This issue of the Gazette's "Sponsor Spotlight" features Travis Avery, Marketing Director for Sawyer, one of ALDHA-West’s sponsoring gear companies. We asked Travis a few questions about Sawyer so that we can get to know them better. If you have any additional questions for Travis, please leave a comment.
1. Please give a brief description of your company. What products do you sell? How did you decide in which products to specialize? How long have you been doing this?
“Sawyer started in 1984. Our first product was the “Sawyer Extractor,” a snake bite venom removal kit that we still sell to this day. It can also be used for bee stings, wasp stings, scorpion stings, ant bites, and more. We then moved into sunscreen and insect repellent, then to first aid kits, and lastly to water filtration which is where we are debatably most well-known now.”
Mini water filtration system
2. Are there products you used to sell, but no longer do? How did you make this decision?
“We have discontinued some products over the years. Our Broad Spectrum insect repellent was a great formula that also worked against flies but now our Picaridin lotion and spray perform even better.”
Insect repellant done right!
3. Do you see the possibility (opportunity and/or threat) that the big gear makers try to buy up the cottage gear makers like we see happening in the craft beer space?
“Absolutely and we are regularly approached. We are however fortunate to be able to maintain our position in the industry and we hope to continually to influence it and provide dependable products that can help provided outdoor protection to our fantastic customer base.”
4. What do you think are the greatest market opportunities for your product…expand the US market, Europe, Asia? How do you plan to achieve these opportunities?
“A large part of our water programs are in Africa, but we are looking to expand our water filtration systems and insect repellent availability to Central and South America where the need for both are prominent.”
5. Does your company give back to the trails? What does your company do to promote trails and sustainable use of them?
“We try. We have been a “Leave-No-Trace” partner for several years now but the larger portion of our giving back programs are via international water relief.”
6. Is there anything about your company that you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?
“We have our brand-new Foam filtration systems coming out this year and we are excited to see how they are received as we hope to once again, raise the bar with personal water filtration.”
We keep you outdoors
Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996; Notice of Opportunity for Public Comment
Charles Baker - Editor
The Department of the Interior (DOI), has issued a notice to the public that it is inviting public comment on 27 National Monuments which are under review. The review is to determine if policy has been conformed to and “to formulate recommendations for Presidential actions, legislative proposals, or other appropriate actions to carry out that policy.” The deadline for the Bears Ears Monument in Utah has passed, however, the remaining 26 monuments have a submission deadline of July 10, 2017.
Fiddler Cove Canyon, Bears Ear National Monument, Utah
To review this Notice and submit written comments, please go online to http://www.regulations.gov and entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search Bar and click “Search.” Please be aware that any personal information you submit in your comment – such as your name, address, phone number, email address, or other – may be made publicly available at any time.
The following National Monuments are being reviewed:
Your comments are a way to “have your voice be heard,” and may include your views on a range of topics; share your individual experiences in these areas, the importance of protecting public lands for your and future generations, the protection of historic and sacred sites, economic benefits, or perhaps your opinion of this review. Whether your interest is hiking on the surface or diving below the waves, this review is an opportunity to lend your voice of support to our wilderness areas.
The Big Three of Photography
Gary “Shutterbug” Lawton
Most hikers, who have poured over gear lists in the hope to lighten their pack, have probably heard of the “Big Three”: pack, sleeping system, and shelter. In my quest for the perfect photo, I believe there is a big three of photography: subject, composition, and light.
A thru-hike is an adventure of a lifetime and capturing the memories in photos is important to most. As a photographer, I will admit most of my pics are simple snapshots capturing a not to be forgotten moment and to share my journey with family and friends. But I also hope to capture a few images that will be truly worth sharing. This capture happens when the big three come together in one image.
The wilderness and the long trails we love abound with scenic beauty and worthy subjects. The landscape around us can be stunning, but don’t get lost in the big scene, the smaller details are also worthy of our attention. While I love capturing the grand vista, some of my favorite pics from my thru-hikes are of the minute details: a delicate flower, a colorful moss covered rock in a stream or a close-up of a fellow hiker’s beaming smile.
