The 1980s were a strange decade, indeed. While innovations in the outdoors were moving forward at blazing speeds (electronic fish finders, lightweight synthetic materials, satellite technology), the apparel styles were odd and sometimes plain ugly. But, regardless, Outdoor Life was there to cover the ups and downs of the decade.
While covers in previous decades featured a variety of animals, such as rabbits, wolves, elk, moose and bears, the 1980s saw our covers primarily reflecting what our readers love best–fishing and deer hunting.
We were still a decade away from Milo Hanson’s world record buck, but there were still plenty of monster bucks to be had in the 80s, as this cover from July 1987 shows.
This photo is an appropriate snapshot of 1980s backcountry gear. Coleman items, which are still common today, were widly popular in the 1980s; large, puffy sleeping bags were standard; and lanterns and and propane stoves were bulky and heavy.
Still, as this article (“New Ways to Camp and Fish”) by Erwin A. Bauer shows, a revolution in gear was on the horizon. As Bauer states, “lightweight is the way to go.” In fact, making everything ‘lightweight’ would be the wave of the future.
If this item still exists, I certainly haven’t ever seen it on a boat or at a campsite. It’s an ultra-quick heater, that can heat water in “less than 10 seconds.” I’ve had many frigid mornings outside where I really could have used one of these!
“Going Wireless” was also the wave of the future. In the case of this screwdriver, the terms “wireless” means “cordless.” Many of our readers will remember a time when computers, phones and powertools all involved cumbersome wires, cables and cords.
This Outdoor Life hat might not look like much, but it was sold to readers through an order form in the magazine, and actually became one of the more popular items with our readers. Numerous issues from the 1980s show editors and readers wearing this navy blue hat in the field.
One of the more fortunate clothing items to come out of the 80s, the modern “fishing shirt,” with its vented back and breathable, UV-protection material, hit shelves in the middle of the decade, with Columbia Sportswear’s “Bonefish” collection leading the charge.
The June 1988 issue deviated from the standard fare and featured a rattlesnake.
Camo patterns were in their infancy in the 80s–something that would change at breakneck speed once several companies began competing with each other.
The August 1988 cover
February 1988
Illustrated covers were few and far between, much like they are today. But an illustrator was used for a story in the January 1988 issue about a grizzly bear attack, likely because usable photos from the actual attack were non-existent.
February 1988
Let’s not forget, the 1980s were the decade of the mullet (the hairstyle, not the fish).
Bear attacks were a hot topic in the 1980s. Not only did an attack get the illustrated cover–one also found its way into the This Happened to Me section of the magazine. Click ahead to read this story!
“I was walking the Wyoming high country last fall, looking for elk sign, when I felt that I was being followed.”
“I expected to see an elk but instead spotted a huge sow black bear and her cubs charging me.”
“She grunted, then came running at me. I raced to the edge of the hill and jumped down to a ledge.”
“The sow was still behind me. I leaped to another ledge but felt my ankle shatter.”
“I crawled down the hill and made it to a tree, which I used for support. Grabbing a stick, I prepare for battle.”
“To my delight, the sow gave up the chase. I began crawling and spotted two hunters who helped me.”