It’s hard to believe that the Eastern Mountain Sports Thunderhead jacket has been in my life for more than 20 years. For perspective, in 2001—the first time I donned an EMS Thunderhead—the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies were released, the first iPod was introduced, and Rudy Giuliani was TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. While the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movie series have run their courses and been spun off into new series, the iPod has been replaced by the iPhone, and admiration for Rudy Giuliani is less universal, the EMS Thunderhead has remained a constant.

Today, the Thunderhead delivers affordable and reliable rain protection for everyone from those just discovering the outdoors to hardcore users—just like it did more than two decades ago.

My First Thunderhead

I bought my first Thunderhead jacket just after graduating college in preparation for a backpacking/climbing trip to Grand Teton National Park. At the time, the Thunderhead was an easy choice. First and foremost, it was affordable, something anyone with a large list of need-to-buy items—like I had—can appreciate. Adding to the Thunderhead’s appeal was that it came highly recommended, both from in-the-know friends and the associates working at the Natick, Massachusetts, EMS store.

While my memory is fuzzy, I believe I paid $100 for my first Thunderhead—approximately the same price it sells for today. In fact, find it on sale and you’ll likely pay less for a Thunderhead today than I did for mine more than two decades ago, no mean feat considering the rising cost of outdoor gear. Even better, I squeezed every cent out of my Thunderhead.

Over the next five-ish years, my trusty navy blue Thunderhead saw me through my first big outdoor-focused trip, including a multi-day backpacking trip in the Tetons and to the top of the Grand Teton. In the years that followed, my Thunderhead came with me everywhere from the towering peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It also accompanied me to the top of countless New Hampshire 4,000-footers along with my first Presidential Traverse and my first Pemi Loop.

Passing the Torch

My Thunderhead was a trusted partner and a constant companion while I fell in love with the outdoors, but after roughly five years of constant use, its days were numbered. Despite several tech washings and re-waterproofing, its weather resistance began to wane. The cuffs were also fraying and it sported a few patches of duct tape. However, the real death knell for my trusty rain jacket was that I got a job at EMS. Or, perhaps better said, I got a discount at EMS.

Although my Thunderhead had served me admirably, EMS’s Gore-Tex raincoats were calling me. I was able to resist the temptation of a new raincoat for a few weeks, but I eventually succumbed and treated myself to a new, very fancy jacket—a trend that would repeat itself with increasing intervals over the following years. After sitting unused in my closet for a few years, I passed my old Thunderhead on to a fellow EMS employee and I’m happy to report that he squeezed a few more years and a couple of epic trips out of it.

The author wearing his original Thunderhead. | Courtesy: Tim Peck

A Constant Companion

While a Thunderhead no longer called my closet home, it remained a close companion. In the years that followed, I sold hundreds, if not thousands, of those jackets to people doing everything from going to summer camp to trekking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every time I explained the features, benefits, and information (FBI for the old EMS heads) of the Thunderhead, I shared my own extremely positive experience. I hope all those Thunderheads I sent out into the world served their owners as well as mine had served me and played a similar role in helping to spark joy for the outdoors.

My closet didn’t remain Thunderhead-free for long; soon after rehoming my jacket, I moved in with my girlfriend (now wife) and her Thunderhead. While she has collected a fair number of high-end shells over the years, you’ll still find a Thunderhead on her side of the coat closet. It’s her go-to jacket for wet-weather dog walks and errands, and still makes an occasional appearance on White Mountain adventures.

Long Live the Thunderhead

I don’t work in an EMS store anymore, but I visit frequently. Every time I stop at an EMS, I smile when I see the rack of Thunderheads, knowing that the jacket is helping keep a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts dry and providing wet-weather protection to all those who appreciate a reliable raincoat and a reasonable price.