A photographic image is two dimensional. Use composition to expand the image into the appearance of a third dimensional. Converging lines do this exceedingly well. Using the trail or a stream leading into the frame can do this. To avoid a static pic, avoid placing the main subject in the center of the frame if possible. Divide the frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally and place your main subject at one of the points where the lines intersect.
In nature, great subjects abound, and compositions can be manipulated to your liking, but the most important aspect of a great photo is light. Without quality light, the result will be lacking that wow factor we all hope for in our photography. I am known for getting early starts on the trail, but I rarely make big miles first thing, because the light can be most special at that time and I am constantly stopping when the light is good. There is a reason the first and last hours of the day are called the “magic hour.” It’s what makes those amazing sunsets and sunrises so grand.
Pack up the big three on your gear list and keep them light and remember the big three of photography to capture your best pics. Happy trails to all and bring back some amazing photos.
"The Craziest Things We Saw on the Great Himalaya Trail"
By Justin “Trauma” Lichter
Pepper and I set out into the unknown in the spring of 2011. The guidebook and maps were somewhere in the production process but had yet to hit the shelves. We researched everything we could online and in print, and struck out to Kathmandu to challenge ourselves and see if the ultralight mantra we’d been following for years would also translate into the realm of mountaineers, Sherpas, 4-season expedition tents, and just flat out huge mountains.
Upon arriving, we were immediately aware of the cultural differences and significance the language barrier would play. We decided to hire a guide for the first ten days or so to help get accustomed to the differences and the expectations of locals and tea houses. Knowing that we are not the normal client, we went through a rigorous interview process to make sure our guide was familiar with the terrain we’d be heading and would be fit and willing to hike 10+ hours per day. After a couple of days, we selected the guide, Tenzing, we thought was eager and right for the job.
Ascending Lumba Samba La (5159 meters) before the deep snow and waist deep potholing in the basin above.
The next day we traveled to the start of the Kanchenjunga base camp trek, the terminus of the GHT. We were carrying very heavy loads with ten days of food and technical gear and were moving slowly. We needed to break into form and get used to the elevation. Day 2 we began to wait for him a little bit. By Day 3 we were waiting nearly the lengths of our breaks for him to show up. By Day 4, it became glaringly obvious that his pack was not reducing in size as ours was beginning to lighten significantly from the food we were eating. We learned that his pack was heavy with stuff, and not food. He was not carrying any food and was stopping in local’s houses for them to cook him meals.
The next day we were to go over a major pass above 5100 meters. The conditions had been less than ideal, with snow coming each day and piling up in the high terrain. He insisted that he needed a local guide to help him since he admitted he didn’t know the way. We said we weren’t paying for it since we could do the navigation, even though the maps weren’t good.
We set off in the morning with a twenty-something year old that he had hired to help him. It had snowed another 6-12 inches overnight. They were slow and dawdling. Pepper and I were breaking trail and trying to keep them moving. We knew that the weather and clouds would come in by 10 AM turning the navigation and landscape into a complete white out. We climbed and circled into a high bowl overlooking nearby glaciers, and the snow just got deeper. We were post-holing waist and shoulder deep, moving less than a half mile an hour. They stayed hundreds of yard behind us so they wouldn’t have to navigate or break trail. We finally reached the pass at 10 AM as the clouds were building.
Whiteout with zero visibility shortly after arriving at the first saddle, made for some very difficult navigation.
Pepper and I scarfed down a snack and threw on some layers. By the time they arrived at the pass, we were getting chilled and needed to get moving. The local guide said in Nepali that he’d had enough and was heading back. Tenzing was scared and also wanted to head back. The conditions had turned into a complete white out. We denied and offered to take weight from his pack. After he had divvied up about 20 pounds worth of gear to Pepper and me, we pressed on, leading the way.
