Duluth Pack: These bags go WAAAY back!

by Jeff Tietz

Some of the finest bags around. And we are big fans, to say the least. Manufactured just a few hours north of Minneaopolis, our home- in you guessed it, Duluth, MN. And oh man, if you haven't been there, you need to visit. An insatiable place indeed. And then stop in and say hi to the friendly folks at Duluth Pack.


The Duluth Pack has its humble roots in a French-Canadian named Camille Poirier, who made his way west to Duluth. Arriving there in 1870 with his "little stock of leather and tools", he began a small shoe store and quickly made a go of it in this booming frontier town on the shores of Gitchi Gummi. On December 12, 1882, Camille filed for a patent on a new type of packsack. It was a canvas sack that closed with a buckled flap, had new-fangled shoulder straps in addition to the traditional tumpline, a revolutionary sternum strap and an umbrella holder (for portable shade in this newly cutover country). Known then as the Poirier pack, this northwoods classic is referred to today as the original Duluth Pack.

In 1911, Camille sold off the pack business to the new Duluth Tent and Awning Company. They opened shop on 1610 West Superior Street in the then bustling West End. (You can still find them at this address.) In addition to the packs, they made countless awnings for booming Duluth businesses. Remember, during the early 1900s there were more millionaires per capita in Duluth than in any other town in America. Duluth had lumber barons, shipping magnates, railroad tycoons and big shots in the iron ore business. Their early catalogs feature hay wagon covers, cots, wall tents and heavy canvas aprons for working blacksmiths.

America was changing. The Roaring 20s found the common man with more money and leisure time. Auto-camping became the rage, and hoards of adventure-hungry sportsman and fun-loving families headed for the hinterlands. Duluth Tent & Awning responded by creating the "auto-pack" that clamped on to the running boards of a touring car to carry extra gear. They also made canvas tents that attached to a car to create the first "mobile home".

Duluth Pack has always made rugged packs for working people. This was certainly the case in the 1940s with the introduction of their Cruiser packs. They were the perfect field pack for the timber cruisers who snowshoed countless miles through the great North Woods grading lumber for the logging companies. Built narrow and in the box style, they could haul a load yet slip easily between thick brush. They still make the cruisers which are popular with hunters.

The 1960s and 70s brought us into the age of jet travel and folks had even more leisure time. Durable luggage was once again a necessity. Though they had been manufacturing bags for big companies like Gokey's and Orvis since the 50s, Duluth Tent & Awning decided to introduce its own line of heavy duty canvas and leather Sportsman's Luggage. It was an instant hit.

In June of 1991 they opened a tiny "hole-in-the-wall" retail store in Duluth's Canal Park...a revitalized warehouse district on the waterfront. They quickly expanded three times and finally built their 5000 square-foot flagship store a few doors down...opening in April of 1998. 


Leave a comment