I’ve used a lot of gear over the years and have several favorite small backpacking gear companies. I also enjoy supporting entrepreneurs and am always on the hunt for “lighter” quality gear. Loving gear; I’m not ashamed to say I’m a bit of a gear nut and enjoy trying new ideas and innovative equipment.
Favorite Small Backpacking Gear Companies that are no longer so Small
A few of the gear manufacturers I mention may not be considered small anymore, but a few are still founder-owned and make great gear. In some instances, like Big Agnes, I’ve included them. I’ve used their tents for a long time and recently purchased another in my move back to convenience overweight.
Below are a few of my favorites. It is incredible how many of these have evolved and grown. In some cases, they have already switched ownership (ULA Adventure), and I suspect it is only a matter of time before several sell out to the “big guys.”
Z-packs is a small manufacturer that has taken off over the last few years. Z-packs was founded in 2005, and I’m a big fan of their tarp tents. I used their Hexamid on the AT. It is the tarp tent seen in my featured picture. They were (and still are) known initially for their tarp tents, which are common among long-distance hikers because of their lightweight. In recent years, they have also branched into backpacks, quilts, sleeping bags, clothes, accessories, etc. Over the past couple of years, I have seen more and more of their backpacks on the trails.
ULA Adventure is my current “go-to” pack provider. The founder no longer owns them, but the new owners have maintained the quality and continue improving upon great gear. I’ve used their Catalyst backpack in the past and am currently using an Ohm 2.0. The Ohm came along on my last long AT section hike (800 miles SOBO), and I will use it on my upcoming Colorado Trail thru-hike. I can’t say enough good things about their packs. I’ve used them in some pretty harsh conditions on the AT, PCT, and CDT. I’m not always that gentle on gear, mainly attributed to my lack of grace, and the ULA packs have never let me down.
Nunatak is not a name you hear all that often. They were founded in 1999 and are currently based out of Utah. Many new kids on the block make quilts right now, but I love Nunatak’s quilts. I’ve used their Arc UL 30/20 for years, which is still new. If you want to try the “Original” high-quality quilt, check it out.
Feathered Friends is a high-quality sleeping bag and is still overseen by the founders in Seattle. I take the Lark on cooler trips, and it will join me on the Colorado Trail. This trail can get cold temperatures any time of year. I also used their “Helios” jacket when I climbed Kilimanjaro with Dad and my brothers, which was fantastic. This was a change from the Western Mountaineering Jackets (also a great lightweight down jacket) I had used in the past. I’m now a Feathered Friends jacket convert! They also have a lighter-weight jacket on the Christmas list, the Eos. We will see if Santa shows up!
Mountain Laurel Designs
Mountain Laurel Designs is an outfit out of Virginia. I’ve used their Bivys, Rainmitts, and tarps. They are an ultralight gear manufacturer, and I’ve always found their gear well-made. I still use their rain mitts, one of my favorite pieces of equipment. They sell many other items, packs, quilts, clothes, etc., and their evolution has been impressive. They are a great minimalist provider, and if I change packs, my next pack will probably be their Burn DCF 38L.
Small Backpacking Gear Companies Quality
What I love about small backpacking gear companies is that their products are often handmade and high quality. They last a long time, and the customer service is usually very good if there are production issues. I may pay a little more, but I often get better longer-lasting quality gear. This means that I end up paying less for the product’s life.
Additional Gear Companies
Below are a few other small backpacking gear companies with excellent reputations. I’ve either used them or I’m familiar with them personally. In addition, I either know people who have used the gear or have seen the equipment used while I’m hiking.
Western Mountaineering – Sleeping Bags, Clothing, Accessories, Quilts – I’ve used their bags and jackets. However, I was surprised recently to see them in my local backpacking store here in CT.
Katabatic Quilts – Quilts, packs, bivys. They are known for their quality quilts.
Enlighted Equipment – Quilts, Hammocks, Apparel. Also known for its high-quality quilts.
Jacks R Better – Quilts, Hammocks, Tarps. Known for their hammock quilts.
Six Moon Designs – Shelters, Backpacks, Accessories. I used their Wild Oasis on the CDT, which is still strong.
Tarptent – Shelters, etc. They have an excellent reputation for shelters; some call them the “original” tarp-tent maker.
Gossamer Gear – Shelters, Packs, Accessories – They have extended their product line and are becoming increasingly popular, especially their packs.
Hyperlite – I recently used their stuff sack pillow on the AZT (loved it), and I’ve seen their packs on the trails. Their packs have a solid reputation.