Small Backpacking Gear Companies | Average Hiker
Favorite Small Backpacking Gear Companies
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 out new ideas and innovative new gear.
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 also. I've used their tents for a long time, and recently purchased another in my move back to convenience over weight.
Below are a few of my favorites. It really is amazing how many of these have evolved and grown over the years. 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 really 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) originally known for their tarp tents, which are common among long distance hikers because of their light weight. In recent years, they have also branched out 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. They are not owned by the original founder anymore, but the new owners have maintained the quality, and continue to improve 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'm going to use it on my upcoming Colorado Trail thru-hike. I can't say enough good things about their packs. I've used them on the AT, PCT and CDT, in some pretty tough conditions. I'm not always that gentle on gear, mostly 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 now, and it is still like new. If you want to try the “Original” high-quality quilt, check it out.
Feathered Friends is a high quality sleeping bag, and still overseen by the original founders in Seattle. I take the Lark on cooler trips, and it will be joining 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, and it was fantastic. This was a change from the Western Mountaineering Jackets (also a great light weight down jacket), I had used in the past. I'm now a Feathered Friends jacket convert! They also have a lighter weight jacket that is 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 definitely an ultralight gear manufacturer, and I've always found their gear very well made. I still use their rain mitts, one of my favorite pieces of gear. They sell a LOT of other items, packs, quilts, clothes, etc., and their evolution has been impressive. They are a great minimalist provider, and if I decide to 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 if their are production issues the customer service is usually very good. I may pay a little more, but often get a much better, longer lasting piece of quality gear. This means that over the life of the product, I end up paying less.
Additional Gear Companies
Listed below are just a few other small backpacking gear companies with very good reputations. I've either used them, or I'm familiar with personally. I either know people that have used the gear, or have seen the gear being used while I'm hiking.
Western Mountaineering – Sleeping Bags, Clothing, Accessories, Quilts – I've used their bags and jackets. I was surprised recently to see them in my local backpacking store here in CT.
Katabatic Quilts – Quilts, packs, bivys. They are really known for their quality quilts.
Enlighted Equipment – Quilts, Hammocks, Apparel. Also known for their 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, and it is still going strong.
Tarptent – Shelters, etc. Great reputation for shelters, and some call them the “original” tarp-tent maker.
Gossamer Gear – Shelters, Packs, Accessories – They have really extended their product line, and are becoming more and more 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.