Face-Off: Carhartt vs. Arc'teryx
An outdoor clothing bloodbath.
In southwest Montana, we’ve always been proud of our blue-collar heritage, passed down through generations of ranching, mining, and laying track across the West. Although plenty of these hardy souls remain, there’s another, different breed of Bozemanite, one whose history may not run as deep, but whose collective quest for alpine air carries the same fervor as did the cattle booms and gold rushes of yore. In fact, many a Gallatin Valley resident may find himself confused as to which persona he most strongly identifies with, depending on where he’s going, what he’s doing, or who he’s trying to impress. And for each side, one distinctive clothing brand symbolizes his allegiance. So let’s settle the score: who’s the king of outdoor apparel around here, Carhartt or Arc’teryx?
Carhartt’s logo is iconic and widely recognizable, but let’s face it: an abstract rendering of the first letter in a brand’s name is pretty unoriginal. Perhaps these prolific makers of workwear should’ve stuck with their tried-and-true “car in heart” logo, a play on the founder’s last name referencing the railroad workers who the clothing was originally designed for. Arc’teryx brings more to the table with its distinguishable “dead bird” logo, a simplistic fossil of Archaeopteryx, the genus of dinosaurs thought to have given rise to the modern-day birds that circle our tallest peaks.
Funnily enough, Arc’teryx was founded in the year of Carhartt’s 100th anniversary. Needless to say, Carhartt’s roots run much deeper, through a host of trials and triumphs, including the westward expansion of America, the Great Depression, and World War II. The business has always remained in the family of its original founder, and its timeless designs haven’t changed much over the years, for good reason. Arc’teryx isn’t even an American company… need we say more?
Anyone who’s put an insulated jacket from Arc’teryx through heavy use knows this sad tale: after years of careful storage, cleaning with special detergents, and bolstering stitches with Seam Grip, one pesky branch snags a sleeve and puff—a stream of down feathers or synthetic fibers fills the air. You can patch it up, but it’s only a matter of time before the next snag, and soon the coat becomes an uninsulated quilt of duct tape. Even a shell succumbs to abrasion and sharp edges. Carhartt-wearers, on the other hand, will laugh off the most rugged abuse of their garments, which stay intact through years, even decades, of heavy use.
Indeed, Carhartt is built tough and will hold up through your roughest demands. That’s what it’s made for, and why it became such iconic garb for workwear. But while Arc’Teryx may cower at the sight of an incoming tree branch, it’s designed to protect you from the elements—that is, snow, wind, rain, and whatever other nastiness Mother Nature hurls at you. Which would you rather be wearing in a freezing rainstorm, a waterproof shell or a cotton jacket?
This one’s a no-brainer. Let’s take a staple item made by each company—waterproof bibs. Materials vary drastically, and while Carhartt’s polyethylene coating isn’t particularly flexible, breathable, or lightweight, you can pick up a pair for $60. The Alpha SV bibs from Arc’teryx ring in at over ten times that price—a whopping $650.
We picked these two brands for a reason. Both have surpassed their tenures as purely purpose-built clothing and engendered cult followings amongst all kinds of outdoor folk—and city slickers, for that matter. While Carhartt remains popular with blue-collar workers, it’s also become well-established as trendy garb for hipsters on liberal-arts college campuses across the nation. Arc’teryx continues to hold a place in the high-alpine environments for which it was designed, but also serves as a status-symbol in tech-hub metropolises along the West Coast. Pick your poison.
Score: 3 to 2
Truth be told, we’re surprised this one came down to a one-point spread. Sure, Arc’teryx provides high-quality apparel for active outdoor activities, but it’s a love-hate relationship polarized between lightweight protection and serious damage to your wallet. Carhartt embodies everything we know and love about southwest Montana: tough-as-nails, timelessly attractive, and steeped with endearing history. At least in the near future, both brands will continue to hold their reigns among our peaks and valleys, but Carhartt’s no-nonsense solidity takes the respectable nod, leaving dead-bird proponents wondering if they’re really suited for this state.