This issue of the Gazette's "Sponsor Spotlight" features Henry Shires, co-owner of Tarptent, one of ALDHA-West’s sponsoring gear companies. We asked Henry a few questions about Tarptent so that we can get to know them better. If you have any additional questions for Henry, please leave a comment.
1. Please give a brief description of your company. What products do you sell? How did you decide which products to specialize in? How long have you been doing this?
Tarptent specializes in lightweight shelters. We officially opened Tarptent.com in April, 2002 but I started making gear as far back as
1998. The first shelters were engineered, floor-less arch and trekking pole supported hybrid tarp structures with full bug protection. As the years went by more and more people asked for floors so about 10 years ago we moved to fully enclosed shelters with bathtub flooring.
We currently offer 14 different models and several more are in the hopper. We offer single wall, double wall, trekking pole, and arch pole shelters for 1-4 people.
We are California based and proudly manufacture everything in Seattle, Washington.
2. Who do you see as your market? How do you reach these folks?
We are a direct-to-consumer company and we ship all over the world. We also have some dealers in Europe and Asia. We have grown organically over the years almost exclusively through word of mouth and Internet searches. Over the last couple of years we have started to build our social media presence and look to engage other markets outside the core hiking market.
3. Did you start as a DIYer? How did you make the leap to starting a gear business?
Yes, I started in 1998 making gear in preparation for my 1999 PCT thru hike. The original tarptent shelter was born from that effort. At the time I had never touched a sewing machine and had no idea what I was doing but over time learned to sew and more importantly learned how to design using very sophisticated CAD tools. The genesis of Tarptent was really quite unintended. My wife, Cynthia, and Tarptent co-owner borrowed my original PCT tarptent shelter to hike the JMT and came home complaining that it was too hard to set up. In an effort to make her a better shelter, a process I thought would take me a weekend but instead took many months, the first two commercial models (Virga and Squall) were born. When I opened tarptent.com  and offered those models, I naively thought we might sell 50 of them the first year. I still remember the shock of 30 orders the first day. In those days I had no manufacturing and no idea how to get it, but did have the sister of a fellow PCT hiker who was a professional seamstress on the other side of the country, and for the first couple of years I would cut fabric and ship it to New Hampshire. It would come back a couple of months later as a finished shelter. We moved to full scale professional manufacturing in late 2004.
4. Do you see the possibility (opportunity and/or threat) that the big gear makers try to buy up the cottage gear makers like we see
happening in the craft beer space?
Beer is a much bigger market than the gear market so, no, that isn’t likely. When gear starts showing up in local supermarkets and gas stations then maybe.
5. What do you think are the greatest market opportunities for your product to expand the US market; Europe, Asia? How do you plan to achieve these opportunities?
There is an interest in the outdoors in many developed countries around the world. We will continue to work at getting the word out and trying to meet different needs and expectations.
6. Your favorite hike?
The PCT profoundly changed my life so it would be unfair to compare anything else against it. I have been fortunate to have hiked all over the Western US as well as in Nepal, New Zealand, the UK, Spain and Canada and I loved each and every experience. I think my new favorite place is the Wind River Range in Wyoming. I did the Wind River High Route a year ago September and it was a spectacular walk.
7. Is there anything about your company that you would like to talk about that we haven't covered yet?
I’m excited about the future. We have a great team and are dedicated to producing great products at affordable prices. We remain committed to making gear in the US and to the direct-to-user sales model. I think we all benefit — producer and consumer — when there is a tight feedback loop. We get better when we hear from users, and users get better gear when producers listen. I love talking to people about trips and gear and my door is always open.
Thank you to Henry Shires from TarpTent for answering our questions and thank you to members Lawton “Disco” Grinter and Mike Unger for the great interview questions.
If you would like to join in the fun and submit questions we can ask our great sponsors, please send them to - firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Clay "Woodward" Jacobson
Idaho is made up of approximately 60 percent public lands, consisting of some of the deepest, most remote wilderness areas in the lower-48. This makes the Idaho Centennial Trail a great case study for the state of our nation’s trail system, rich with opportunities and challenges.
The National Forest Service was created to manage and maintain our public lands for recreational and commercial use in order to offset the wholesale liquidation of natural resources by large corporations. Access to these lands was preserved for future generations by leaders with admirable foresight. However, the Forest Service has been subject to changing political climates, bureaucratic overload, and financial responsibility for a constantly growing firefighting industry. This has stretched available resources for trail maintenance to the breaking point.
