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Yama Mountain Gear Factory Tour

Gen Shimizu, founder of Yama Mountain Gear, fabricating a cuben fiber shelter in his workshop
Gen Shimizu, founder of Yama Mountain Gear, fabricating a cuben fiber shelter in his workshop

Calling Yama Mountain Gear’s digs in Charlottesville, Virginia a factory might be an overstatement, but not for long. Founded by gear guru and long distance hiker Gen Shimizu, Yama Mountain Gear is poised for rapid expansion into the burgeoning lightweight backpacking and fast packing market with a remarkable product pipeline full of innovative new ideas and product designs.

Half Japanese and half Pennsylvania Dutch, Shimizu is an expert product designer noted for his elegant and functional ultralight shelter designs, but no stranger to hard work. He’s built Yama Mountain Gear from the ground up, living frugally, and sinking his profits back into the business.

Gen's grandmother's sewing machine, the one he taught himself to sew with still has a place in the shop, even though it's been eclipsed by more sophisticated sewing machines.
Gen’s grandmother’s sewing machine, the one he taught himself to sew with still has a place in the shop, even though it’s been eclipsed by more sophisticated sewing machines and computer-aided design tools.

Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Gen has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Virginia. Like many other ultralight backpacking entrepreneurs, he started out by borrowing his grandmother’s sewing machine and teaching himself how to sew. Then he experimented with cuben fiber, inventing numerous construction techniques for building the ultralight aerodynamic shelters which he manufactures (in addition to silnylon tents and tarp shelters) today.

I met Gen, pronounced with a hard ‘G’ like ‘good’, on the Appalachian Trail a few months ago and stayed with him for a night when I resupplied and headed north through Shenandoah National Forest. Although we’d prearranged my visit and he was holding a resupply box for me, he insisted on meeting me at a shelter the night before I arrived outside of Waynesboro.

He arrived just as a terrible thunderstorm started, dropping three inches of rain and forcing us deep into the back of the three-sided shelter to escape the heavy mist that was blowing onto its front porch. We both ate a cold diner that night: me finishing the odds and ends of my food bag before a resupply, while he ate a macrobiotic-looking no-cook meal in preparation for a section hike to finish off the PCT this summer.

Gen rode the entire Great Divide Trail on a unicycle
Gen rode the entire Great Divide Trail on a unicycle

After we hiked out to Gen’s car, he drove me to nearby Charlottesville, Virgina where Yama Mountain Gear is located. His workshop, which doubles as his apartment at the moment, is located in an old factory which has been converted into artist lofts and entrepreneurial businesses. Gen’s workshop is located next to a popular bar and burger joint which made it very convenient for me to catch up on brews and protein after hiking 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

The two person Swiftline Tent from Yama Mountain Gear has two doors and provides up to four sides of ventilation.
The two person Swiftline Tent from Yama Mountain Gear has two doors and provides up to four sides of ventilation.

While I was visiting, Gen showed me some of his latest product designs, including the new Swiftline tent, a two person tarp tent with two doors which can be opened up on all four sides for excellent ventilation in hot or humid weather. At just 35 ounces, it’s a sweet looking silnylon shelter.

Gen is all business when it comes to talking about his company’s growth hurdles and expansion plans, but there’s a part of him that still longs for outdoor adventure. To his credit, he’s structured Yama Mountain Gear’s business so that he can periodically return to the long distance trails he loves to recharge and reconnect with other hikers. This summer, Gen, whose trail name is Magnet, (short for Critter Magnet) is off the finish his final section of the PCT, a hike he had to leave early in 2006 for health reasons. You can read about his PCT adventure here.

We wish him luck and happy hiking, from one section hiker to another!

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12 comments

  1. Reminds me of the once very important to the world of Backpacking another small Company in San Diego, A-16 or Adventure 16. They made their own Backpacks, Sleeping Bags, and so much other gear in the basement of the store and was managed by my former bosses sister. They came up with some really innovative stuff, like the Net Tent with a Rain Fly and so many other items you could only find in their store..then the kids took over and well…..just like so many Outdoor companies and outdoor Magazines..
    I bought my Seva 123R from them in 1977 and my Eureka Timberline Tent and still have both Stove and Tent and they still are in great condition. I lived in up State New York at the time..The price of both I still remember; $16.99 for the Stove, $74.99 for the Tent and shipping was $2.35 for both… How the greed for green has changed things…

  2. Love seeing the workshop of a smaller manufacturer like Yama, and learning more about the mission/founder. Would love to see others like this in the future!

    • They’re good folks. I enjoy getting to know them because they’re small business owners and nature lovers who maintain a tight connection to the outdoors and not part of some big corporate monster. Gen is a great example.

  3. How about some backpacking hammock makers? My old hammock and peapod winter down cover is about due for replacement. Need some of your good reviews! And thanks for current coupon discount list! Will be used at once.

    • Working on it. I have a JRB Bridge Hammock, Warbonnet Blackbird, and Warbonnet RidgeRunner (Bridge) that I’m trying out at the moment since I’m considering switching to a hammock for my southern AT section hikes.. Takes a while to sleep in all of them though. :-)

      Also, next weeks reader poll will be about Hammock Insulation so sound off when it gets posted.

    • I have tried them all and they all have advantages and disadvantages. Pads work really well in bridge hammocks but not so much in gathered end. CCF pads are light but sweating is an issue. Under quilts are the warmest but also heavy and susceptible to getting wet from rain splatter. If they are not adjusted right you can also suffer from CBS (cold butt syndrome) My current setup is a 20 deg torso length down UQ (16 ozs) and a cut down z lite pad (5 ozs) for my legs. It doubles as a sit pad and allows me to go to ground in a pinch.

  4. That Swiftline is intriguing…

    I’m looking forward to the hammock write ups. Some of the trails I’ve been on in Arkansas have very few good tent sites, even for a small one, however, there are plenty of trees! My hammock problems have mostly been of the frozen tush variety and I’m still trying to work out the insulation issues within my financial and weight budgets.

    • The weight increase is sort of shocking when you move to a bridged hammock with an underquilt, not to mention the price and need for a larger backpack.Why can’t people make cuben fiber hammocks?

      • A couple of people have made CF bridge hammocks with the lightest one I have seen being around 10 ozs. (Using trekking poles as the crossbars) Add in a CF tarp and you are around 15ozs. I don’t think anyone is offering them for sale yet.

        The biggest issue I think would be sweat collecting between your body and the hammock. Maybe a hybrid double layer with silnylon on top and CF underneath. Surely they can do something since it is basically a hanging bivey sack.

      • Most of what I’ve seen so far weighs more than my Tarptent SubLite and inflatable pad, which is under two pounds. I’ve been on portions of trail where I couldn’t find a flat clear area for something as small as that. I’ve also done plenty of nights with just a tarp and slept on the ground.

        My brother in law and I usually spend a week in Arkansas in late October and we never fail to have some sort of weather event. The last trip we had nice hammock weather (no underquilt needed) for the first night, then hot, muggy, mosquito infested nights, rain, followed by a pleasant day or two and topped off by bitter cold freezing winter like storm. The nice thing was that we mainly did out and back overnighters so we could adjust our gear (of which we had numerous options in the trunk) to what the weather was doing at the time.

  5. Hello Phil, great site; my wife and I are reading it in prep for Presi hikes in 2 weeks, we are based in PA. Noticed you mentioned Shenandoah park, have you ever tried the waterfall hikes there? They come off the AT through the park. Pretty good steep elevation changes(for this region!) and very scenic. It’s usually a hike down to the waterfall from Skyline Drive then back up.

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