The double pass tricked us with the poor maps and zero visibility, and we wandered around wallowing in deep snow for a while, before figuring out the correct second pass to go over. We had hoped to reach a small village down the next valley for the night. As the day progressed, we realized we weren’t going to make it there with all of the post-holing. Tenzing was extremely anxious and wanted to get to the village. As the sun set, we were about 3 miles short of the village. Pepper and I were exhausted from breaking trail and decided to call it a day. We set up our shelter, while Tenzing set up the tent we supplied for him, and we cooked dinner.
Packing some of the guides gear into our already heavy packs laden with technical equipment.
Around 3 AM, we heard screaming from his tent. I couldn’t make out what he was saying in my dazed slumber, and I heard Pepper say something to him which made him stop screaming. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Every now and again I’d roll over and see his headlamp still illuminating his tent the rest of the night.
Pepper and I woke up a bit before dawn and ate our breakfast in our sleeping bags before starting to pack up. As we picked up the shelter, we asked Tenzing what happened last night. He said that two yetis had come and attacked him. One had unzipped his tent door and was trying to strangle him as it sat on his stomach. The other was sitting outside the tent watching. He said they wouldn’t leave all night, and they are very mischievous, so they kept messing around with him. I asked what they looked like, and he responded by saying they are black and about 2-3 feet tall, and they stand and walk on two legs. Pepper and I looked at each other amazed. That’s not how we ever think of yetis!
As we approached the town that we had set our sights on the day before, Tenzing was telling everyone the story of the yetis. I could not believe that he was so open about the story since I’d be pretty embarrassed telling a story about a fictional character attacking me, but then again if he did get attacked by yetis, I’m jealous that I didn’t get to see them.
While Tenzing was telling the story to another local, Pepper and I discussed and concluded that he was probably scared of “wild camping” and for his safety we needed to get him out of the backcountry. The next day we hiked to the end of the road so we could ship him home and continue on our way. We’d had enough of paying for a guide that we were the guide and sherpa for! And on our way we went.
A Cautionary Tale; How a Bad Bus Ride and a Long Flight Home Nearly Killed Me
by Scott "Shroomer" Williams
This past summer, I had the good fortune to join Francis “Mr. Magoo” Tapon, his wife, Rejoice, and Sym “Symbiosis” Blanchard in Madagascar for two months of trekking and exploring that fascinating country. Jungles, thatch-roofed villages, rice paddies, baobabs, incredible swimming holes, a whole new culture, and lemurs, were just a part of the fun. I’d love to have taken a lemur home! And the jungles they live in were simply beautiful. Traveling by foot, taxi-brousse, tup tup, pus pus and cyclopus as well as old narrow gauge railways and Pirogues (dugout canoes) we had the adventure of a lifetime. The only seriously dangerous critters in the country are Nile crocodiles and crooks. And at least the dugouts kept us safe from the crocs. So, two months in Madagascar was fine, but the trip home nearly killed me.
So, here’s the story. Shortly after arriving in Madagascar, Symbiosis and I had a very long bus ride to the East Coast where we were to meet up with Francis and Rejoice Tapon to join their trek of the island. Unfortunately for me, my seat on that bus was broken and over and over again during that long ride, slid forward, jamming into the back of my calves. I fell asleep several times only to wake up with that damned seat cutting off the circulation at the back of my legs, and unknown to me at the time, causing a blockage, the beginning of what become a blood clot much later, or maybe as early as that first week of travel in country.
Tsingi National Park, a wonderland of weathered limestone formations
When I got off the bus, I could hardly walk, and for the first few days in Toamasina, I limped wherever I went. When Francis and Rejoice and I set off into the bush, it was lucky for me, not them, that they were both suffering from ailments as well that slowed their pace. Rejoice was just getting over typhoid fever and Francis, a foot infection. So we all hit the trail at somewhat of a personal disadvantage and took a nice leisurely first few days. We traveled through jungles and high plains, got villagers to ferry us across the bigger rivers, and hiked along old railroad beds, which are often the best footpaths through the dense tropical forest. We ate whatever we could buy at the little villages we passed through and were always the subject of interest as we were probably the first Westerners with backpacks many of them had ever seen. What a hike! The pain in my calf decreased over the miles, and I figured I’d just suffered an internal muscle bruise on the bus. And at that point, it might have been just that.
