Peter Whittaker was just 12 years old when he first climbed Mount Rainier. Back then, tweens were still a rarity on Washington’s 14,411-foot summit, yet Whittaker’s climb didn’t take the local mountaineering community by surprise.
The son of legendary alpinist Lou Whittaker, who led the first American ascent of Mount Everest's north face in 1984; and nephew to Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest in 1963, Peter Whittaker and his family are American mountaineering royalty. The climb—and his future as the owner of America’s largest guiding service, Rainier Mountaineering Inc.—was preordained.
Whittaker, who just notched his 250th Rainier summit, has learned the hard way that bad apparel design can make or break an expedition. Tiny flaws can be disastrous above the treeline: Metal buttons cut into thighs, overly constrictive hoods reduce mobility, and ill-constructed puffy jackets lead to jammed zippers. In 2016, he decided that if he wanted to provide his stable of 60 RMI guides with the ultimate alpine kit, he’d need to build it himself.
That dream is now reality. Bight Gear, a specialty outdoor apparel brand named after the bend of a climbing rope, just launched online and comes with an unprecedented promise: every Bight product has gone through a minimum of 100,000 vertical feet of mountain testing.
“We’re high up on the mountains. Corporations aren’t up there,” Whittaker said. “Our focus is building apparel, so it’s built right. We select the best fabrics and materials, and then worry about cost later. Not the other way around. Our products need to be the best.”
This mentality—coupled with Whittaker’s Rainier test lab—makes Bight unique in a sea of outdoor-apparel brands. Whittaker and his RMI guides have spent the last two years developing the perfect alpine kit. The guides spend a combined 10,000 days a year at or above treeline and directly contribute their end-user experience into the final designs.
RMI guide Christina Dale, a 34-year-old guide who has tested Bight on summits in both North and South America, used to gripe about her jacket’s restrictive cuffs and how they made it nearly impossible to view her altimeter watch.
“Last year, I was guiding on Rainier’s DC Route and it was super low visibility. I needed to know where I was on the route and if there were any nearby hazards,” she said. “I couldn’t get my sleeve up. That’s when I wanted to cut it off.”
That kind of real-world data allows Whittaker to translate ah-ha moments into smart designs like the Caldera Down Parka: a slim down parka with stretchy cuffs that allow guides to easily check their watches.
“My guides are tied to people, in a dangerous place, and they need to be able to look at their watches consistently,” said Whittaker. “Other companies don’t recognize that. We do.”
The guides love it too; sometimes too much.
“I know it’s a good design when the guide tests it and it doesn’t come back,” Whittaker laughed.