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 can be satisfying — just as satisfying as the first time you actually get to wear it. Simply 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.
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 — their pieces are well known for being 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 quality hats, shirts, pants, jackets, bags and accessories. Their cold weather and wet weather outerwear is highly praised and the Tin Cloth lineup is 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. They only have a limited selection of sporting equipment, however. Their concentration is more on apparel.
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 more than hold their own 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.
Filson’s leather goods are also a stand out, being both attractive and tough as nails. Much of the Filson leather is bridle leather, leather that undergoes a more labor-intensive production process making it soft, attractive, and durable. Baggage, luggage, and other accessories from Filson, like wallets, use this leather.
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. 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; a great selection of clothing, bags, gear, equipment and themed household goods. If you’re taking part in these activities, we highly recommend Orvis products.
They are perhaps best known for fly fishing, where they carry rods, reels, lines, flies, tackle bags, and accessories like fillet knives. Orvis’ excellent fly fishing waders rival only the Simms brand for quality, in our opinion. For hunting, Orvis’s 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.
We have used Orvis gear such as fly fishing waders and boots, and consider them to be among the best on the market, right up there with Simms.
Orvis’s clothing lines are very comfortable and durable. Some of our favorite travel wear comes from Orvis, and even though much of it is made for hiking and fishing, it wears very well when you need to be comfortable.
The overall selection found at Orvis might be lacking for certain people. 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.
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. 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. Most of their products range from low to mid-level prices, with the aim of providing as 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. With the lower price tag, however, comes an expectation of a slightly shorter lifespan for their products. L.L. Bean’s 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, though, when you are looking for a wide range and affordable selection that is capable of spanning many needs. With that said, they make some great base layers and thermal underwear that we have had very good luck with.
A visit to the factory and flagship store in Freeport, Maine is a lot 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. The 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.