Avenue of the Baobabs
A month later, Sym and I hiked across Isola National Park, a place of dry uplands, whose exposed and weathered rock formations reminded us of the American Southwest. All of this wonderfully weathered rock towered above river-carved gorges filled with tropical forests and crystal clear streams with the most beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever had the pleasure of bathing in.
Francis and Rejoice on top of Pic Boby, in Andringitra National Park
Early in the day on a steep climb, I experienced a sudden loss of breath and energy to my legs like I’ve never felt before, almost as if the air had been let out of a balloon. I thought I was just not feeling well that day, and swimming or walking downhill seemed to revive me, but in hindsight, and after experiencing a much greater pulmonary embolism once I returned home, I now think this was the breaking away of the first clot.
Inside Tsingi National Park
I returned home in August after an interminable number of hours in taxis, planes, and airports. But within a few days, I was back on trail, climbing Mount Diablo on my favorite Burma Burn path with its 42 percent grades, and did a 20 miler in San Francisco and several other good hikes over the hills in Martinez and I was feeling pretty good. Then one morning about ten days after getting home, I met up with a group of fast walkers to do a simple hike of Briones Regional Park. We set off at a brisk pace, and I felt fine. But 100 yards down a flat trail, I began to lose steam and watched as my friends just zoomed by me. As I tried to keep up, I found I could not move my legs any faster no matter how hard I pushed and I began to huff and puff desperately. I finally sat down on a log to catch my breath. Cyndi, one of the hikers, came back to make sure I was OK and I cavalierly waved her on, telling her I would hike at a slower pace this day, but assuring her that I was fine. I got up and did try to hike, but at the first bit of uphill, found I just couldn’t do it. An experience all new to me. I had no idea what was happening as I wasn’t experiencing any pain at all.
I turned around and slowly walked back to my car and drove myself home. What an idiot! I should have called an ambulance, but I really didn’t get it till I got home and had trouble walking up my driveway, which is not a big climb. My wife, Katie, heard me huffing as I reached the door and whisked me off to the County Hospital Emergency Room.
They admitted me, and over the next two days, I was lucky to have nothing but wonderful doctors, nurses, and clinicians of all stripes. Thank you, County Hospital! After hearing my story of the recent long flight back from Madagascar, the Emergency Room Doctor diagnosed it correctly within just a few minutes. And after numerous tests to confirm it and rule out anything else amiss, the ultrasound found the clot right at the spot of that early bus trip injury, at the back of my calf. That broken bus seat had done some real damage. The heart work concluded that other than the blood clot, I was very healthy, a nice thing to hear when you’re hooked up to IVs and monitors.
I learned a lot about pulmonary embolisms over the next two days. Common to people laid up in bed after surgery, or during pregnancies, it also affects those who are involved in high-level sports, who travel around the globe on planes, buses, trains, and cars, to compete. One of the clinicians equated our long distance hiking to an Olympic sport, and me, and all of us hikers by association, to Olympic athletes. Wow! Also nice to hear when you’re in the hospital and quite immobile.
It turns out that pulmonary embolisms are somewhat common to this group. An extreme athlete travels to another country to compete, then pushes 150 percent in their sport during competition (not much different than us knocking out a 35 or 40-mile day, day after day) causing micro tears within the circulatory system. At home where we stay active, this is usually not a problem, but in this case, having a long flight home, these micro tears may become the locus for a blood clot to form. Back home, and bang, pulmonary embolism soon after.
Although age is a factor in our proclivity to create clots, it often happens to very healthy young people too. Just after my hospitalization, I learned that a dear friend in her mid-twenties had suffered a PE just when I was having mine, brought on by bed rest after arthroscopic knee surgery. She’s also an extreme athlete and in great shape, other than forming a blood clot. The good news is that these extreme athletes usually have a complete recovery. Thank God!
