Cover Stories

Frost River

Reliable Packs and Bags for the Wilderness or the Boardroom

by Leah Kurth Featured in Make It Minnesota's Spring 2015 issue.

“The Frost River has a smattering of everything—large and small lakes, beautiful falls, winding beaver streams and high beaver dams, tough, poorly-maintained portages, canoeable rapids and adventurous options. It is by far my favorite route in the Boundary Waters.” — Cliff Jacobson

From waterfalls to lighthouses, forests to rivers, northeastern Minnesota is well known for its scenic attractions and variety of nature activities. One of the most iconic areas is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, renowned as a destination for canoeing, camping and fishing on its many lakes. These kind of trips require a lot of gear, and a good pack for carrying it in is invaluable. Frost River Trading Co. offers packs and bags made from premium raw materials with an uncompromising desire for quality goods that last for generations.

Begun in 2001, Frost River got its name from the Frost River canoe route in the Boundary Waters. After operating for seven years the company went out of business, but was bought by Christian Benson in 2009 and has flourished ever since. Their permanent home on West Superior Street in Duluth houses the manufacturing shop, a retail store, office space, and shipping department, with the crew all working together in one area.

“The big canvas packs we’ve built our brand on are specifically made to fit in a canoe and are specially suited to carry a full camping outfit overland across a portage and back into the boat at the other side,” comments David Hoole, Marketing Coordinator at Frost River. “They are big, and strong enough to handle heavy loads in rough country. We build them to hold up and last for years. Those same qualifications, requirements, and philosophy apply to our luggage, daypacks, briefcases… everything we make.”

Frost River prides itself on making “reliable softgoods,” outdoor equipment that can be depended upon. “Frost River packs and bags are all built from premium raw materials; waxed canvas, leather from Red Wing Minnesota, and solid brass hardware. We guarantee that our bags are put together the right way and that we use dependable materials so they can last a lifetime,” says David. One advantage of using canvas is that it is repairable, able to be taken apart, patched, given new parts, and put back together again. “We are unique in that we stand behind what we make and can service what we sell. There is an integrity in making something that can be stood behind, something that will last and be a part of our customer’s lives for many years, and adventures, to come.”

Upon entering the store in Duluth, one can sense the action and bustle of a working manufacturing facility. Sounds filter into the shop, of sewing machines humming, the ca-klunk of the riveting machines, rumbling from the clicker as it cuts out leather pieces, and of people proudly working on products from start to finish. “Customers are happy and often impressed when they see the process and meet the people who are making items to sell. It’s a scene that was easy to find a hundred years ago, a group of Americans creating things with their hands, but is not so simple to find now. We are proud to have a skilled and happy workforce. It’s something we enjoy sharing with visitors, and it’s something that makes us unique in the marketplace,” David comments.

While they are best known for their canoe packs, Frost River produces a diverse line of goods. Their Isle Royale packs are perfect for bushcraft wilderness journeys. Their sturdy luggage can survive any baggage check, working as carryon and weekend bags. Frost River daypacks go to class with students all over the country. Bike bags are trusty companions for commuters, trail riders, and cruisers on two wheels. The briefcases they make blend into board rooms and construction sites with equal ease. No matter the use, Frost River packs and bags are appreciated around the world for the quality of their materials and the craftsmanship provided by an American, specifically Minnesotan, workforce. “The bags are unique and special; people pick up on that pretty quick, even quicker once they get to feel them,” David adds. In addition to their store in Duluth, Frost River has wholesale partners across the country and around the world. Frost River’s goods can be bought in store, online, or from any of their sellers, which can be located via the Frost River website. This year the Frost River crew has been working its way through “15 New Designs for 2015,” with new products released each week. With all their products handmade one by one, the passion towards the artisan nature of their work shows with each bag made.

We take pride in keeping a legacy alive. America was built on our ability to make what we’ve needed; we have an entrepreneurial spirit,” David comments. “It’s good to help keep a craft alive. It feels good for us to export. It’s energizing to be among a skilled American workforce. We all enjoy making stuff and take pride in what we do. Our community and our region is stronger because of the new money and jobs we bring into the area. It feels good to work here and we’re proud to make things that other people want. Our “reliable softgoods” carry a reputation of durability and endurance during travel in the urban and backcountry wilds. Our packs and bags are built for the woods — it’s in their character, they’re honest and we love ‘em.”