Danner has been manufacturing boots in the U.S. since the 1930s, and it struck a real chord in 1979 when it first introduced the Mountain Light—an iconic hiking boot among hardcore hikers and, until recently, an artifact of a bygone era. But Danner has re-released the boot—handmade in the same Portland plant that turned out the originals. While the new Mountain Light retains its full-grain leather construction, it gets updated with a Vibram sole and Gore-Tex liner to bring it into the 21st century.
Looking for the lightest, most compact set of trekking poles on the planet? Look no further than the Lightrek 4s. These carbon fiber wonder-poles lend critical balance and support on uneven terrain and can prop up an ultralight tarp in the face of howling winds, but at just a half-pound per $160 pair, they won’t weigh you down on the trail. They adjust easily from 83 to 140 centimeters and come equipped with carbide tips and ergonomic EVA "Kork-O-Lon" foam grips. Each pole is made to order from California-rolled carbon fiber and assembled in Austin, TX.
Gregory has outsourced the bulk of its pack production to the Philippines, but the crème-de-la-crème of its mountaineering line—the men’s Denali Pro 105 and women’s-specific Petit Dru Pro 85—are still manufactured in a Southern California facility. The Denali pack comes in three sizes (6,100 to 7,000 cu.) and the Petit Dru (4,400 to 5,700 cu) comes in four—ensuring a tailor-fit specific to the wearer’s torso length. The packs feature three access points (top, middle and lower), 7075 T-6 internal aluminum stays and tough, lightweight materials that give them the highest rated carrying capacities in the Gregory line. At more than $500, these top-of-the-line packs aren’t cheap, but like all Gregory products they come with a lifetime guarantee.
Formed in 2004 by two friends (both named Jack) looking for better ultralight camping gear, Jacks R’ Better produces locally manufactured down sleeping quilts, hammocks and lightweight shelters for discerning backpackers. While this may look like a sleeping bag, the Sierra Sniveller ($250) sports a slightly different design. This down sleeping quilt zips wide open for easy ventilation and can be worn upside down around camp like a serape or zipped up snug like a traditional sleeping bag. The quilt weighs about a pound and a half, is lined with 800-fill goose down and packs down to the size of a melon. It’s rated down to 25 degrees and is just one of several models offered by this homegrown camping company.
Kifaru is a high-end ultralight camping supply company started by the founder of MountainSmith—which like a majority of big outdoor gear brands has taken production overseas. This 22-person company designs and manufactures all its products—which include ultralight packs, sleeping bags and shelters—in Wheat Ridge, CO. The three-season MegaTarp shown here is the mack-daddy of the three-model Kifaru tarp line. Made from the same ultralight ripstop Nylon used to construct hangliders, this portable shelter packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle and weighs just 21 ounces. It sets up with trekking poles as support and can be converted to a four-season tent with add-on accessories—including an ultralight packable wood-burning stove. Price: $181-$396
MSR is another of Cascade Designs’ family of Seattle-made brands, and its already legendary WhisperLite camp stove got a comprehensive overhaul for the 2012 season. The new design gets lighter-weight components, new serrated steel supports for better holding bigger pots and pans, and re-engineered internals for easy maintenance. Best of all, though, is its versatility—this stove will burn just about anything: Canister fuel, white gas, kerosene or even unleaded gasoline. At less than 1.25 pounds, the $140 WhisperLite Universal is ideal for simple overnights or extended multi-day outings.
Princeton Tec has been manufacturing personal lighting solutions for SCUBA divers, military personnel, bike commuters and backpackers for three decades, and every step of the process—from R&D to injection molding light housings, sewing headband straps, heat-treating metal components and charging batteries—happens in the company’s Trenton, NJ, facility. This Garden State manufacturer knows a thing or two about engineering bright, durable equipment, and the $45 EOS headlamp is one of its most popular products. The 80-lumen light is equipped with an ultra-efficient long-throw Maxbright LED encased in a rugged waterproof housing. It runs on AAA batteries and will burn for a full hour on its highest, trail-blazing-in-pitch-black setting, and for 50 hours at its lowest, bedtime-book-light setting.
