People have asked me for years, "why do you wear red jackets/parkas?" It's actually an interesting story, and it all started with a dog food company.Some have suggested that our eastern sister group did it to imitate the New York State Forest Rangers, whom the Wilderness Search and Rescue Team, the unit I helped found in 1979, worked with extensively, and wore red Johnson Woolen Mills jackets. Yeah, but, no. When Wilderness started out, we gained a lot of expertise from the volunteer search and rescue (SAR) teams of Los Angeles County. At that time, both Sierra Designs and Woolrich (Which made/makes mountain parkas for LL Bean.) made 6-pocket "mountain parkas" out of a nylon/cotton blend called "60/40 Cloth" (or 65/35 for Woolrich) in a muted orange color. SAR teams all over the country wore them, including our friends in LACo, so we did too. However, for reasons that were never completely explained. orange 60/40 cloth disappeared from the marketplace sometime around 1982.At roughly the same time, around 1984, the animal feed giant, Purina, started taking an interest in supporting SAR dog teams. Initially, they wanted to brand them nationally as "Purina Hi-Pro SAR Dogs," but that idea was quickly scrapped. Instead, they offered free dog food, mega-publicity, dog vests, and Woolrich mountain parkas for hundreds of teams nationwide. Since orange was no longer an option, and also since Purina's colors, coincidently, are Red and White, they struck a deal with Woolrich to provide free red, wool-lined jackets to SAR dog handlers, with "Purina Hi-Pro Search and Rescue Dogs" emblazoned in white screening over the left chest pocket. Not ones to look a gift horse (or dog) in the mouth, we took advantage of the offer and changed from "International Orange" (for those like me who still had their Sierra Designs parkas. Still have it, BTW.) and blaze orange, to Purina Red. It stuck.Today, forty years later, most search and rescue teams have switched to either blaze orange or lime yellow, and most of the original mountain parka suppliers (LL Bean, Woolrich, Sierra Designs) don't make them anymore. Occasionally, Bean or Woolrich will bring them back for a time as a "legacy" item but most of the time you can only find them used, online. I've only ever worn out one Woolrich mountain parka; the one from Purina finally wore out at the elbows. I gave a blue one away, and I still have my original orange Woolrich SAR parka, with the patches still in place. Someday when Wilderness Search and Rescue gets a permanent home of their own back in Syracuse, it will hang there.The NYS Forest Rangers (and some New England game wardens) still wear red jackets and parkas, and so do I. Originally, National Mountain Bike Patrollers wore yellow, green and gold jerseys, but in 2004, the national organization switched to red with a white cross, like most of the National Ski Patrol and in 2020, became an official part of the Ski Patrol system. After 26 years as a ranger, and 20 years wearing red in the volunteer ski and trail patrol, it has become part of my identity. A number of years ago, my wife bought me a brilliant red wool Filson Mackinaw for Christmas. It has been my "good" coat since then, although I've found that I now wear it more frequently than just going to church on Sunday. I still have my second red Woolrich/LL Bean parka, which now has the insignia of the Backcountry Trail Patrol embroidered on the chest. The Patrol, like many mountain bike and ski patrols, switched to red patrol jackets in the 1990s and jerseys in 2004. I was able to grab another wool-lined red mountain parka in one of those aforementioned "legacy" sales, and a Loden green one as well. They are my "go-to" outerwear at least eight months of the year. They are the most comfortable, functional coats I own. I doubt I'll ever wear out the ones I have in my lifetime, but I still wish that Woolrich or LL Bean would bring them back. Like the red field jackets of the forest rangers, the red parkas of ski patrols across the country and the scarlet dress uniform coats of the Maine and New
Hampshire game wardens, there is just something about the red coat that says, "legendary."