Oi Polloi

A brief history of Nike ACG

Published: Fri May 25 2018


Considering some of the boundary-bashing sportswear innovations that have come out of Nike’s Beaverton HQ in the last 50 years, it’s probably not much of a surprise to hear that The Swoosh™ have also made some pretty progressive outdoor clobber over the years.

Dubbed All Conditions Gear (or ACG, if you’re into acronyms), Nike’s range of mountain-friendly wares has always been exactly what it says on the proverbial tin… it’s gear, for all conditions — from perilous cliff-face escapades to wet ‘n’ wild mountain bike mud-fests.

Although ACG didn’t officially hit the trail until 1989, the seeds were planted a fair bit earlier. Grab some appropriate footwear as we take a trip down down memory lane… 

In the early 70s a new breed of long-haired rock scramblers known as the Stonemasters had gathered around the cliffs of Yosemite, taking the laid-back surf-style they’d seen on the beaches of California out into the country.  

John Bachar in Yosemite. Photo by Rick Acommazzo.

The triple-barrelled titles of gentleman explorers were replaced with names like Jim Bridwell and Lynn Hill, and Kendal mint cake was swapped for LSD. This lot were tackling massive climbs, but even though they were amongst the first to push ‘free-climbing’ (the slightly perilous art of scaling massive cliffs without ropes), attitude and style were just as important as being the first to the top.

There’s an old interview somewhere out there where one of the original Stonemasters talks about how they’d purposely go out in white painter pants and bright shirts just to wind up the more traditionally-minded climbers. Footwear followed suit, as clunky leather clodhoppers were thrown out in favour of lightweight approach shoes and nimble running trainers.

This movement wasn’t just restricted to Yosemite, and it wasn’t long before more and more climbers were turning to lighter footwear. The famous image of Rick Ridgeway and John Roskelley halfway up K2 in battered yellow Nike LDVs might look like a clever bit of marketing, but it was actually the photo that spurred Nike on to make their first leap into the great outdoors.

In 1981, Nike Hiking was launched. The precursor to ACG, this range featured a rugged trail shoe called the Lava Dome, an aptly-titled approach boot named the Approach, and a boot known as the Magma. As the adverts loudly stated, these were not your classic hiking boots. Not only were they loads lighter than anything else around at the time, but they featured intriguing details like quick-drying linings, and, in the case of the Approach, a revolutionary new waterproof wonder fabric known as Gore-Tex.

It’s probably also important to mention that Nike weren’t afraid to use a bit of colour on this stuff, and the bright orange and green swooshes helped the boots stand out against a sea of brown leather, and sit nicely with the new wave of technicolour dream-coats from Patagonia, The North Face and Berghaus.

All this rambling leads us nicely to 1989, when ACG finally smashed down on terra firma. Whilst footwear pedants may spout that the ACG name was first used in ’88 with the launch of an all-terrain version of the Pegasus, it was ’89 that things really got into gear.

Whereas Nike Hiking was, as the name suggested, still based very much around hiking, ACG went a fair few bold steps further, smudging the boundaries between rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, snowboarding and pretty much any other outdoor activity — whilst nabbing details from Nike’s hearty athletic range.

There was the Lava Dome’s slightly more aggressive offspring, the Son of Lava Dome, and an off-road running trainer called the Wildwood. Going beyond the realm of footwear, Nike harnessed their clothing know-how (and the world’s nylon reserves) to make everything from Gore-Tex snow-suits to lightweight windbreakers.

As the 90s rolled around, outdoor activities were becoming more and more accessible — climbing walls were opening up all over the place, and mountain bikes were just about becoming things that normal people could actually afford. Enjoying the ‘great outdoors’ had gone beyond simply walking about in the wilderness or cataloguing butterflies, and an extreme, MTV-flavoured element had been added to the craggy proceedings.

Perfect timing for the most infamous ACG creation — 1991’s Air Mowabb. Devised by architect-turned-trainer maverick Tinker Hatfield, these were a brash hybrid of the Wildwood and the recently released Huarache. Apparently inspired by Native American moccasins and the Martian landscape of Moab in Utah, these beauts looked straight off the set of Stargate SG1.

And things only got more outlandish. In ‘93 came the Deschutz Sandal, an aggressive kayak-friendly, air-soled action-sandal, and in ’94, another forward-thinking creation landed in the shape of the Air Moc — a curious cross between a shire horse’s hoof and a humble washbag.

These may have looked like a curveball, but were ideal for a world recently-juiced on such outdoor-based masterpieces as Stallone’s chalk-bag opera Cliffhanger and the still-fairly-unsettling canoe-epic, The River Wild.

On another, slightly doper corner of the spectrum, with 36 Chambers just unleashed into the world, and VHS-tomes like FTC’s Finally and Plan B’s Virtual Reality committed to magnetic tape, even those residing in small towns were sent in search of XXL utility-garb and chunky footwear.

Backing up ACG’s potent designs were some fairly potent adverts. Conjured up by Nike’s long-time compadres, Wieden + Kennedy, these managed to stand out even in the Raygun-era of bold type and brash photography, and were a long way from the stat-heavy info-blasts you’d maybe associate with massive sports brands at the time.

As the millennium bug burrowed into paranoid minds, ACG forged forth further into unchartered realms, and over the last few years has slowly morphed into an all-round stealthier beast under the expert guidance of Acronym jacket-sage Errolson Hugh.

Whilst this stuff is designed more for the harsh wilds of the inner-city than some dusty California ravine, flavoursome outdoor trimmings like Gore-Tex and fleece are still a big part of the buffet.

Although Nike ACG may have gone through a few different guises over the last 30 years, one thing’s for certain, it’s always stayed true to that name… All Conditions Gear. Pretty simple really.

Nike have turned back the ol’ clock to create a small collection of jackets, caps and trainers paying tribute to the ACG of yore. It’s available at Oi Polloi from 8am on Friday the 1st of June. Bookmark this page and cross those fingers.