Tim Leatherman founded his eponymous tool company in 1983 and has been growing the brand into a household name ever since. Nearly 500 employees working in its Portland manufacturing plant assemble, polish, pack and ship each and every one of the 46 products in the company’s catalog. Some cast plier heads are outsourced, as is the odd bushing or rivet—but the lion’s share of the manufacturing—from the stamping of Ohio-sourced steel to assembly and quality control—is handled in-house. The Skeletool ($90 in carbon fiber; $65 in stainless steel) is a svelte and compact companion that all but the hardest-core ultralighter would happily add to his or her pack. It has a 15-centimeter stainless steel blade, pliers, a carabineer/bottle opener and a double-ended bit driver. Best of all, it comes backed by a whopping 25-year warranty.
The majority of Smartwool product is made outside of the U.S., but its smart-sounding PhD line of crew socks are sewn in South Carolina factories to exacting standards. Available in men’s- (left) and women’s- (right) specific models, in light-knit for summer or medium-weight for cooler-weather, these hiking socks feature the company’s WOW technology, which thoughtfully places higher-density knit in high-impact zones to reduce shock and abrasion. Not bad for 20 bucks a pair.
The reasonably priced $155 High Exposure is a versatile option for overnight or climbing trips. It has a padded foam back panel, dual compression straps and side lashes for securing extra gear. The company has been cutting and sewing bags in upstate New York since 1970, and is one of the only companies that makes rugged camping packs sized specifically for kids.
Although drinking from this flexible “anti-bottle” can take some practice to perfect, the Vapur Element ($12) more than makes up for the learning curve out on the trail by collapsing into nearly nothing when empty, making itself scarce in any overstuffed pack. The Element comes in 0.7-liter ($12) and 1-liter ($14) capacities and has a smart “SuperCap” lid with a built-in carabineer for latching the bottle onto a pack strap or containing its empty shell when not in use. The durable design is BPA-free and dishwasher safe. It’s packable, reusable and tough as nails.
Therm-a-Rest has been setting the standard in sleeping pads ever since the company’s inception in 1971, when a couple of out-of-work Boeing engineers began building experimental sleeping pads in a repurposed sandwich press. If the company’s first open-cell foam sleeping rolls were ahead of their time, the NeoAir All Season represents a quantum leap in trail-worthy technology. The pad packs down incredibly small but inflates to 2.5 inches thick for warm, lofted luxury. This four-season sleeping pad is highly insulated and comes in three sizes ($140-$170) that weigh between 1.1 and 1.6 pounds.
The GravityWorks water filtration system ($110) is a godsend for anyone who has ever suffered cramped forearms from pumping a pint-sized water filter after a long day on the trail. The system works by simply hanging a dedicated, clearly labeled “dirty” bag of donor water from any point higher than the corresponding “clean” receptacle. Then just walk away and let gravity take over, which forces water through a filter element at a rate of 1.75 liters a minute. The whole shebang weighs a little more than half a pound and packs down to nothing. While some of the hollow fibers in the filter element are imported, all the laminates and films that make up the rugged bladder, as well as all its plastic components, are manufactured in Platypus’ Seattle factory.
ULA—short for Ultralight Adventure—was founded by Brian Fankle, who in 2001 completed the Pacific Crest Trail and came away convinced there was room to improve on the current state of ultralight camping equipment. The $250 Catalyst (seen here) boasts 4,800 cubic inches of carrying capacity, which includes thoughtful features like a bear canister holster and dual hip-belt pockets. The pack is rated to carry up to 40 pounds of gear, which is remarkable considering it weighs just three pounds.
Ibex manufactures about 85 percent of its line in the U.S. with factories in Northern California, and has set a goal to be out of Asian production entirely by 2014. The company’s Shak Lite series goes one step further—combining California assembly with wool from Montana sheep for a truly U.S. born-and-bred final product. The women’s Shak Lite 1/2 Zip ($135) and men’s Shak Lite FZ ($150) have been best-sellers for the wool-obsessed outdoor brand. Naturally insulating and breathable, either piece makes a perfect cool-weather fall hiking or backpacking pick.