MEC skiers in 80s catalogue

Mountain magic: 47 years of good times outside

To celebrate MEC’s 47th birthday and Mountain Days, we dug up some of our favourite nuggets and facts from the last 4 decades of the Co-op, plus some stellar throwback shots (they’re just too good not to include). Enjoy!

If you lined up all 5.1 million MEC members…

Trans-Canada Trail Map

Map: thegreattrail.ca

… from fingertip to fingertip along the Trans-Canada Trail, we’d stretch from Vancouver to Toronto (!). Of course, a big chunk of us would need to line up in canoes or kayaks on the waterway sections of this epic route, but we’re pretty confident we’d be able to find members who’d be keen.

This van was our original store

MEC van: the first store

Tom O’Conner, Friend (the dog), Chris McNeil and Sara Golling about to start a 2-week trek around the Bridge River headwaters. Photo: Peter Jordan.

MEC was doing #vanlife before hashtags were even a thing. The idea for MEC started in a storm-battered tent when a small group of students agreed they needed a place to buy specialized climbing gear. On August 2, 1971, Mountain Equipment Co-operative was officially born. Early members would drive up in the van to show off new gear at Varsity Outdoor Club and Alpine Club meetings.

Chocolate is trending

Ever wondered how your taste in Clif Bars compares to everyone else’s? If you’re a fan of classic chocolate chip, then you’re in good company – it’s the most popular all-time flavour for MEC members. But are tastes trending to even more chocolate? When you look at this year’s numbers, chocolate brownie is tops in Canada so far (though interestingly, BC seems to prefer white chocolate macadamia nut).

Sometimes things get weird (in a good way)

Old MEC catalogue shots

Outhouse line-ups. A skiing dalmation. Barn owls. When you skim through old MEC catalogues, you’ll understand.

Old MEC catalogue images

And the fun factor is still going strong:

We love sushi rolls

MEC sushi roll packing

When products get shipped from factories, they usually come in plastic polybags, which is a huge waste. So since 2010, we’ve been ditching individual plastic bags for as many MEC-label items as we possibly can – jackets, hoodies, leggings, even thongs – and rolling them into neat little bundles instead (we call them sushi rolls).

The result? Over 15 million plastic polybags out of the landfill (a whopping 150 tonnes of plastic). Plus, we can fit more rolled items than folded ones into each box, so it cuts down our carbon footprint too.

Members are deeply attached to pants

Ahhhhh MEC Rad Pants. An old catalogue touted they were “baggier than a Shar-Pei puppy, with more pockets than a paratrooper’s jump suit, indestructible, fly-free and relentlessly unisex.” Introduced in 1989, they were discontinued in 2001, then brought back a season later because members were asking for them.

Will Rad Pants ever reappear? Let us know if you want to see them again… after all, that worked back in 2001.

In more recent history, other pairs that have piqued pant-interest are the travel-friendly Timeless Pants – they’ve even become known as the ultimate travel pants.

If it’s broke, we’ve probably fixed it

Tent pole repair

Bring us your busted tent poles, stuck zippers and ripped jackets. Our early records are spotty, but we know we’ve been patching up gear for a long time. Since we got our record-keeping in order, we can proudly say that we handled 120,000 repairs from 2005–2017 (12,064 last year alone!).

Feeling fixy? Find out how to fix a zipper, how to repair a broken tent pole, or how to repair a torn waterproof jacket for DIY bliss.

Members helped save Skaha Bluffs

A $250K grant from MEC, $140K in donations from members (also matched by MEC up to $100K), and funding from other groups allowed The Land Conservatory to purchase land to keep Skaha access open to climbers and park users. Photo: MEC Ambassador Josh Lavigne at Skaha’s scenic crags.

If you’re a climber, you’ve likely heard of BC’s Skaha Bluffs. But what you may not know if that MEC members and the Co-op’s community program played a huge role in keeping access to this important area. In the early 2000s, the only access was through a privately-owned property, which was at risk when it was up for sale. Solution? MEC and members helped buy it to keep access open to climbers – for good.

For Skaha beta, check out Skaha Rockclimbs: A User’s Manual.

If your kid was in the first Happytrails carrier, they can vote by now

They grow up so fast. Digging through the archives, we found out that the MEC Happytrails Child Carrier has been going strong for about 18 years… which means the first kiddos who rode in these packs are now likely old enough to cast ballots and buy beer (in some provinces at least).

