The Best Gear Companies You've (Probably) Never Heard Of
These little-known gear companies are poised to compete with the big boys.
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“YAMA’s mantra, ‘Hike simply,’ directly impacts the design of its gear, which is designed not to distract from what is truly important: the adventure itself,” says founder Gen Shimizu. YAMA products include a diverse array of ultralight tents as well as a number of DIY shelter kits.
Olive McGloin, the first woman to successfully yo-yo the PCT, is a believer in the oddly-shaped but ergonomically-designed Pacerpoles during her 2014 hike. “I really don’t think I could have hiked without them,” she says..
The highly-celebrated 1-ounce down beanie launched Seattle-based Black Rock to prominence, but the company has since branched out into other accessories like balaclavas and mittens, perfect additions to any winter backpacking outfit.
Specializing in ultralight down- and synthetic-insulated quilts, Enlightened Equipment‘s products “make the lightest sleeping bags from the major companies look heavy,” says spokeman Peter Boysen.
BearPaw Wilderness Designs offers a wide variety of ultralight tents and tarps, but goes the extra mile when it comes to custom gear. “If a customer has a unique design, we can make that design and even offer our years of experience to improve that design,” says owner/operator John Stultz.
Katabatic offers a wide variety of backpacks, sleeping quilts, and bivys. Ultralighters rejoice—Katabatic’s regular-sized quilts range from 29 ounces for the 5⁰ to a mere 15 ounces for the 40⁰.
WarBonnet Outdoors caters to backcountry hammock enthusiasts looking for lightweight, warm, and dry sleeping options. The business got started in a garage in Fort Collins, CO in 2008, but has since expanded to include a handful of employees in a small production facility near Denver.
Known for their lightweight alcohol stoves, Etowah Outfitters has been a mainstay in the ultralight gear community for years. “Our tarps, packcovers, rain gear, and alcohol stoves have been tried and tested by more than two decades of hikers challenging the AT, PCT, CDT, and other backpacking adventures all over the world,” says founder Paul Fitzner.
All of Borah’s items are custom-built in Moscow, Idaho. Current offerings include down clothing, ultralight tarps, bivy sacks, and a brand new backpack set to be launched in March 2015.
The barebone floorless shelters made by Appy Trails eschew bells and whistles for value price points—the three-person Mark III costs just $100 and weighs a scant 1 lb. 3 oz.
You probably know the biggest names in the outdoor equipment world, but there are plenty of upstart gear companies out there too. Click through the slideshow above to see a few that have caught our eye recently. (Note: BACKPACKER has not, as of this writing, reviewed or tested any of the above products in the field.)