I prescribed Eliquis, an anticoagulant drug, and after a few days at home, I got my doctor’s OK to drive across country with Katie and continue my summer’s adventures, but with a few caveats. He wanted me back to my usual hiking as soon as I could do it. What a great prescription for a long distance hiker! In essence, to hike as hard as I could, as soon as I could, with the knowledge that the tiny clots in my lungs would cause this to be self-limiting until they dissolved on their own over the ensuing months. I wouldn’t be able to go any faster than my degree of recovery had progressed. He also wanted me to pull over every hour when driving across country and run around the parking lot! I’ll be traveling differently from now on and did so for all of my autumn adventures. But here’s some of what I learned.
How to Lessen your Chances of a Pulmonary Embolism
Finally, the meat of this long story:
The bottom line is to keep moving as much as possible.
So, with that said, will I be lessening my travel? Hell no! I’ll just keep moving all the more. Not a hard thing to do for a long-distance hiker. See ya on trail!
by Charles Baker
This segment of the Gazette allows members to respond with a simple one word/one sentence answer to a question or phrase. If you would like to participate, or, if you have a burning question you would like to put out to the hiking community, please contact email@example.com. Answers must be accompanied with a headshot photo - a mug shot will do in a pinch...
Today's question: "If you met Donald Trump hiking, and you could only say one word to him, what would it be?
Whitney "allgood" La Ruffa - "#nevergoingtomakeit"
Liz "Snorkel" Thomasn - "#Getrucked"
Felicia "Princess of Darkness" Herosillo - #grabhimbyhistinyballs"
A Wannabe Reflects on the Ruck
Erik Sabina, Denver, CO
I’m sorry to tell you that I first became aware of you all through watching the movie version of that book that shall not be named. At least that is how some folks seem to feel about it. Anyway, the main thing I want to say is that you all have kept me (semi-) sane these past few months, thanks to the magic of blogging. I was diagnosed with arthritic degeneration in my big toe joints in 1989, and have been fighting off the day of surgery ever since. This winter, the day came. After my January 23 surgery, I didn’t leave the house for five days. For several weeks after that, I walked with crutches and wore one of those surgical shoes that make one look like a one-legged duck. By this time I was already aware of the astonishing things you all do, seemingly acting as though anyone can do it (I’m thinking “No, really - people can do that?”). I was sitting in my family room with my foot in ice, living in that tiny indoor world, dreaming that I’d fully recover, dreaming that I could live in a big world instead.
A really big world.
I must have been randomly Googling for more through-hiking info on March 7 or so, and I ran across this organization called ALDHA-West. And by some odd piece of luck, you were holding a thing called a Ruck. The next weekend. In Golden. About 14 miles from my house. Hmm. It lasts all day. And I’ve never been on a backpacking trip longer than six days. And maybe I hiked 20 miles in a day. Once. And despite a lifetime of backpacking, one through-hike on a long trail likely adds up to more miles than I’ve done in all my trips put together. And I’m very busy, and I’m not sure how it can take all day to talk about hiking (ok, stop that laughing).
Well, then. My kind wife said, “go, have fun.” So I went.
I’ve been in more than one group in which newcomers are looked down on, held at arm’s length, treated with suspicion. Wow, you all not behave that way. People who’ve done things I can only barely conceive of, treated me like they’d known me for years. They shared stories and advice. They acted like they thought that I might be able to do what they’ve done. I loved the gear demos; I learned so much from the “what I carry” panel discussion. I enjoyed the nutrition talk. I learned techniques for crossing raging streams without drowning (probably). And of course watching Jean Ella’s presentation made me feel like anyone really could do it, with all the support tools available today (none of which she had.)
