truly investment pieces that can last for generations.

What’s next for Filson in 2024?

The big focus right now is launching our women’s collection, which is launching in August with 32 styles of outerwear, shirts, and accessories. We’ve explored women’s products in the past, but this time we really created a dedicated women’s team. A lot of the products were developed in Italy with a product development team based there. We looked closely at our archives of core fabrics and materials and used that as a starting point to create new products.

We also just came out with Filson Unfailing, which is a trade-in program. So while our products last a lifetime, we’ve found that sometimes people want a refresh or they’re looking for a product for a different end use.

Why Trust Us

For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.