How ingenuity advanced lightweight backpacking

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s founder, Mike St. Pierre, has an appetite for new horizons and challenges.

“Every trip I ever do is to a new place,” he says. “Problem solving excites me, problem solving within the business, or in nature.”

Before launching Hyperlite Mountain Gear,a Maine company that makes lightweight backpacking equipment, Mike toured with big name bands like The Eagles as an audio engineer, and worked alongside famous Washington DC and New York City chefs, such as Thomas Keller at Per Se.

“HMG started because I was looking for a way to reduce my overall gear weight for backpacking trips but, at the time, was unable to find what I was looking for at big box stores.”

Early on, Mike came across Cuben fiber, a truly water proof film reinforced with the strongest fibers in the world. He ordered the material and began building and using early versions for what would become Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s line of ultralight shelters and backpacks.

“The overwhelming positive reactions from people I met in the mountains are what convinced me that I was on to something.”

“It was a lot of trial and error. I still have boxes of old Cuben fiber tarps and prototypes I could never sell.”

Boxes might be an understatement. Mike built close to 100 prototypes before releasing Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s first product, the ECHO Tarp. He had to perfect bonding techniques and streamline the manufacturing processes.

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“Nobody had built products like this before, so there was nobody I could turn to and say, hey, can you build this for me.”

Mike had to figure out how to set up the manufacturing himself at his shop in Biddeford, Maine. Early on he found some guidance from local sail makers. Cuben fiber was originally developed for America’s Cup sail boats.

“I’m an active user myself. I’m constantly using our products and testing our products and finding better ways to travel and adventure into the backcountry, so it has to pass my rigorous test before anything hits the market.”

Mike considers this commitment to quality a core value of Hyperlite Mountain Gear. A pack is considered a second if there is even one misguided stitch that leaves a hole somewhere in the fabric. Other core values at HMG are stellar customer service and a commitment to making products in the USA.




 

“It’s not easy manufacturing in the US. I like the fact that we’re employing people and bringing jobs to the community.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear employs 14 people and occupies about 5,000 square feet of what was once one of the largest textile mills in the country. The quintessential New England brick structure was built in the early 1800s to process cotton grown in the south.

“The history of this place is really exciting, and to be revitalizing that tradition in the modern day is even more exciting.”

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“I want to be the leader and the authority in lightweight outdoor travel.”

That means designing, manufacturing and supplying cutting-edge outdoor gear. Right now, Hyperlite Mountain Gear is largely focused on shelters and backpacks for lightweight backpackers, but Mike sees potential for expanding into other outdoor pursuits, such as alpinism, packrafting, bike packing, and ski touring.

“Instead of adding bells and whistles to backpacking products - things people really don’t need - to drive our bottom dollar, I would rather maintain the lightweight philosophy and expand that philosophy into other outdoor disciplines.”

That could even mean building urban products, such as messenger bags, duffle bags, and cell phone cases.

“I carry a laptop around with me everywhere I go, and when you look at messenger bags on the market for laptops, these things are unnecessarily heavy.”

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“I think there needs to be a lot more education on the lightweight movement and philosophies.”

Lightweight backpacking does not begin with buying one of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s backpacks, Mike says. Take a look at everything you put in your backpack. Is it needed? Is there a lighter alternative?

“If you take that approach to everything you carry, before you know it, you’re cutting your total base weight in half and can get away with a much smaller volume pack.  That’s when you come to us for a pack and a shelter.”




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2 Comments on "How ingenuity advanced lightweight backpacking"

  1. hi Amy,
    Of course there is nothing new under the sun. This forty year old tent design is still the lightest real tent on the planet. (http://warmlite.com/

    As a sailor I frankly can’t see a place for Cubenfiber as a outdoor equipment material, especially when there are other materials that can be purpose-designed and weigh only grams more.

    I’ve one of their triple bags that has been every where from the tropics to winter camping at 25 below, and is still functional after 40 years of use. Funny story— I was sailing in the Bahamas a few years back and started talking to a guy on board. Turns out he had been the person who had built my bag in California about thirty years prior!

    Cheers,
    Richard
    Driggs

  2. We agree that often, especially with lightweight backpacking, many companies are circling back around to the tried and true ideas that have passed the test of time. We do also see significant innovations happening, sometimes simple tweaks and redesigns and sometimes concepts so new they rock the industry. As will always be the case with outdoor gear, each individual will find companies and products that work well for them, but may not be ideally suited for others. We happen to love our Cuben fiber backpacks made by Hyperlite Mountain Gear. They have limitations, yes. You have to get the fit just right and they wear out quicker than a canvass packs, but the simple design and weight savings they offer more than offsets these drawback for us.

    Thanks so much for your comment – always good to get the conversation going! Fun story about the guy you met in the Bahamas. That’s what Garage Grown companies are all about.

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