Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Interview: Grant Sible From Gossamer Gear

Last week I had an interview with Glen Van Peski from Gossamer Gear, though the Story of Gossamer Gear and its success can not be told without Grant Sible, the President of the company. Grant joined the company as Glen was looking for a way to wind up the company, which to the benefit of many lightweight and UL hikers didn't happen. Grant moved the GQ to Texas and has made Gossamer Gear the successful cottage manufacturer it is today. Without further ado, here we go!

Grant entering the Tetons.

Grant, since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you out backpacking nowadays?

I’ve been outdoorsy my entire life but I recall my first real backpacking trip was in the late 1970’s with some other high school students. I’ve hiked ever since, mostly in the American West but also a bit in the Alps and in South America. I lived 3 years in the Andes in Quito, Ecuador where I did a fair bit of hiking and mountaineering and I’m lucky enough to have gotten the opportunity to hike in Patagonia as well. Oddly enough since I started working for a backpacking company I don’t get out as much as I’d like to but that is changing.

When and why did you start to go lightweight/ UL?

I hiked the Appalachian Trail with 2 friends in 2002. I hadn’t done much climbing or hiking in a number of years at that point and as I was getting ready for the thru-hike one of my fellow hikers sent me a copy of Ray Jardine’s first book and that kind of got the ball rolling downhill for me. After all my years of hiking with more traditional gear it made so much sense to me. The defining “moment”, if there was one, was when after 3 days on the AT I ditched my nice Italian leather boots for a pair of running shoes and it all started making sense.

Gossamer Gear is one of the most outstanding UL cottage manufacturers, mainly due to the very popular backpacks, like the Mariposa and Gorilla. Can you tell a bit more about how you ended up at the company, and how it developed since you took over?

I think the biggest change in our product line since I came on is that we now make more “transitional” weight gear. Without getting into a bunch of definitions let me just say that most hikers really aren’t comfortable going truly or entirely UL. Most of our customers are very happy in the 8 to 10 pound base weight area and so we now design and make gear for them as well as for the 5 pounders. As more people are finding their way to the light side we’ve beefed up the gear some and focused on making it work better for the kinds of use it is now getting. Also we’ve broadened our line as a whole to include a wider range of products and some entirely new categories like the adjustable carbon fiber trekking poles, the LT4’s.

At Gossamer Gear, also the President knows his stuff. Grant in the GG shop building LT4 trekking poles.

Gossamer Gear aims to be innovative, ultralight and affordable. Glen told that you both do R&D at Gossamer Gear, but your focus is more on customer products? Can you tell a bit what kind of products you're working on? And do some of your clients inspire you for new products?

Right now I’m working on a larger version of the Gorilla, I think there is some demand for that. Also I’m working on some additional carbon fiber products, for example an adjustable carbon fiber shelter pole for those who don’t use trekking poles but based on the technology in our Lightrek trekking poles. “Working on” to me means it is in my head, so the list of what I’m “working” on is really pretty long. A lot of what we do is collaborative, ideas and even prototypes come from customers and Trail Ambassadors, we mock something up or change it and send it out to them for some testing, it comes back with suggestions, etc. We have a new pack cover, unlike anything else I’ve seen, that was designed by Trail Ambassador Rik Christensen and modified here by me that is now in its 4th revision and is just about ready for production. We also have a 1.6 oz day pack/stuff sack that Rik designed and should see the light of day soon.

What is the most sold piece of equipment from Gossamer Gear? Where do your customer come from?

The most popular product ever from GG is the Mariposa series of backpacks hands down. Our customer base is all over the map. We have customers all over the world from all ages. I think our team reflects that as well, our youngest Ambassador is 13 and the oldest around 70.

How easy, or difficult, is it to compete versus the mass market manufacturers? Have they maybe already tried to approach you and buy the company?

I don’t really pay that much attention to the mass market folks, they live in different waters than we do and as such I don’t think we’re really competing at this point. Beyond the obvious scale differences our model is completely different, we design it, we make it here in the US, and we sell it directly to the consumer via our website. Much of what we do is educational or informative and our size allows for a level of intimacy with the customer bigger companies cannot maintain.

Once more back to gear: What kind of new innovations can we expect in the next years from Gossamer Gear?

We have a LOT of ideas - lists of ideas actually and when something is compelling enough and there is time it makes its way to the top and gets done. We have some new takes on old ideas and some new ideas as well, too many to list here and since I never know which will get done next or if at all I’d better stop at that.

What is your own favorite backpack and shelter, and did you make it yourself?

My current favorite backpack is the Gorilla and although I don’t actually sew myself I can take some credit for the concept and design. The idea there was to make a shallow athletic pack – get the center of gravity close and very manageable in terms of volume and shape – and beef it up a bit so that it would be suitable for a bit of off-trail hiking or some climbing or perhaps some racing. It really is my riff on the Mariposa, which Glen originally designed 5 or 6 years ago. Having a favorite is difficult since I have a closet full and each one has features that incline it to certain types of trips. I view my gear as a quiver full of arrows and I just reach for the ones I need in the moment. My current favorite shelter is the SpinnTwinn for its utter simplicity and functionality. I prefer “Cowboy” camping and the venerable Twinn is a great insurance policy.

What was your last longer backpacking trip, and what was your baseweight? Are you trying to get lighter and lighter still, or did you already reach your perfect setup?

My last trip was to The Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming about 6 weeks ago. Frankly I didn’t take a scale with me and didn’t get a final base weight but experience and an early weighing tells me about 7 or 8 pounds for the base. I change my setup every trip as I’m always experimenting and testing and also I sometimes carry redundant gear for that reason. This past trip I had 2 complete cooking setups and some redundant sleeping gear to test so that added some extra weight. Every trip is different and I pack differently for each but I try to keep my base under 8 or so and have gotten down around 5 to 6 at times. I have found that I am, like most hikers, arriving at a personal comfort zone with my gear, that is to say I got lighter and lighter until I missed something and then stopped and/or added a bit back. To me the gear is just a means to an end and we all need to take what we need to be confident and safe – for some this is 5 pounds and for some it is 10. Like many I tend to have a lighter base for longer trips or ones where there are a lot of miles to make, I am more careful about “extras” if I’m to carry them a few weeks but not so concerned on an overnight or into a base camp.

Do you think ultralight backpacking will become more popular and break into the mass market, or will it continue to be something for a small group of people?

I think that UL hiking will continue to grow and will certainly influence the sport as a whole as it already is but I think that there are some roadblocks to UL hiking going mainstream too quickly, those being primarily educational. A LOT of UL hiking is technique and skill and requires some thought and planning and practice. I think that UL hiking is the kind of movement best grown organically from hiker to hiker and it will just take some time.

On the summit of Mt. St. Helens.

Glen told about the yearly "Brain Trust" hike, are you usually also taking part in it or are you too busy running the company? Are you otherwise in touch with any of the other cottage manufacturers, and talking about developments and the like?

I haven’t yet gone on a “Brain Trust” hike although someday I’m sure I will. I am in touch with other manufacturers and in fact just talked with Henry Shires of Tarptent a few days ago and we chatted about things like zippers and fabric.

Grant, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there something you would like to add?

Just that all of our gear is manufactured in the US and always has been.