So thank you Allgood, and Snorkel, and Dirtmonger, and all the others (including lots of people who only have regular names, like me). I don’t know how much you intended to serve as inspiration for an oldish hiker trying to get over surgery and wondering how much hiking he has left in him. But anyway, you did. And of course, I still don’t know how much I’ll be able to do (surgery, and ever advancing age, and all that). I still have plenty of uncertainty to deal with, but from the sound of it, lots of you have had to deal with that too, often mid-hike. Not knowing if you can do this, not knowing if you want to when it comes to it, not knowing if you can go on in the face of adversity after adversity. But I hope this summer to make a few shakedown trips, and put one foot in front of the other and find out.
The Sub-24 Hike
A quick getaway for those who used to be able to get away more
I was a thru-hiker twelve years ago. I would quit my job, sell most of my possessions, put the rest in storage, and hike for five months. After the adventure and freedom of the thru-hike, I’d pack up my car and start a new job somewhere different. I’d repeat the process in two years. Those days were important to me. I was alive. They shaped who I am today. I remember those days fondly.
But that was then. Now I have a family with two little boys who wake up at 6:00 a.m. every day. I want the boys to go to college if they want to. I want to save some money so that when the kids leave home, my wife and I can go on some amazing adventures. And, I rather like the home improvement projects that keep me busy in-between trips to the playground.
Despite my newfound responsibilities, I’m still a hiker. The two-mile hikes we do, feeding the five-year-old chocolate, with the one-year-old on my back, are nice, but these short hikes don’t scratch the itch. So, what’s a responsible family man supposed to do?
Enter the sub-24 hike. On Saturday afternoon around 3:00 p.m., after putting the youngest down for his nap, I head up to a trailhead 30 miles from home that leads to the Continental Divide. By 4:00 p.m., an hour later, I’m hiking up the trail. Everyone is heading out; I’m the only one heading in. I hike until dark and set up camp alone at tree line. The people are back at the prime lakeside spots they secured early in the afternoon. The next morning I’m on the trail by 7:30 a.m. I’ve got miles to go, and I’m needed home in the afternoon. I walk along the Divide under bluebird skies with the occasional trail to connect the route. Now back on trail, it’s time to head down. Descending, I notice all the people heading up. The sub-24 hike isn’t how most people get out for the weekend. Entering the trees, a cool, shadowy walk leads me back to the car. I grab a cold beverage from the cooler. Relaxing in the parking lot before heading home, I notice how much busier it is at noon on Sunday than at 4:00 p.m. when I got on the trail yesterday. The sub-24 hike is a good way to beat the crowds.
Just under 24 hours since I left, I’m back home in time to greet the one-year-old as he wakes from his nap. I have dinner on the table at 5:00 p.m. The kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m.; I unpack and straighten up the house a bit and then it’s time to go to sleep. The next day is a work day. I’m grateful for this quick adventure, a little taste of freedom, a little taste of wilderness. It may be short, but the sub-24 hike is a great way for those who can’t get away as much anymore, to get away for just long enough.
Mike "d-low" Dilorenzo
Snowed in, iced in? Dreaming of warmer hikes ahead? Here is an article that will help when you turn those daydreams into reality.
5 Tips for Hot Weather Backpacking
By: Sirena “desertsirena” Dufault
Here are some tips for beating the heat while backpacking:
Drink Water and Eat Food
Seems obvious enough, right? But in hot weather it can be a challenge to find the right balance. It’s not just enough to chug water all day long while backpacking in the heat- in fact, it can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia. The body loses salts when sweating, it’s what causes white rings on clothing after a hot day on the trail. Replacing these salts while rehydrating is extremely important, either by eating salty snacks or by using electrolyte replacement drinks, chews, or gels. Feeling like the trail sucks and your hiking partners are a bunch of jerks? One of the first signs of dehydration is irritability. Take a moment to drink and eat, you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.
Long sleeves and pants might look hot in the sun, but they provide shade, protect from UV rays, and when wet with sweat, provide evaporative cooling. Make sure to protect the back of your neck and ears from sunburn with a hat with a wide brim, a neck flap or a lightweight hoody with a baseball cap or visor.
