Montana's outdoor gear scene is finally flowering

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Sole non-sacrifice

Sawtooth Shoes • $100


If you're making outdoor shoes in Montana, they'd better be tough and trail-worthy, especially if you're putting a satellite image of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem on your shoeboxes. Fortunately, Oboz understands this. The company doesn't make shoes for corporate meetings, subway rides or driving to the salon. It makes shoes for the great unpaved—from trail runners and multi-sport shoes to full-blown, waterproof hiking boots. And it makes them to be used hard.

Oboz, whose name is an amalgam of "outside" and "Bozeman," its home base, was started by Josh Fairchilds and John Connelly, outdoor-footwear veterans who once worked for the climbing shoe company Five Ten. The brand was unveiled in early 2008 and already sells at more than 150 retailers, including REI and Pipestone in Missoula.

Perhaps the best all-purpose Oboz is the Sawtooth, a low-top hiking and cross-training shoe clearly meant to go places. When you slip your dogs in the Sawtooth the first thing you notice is the super-supportive sole—it's beefy, plushly cushioned and clearly designed to eat up miles of trail. The footbed tilts forward, too, putting you into an active, ready-to-go stance.

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It's clear the founders know something about traction. The proprietary rubber on Sawtooth soles is ultra-grippy, while the heavily lugged, triangulated tread pattern digs into soil at all angles for unbeatable purchase. The tread also wraps around the sides and heels of the shoe to help with side-hilling and scrambling. (It's no surprise the shoe shares the same sole construction as some of Oboz's hiking boots.) You can really feel the Sawtooth's robust heel support. It cradles and holds your foot solidly in place when you're hiking on uneven ground.

For people who appreciate non-toe-mangling footwear, the wide forefoot is another nice touch, keeping the Sawtooth supremely comfortable on all-day treks. And Oboz puts in a legit insole instead of the skimpy foam wafers most companies use. No need to buy expensive, after-market footbeds—these shoes are good to go out of the box. In a final flourish, Oboz makes trees grow on money; for every pair of shoes sold, the firm plants a tree through a nonprofit eco-group.

That's not to say you can't wear Sawtooths in the world of pavement. They'll certainly keep your feet happy. And even if you won't be getting into the hills that day, it just feels better knowing you could. If an opportunity presents itself, the Sawtooths will be up for the challenge.

Filling out the field

Quickly establishing itself as the center of the Montana gear universe, Bozeman hosts a constellation of additional gear companies. The welded-seam specialists at Pacific Outdoor Equipment craft sleeping pads, dry bags, panniers and other assorted products. Carl Strong over at Strong Frames handcrafts steel and titanium cyclocross, mountain and road bikes. Backpack guru Dana Gleason and his company Mystery Ranch sell innovative backpacks and bags for recreationists, firefighters, and the military. Simms Fishing Products makes a full line of innovative waders, boots and other fishing attire.

Missoula is the home of Nargear, a young company specializing in rugged backpacks for firefighters and skiers. Up in Kalispell, there's Counter Assault, whose canisters of grizzly-repelling spray have become fixtures on the hips of hikers everywhere. Yet another noteworthy company, Boulder Creek Packs in Hamilton, sells durable wildland fire packs, gear bags, backpacks and hunting gear.

The good news is that even when these companies grow fast, they're staying true to the Montana outdoor-junkie ethos. As Oboz co-founder Josh Fairchilds puts it, "When there's more than 6-to-8 inches of snow, the phones aren't getting answered that morning."

That's the kind of business we need more of in Montana. And if the last few years are any indication, they're on their way.

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