Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Interview: John Stultz From Bear Paw Tents

A new Monday, a new cottage manufacturer interview. Bear Paw Tents is a newcomer and I am sure a new name for some here, thus it is nice to shed some light on this young company and their fine UL products! Coffee and cookie ready? Good. Enjoy.

John, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are.

My name is John Stultz and I am the owner and operator of Bear Paw Tents, LLC. My first career was an engineer working in different manufacturing environments, including fabric mills. About 3 years ago, I decided to combine my interest in ultra-lightweight backpacking and bike touring with my knowledge of fabrics and modern designs.

Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you outdoors on a trip nowadays?

I started backpacking as a kid in the 70’s with my boy scout troop. I have hiked/camped extensively in the Cascade Mountains in the northwest US, western Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the eastern Appalachian Mountains. Currently, most of my hiking/camping trips are shorter in duration (2 to 3 nights), due to time restraints. I also get out on numerous multi-day bike touring trips.

Are you a UL or lightweight backpacker? If so, what is your typical baseweight?

When I first started backpacking in the 70’s, it was common place to carry over 50 or 60 lbs of gear. Now, I know a lot better how the lighter the weight the more I seem to enjoy the trip. I try to limit my gear to around 25 lbs and the rest would be food. With today’s technologies and availability of ultra-lightweight gear, that weight is easy to achieve and even to reduce farther.

Please tell us where the name "Bear Paw Tents" comes from, and what it stands for.

Like I said earlier, I have hiked/camped extensively in the Appalachian Mountain throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Black bear sightings, bear paw prints, and tree markings are extremely common. To me, the bear paw represents the courage to follow my inner voice or strength.

Bear Paw Tents makes innovative lightweight shelters and tarps. Can you tell us how the idea to start the company emerged, if it was easy to quit your previous job and how you see the future of the company?

Well, I didn’t have to quite my previous job because the economic environment made that choice for me. The choice to start a company came out of necessity to find meaningful employment, the inner drive to work for myself, and the desire to do something that combine my desires in life. I see this company staying a cottage industry that is small enough to change direction quickly but large enough to have the resources to go where my customers want it to go.

The major issue that I practice here is customer service. If you are not happy with the product for any reason, you can return it for a full refund, replacement, or repair. We want our customers to be happy with their purchase and not regret it. We are here to build a company based on dealing with people fairly and honestly.

You offer some very innovative gear, like the PyraTent & Net Tent - can you tell us a bit how you went about the design process of these two pieces, and where the inspiration came from?

I originally started marking just canopy/tarp types of tents. A lot of my customers were asking me to design and manufacture the bug tents for these types of tents. However, pyramid tents were common, and I started experimenting with these tents. Intially, I was looking for an excellent bike touring tent that was roomy, lightweight, and could pack in a small size. The pyraTent came out of the desire to have a single man tent that could be comfortable for 2 people when needed. That is why I came up with the attachable vestibule.

John, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! Can you let us know what kind of new products you're working on at the moment?

This past year I started working with Cuben Fiber. I think that it is perfect for the ultra-lightweight backpacker. It is completely waterproof, tear and cut proof (except a knife point with go through it), extremely lightweight, packs small, and can be easily repair in the field if needed. But it is expensive. I have a 1.5 man and 2 man asymmetrical Cuben Fiber tent coming out real soon. I have made these tents as special order for a few of my customers. I also now offer all my tents and net tents in Cuben Fiber.

How works the R&D at Bear Paw Tents, do you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products and ask you for solutions to their problems?

Most of my original designs came from my own experiences. Now, since a lot of my customers know that we are willing to design and manufacture custom work that they need, many of our designs come from these ideas. Customers are always sending us design ideas that they would like to have. Also, a lot of customers want us to duplicate other cottage industry designs, but we resist doing this. There are a lot of great cottage industry designers out there, and I respect them and their products completely. We do design and manufacture net tents for other manufacturers’ tents, modify their tents with netting and extended vestibules, and make modifications as the customer warrants.

What is the Bear Paw Tents bestseller, and where do your customer come from?

Right now the pyraTent and some of the inner tents are our best sellers. We sell a lot of custom net tents to customers in Australia and the United Kingdom. It seems that many of the net tents that we manufacture for the UK customers have partial ripstop nylon and netting instead of all netting. We sell all over the world, including Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Europe and the UK.

Are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers in Europe, the USA, Japan or other places?

I see other cottage manufacturers at trade shows, trail days, and similar events.

What is your own favorite backpack, sleep system and shelter? Any other favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?

I have two pack systems that I use: Osprey 34 and 46. I prefer down sleeping bags: Mountain Hardware and Big Anges. Right now I have fallen in love with our new Cuben Fiber 2 man tent. It sleeps 2 people easily and weighs only 8 oz.

When and where was your last longer backpacking trip, and what was your baseweight? Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the winter season?

Two summers ago, my wife and I hiked Mt. Whitney in California and on up to the Kings Canyon National Park area for 15 days. I think that my base weight was around 40 lbs or so. We camped ever night way below the tree line so extremely cold gear was not needed. Mainly we carried a lot of lightweight store bought food and some special backpacking supplies.

In the winter, I prefer to cross country ski and snow shoe.

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 believe that ultra-lightweight backpacking has caught on with the mass market and is growing steadily each year. I think that people are seeing and experiencing the benefits of carrying only what you really need. And with the availability of the new fabrics and equipment, it is getting easier and easier to go ultra-lighweight.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, and all the best with Bear Paw Tents!