Shade Up with an Umbrella
My number one piece of hot weather backpacking gear is a trekking umbrella. Shade is at a premium in the heat, so why not carry your own? A regular umbrella will do in a pinch, but most are not made to withstand high winds without turning inside out. Trekking umbrellas with a silver reflective surface made from carbon fiber are light, sturdy and can either be carried in your hand or attached to your pack. It can also be used to set up some shade while taking a break. No need to wear a hat and umbrella at the same time, so there’s lots of ventilation. Put a wet bandanna on your head and you’ve got a great way to provide evaporative cooling.
We have a saying in the desert- “If you’re hot and near water, you’re stupid!” Wet your head, soak your shirt, get in the water to cool your core temperature. At the very least, wet a bandanna and tie it around your neck. This fools the body into thinking it is cooler than it is because it gets the temperature cues from the blood flowing through the carotid artery in the neck. Note: DO NOT use precious water from caches for this purpose.
Take a cue from the wildlife and many hot weather cultures and split your day into early morning and afternoon hiking with a nap in between. Temperatures are usually hottest between 10am - 4pm. Find yourself some shade or use an umbrella to make your own and settle in to wait it out. If you can siesta near water, all the better. Getting a sunrise start will give you several hours to hike in more comfortable weather. Night hiking is also an option to beat the heat.
Sirena “desertsirena” Dufault
This issue of the Gazette's "Sponsor Spotlight" features Glen Van Peski, of Gossamer Gear, one of ALDHA-West’s sponsoring gear companies. We asked Glen a few questions about Gossamer Gear so that we can get to know them better. If you have any additional questions for Glen, please leave a comment.
1. Did you start as a DIYer? How did you make the leap to starting a gear business?
My mom thought that every kid should leave home knowing how to cook, bake, and sew, and we all did. I sewed the early Frostline and Holubar kits for down clothing and sleeping bags. When I graduated from high school in 1976 I rode my bicycle across the country, which got me thinking about, ironically, ultralight travel and making my own gear. I had sketches of bike panniers based on having pedaled 4,200 miles thinking about it. It wasn’t until years later when our oldest son Brian got into Boy Scouts that I got back into making my own gear. We joined a backpacking troop, and the Scoutmaster, a good friend of mine, had just read Ray Jardine’s original book. He was enthusiastic and enrolled me in getting lighter. For our first Sierra trek with the Scouts, I had gone down to REI, and they had loaded me up, starting with an internal frame backpack that weighed 7 lbs. empty. It’s hard to imagine now, with all my gear weighing less than 5 lbs. After reading Jardine’s book, I figured the pack represented a great opportunity to start lightening up, so I got a pattern, heavily modified it, and sewed my first pack… the G1 as it were. I kept at it until the fourth one seemed to be what I needed. This was the early days of the internet, and I put together the G4 plans and put them online for people. I never really intended to get into business, but people kept bugging me because they didn’t know how to sew. So I figured out how to have a few made, figuring that would be the end of it. But instead, it was the start of quite an adventure, leading to the creation of GVP Gear, now Gossamer Gear.
2. What do you think are the greatest market opportunities for your product…expand the US market, Europe, Asia? How do you plan to achieve these opportunities?
Our vision is to inspire and equip everyone to get outside, by providing thoughtful, functional solutions to simplify their outside adventures. We see a trend with younger people to care less about accumulating possessions and more about having experiences. Our commitment to “take less. do more.” is right in line with caring less about how much you have, and more about what it allows you to do. After many years out of the shelter market, we finally had a satisfactory material designed for us, and brought back “The One.” In the future we plan to expand that segment, with a 2-person model, a minimalist version and possibly a ‘mid offering. In the past we’ve carried a sleeping bag with some unique features, so we might decide to bring those back in the future. We already have some fairly robust dealers overseas, but that’s certainly an area that could be explored further. There are a lot of great European manufacturers already, but the market seems to have some room for our offerings. We are planning on traveling to the European outdoor show this year and do a hike there, to meet some dealers and customers.
