Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are There Any "Economically-Priced" Lightweight Manufacturers?

Although not necessarily true in every situation, the world of lightweight backpacking is often fairly expensive. Most vendors referenced in my blog are known for solid products, but also for being fairly pricey (often justifiably so based singularly on materials). Is there anyone out there who offers good stuff at reasonable prices?

I often get questions from more traditional backpackers on where they can go to test the lightweight market without dipping into their children's college funds. When I answer this question, I usually piece together a gear list consisting of very specific products from cottage vendors while supplementing it with mainstream commercial offerings. It is rare that I can name an individual vendor who has more than one reasonably-priced product (or economic) and most don't even make the cut.

BearPaw Wilderness Designs ( is a small and relatively unknown member of the cottage industry despite having been around a while. They manufacture tents, tarps, bivies, pack covers, and stuff sacks, as well as sell fabric, cordage, and other supplies...all at fairly reasonable prices. My personal favorite part - their willingness to do custom work in addition to using both standard silnylon fabrics as well as cuben fiber. Users describe BearPaw as reliable, offering quick turn-around times for products which is often uncommon, and excellent workmanship.

If you or someone you know needs a bit of a push towards the world of lightweight backpacking and saving money is the final straw, give BearPaw a shot.

Another vendor recently offering lightweight cuben tarps is Lawson Equipment ( Currently there is a sale offering "any" of his cuben tarps for $225 plus free shipping which is really a nice price point, albeit an introductory offer.


Damien said...

When it comes to lightweight manufacturers, it is usually the cost of the materials/fabrics that make up the bulk of the high price. I think the real question to ask is what materials and fabrics are both light weight an reasonably priced? Cuben is incredibly expensive, but silnylon is not so bad. Same with titanium vs aluminum, or down vs synthetic.

Another way to reduce costs is to make your own gear, and reserve purchases for only those things that you can't make yourself. Of course not everyone has the time or desire to do that, but it sure can save a lot of money.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Damien - No doubt, but as long as it's a fairly close comparison. To me, silnylon and cuben aren't similar. Silnylon stretches, is easily torn, it's not waterproof, and it sags considerably, but does have the pro's of being less expensive, comes in various color options, is easy to source, and is easier to stitch/manipulate. Cuben is pretty much the opposite, which in many cases, is more desirable, at least for the uses of a backpacker. The same holds true with synthetic and down. They are two different things completely even if the goal is the same. In both cases, you get the performance you pay for which is again perhaps an important decision to make depending on the backpacker and the conditions he/she faces.

The sham in the lightweight backpacking industry is really the argument between titanium and aluminum. Most poeple pick titanium because it's the sexy choice, but the reality is that the gain isn't really that substantial. Sure titanium is harder, which means more durable, but in the things it is harder in, is it really necessary? Aluminum is FAR cheaper and lighter and often plenty sufficient to meet whatever needs are out there. There really isn't enough of a gain to go with titanium unless the item is going to be handled pretty roughly. Yet - I still personally own more titanium than aluminum. Go figure.

Philip Werner said...

Bear Paw has good prices. I'd also recommend people look at oware tarps or the prices at I think these companies have managed to keep prices at a reasonable level still. The reality is that you can go ultralight with silnylon. Cuben isn't required.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Philip - You know, I definitely agree with you. Tarp Tent is really quite a novelty to me. Great products at reasonable prices. Talk about a breath of fresh air. When Oware changes that goofy website and makes it a little more friendly, I might consider buying something from them. They don't respond to e-mails easily either.

Damien said...

@JollyGreenGiant You weren't originally talking about performance, you were talking about cost. My point was that yes, there are inexpensive lightweight options but it means that you will have to most likely go with less high-tech materials as they cost of those materials drive up gear prices.

Philip Werner said...

That is the problem with Oware - I asked for a quote for a piece of customized gear and he still hasn't responded. Still, if I was looking for off the shelf gear, his prices are very good.

Maz said...

Alpkit in the UK are a good manufacturer and very inexpensive. Although they tend not to make Ultralight kit, their lightweight kit is good.

I agree with your titanium vs aluminium argument - except to this extent - in my experience, titanium cools more quickly and is therefore more effective for what I want to use my cooking materials for. As a mug, for example, it's better than aluminium for that reason alone - bunt lips are avoided by a few drops of cold water on the rim.

I've always been a little cautious to trot out the durability argument given that most UL kit deserves some careful handling and if you cannot do that, you'll struggle to look after it. Consequently, silnylon vs cuben - yes it may stretch but not so much you'll notice it unless you're tarp camping a hundred nights a year and if you are it's cheap enough to buy another tarp. It is waterproof enough in my view. You'd be really unlucky with a 1200mm HH shelter to see major water ingress - it would have to be raining heavily several nights on the trot and, as I said once in a post on Hydrostatic Head - you choose your kit for the conditions you are facing.

As for down - you can get cheap down jackets from Uniqlo, for example. Ultimately, synthetic and down are different animals as you say.

Also, Golite are not ridiculously expensive, I have to say and they pretty much run the whole gamut of gear. The problem is that what is economic to one person is not to another so it is actually quite hard to judge and the old maxim "you get what you pay for" rings true. If you are going to use highly engineered kit with top quality materials, it will cost you. That's why, in contradistinction to what Damien says, most people don't make their own stuff - they generally don't have the skills or tools to produce something as well made as even cottage industries like Gossamer Gear and MLD can produce.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Maz - Good information. I've also found aluminum cooks a little more evenly whereas titanium burns food more easily. As far as silnylon, I've had it sag in every condition where there was rain, even just an overnight rain. It's not an issue of pitching in most cases, but in the stretch associated with the fabric. I'm not overly concerned with it coming through otherwise. I really liked GoLite until the new ownership. They are more sustainable now, which is great, but their products are no longer pressing the lightweight boundries. Their annual 40% off sale is about the only time I'll purchasing anything from them.

Thanks for stopping by.