by Adrienne So
On a bright, sunny day in May, we traveled to bustling SE Clinton Street in Portland, Oregon to visit Beckel Canvas Products. Today, this stretch of road is thickly populated with buzzy restaurants, high-end vintage shops and cafes. But when Bob Beckel first moved into the space thirty years ago, “there was stuff up on 26th [Street],” said Kathy Darnielle, his daughter. “The [Clinton Street] theater and some bars. But that was it.”
Beckel Canvas Products, which manufactures high-quality camping tents, bags and packing equipment, has been in business since 1964. Bob Beckel began sewing parachutes while in the Air Force, and after the war began making tents for Volkswagen. He passed his love of the outdoors on to his children, and his daughter Kathy—and then her own daughter, Michelle Nelson, grew up to take over the family business, and to spend their spare time camping and fishing.
The majority of Beckel’s customers are still dedicated hunters and campers in search of durable gear, but they’ve discovered a new following with clients like the Ace Hotel and artisanal ice cream purveyor Salt & Straw, who want to collaborate with local manufacturers and appreciate the quality of Beckel’s manufacturing and old-school aesthetic. They’ve also collaborated with local brands like Danner Boots—Bob Beckel and Bill Danner were friends, before Beckel’s passing.
“We don’t do any advertising at all,” said Nelson. “Nope,” agreed Darnielle. “It’s lots of word of mouth. A couple of friends of friends referred the Ace to us. We’ve been working with them and Canoe [another local boutique] for ten years.”
All of their products are made to order, by hand, from 10-ounce Marine Finish Army Duck canvas. All of their components are made in the United States, with many of those components coming from Oregon businesses like Oregon Leather in downtown Portland and the Vaughan Brothers, a fellow family-owned company that manufactures various hardware, fabrics and accessories.
The attention to detail and the handmade manufacturing process means that it can take up to six weeks to receive a tent ordered over the website. But keeping their space small and their overhead low means that their products can stay affordable. “We don’t ever want to charge our customers hundreds of dollars for a bag,” Nelson said.
Our summer picks include the Baker tent, which can be used as a tent or opened up to host an impromptu outdoor gathering; the beach bag, with a simple drawstring closure for tossing in sandals and a blanket; and the oddly charming outhouse tent with the traditional moon symbol, which provides necessary privacy for a necessary function. All Beckel products can be ordered online through their web store, with the exception of wall tents, whose precise specifications mean that they have to be ordered over the phone.
Site images by Adrienne So; product images courtesy of Beckel Canvas Products