3. What do you think was the smartest move you have made? Conversely, what was the biggest mistake you have made?
Hmmm, probably the smartest move was selling 75% of the company to someone who would put in the funds and staff to run it so I didn’t have to, when I was ready to close it down. Biggest mistake? Oh, there have been plenty along the way, as we lurched along between sewing operations. Our foray into affiliate marketing would have to be right up there. Most mistakes seemed like a reasonable decision at the time, but ended up having bad impacts. Luckily for us, having quality, innovative products and dedicated customer service have kept us growing.
4. Have you found that customers outside the US are skeptical of ultralight/lightweight clothing/gear? If so, how do you turn skeptics into believers?
We have a solid customer base outside of the U.S., so there’s obviously interest in lightening up their gear. Certainly it’s always important to take into account local conditions when planning for a trip, no matter where in the world you are headed. Underestimating conditions is a good way to veer into “stupid light”. As far as turning skeptics into believers, showing them is the best way. There’s nothing quite as effective as taking a trip with someone, with half the base weight they are carrying, and them seeing that I’m perfectly comfortable; in fact more comfortable because I’m carrying less weight. Even after going on a trip with someone to show them what ultralight looks like in practice, they still may not be willing to make the choices I make to get there. Ultimately it’s generally about two tradeoffs; first, trading off some comfort in camp for comfort (through carrying less weight) on the trail. Secondly, being willing to acquire greater knowledge in some areas (for instance the knowledge to effectively use a tarp for shelter). There’s still ways to trim weight without those two tradeoffs, but to get to ultralight, you ultimately end up bumping up against those two tradeoffs. People have varying willingness to make two tradeoffs, so we’re committed to making gear at different points along the spectrum, that allow them to reduce their pack weight while minimizing the amount of camp comfort and skill level decisions they are forced to make.
5. Favorite hike?
Wow, I just like to be out, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I’m not a fan of day hikes, in fact I seldom engage in them. For me, the staying overnight, carrying everything I need on my back, and having the ability to keep going instead of turning back, is a huge factor. While I love to be anywhere outside, above tree line in the mountains is definitely my favorite, especially off trail. I’ve taken to getting extra permits for hikes I’m planning, and then sending out an invite blast to a list of people I know are 1) fit, 2) have their gear together and most importantly 3) are good company in the backcountry. I get to introduce people to some of my favorite areas, and since it’s different people on every trip, they get to meet others with similar interests. The Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon trip is in danger of becoming an annual tradition at this point, it’s just so beautiful and unique. Humphreys Basin, in the John Muir Wilderness out of North Lake is also a perennial favorite, because it’s easy to get to, and easy to put together off-trail loops to explore the area (and it’s an area where bear canisters are not required). My favorite hike in 2016 was 6 days off trail in the Weminuche Wilderness with Will Rietveld and a buddy of his; 60 miles and 42,000 vertical feet chasing a couple of guys in their 70’s; good times.
6. Where will you go on your next vacation?
As I’m writing this, I actually don’t have a trip on the books, which always makes me a little jumpy. Come January, I’ll get permits for another trip down Buckskin Gulch in April and start getting a group together for that. I’ll probably end up getting a trip together in the Sierra again. We’re building a house in Bend, Oregon so we have a couple of trips planned up there. I’m not much of a beach guy, but we spent a week at the Ritz Carlton on St. Thomas after Thanksgiving with my dad and stepmom, and it was pretty nice; we’re talking about doing it again in 2017. Some trips are related to ultramarathons, so it depends on what I sign up for in 2017. I’m looking at the Ruston and Elkhorn 50-mile races, but haven’t made a final decision.
7. Is there anything about your company that you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?
Not really. It’s interesting to me that when I started GVP Gear, there were only a couple of us doing that. Now there are SO MANY cool cottage manufacturers, I can’t begin to keep up with all of them. It’s great to see the creativity and commitment to finding innovative new approaches to gear.
Glen Van Peski
Our thanks to Glen for answering our questions and giving us an insight to Gossamer Gear. If you would like to join in the fun and submit questions we can ask our great sponsors, please send them to - firstname.lastname@example.org.
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