Duluth’s Frost River opens an outdoor equipment rental center

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The popular manufacturer of soft-side backpacks has opened a rental center for backpacks and other equipment. It’s a first for the company that has made a name for itself with hand-sewn, locally-made packs since 2003.

“The idea (for a rental center) has been around here longer than I have. We finally got it all together, ”said Matt Prois, Retail Manager at Frost River.

Frost River Retail Coordinator Matt Prois will review reservations on his computer at the new rental center in Frost River, Duluth on Monday, August 16, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Prois quickly found that the rental items are all of the highest quality, although they may be a slightly different color. Renters only need to return the equipment in undamaged condition.

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“We expect normal wear and tear. These packs can take a lot, ”noted Prois.

In addition to rucksacks, the rental also offers somewhat bear-proof plastic food barrels for canoe tours as well as bike bags and other outdoor bags and rucksacks. Frost River hopes to eventually have more rental equipment like tents, cooking sets, paddles, and canoes to essentially become a full-service outfitter.

“We’re already a permit pick-up center for people picking up their Boundary Waters permits. So it fits naturally, ”said Prois. “That way we get more of our products into the hands of more people and they can see how well it actually works. … you can test it. “

And maybe, according to Prois, people who can’t afford to buy quality Frost River products can still have a good outdoor experience by renting them.

On Monday, August 16, 2021, a rental label will be attached to packs in the new rental center on the Frost River in Duluth.  Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

On Monday, August 16, 2021, a rental label will be attached to packs in the new rental center on the Frost River in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The new rental center is located in the back of the corporate store at 1910 W. Superior St. Prices range from $ 3 to $ 5 per day to rent handcrafted packages that can cost up to $ 400 each in store. Everything can be arranged on the rental center website, frostrivertrading.com.

“It’s a way for people to have a quality item for their trip who may not be able to pay that retail price,” said Christian Benson, owner of Frost River. “And it’s not just canoeing. We rent beach bags for people who come to Duluth and find that we have a great beach here! “

Frost River tags will appear on rental packages in the new rental center on Monday, August 16, 2021.  Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Frost River tags will appear on rental packages in the new rental center on Monday, August 16, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

A decade on site and worldwide

The company’s namesake, the actual Frost River (and Frost Lake) is part of a remote and somewhat challenging route in the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Frost River has been in the Twin Ports business since 2003 when Steve Emerson used the name for a line of canvas packs and bags made by his American Outdoorsman Co. in Hermantown, Minnesota. Emerson was once a manager for Duluth’s “other” packaging maker, Duluth Pack, and had set out to compete with his previous employer.

In 2008, when the Frost River brand was shut down amid the Great Recession, Benson reached out to Emerson to purchase a piece of their idle leather-cutting equipment. Benson eventually bought the entire Frost River company.

A Frost River patch will appear on a rental package in the new rental center on Monday, August 16, 2021.  Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

A Frost River patch will appear on a rental package in the new rental center on Monday, August 16, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

After a quiet start on nearby Courtland Street, Frost River relocated its headquarters to the former Minnesota Surplus outdoor gear store in 2011. A decade later, Frost River is now a staple part of Lincoln Park’s vibrant craft scene, an opportunity for people to shop for locally made high-end outdoor products, between local craft beers and local craft dishes.

“The reason the building works so well for us is that we can do both manufacturing and retailing, and pretty well,” said Benson.

All Frost River branded products are handcrafted in Duluth using materials from U.S. suppliers. All of the leather comes from the tannery that supplies Red Wing Shoes in Red Wing, Minnesota. “So it’s all the Midwestern cows,” joked Benson. The waxed cotton fabric has been made in New Jersey by the same family since 1838.

Dan LaTour will sew upholstery on backpack straps on Monday, August 16, 2021 on the Frost River in Duluth.  Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Dan LaTour will sew upholstery on backpack straps on Monday, August 16, 2021 on the Frost River in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

With the busy retail store downstairs, the company’s employees cut material downstairs. Upstairs, on the second floor, sewing machine operators in a well-lit, solar-powered shop are busy assembling the bags, gun cases, tote bags, backpacks, purses, and myriad other items from the Frost River range.

Frost River now has 34 employees in Duluth, manufacturing and retailing, and sells Duluth-made products to retailers in not just the United States but more than 20 countries around the world. Benson said the company has a healthy split between online sales from frostriver.com and sales in brick and mortar stores worldwide – such as Pirgais Outfitters in Ely, Stone Harbor in Grand Marais and Absolut Canoe in Buchholz in Nordheide, Germany.

“We are strong in Asia – China, Japan and Hong Kong – as well as in England and Germany,” said Benson. “And Canada is a very good market for us.”

Frost River employees will work on production on Monday, August 16, 2021, on the upper floor of the Lincoln Park store.  Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Frost River employees will work on production on Monday, August 16, 2021, on the upper floor of the Lincoln Park store. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram


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