You may see their products in our pages, but how much do you know about the small companies that make up a critical component of the outdoor gear industry? Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Biddeford, Maine-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Who: Mike St. Pierre, Hyperlite Mountain Gear co-founder
Favorite Hike: “The Grand Canyon has been my home over the past three or four years. Last year I completed my section hike of the entire length of the canyon.”
Inspiration: "[While working in New York's restaurant industry] I liked escaping the city and getting up to the Adirondacks or the Whites. But I found that what I had in my mind for products were not really available ... Stripped-down, watertight as possible, durable, and lightweight. [Those products] didn’t seem to be available on the market."
Key Ingredient: "I came across this Dyneema fabric while doing some research on my own, found the company, called them up, and that was the impetus for the whole thing ... We’ve only ever used Dyneema. And I think there was only one other brand at the time that was dabbling with that stuff early on, but we were definitely at the forefront."
A-Ha Moment: "[Nine years ago] in the Adirondacks I had an experience that helped legitimize the idea of the business. I parked at the trailhead, and I was 100 yards up the trail when I saw a ranger. She stopped me, asked where I was going, and was like, 'There’s no way that bag is big enough to get you out there. And there’s no way you have a bear canister in there.' And I said, 'Yeah, I do!' Her pack was three times the size of mine. She made me empty my backpack out. And she was completely dumbfounded: I had a stove, I had rain gear, I had a headlamp, I had water filtration, I had everything I needed in this tiny package."
Durability First: “There’s still a perception out there that lightweight is not durable. And there are brands out there that built stuff that was lightweight and was not durable, and I think that left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. I think we’re still kind of dealing with that, even if some of those brands have been extinct now for several years. I’ve always felt that you’re basically taking your house and everything you need with you into the backcountry, [so] why would you skimp on that?"
Hands-On: “[The testing process] has always started with me. Usually I’ll come up with an idea that we’ll start prototyping. We’re more of a rapid-prototype [company], meaning that rather than doing CAD drawings and 3D models, we go right to quick sketches [and then] to a physical sample. From that point we can either use it or dissect it or do what we need to do. Once we have a working prototype, then I’m usually the first person out in the field using it.”
Ultralight Advice: “Stick to the essentials. You really don’t need much to do this stuff. You need a lot less than what people think. I find that people end up trying to pack for their insecurities, and that can really bog you down ... Keep it simple, keep it light, and just enjoy it.”