Hyperlite Mountain Gear is an ultralight backpacking gear manufacturer in Biddeford, Maine, a short drive from my favorite hiking and backpacking haunts in New Hampshire.
I paid them a visit last month to check out their operation and to talk to Mike St. Pierre, their CEO and head gear designer about his recent 16-day thru hike adventure through the Grand Canyon. Hiking in the Grand Canyon has always fascinated me since I read Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time, the book which inspired me to try backpacking years ago.
The company, which has 23 employees, is about to double the size of their manufacturing facility and is hiring new sewing and manufacturing staff like crazy to keep up with product demand. The backpacking segment of the outdoor industry is smoking hot and Hyperlite Mountain Gear is growing too. Contact Hyperlite Mountain Gear if you’re looking for an outdoor industry job.
“We’re definitely not a cottage manufacturer anymore”, said Mike, when I asked him about the company’s growth plans. Except for a few “lifestyle companies, many of the well-established ultralight backpacking companies have become medium-sized businesses who’ve off-shored their manufacturing because the labor is less expensive. Not Us. Hyperlite Mountain Gear designs and manufactures all of its gear in Maine (USA), because we want to control the quality to a higher standard. You lose that when you send your manufacturing to Mexico or Asia.”
In speaking with Mike, I was impressed by the company’s commitment to the town of Biddeford, the local community where it decided to set up shop. Located in a small town outside of Portland, Maine, Hyperlite Mountain Gear is an anchor tenant in an old mill building on the Saco River which used to be the largest textile mill in the United States. Newly refurbished, the mill is an incubator for entrepreneur-owned businesses committed to manufacturing products in Maine.
But Hyperlite’s investment in its local community doesn’t stop there. Much of the company’s investment capital was raised from local business people, including the Maine Venture Fund, to invest in rebuilding Maine’s manufacturing base and job market.
Hyperlite’s growth strategy is also very different from other ultralight gear manufacturers. Rapid growth requires capital investments that can’t be supported by month-to-month product sales alone and the company just closed another one million dollar investment round last week. If you espouse the benefits of ultralight backpacking, this is big news, because it means that HMG has the financial backing and wherewithal to bring ultralight backpacking gear to a bigger audience than any other UL gear manufacturer.
“We’ve invested in state-of-the-art sewing machines, quality control processes, and we use computer-aided design tools to create all of our cutting patterns and reduce waste”said Mike, showing me the pattern used to cut the cuben fiber for the company’s UltaMid 2 person ultralight backpacking pyramid shelter. The HMG factory floor is really an impressive operation to visit and I’d encourage you to swing by and check it out if you’re ever in the area. This is a company that loves to meet and hear from their customers and you’ll be received with open arms.
New Product Pipeline
Mike designs and prototypes all of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s new products and he showed me a number of exciting new products ideas, stuff that I will definitely use when it becomes available (I’m bound by honor to keep it secret until then). Suffice to say, that the company has a lot of new products coming out that leverage the light weight and durability of cuben fiber.
While Mike has definitely drunk the ultralight backpacking and the “What’s Necessary, Nothing More” cool-aid, his gear horizons extend well beyond designing backpacks for thru-hikers, encompassing multiple adventure sports including backpacking, hiking, trail running, climbing, bikepacking, and packrafting.
While the core gear that HMG sells will always center around backpacking, most people engage in multiple outdoor sports and want lightweight durable gear for all of them. “We owe a lot of our success to our customers”, says Mike, and “we owe it to them to give them the best products we can, whatever their needs.”
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