Montana, the treasure state, known for its snowcapped mountain ranges and vast wilderness. This landscape is a perfect place for outdoor adventure. Hiking, camping, off-roading, hunting, and shooting in “Big Sky Country” is quite the experience. While enjoying or working in the great outdoors of Montana can be very enjoyable, it also represents a test for the durability of gear. If it can last in Montana, chances are it can last anywhere.
This was part of the inspiration behind Jim Markel Jr., CEO of Red Oxx Mfg., a travel bag maker whose goods are all sewn together in Montana. However, the idea for Red Oxx did not begin with an outdoor focus. Markel’s father, Jim Markel Sr., began with a focus on gym bags for the growing fitness industry. A retired military captain who spent time as both a Green Beret and a Marine Corps Recon Officer, Markel Sr. had a passion for keeping in top physical shape. Markel Jr. joined his father after also serving in a Marine Corps Recon unit. Together they worked in the basement of their home until they had built the company enough to move into a factory.
Now, 30 years later, the company has 28 employees and is in its 8th factory, which has been designed by Markel for excellence in product manufacturing, efficiency, and workplace environment. All of this leads to bags and packs which, according to my initial observations, showcase superb craftsmanship.
The Red Oxx product line has expanded as Markel Jr. broadened his interests and realized new applications. This was a particular point Jim and I discussed during my visit, the crossover of many of his products’ applications, because many people have varying interests in outdoor activities, travel, etc. Take the Gator Bag.
This bag’s initial design revolved around a bag for the gun range. The Gator features pockets and compartments perfectly sized for ammo boxes, magazines, holsters, ear protection, and pistols. However, Markel explained that this bag also appeals to photographers, those who need a small every day work commute bag, weekend travelers, and even new fathers who prefer a more rugged diaper bag. The Gator, along with other Red Oxx bags, also features a Claw Shoulder Strap with an anti-slip rubber pad similar to those found on modern hunting rifle slings. The strap adds to carry comfort as well as stability in various climates.
Another crossover came from Red Oxx designing bags for the railroad industry. Railroad workers need packs that can carry their clothing, tools, and other items for days at a time. They need something that will hold up under a heavy load in harsh climates. Red Oxx answered with rucksacks and duffels which feature large compartments, heavy duty #10 YKK zippers, and are double box stitched at the stress points for quality that lasts. Even the store’s price tags are overbuilt metal dog tags! These rucksacks and duffels also see use by law enforcement as patrol car and gear bags. Furthermore, the Railroad Grip duffel could be a great bag for a long range trip or a weekend firearms class.
As I toured the manufacturing facility and separate storefront/shipping facility Markel showed me the various materials used to create these bags. Every material he selects conforms to his want to produce overbuilt gear.
One thing I noticed was the absence of camouflage color schemes in the fabrics. For me, this was somewhat welcoming, as almost every company is producing camo items these days. Although I do like camo I tend to buy smaller camo items and not large packs. Markel agreed, adding that at times camo can act as the opposite of its intention, and be quite loud in relationship to one’s surroundings. Instead, Red Oxx sticks to mostly solid color schemes, and provides customers with a wide variety of choices from black to yellow. Markel even told me a story about a yellow rifle case he made that is oddly quite low key when he goes on outdoor trips.
Red Oxx even features some brighter colors for their packing cubes, which aid in proper organization and utilization of space in their large duffels and packs.
I concluded my visit by speaking with Markel about his future plans for Red Oxx. He continues to revise his bags and design new bags based off of consumer feedback. Markel was also excited about the land purchases he has made around the Red Oxx facilities, which he plans to use for various businesses that can help build on his brand. We plan to meet again soon, so stay tuned for more on Red Oxx and their awesome bags, made by Americans right here in Big Sky Country!