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Filson x Smokey Bear Collection: Celebrating an Icon of Forest Ecology

Skyblue Overland may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.

Although most of us have no intention of setting in motion the forces which could burn hundreds of homes, millions of acres of forest and affect thousands of lives, each year we learn of devastating wildfires caused by careless behavior. Through their partnership with the USFS and Smokey Bear, the folks at Filson (and Skyblue Overland) want to remind everyone this fire season, “Be Responsible. Prevent Wildfires.”

The Real Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear appears for the first time on a Fire Prevention poster in 1944. Photo courtesy of Filson.

The Cooperative Forest Fire Campaign was established in 1942. As a partnership among the War Advertising Council, the federal Office of War Information and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, it produced and distributed several posters between 1942 and 1944, intended to inform the public of the danger and preventability of forest fires. One of the drivers of the campaign was patriotism: during World War II, forests were part of the war effort, and destruction of trees curtailed wood supplies, obscured aerial flights of military aircraft, and pulled troops away from training to fight fires. Most outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with the Smokey Bear logo and partnering message: we have a responsibility to our land to prevent wildfires. Filson has long since catered to the rugged outdoorsmen and women who work on and with the land across the United States.

A game warden and a forest ranger inspect the damage done by a man-caused fire which burned more than 17,000 acres of New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. A black bear cub, badly burned, was found clinging to a smoldering tree after this fire. The bear cub was cared for and christened Smokey, and he became a national symbol for forest fire prevention. Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 029671.

One of the drivers of the campaign was patriotism: during World War II, forests were part of the war effort, and destruction of trees curtailed wood supplies, obscured aerial flights of military aircraft, and pulled troops away from training to fight fires. As part of the forest fire prevention campaign, characters from the Walt Disney movie Bambi were granted limited use in posters during this time. These proved to so popular with the public that the USFS decided it needed a new icon that appealed to children, free of copyright restrictions. Enter “Smokey Bear”, the unmistakable animal character created by the U.S. Forest Service.

Smokey’s message varied, but was always directed at the American public: that you, I and everyone shared a responsibility to prevent wildfires. In 1947, the revised and lasting slogan “Remember—Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” became the bear’s signature line. The ensuing Wildfire Prevention Campaign lasted 70 years, with hundreds of posters and other advertisements.

The live American black bear cub that survived a fire in Lincoln National Forest’s Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Photo: COURTESY OF NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH

Six years after Smokey’s first appearance in print, the character found a new representative through a live American black bear cub that survived a fire in Lincoln National Forest’s Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. The bear cub was badly burned on its legs, but it survived after climbing a tree to escape the flames. The fire crew rescued the injured bear, and a rancher among them took the animal home. Later, he turned “Smokey” over to a ranger with the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game and the bear was then flown to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Forest Service adopted him as their living mascot of the same name.

The Filson 2021 Smokey Bear Collection

As part of Filson’s commitment to their customers and industry, they’ve partnered with Smokey Bear on a new product line to generate awareness for Smokey Bear’s fire-stopping efforts. Some of these products include variations of the classic Filson Cruisers, the Smokey Bear Limited Edition Ranger Hat, t-shirts, towels, and an enamelware camp set. All of the products in the Filson Smokey Bear Collection can be found on Filson’s website.

Here are some of my favorites from the collection:

Filson Mackinaw Wool Cruiser

The Cruiser was instrumental in Filson products being adopted by the U.S. Forest service as early as the 1920s, and by the 1940’s, Filson was producing several variations of the Cruiser with custom designs and fabrications for the stewards of our public lands as official uniform attire.

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Smokey Field Flannel Shirt. Photo by Filson.

Filson’s dependable Smokey Field Flannel Shirt is suitable for tough outdoor use and comfortable enough for everyday wear. It’s constructed from hardy midweight brushed cotton with officially-licensed graphics of Smokey Bear spreading his message of wildfire prevention in the forest–Filson’s nod of respect to Smokey’s seven decades of service in the U.S. Forest Service. Military-grade melamine-button front and adjustable cuffs. Garment-washed for comfort and shrinkage control.

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Photo by Filson.

Filson’s Smokey Bear Prospector Full-Zip Hoodie is built with a 13-oz. cotton blend that’s lofted on the inside for warmth and smooth on the outside for non-pilling durability. On the chest is Smokey’s image, and on the back is his message about the importance of responsibility with fire in the wild. The cuffs and hem are made with heavy-duty ribbed knit that holds its shape over years of wear. The hood is drawstring-adjustable for a custom fit. Front patch hand pockets and full-length zipper. Officially-licensed graphics support the U.S. Forest Service in their management of our wildlands.

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This limited-edition t-shirt is printed with Smokey Bear’s signature wildfire prevention slogan. Photo courtesy of Filson.

The Filson limited-edition Smokey Bear Short Sleeve One Pocket T-shirt is built from heavyweight cotton, complete with Smokey’s fire-safety reminder. Pre-washed for a broken-in, comfortable feel on day one. Officially-licensed Smokey image and slogan.

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Photo by Filson.

A staple for anyone in the outdoors, Filson’s Smokey Bear Nalgene® Bottle is shatterproof, dishwasher-safe and suitable for hot and cold beverages. Made with completely BPA-free plastic that doesn’t leach harmful chemicals into your water.

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Smokey Bear Boxers. Photo by Filson.

Show some love for one of America’s most symbolic icons with the Smokey Bear Boxers. Constructed from midweight 5.3-oz brushed cotton twill to be warm and comfortable. Features a durable elastic waistband and single-button fly.

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Pioneer Graphic T-shirt. Photo by Filson.

Featuring Smokey Bear’s, important message about wildfire prevention, this made-in-USA shirt is constructed from substantial 6.5-oz. cotton jersey for lasting service. Rib-knit collar for shape retention. Officially-licensed graphics.

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Final Thoughts

Smokey Bear frolics in a pool at the National Zoological Park. Photo provided by the Smithsonian Institution.

Some of my earliest memories include riding shotgun in my dad’s 1962 Chevy Impala while crisscrossing the U.S.  When I was around 6 years old (circa 1970), my parents took our family on a summer trip to Washington DC.  We visited all the sights, the Capitol and all the monuments.  All I could think of was that I was looking forward to visiting the National Zoo.  I wanted to see an icon – the real Smokey Bear. Needless to say, somewhere in my parents house lies a photo of me standing in front of the real Smokey the Bear with a huge smile.  I was thrilled!

The real “Smokey Bear” remained at the National Zoo until his death on November 9, 1976. That same year saw the formation of a new “hotshots” Type 1 firefighting crew for the U.S. Forest Service, based out of Ruidoso, New Mexico. The group – the Smokey Bear Hotshots – fight forest fires and provide support during other natural disasters across the United States.

Own a Piece of History With the Filson Smokey Bear Collection. Photo courtesy of Filson.

About Filson

Established in Seattle in 1897 to outfit prospectors headed for the Yukon, the company’s 123-year legacy is built upon its reputation for honesty, quality and durability. Filson’s long-lasting gear is the choice of explorers, adventurers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, engineers and anyone with a passion for the outdoors. Over a century after its founding, the Filson headquarters remain in Seattle, Washington.

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