NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home


Summer 2005 Issue
    Cover Article
    Message from the Director
    Alumni Profile: Jambo
    Wild Side of Medicine
    Reaching New Heights
    NOLS Expands Leadership Training
    The 1st WEMT Course
    Tim Mulvey, NOLS' most enduring student
    30 Days to Success
    Jim Ratz & the birth of LNT
    The Pyle Family: 3 Generations of NOLS
    Nothing Says NOLS Like Wind Pants
    NOLS on MTV and Discovery
Leader Archives
  Address Update Form

Donate to NOLS

Contact Us

Nothing Says NOLS Like Windpants
By Ted O’Callahan
If there’s one piece of NOLS clothing that has been on every equipment list, it’s the NOLS windpants - those baggy, sometimes zippered creations that hold up against just about anything. And with that endearing back patch, it’s hard to imagine anything more recognizably NOLS.

Paul Petzoldt and genius seamstress Thelma Young developed the first NOLS windpants using rip stop nylon. Those first prototypes were green, shapeless, and slippery enough on snow to give students some good rides.

Thelma and a crew of seamstresses did the sewing in-house until the late 1970s. NOLS then started experimented with various commercial options. In the mid-1980s, several NOLS locations returned to using their own designs made at local sewing houses. At that point, windpants made a series of evolutionary leaps as instructors migrated around, selecting the best features from each local design.

Amazingly, the folks doing the designing and ordering didn’t realize they were making history, so the exact date the now-familiar NOLS windpants first went out on a course is lost. But by the late ‘80s, the rip stop nylon was gone in favor of water-resistant ripstop nylon reinforced with cordura patches. Cinch ties at the ankles were replaced with zippers, and given the large numbers of people headed into the wilderness, the bright colors were toned down.

NOLS has made an estimated 20,000 pairs of its signature windpants. There have been some experiments with color, and NOLS Alaska ensures diversity in the design pool with a mutant form featuring a pocket on the front of the thigh and extra long zippers running to above the knee, but it is the traditional side pocket, green on green NOLS windpants that remain most popular.

Given that NOLS windpants rarely have the most flattering fit and probably aren’t truly high fashion, their enduring popularity is a bit of a mystery. But in a time when bells, whistles, and a brand name count for so much, perhaps these simple, sturdy windpants stand out precisely because they get the job done without fanfare. Perhaps it is their very anti-style that gives them such quiet cachet.

If you're not getting The Leader in the mail and you want to, click here.

NOLS Top of Page
NOLS Home About Us Courses Wilderness Medicine Institute NOLS Professional Training Alumni Store Donate Account NOLS Home Parents Press Room School Resources Photos NOLS.TV Events WRMC The NOLS Blog Introduction About Leadership History Mission & Values Profiles Partnerships Frequent Questions Find a Course Skills School Locations School Locations Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit Find a Course Skills School Locations Course Types Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit NOLS Pro Home 1-3 Day Courses 7-30 Day Courses Risk Management Staff Clients Design Your Course Contact NOLS Pro NOLS Pro 1-3 Days 7-30 Days Risk Management Clients Contact Us NOLS Pro Design Your Course NOLS Pro Staff Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Case Studies Overview Administrative Training Staff Training Consulting Conference: WRMC How to Apply Apply Online Download an Application Admission Policies WMI Home About WMI Courses Schedule FAQ Photos & Movies Curriculum Updates Employment Sponsors WMI Home About WMI Admissions Courses Schedule Host a Course Resources Gallery Alumni Home Trips and Events The Leader Alumni Chapters Employment Staying in Touch Volunteer Photos & Videos Home NOLS Photos NOLS.TV The NOLS Podcast NOLS on Flickr Leave No Trace Overview Leave No Trace Principles Leave No Trace Master Educator Courses Host a Course Contact Map of Events Dream Expedition Leadership Week Press Room Images for the Press Archives