Open Letter to the Backpacking Cottage Industry

08 McHale Pack smaller
McHale Bump Backpack. Dan McHale sets the standard for stellar customer service.

Last week I had dinner with a fellow lightweight backpacker. We were discussing gear (surprise, surprise) and our experiences with the cottage industry manufacturers. We both agreed that we no longer do business with the same companies because of their lack of communication and status updates. Both of us have purchased gear from most of the backpacking cottage companies, and we’re 100% in agreement on the companies we no longer wish to do business with. In all instances we agreed the products were top notch; we also agreed that your service sucks, and as such we are no longer willing to do business with you.

When one purchases custom made gear such as shelters, packs, quilts/sleeping bags, etc. from the cottage industry, it is not uncommon to have wait times from a couple of weeks to two or three months. So here is some feedback to the cottage industry:

  • No one makes perfect gear. There is somebody making gear that is similar to what you offer. The public has choices.
  • The public will purchase from the company that provides the best service.
  • The customer who buys from companies that make custom gear have one fear – that you will forget about us.
  • We want a status update periodically to ensure you haven’t forgotten about us.
  • We want you to contact us when you ship the product, and we prefer that you give us a tracking number from your shipper.
  • If we are completely satisfied with the purchase experience, 90% of the time we will re-purchase from you.
  • If we are less than completely satisfied, we are easily switched to a competitor.

I was going to list the companies I feel provide poor service, seems that is how the public works these days. But if I am unhappy why should I give you some press.

Instead, I am listing the cottage companies I have had good experiences with sorted by stellar, outstanding, and great. One company I have no experience with is Zimmerbilt and I hear that Chris Zimmer does a great job staying in communication with his customers.

Also keep in mind that my definition of a cottage industry company is one that primarily sells directly to the public due to their small size. There are many companies I have not done business with, so this is not a comprehensive list.

To those not on the list and who I have done business with…

  • If you feel I have left you off the list by accident, email me if you want to be included.
  • If you provided poor service and want to know what went wrong, email me.
  • If I bought stuff from you and you do not have my email address, shame on you!!


McHale Side
McHale Little Big Pack (LBP) 36.

McHale Alpine Packs. The only company on my Stellar list. In my opinion, the best backpacks in the world. Dan McHale has a unique business model. When he makes a pack for you, he sends a demo. You load it up, adjust it, and go for a hike. Then you take pictures or video and send them to Dan. Dan reviews the pictures/video and discusses the fit. He may have you make adjustments and repeat the process. He may send a different demo. This is repeated until Dan is sure your demo pack fits and it meets your needs. Then he builds the pack, keeping you apprised of progress. When it is finished you get an email and a tracking number. I have purchased two packs from Dan and his service is stellar.

Outstanding (in order of my satisfaction)

  • Enlightened Equipment (Tim Marshall). Tim makes custom quilts.

    Enlightened Equipment Epiphany Cuben Quilt. zPacks Hexamid shelter, poncho/groundsheet, Zero backpack
    Enlightened Equipment Epiphany Cuben Quilt.
    zPacks Hexamid shelter, poncho/groundsheet, Zero backpack
  • zPacks (Joe Velasco). Packs, shelters, sleeping bags, clothing, and more.
  • Mountainfitter (also known as Lawson Outdoor Equipment) (Lawson Kline). Small miscellaneous items. Even sends out a satisfaction survey after you get your gear.
  • QiWiz UL Gear. Titanium trowels, cooking gear, saws. I purchased a trowel. Sent a confirmation email, expected shipping date email, and a shipped email.

Great (alphabetical order)

GVP Cone
Trail Designs GVP Caldera Cone System.

Most of these companies do not make custom gear and don’t normally take orders for out of stock items. Normally have a pretty good inventory, and ship quickly.

  • AntiGravityGear. Mostly stoves and cookware.
  • Dirty Girl Gaiters. Flamboyant gaiters. Work great!
  • Gossamer Gear. Packs, shelters, accessories.
  • LiteTrail. Mostly cookware and stoves, miscellaneous gear.
  • Ruta Locura. Trekking poles, tent poles, accessories.
  • Suluk 46. Miscellaneous gear, a lot of titanium stuff.
  • Tarptent. Shelters.
  • Trail Designs. Caldera Cone stoves and cookeware.
  • Ultralight Adventure Equipment. Lightweight backpacks.
  • Zelph Stoves. Mostly alcohol stoves and accessories.

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