I’ve used and liked gear from the following people and companies. Most of the gear I get is made by small shops, people who really care about what they do.
Obviously, since the entire point of lightweight backpacking is to not carry a bunch of stuff, there really isn’t that much gear you need to carry along, but it’s nice to have good gear anyway.
Gear Makers and Sellers
Each vendor is someone I’ve personally bought from, and who I like and recommend.
- Gossamer Gear – I would have bought more from these guys but they can’t seem to figure ut that if you want to get a few small items, charging a lot for shipping is not a good strategy. If lawson is out of his great 1/8 evazote foam pads, you can get it here. Those make good sitpads/air mattress bases, etc. One of my favorite pieces of gear! One thing they have that is actually difficult to find anywhere else is thick polcryo ground sheets, which I really like and alway use. You can get this stuff by the roll at hardware stores, but it’s much thinner and more flimsy. Most of their gear is NOT made in the USA, as far as I know.
- Icebreaker – Great socks! Expensive clothes, but watch out for their sales. I also buy icebreaker layers used now and then from BPL gear exchange. Icebreaker stuff is in my opinion significantly better than Smartwool.
- Joe’s New Balance Outlet – This is a great place to get New Balance trail running shoes at an often huge discount. Way better than buying new, but you have to check them fairly often since their stuff comes and goes.
- Lawson Outdoor Equipment – Home of great titanium tent stakes, aluminum v stakes, the best bear line you can probably find, Ultraglide Bear Line, reflective glowire, spectra pull cord, technora ToughLaces, and more to come! Lawson actually makes his own cords as well, Not as in, buying it premade then cutting it into sizes, but as in, actually making it with a cord making machine. He also makes his own ti / aluminum stakes, and a variety of other things. Check his site out, he’s going to be stocking more of his older discontinued items again, like his foam pads, plastic mini bottles, and so on. Features free shipping on orders of $10 or more.
- QiWiz UL Gear – Home craftsmanship at its very best. All made by the inimitable Qi Wiz. I think this was my first truly ultralight gear, the wonderful Big Dig Cathole Trowel. I’ve never for one second regretted the money I spent on my Big Dig trowel, it’s always with me on every backpacking trip. Plus Qi Wiz is a delight to deal with. Can you dig it? Also makes UL trail saws, and a popular wood stove.
- Sawyer Water Filters – Home of the Sawyer Squeeze filter. I’ve tried the Sawyer Mini but I found it’s flow rate to be dismal and regretted having brought it every day of my week long trip. I’ll take the slightly heavier Squeeze any time over the mini, unless I don’t expect to actually do much filtering, then I’d bring my mini. One of my all time favorite pieces of gear, never hit the trail without it. No poison, drink almost direct from the streams, which is a joy on hot days.
- Tarptent – If you want to get some really good, made in the USA by local sewers, tents, this is a great place to start. I’ve owned several of these, and that’s what I use backpacking now almost always. Henry lives and works in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in California, and his tents tend to show that in their designs. His specialty is very fast to pitch tents, often with just 4 stakes (use Lawson ti stakes though, tarptent always supplies those big aluminum ones with glued on heads. Good luck trying to get those in hard packed ground!).
- TOAKS Outdoor – This is a seller for Chinese titanium products. Remember, however, that there is as far as I know no US made maker of titanium pots, so you can save yourself some money by buying from these guys instead. They also have nice UL ti V stakes, which are useful to toss in your stake bag without adding much weight for when you hit loose/sandy soils. I carry a few of these along with my Lawson ti stakes, which are my goto stake always. Toaks also has some very nice Titanium Windscreen, which can cut off an ounce from your aluminum wind screen. Unfortunately the punched holes in their screen reduce the amount of available material to use, but I found it about the right height for an alcohol stove in a normal setup anyway. This is THIN, and kind of delicate, but it can be worked into a real screen.
- Western Mountaineering – Hand made sleeping bags in the San Jose area, these things aren’t cheap, but they are great sleeping bags. I got mine used on the backpackinglight gear forums, but barely used, one was basically still new. Yes, it’s a luxury item, and yes, they are expensive, but they are really good. Avoid their sewn through Everlite, they will leave you shivering, not sure why they even make those. Everything else they make is great though, particularly their Summerlite, for three season backpacking.
- Zpacks – Home of all that is really ultralight. Mostly cuben fiber, that is, very expensive, but also sells material and fittings. Home of the ultrabright Z-line cord, which I use a lot.
Make Your Own Gear (myog) Supplies
If you’ve gotten a little more into the whole backpacking thing, you have hopefully ventured into the world of making your own gear.
The following online vendors are pretty good, and reliable, in my experience:
- DIY Gear Supply – I’ve gotten a lot of material from these guys, I like them. Good prices on nylon, and a source for Dimension-Polyant Xpac fabrics. These can be hard to find. Also has Gütermann threads in large spool sizes, Mara and Tera types. The tera types are great for backpacks.
- Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics (owfinc) – These guys have been around for a long time, their website is a blast from the past, but don’t let that fool you! They finally have a feature to order online for returning customers, before you had to call them to place your order. These guys have a lot of stuff, and it’s worth checking them out when you are looking for fabrics and fittings.
- Quest Outfitters – Another venerable one, they have been at this a long time. Not always the most modern selection of fabrics, but you’re likely to find something or other useful on their site.
- Ripstop By the Roll – Home of the amazing silpoly fabrics, screen mesh, Gütermann thread (my favorite and go to thread for all the gear I sew myself), in real big spools, not those tiny things you get at fabric stores, that’s the only way to go with thread if you really sew. Not the huge spools that require special spool mounts, but big spools that fit onto normal sewing machines. Has a huge range of colors too. Once you use these 500-800 yard spools you’ll never go back to fabric store mini spools again! Also has Cuben Fiber materials.
- Rockywoods.com – This is one place you can get the truly great backpack fabric, Dimension-Polyant fabrics. Check out Rockywoods Selection”>. VX21 (210d nylon) and VX07 (70d outer) is a sandwich of nylon, water proof middle, and inner polyester can’t be beaten in my opinion as a backpack material. I’d get the plastic-ware from z-packs or some other more specialized vendor though.
- Thru-Hiker – they don’t always have a huge selection, but what they have is often quite current and cutting edge. A good place to get quality silnylon, not the cheap generic stuff, but the well coated, thicker version, Shield(tm) Sil Nylon, that’s what tarptent uses for example. They also have the fairly hard to find 210d Dyneema X gridstop nylon.
- Zpacks – Aside from their gear, they also sell the material material and fittings they use, and since their stuff tends to be pretty good, I’ve bought a fair amount of stuff from them.