The days of paid, professional trail crews with years of experience are largely a thing of the past. Across the country, a new model of volunteer trail organizations has stepped forward to fill the role of trail stewards. Groups like the PCTA and Washington Trails Association have tapped into local interest to keep trails open—utilizing grants, donations, and volunteer labor. In Idaho, the Idaho Trails Association (ITA) had 200 individual volunteers donate 3,600 hours in the field this year. Four of ITA’s 17 work projects were on the Idaho Centennial Trail.
As long-distance hikers, we are all familiar with the benefits of being out on the trail. Most of us have passed many hours contemplating the monumental efforts involved in keeping thousands of miles of trails open. Facing the short fall of federal trail maintenance, the trail community has ample opportunities to get involved in the preservation and improvement of the trails we enjoy. The weeks I have spent on trail with the ITA have been just as valuable and rewarding as my thru-hikes. ITA’s focus on traditional skills, tools, and horse packing has taught me volumes about the history of our public lands. It has allowed me to reconnect with places I discovered on the ICT, returning to clear the very same logs I had to climb over while I was hiking.
It’s about more than just taking pride in our trails. It’s about taking ownership. These are our public lands and our trails. Without the efforts and voices of the trail community, no long distance hike in America would be open for us to enjoy. The members of the trail community play a vital role, logging more miles than most people would hike in several life times. We are the eyes, ears and boots (or trail runners) on the ground. But we can also be the cross-cut in the deadfall, the loppers in the over-brush, and the shovel in the slough. We have the chance to be more than trail users; we can be trail stewards who give back to the trails and the community we love.
Photo credit; Travis Olson
by Kate "Drop-N-Roll" Hoch
The L2H route, developed by Brett Tucker, is a backcountry analog of the infamous Badwater ultramarathon race, starting at Badwater, the lowest point in North America at 282 below sea level and ending ~130 miles later at 14,505' atop Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48.
Though relatively short, the route requires a high level of physical fitness and ability to navigate off trail. After crossing the Badwater playa, we immediately gained over 10,000’ in just 13 miles to reach Telescope ridge. Weighed down with 5-6L of water each, that monster climb took us nearly all day. Overall, we lucked out with fairly mild weather, which, combined with finding some seasonal water and our supplemental caches, kept our water hauling to a minimum.
The delights of this short trip through the desert were many: some of the darkest skies I’ve ever seen, bristlecone pines, a hidden 50ft waterfall, wild burros, Joshua Tree forests, incredible sunsets, and an extensive craft beer selection at Panamint Springs Resort. We also saw plenty of evidence of Death Valley’s mining history. Following a slight detour route, we visited the ghost town of Cerro Gordo, high in the Inyos. The mining town was once home to 2000 people. Though on private property, we were able to get permission from the caretaker to visit, and he gave us a little tour of the old hotel. We also passed the Swansea salt tram, which transported salt from the Saline Valley up and over the Inyo mountains and down the other side into the Owens Valley. Crazy!
After chores and resupplying in the town of Lone Pine, we headed up the Whitney Portal road for the final leg of our hike: climbing Mt Whitney! Naomi opted for the classic Mt Whitney Trail while Snorkel and I took the Mountaineers route. I love a good scramble, and this certainly was one! Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite the summit celebration we’d hoped for. Naomi was struck with altitude sickness and had to turn back at ~14,000’. She was so close! We reunited just before reaching the Whitney Portal parking lot, feeling exhausted, but immensely satisfied. Back to work I go.
For more route info: www.lowesttohighest.com
The Board and staff of ALDHAWest would like to welcome you to our inaugural launch of our online rendition of the Gazette.
The “Distance Hiker’s Gazette” was first published in the winter of ’95. Over the years, and various editors, the paper version of the Gazette grew from black and white copy to a more appealing and professional looking color publication. One of the features of many Gazette issues was the “The Mailbag” where AW members responded to a specific topic. However, it usually would be months before they could be published.
In recent years, to curb rising costs of mailing and printing, we moved the Gazette to pdf format. The pdf format allowed the reader to access URLs while reading online and for us to post more pertinent images with the articles. But, again, member interaction was slow to non existent and only published every three months.
Now we launch our active online publication of the Gazette. Here we hope to have the new Gazette be an active forum, full of engaging articles and information, buoyed by our memberships’ collective experience, insights and comments.
One of our goals is to post new items every week. To accomplish this we need material, ideas and writers. No matter that you don’t think you can write, neither can I. I am at best a pitiful hack, not a writer. It’s the job of the editor to make a writer look good and our editor, Charles, is incredible!
ALDHA-West is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.