A great thing about being an outdoor enthusiast is being able to follow gear and apparel brands that have been at their craft for 90 years or more. Orvis, Filson, and L.L. Bean fit that bill.
Spending time finding just the right apparel and equipment provides satisfaction only matched by the first time you get to use it. Just browsing the options sparks memories of fun times at the lake or out in the wilderness. It builds anticipation for the next great adventure, the next chance to connect with nature. The hunt begins with choosing a fitting company that best meets your needs.
Remember J Peterman from Seinfeld? Yes, that’s another thing these brands and their catalogs evoke.
There have been a few stalwarts of functional outdoor gear over the years, names that are trusted and American-made and owned. In this article, I will discuss the offerings of three awesome brands: Filson, Orvis, and L.L. Bean. Each one of these has a niche in the market, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. This side-by-side comparison covers product selection, price, quality and unique advantage.
Best For Rugged Outerwear
Iconic Product: Tin Cloth Jacket
Filson products are certainly made of high quality, durable materials, evidenced by the fact that some of their outerwear layers get passed-down from generation to generation. They are the place to find merchandise that serves its function well and is built to last a lifetime. Filson is a great choice for top-of-the-line hats, shirts, pants, jackets, bags and accessories. Their cold weather and wet weather outerwear is really top-notch, with the Tin Cloth lineup being second to none.
Among these three profiled companies, Filson ranks the highest on overall excellence in design and durability. Items purchased here are constructed for long-term use. Filson may not try to boil the ocean with their somewhat limited selection, but everything they carry is focused mainly on high-end clothing and activity-specific extras. They only have a limited selection of sporting equipment, however. Their concentration is more on apparel solutions.
Their legendary cloths — the tough-as-nails Tin Cloth, Cover Cloth, and others — provide enough range to suit nearly any activity. We own several pieces with these fabrics, and can say that they are a cut above when it comes to rough use. If you are looking for something that will not need replacement for a long time, Filson is it. Plus, it tends to look even better with age and wear.
With high quality comes a higher price as well. Filson is definitely the most expensive when compared to Orvis and L.L. Bean and they do not offer any lesser products at a more affordable rate. Filson is a company that refuses to tarnish its name to gain some lower-end market share. Their product line is undiluted as well. This is not the place to find a large variety of items, activity equipment, or outdoor vacation packages. Filson is set on delivering the best of its niche: clothes and bags to use for outdoor sports. Filson is undeniably the choice for those seeking out superior products, and they are priced accordingly.
A visit to the flagship store in Seattle is a real treat if you are in the area. If not, most major metro areas have a good retail store to check out as well, and the Filson catalogs are legendary in their photographs and design.
Best for Sporty Casual Wear and Fly Fishing
Iconic Product: Heathered Felt Hat
Orvis is a sporting goods company that has a mission to serve specific needs. They offer mid-level pricing on good quality products focused on fly fishing, hunting, and hunting dogs. For each of these categories they offer a great selection of clothing, bags, gear, equipment and themed household goods. Orvis is the recommended option if searching for specific needs involving these activities. The are perhaps best known for fly fishing, where they carry rods, reels, lines, flies, and accessories like fillet knives. For hunting, Orvis’ selection includes practice clays, knives, binoculars, gun care supplies, vision and hearing products, and much more. In addition, they have a good offering of vacation and training packages for each of these sports.
The overall selection found at Orvis is, lacking however. This is because of their niche-driven approach. They have the smallest base selection of the three brands we are discussing, as well as the least variety within most categories. However, they provide the best direct offerings for the individual needs they do address. Their price range falls in between the other two and is very reasonable taking quality into account. This brand is not for everyone but it does serve their market very well.
Best for Overall Selection and Base Layers
Based: Freeport, Maine
Iconic Product: Classic Duck Boot
If Filson is the brand tailored to the Northwest, then L.L. Bean is the Northeast’s answer to it. L.L. Bean is one of the biggest household names in the sporting goods industry. They have the largest overall selection of these companies hands down. They also have the broadest variety, as L.L. Bean offers a little bit of everything. They sell clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, gear, themed household items, vacations and equipment for a long list of outdoor activities and sports. They make some of our favorite tents on the market. Within each category they offer large variety as well. Most of their products range from low to mid-level prices, with the aim of providing many possible choices for their customers.
The quality of the products offered by L.L. Bean is not as impressive as their competitors presented here. Their goal seems to be in providing solutions that are good quality affordable to everyone, but not necessarily legendary. We will say that they offer some great all-purposes camping equipment, including the best 4-person tent in our opinion. With this comes an expectation of a shorter lifespan for their products. Their product lines are immense and can be overwhelming. One can easily spend the better part of a day just searching through their vast catalog of inventory. L.L. Bean is the best option of the three when searching for sporting goods equipment, but their apparel is not at the same level of quality what you will find through Filson or Orvis. They are the best choice when you are looking for a wide range and affordable selection that is capable of spanning many needs.
A visit to the factory and flagship store in Freeport, Maine is lots of fun, but you will find their retail stores in about 50 locations around the country. The majority are concentrated in the Northeast.
Filson, Orvis, and L.L. Bean are all good brands that each have something to offer. In closing, let us review the main positive and negative feature of each.
Filson provides the highest quality apparel but is lacking in selection of other types of items. Filson is the one to go with if you are looking for ultra-tough outerwear layers that will last for years.
Orvis offers reasonably priced needs for fly fishing and hunting but does not adequately cover other outdoor activities. Orvis’ clothing tends to be very comfortable and relatively stylish.
L.L. Bean has the broadest selection for any need, but their inventory is of perhaps slightly lesser quality than the other two. One area where L.L. Bean excels is with its next-to-skin layers. Their thermal base layers (and hiking socks) are outstanding. L.L. Bean is the place to go if you just want a ton of selection and perhaps a deal or two.