Despite a thin frame and a tendency to shiver uncontrollably, I’ve always been one to appreciate the cold. You won’t find me on the slopes or skating across a patch of ice, however, nor will you catch me clad in some ultra-light nylon parka. I simply don’t see the point in layering, instead preferring old-style jackets made of natural fabrics with big buttons. This Minnesotan’s main winter activity involves meandering through the city’s neighborhoods or around its lakes, collar up against the wind. When the weather turns especially bitter and I find myself outside alone, the city falls away and I imagine that I am a hero from a Jack London novel, facing doom on the great frozen tundra—even if it’s just Lake Calhoun.
My winter constitutionals improved considerably some fourteen years ago, when I discovered the Filson Double Mackinaw Cruiser. One afternoon, while flipping through a roommate’s copy of GQ, I happened across an article on the somewhat legendary jacket. In the photograph, it was draped over a chair and bathed in light from a warm fireplace, which was no doubt thawing a group of grizzled prospectors just back from a dog-sledding trek through the Yukon. The article claimed that Filson’s wool jacket was warmer than down or synthetics. It said the Filson was fabled. It was unique.
So, flush with college graduation money, I called the company and bought the jacket they claimed I would hand down to my children one day. Now, I do not wish any future offspring of mine to be as fashionably challenged as their father. Although the Filson Double Mackinaw Cruiser is the epitome of utility, its iconic red-and-black tartan pattern often prompts strangers to make cracks about my resemblance to Elmer Fudd.
But in my eyes, the Cruiser is a thing of beauty. There is nothing more comforting out among the elements than the weight of a wool jacket, and that rich, dry aroma is also soothing (though I do smell like dog when the thing gets damp). The Filson company claims that the fabric has been culled “directly from sheep that have acclimated to the same wet, cold conditions you may encounter while wearing one of our garments.” I’m assuming, of course, that the conditions they’re referring to are what Canadian Mounties face while trudging up the Mackenzies, as opposed to what an out-of-shape writer encounters while scurrying across Nicollet Avenue to reach the hotdog vendor.
Although they’re designed with hunters in mind, Filson Double Mackinaw Cruisers are ideal for bookish types like myself. There are four deep pockets in front, one of which has slots for rifle shells that are the perfect size for pens and pencils. A one-piece cape shrouds the shoulders and arms and reaches down to the abdomen, and hand-warming pockets work wonders when the forgetful forget their gloves. Also, there is a game pouch at the small of the back—a flap of fabric that keeps the body warm and also serves to hold slim paperbacks, newspapers, or magazines. When I asked a hunting pal of mine whether one would really store a dead bird in there, he stared blankly and said, “That’s why it’s called a game pouch.” When I appeared aghast at the thought of a duck dribbling blood into my jacket, he rolled his eyes and said, “Good equipment gone to waste.”
I’m aware that my owning a Filson jacket is somewhat akin to a man buying an SUV or heavy-duty truck, believing that it makes him more rugged and manly. Reading the Filson catalog only fans the flames of this fantasy, as one is captivated both by the harrowing testimonials and many of the products’ sheer ugliness. The company motto is, “Might As Well Have the Best,” which might explain the thirty-dollar socks and $250 cardigans. (The Double Mackinaw Cruiser costs around three hundred dollars.)
The testimonials make you wonder whether Jack London’s characters might have survived, if only they had been sporting these astounding coats. Over the years, the catalogs have told of an Alaskan pilot crashing into the snow and surviving thanks to a Filson, of a Filson belt securing a gate against a raging bull, and of a pair of their tin-cloth pants that kept one fellow’s manhood intact when attacked by a jumping chainsaw.
It’s a man’s world at C. C. Filson—there are no women in the catalogs, and no women’s clothing. You might also argue that no woman would be caught dead with a guy wearing these hideous shirts and pants. But they’ve made strides. A few years ago Filson introduced its Double Mackinaw in a dark, solid gray. I purchased one of these recently—the old one is just fine, thank you, and ready to be bequeathed to my progeny—making me look less like a lumberjack and more like Albert Camus in his French Resistance mode. I have yet to see how the new gray hides blood drippings from a dead duck, but it certainly covers the occasional coffee stain.
This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine.