Barry Ward in his Junction Creek workshop, holding a handlebar bucket./ Photo by Jennaye Derge

In stitches

Former big wall climber turns passion into product

by Missy Votel


They say necessity is the mother of invention. But sometimes so is money. Or lack thereof. Such is the case with recent Durango transplant via Flagstaff, Barry Ward.

If not a certifiable climbing legend, Ward comes close to it. As a young student at Northern Arizona University in 1981, the Texas native dropped out to spend more time on the rock. In the years that ensued (before knees and other necessary joints wore out) Ward put up several first ascents all over Arizona and Utah, including two at Zion’s Angel’s Landing.

When asked if he ever went back to school, the barrel-chested Ward is emphatic. “Hell no!” Ward, now 55, chuckles. “I started sewing.”

Wait, what?

See, as anyone who’s ever quit school to climb, ski or (insert outdoor activity here) knows, finances can be scant. Six-packs are bought using loose change in the couch (on which you may or may not be surfing) and food is procured from free happy hours. This is partially because a regular job tends to get in the way of such pursuits and partially because gear required for such pursuits doesn’t come cheap.

That is why, with all due respect, we call them “bums.”

But in a strange twist of fate, Ward’s bumming turned into an actual boon, eventually giving way to his newest venture, Durango Sewing Solutions.

“The big impetus to start sewing and make gear was because I couldn’t afford to buy it,” says Ward, who credits high school home ec with the indispensable skill. (Listen up, kids!)

Some of Ward’s early creations include gear haul bags, which he made for Flagstaff-based A5 Adventures in the late ’80s – mid ’90s. Founded by Stanford-trained mechanical engineer and climber John Middendorf, the company was an early player on the big wall gear scene. In 1996, A5 sold out to a little company called The North Face, and Ward started zig-zagging his way around the West, doing stints in Moab, Salt Lake City, Tucson and eventually, back to Flag. Along the way, he sewed and designed for another climbing gear manufacturer, Kokopelli Designs, as well as his own Flagstaff-based HIFA (short for “Handcrafted in Flagstaff, Ariz.”)

A year ago, Ward and partner, Kim Morris, left Flagstaff in search of a change of scene as well as rivers – specifically the trout and whitewater contained therein. “I sold my rock climbing gear so I could get flyfishing gear,” he admits.

Their Durango rental house, abutting the Animas River Trail and Junction Creek, could not have been a better choice.

“I call it fish camp,” Ward half-jokes, as the Animas beckons mere feet away. In addition to the log-cabin house, there is a rustic wooden shed-turned-workshop, from which Ward hung his Durango Sewing Solutions shingle – visible to astute River Trail users.

Inside, it’s a one-man, two-sewing machine show, with rolls of Cordura fabric and several large cutting tables. Since moving to Durango, Ward has focused his products toward his new market: bike “handlebar buckets” (think the ultimate, spill-proof container for road sodas and other essentials) and neoprene visors (lightweight, floatable, waterproof and most importantly, stylish.)

“It’s like pants pockets for your bike. And if you were in a pinch in the winter, you can put them on your hands and keep them warm,” he says, claiming this theory has actually been tested.

The buckets come in a variety of options – from shortie basic to deluxe – and sell, along with his visors, on his website ( The visors go for $30 and the buckets start at $35, although Ward says if you show up to his workshop and don’t bother the neighbors, he’ll give you a discount.

(As an aside, this might be well worth the trip, as Ward is quite the spinner of yarns as well. A visit to his shop could very well turn into an hour or two of storytime, including “porta-ledge parties” in Tucson – don’t ask about what they did with their poop – and the time he worked as a safety rigger in Moab for “Mission Impossible 2,” for which he has the utmost respect for Tom Cruise. If you’re lucky, he may even invite you back for “chicken time,” which happens to coincide with happy hour.)

And now for the question on everyone’s minds: Will Ward be the new Durango gear messiah, healing all those ailing tent zippers and broken fastclips?

 Uh, well, for the answer, please refer back to the “back to school” question.

But, that doesn’t mean he won’t help folks customize their existing gear or dream something new up all together.

“I do like modifying gear to make it look cool,” he says.

And if those buckets and visors become a local sensation, Ward says there’s more where those come from: messenger bags, dog leashes and collars, “tough girl” purses, and his “mountain feed bag,” able to hold an entire twelver.

Because, if there’s one thing Ward has learned over the years, it’s that mountainfolk like to work hard and play harder. And sometimes, you’re lucky enough to seamlessly thread them all together.