“We bought our Happytrails carrier through Craigslist,” MEC member Brock said, “and the people we got it from told us they’d also bought it secondhand… in every city, there’s probably a bunch of these carriers that just keep getting passed on every couple years or so.”

… and speaking of Craigslist – our online gear swap is even older

Way back in 1998, a little thing called the MEC Online Gear Swap was born as a place for people to sell and buy used gear and find trip partners (as part of mec.ca). By 2005, it boasted more than 21,000 posts, and it pre-dated craigslist.ca and kijiji.ca in the world of scoring online deals for used outdoor gear. While Kijiji and Craigslist have certainly surpassed our online gear swap site now, it’s fun to know we were first.

MEC Races: now with 100% critical-turn pylons

The first road race is off! Forgive the portrait-mode; it was 2012 and we didn’t know better.

The first-ever MEC road race happened in 2012. “It had no more than 150 people registered, and one of the staffers running it got lost,” recalls the race director. Was the course marking a little light? “Just at one critical turn, debatably. Debatably because I marked the course – I got up at 1:30am and drove around dropping pylons for 4 hours. I thought it was one of the best marked courses I’d seen.”

From these humble beginnings, the events program has grown bigtime. Last year, we held 161 festivals, races, century rides and triathlons across the country, and about 110,000 people joined run crews, ride meet-ups and in-store clinics. If you haven’t tried a race yet, go for it! We promise lots of great course markings these days, along with bananas at the finish.

BYOB for a decade and counting

In 2008, we eliminated all single-use bags from our stores. Since then, we’ve kept over 30 million single-use plastic bags out of landfill to date. Whoa.

Gear testing has come a long way

Gear testing, circa 1990.

Back in 1990, to test the prototype of a 4-season MEC tent, we rented an airport runway and bolted the tent to a wooden platform on a truck. Then we drove as fast as possible until the tent failed. Things have gotten significantly more sophisticated since – now we have access to a sweet wind lab to test tents:

Taking the bike lane since 1978

Bike gear has been part of our DNA since the late 70s, and members could buy MEC-designed bikes starting in 2009. Along the way, we’ve supported cycling advocacy groups through our community programs, funded mountain bike trail building, and taught countless members how to fix flat tires or squeaky brakes at in-store bike workshops.

You’ll always know who made your MEC stuff

Fashion Revolution - I made your bag

Nguyen Van Luong is a sample room manager and pattern maker and has been working at Sambu for 10 years. Sambu Factory is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where the Mountain Fountain 14 pack is produced.

In 2008, MEC was the first Canadian retailer to publicly disclose its list of factories and their locations as part of our commitment to supply chain transparency. Moving forward, MEC is expanding the list to go beyond factories and add suppliers further down in the chain. See how many people are involved in our infographic: it takes this many people to make your backpack.

Other firsts? MEC was the first Canadian apparel brand to launch a Factory Fair Trade™ Certified product line in 2014, and we’re the Canadian apparel brand with the largest assortment (92 Fair Trade Certified products last year). For every Factory Fair Trade Certified product you buy, additional money goes right back to the workers who made it.

Giving back since 1987, including ~20 toilets

Smoke Bluffs toilet

Just one of the many projects your Co-op has helped support.

Everytime you buy something at MEC, part of your purchase goes back to support local community projects. That’s added up to $41.65 million and hundreds of community groups funded to date.

In 2017, some highlights included creating a trail between Algonquin Park and the Adirondacks, supporting adventure-based learning for the Work 2 Live Project, and developing mountain backcountry ski areas with the Fédération Québécoise de la Montagne et de l’escalade. We also:

MEC support even helped with toilets, a critical (but not-sexy and often-overlooked) part of outdoor activities. So far, MEC has helped fund at least 10 individual outhouse-related projects, including one named the “Pumpty Dumpty II Project,” which was a water-based program. If you count the alpine huts we’ve supported, which usually have a toilet in their plans, the number goes up to about 20.

Feels good when you wear it

MEC organically grown cotton products

MEC was one of the first brands to switch over to organically grown cotton, and has been sourcing 100% organically grown cotton for MEC-label products since 2002. Our goal is that every product we sell will have at least one sustainability attribute by 2025. Check in with us for our 54th birthday so we can celebrate again.

To all the Co-op members: thank you! It’s been a wild 47 years, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Karen Benson

Editor, trail runner, nature nerd. Lauded for leading cheer squads everywhere, she’s also an outspoken advocate for eating burritos daily.