Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Interview: Brandon Waddy From Warbonnet Outdoors

Today an interview which will put a smile on the faces of the hammock community: I was able to get Brandon Waddy from Warbonnet Outdoors away from his sewing machine and have him tell us his story. It is interesting to hear his tale, and I suggest you lay back in you hammock or hanging chair while enjoying this interview!

Brandon and his sewing machine "Juki".

Brandon, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you out backpacking nowadays?

My name is Brandon Waddy, and I’m the owner of Warbonnet Outdoors LLc. I currently make gear that is almost exclusively geared towards lightweight hammock camping. I’m located in Colorado USA at the foothills of the rocky mountains. I started camping in a hammock almost 10yrs ago. I fell in love with it after the first night and never looked back.

I do get out to hike and climb occasionally, but have always considered myself more of a climber than a hiker, although I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve been doing neither very much. I look at it as “paying my dues” and hopefully I’ll have plenty of free time in the future for both. I also enjoy mountain biking, slacklining and snowboarding.

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

I’d consider myself a lightweight hiker with a baseweight around 12-14 lbs for 3 season hiking, but I don’t keep track of it too tightly, I just try to pick lightweight items and not worry about it too much beyond that.

Warbonnet Outdoors is the inventor of the very popular Blackbird Hammock, Big Mamajamba tarp and Yeti Under Quilts & Black Mamba top quilts. Can you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of Warbonnet Outdoors, the birth of the Blackbird hammock, and how the company developed over time?

I technically started the company about 3 years ago, however, I had been working on getting my designs and sewing skills up to par for a couple years prior to that. My official “grand opening” was at Trail Days in 2007. I introduced a hammock and tarp, and a few “prototype” underquilts (the forerunner to the Yeti). I ran into patent issues with another manufactuer right away and had to halt sales and re-group. That sidelined the business for about a year and a half until I introduced the blackbird in late 2008, so I’m still a very young company. I’ve slowly but steadily introduced new items since then.

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

As far as works in progress, I could tell you but I’d have to kill you, so I’d better not :) I will say that I love designing gear, so there’s almost always something that I’ve got rattling around in my head.

What is the most sold piece of gear from Warbonnet Outdoors? Also, where do your customer come from?

My best selling piece of gear is the blackbird hammock, which probably comes as no surprise. The tarps and quilts are selling well also. My customers are mostly from the US and Canada (probably simply because that’s where I’m located), but I’ve sold to customers in most of the eastern European and Scandanavian countries, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and others.

Are you in touch with other cottage manufacturers from the hammock/ ultralight backpacking scene?

I do have contact with some of the other cottage manufacturers, mostly through the internet and telephone, but also at trade shows like Traildays.

Material storage.

What is your own favorite backpack, hammock, tarp and sleep system?

I’m currently using an old mountainsmith pack for most stuff, but am looking at getting either an Aarn pack or possibly an ULA. I usually grab the single 1.7 (or sometimes the double 1.1) Blackbird and the appropriate yeti underquilt and mamba topquilt for the season.

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 late winter season in Colorado?

Like I mentioned above, I’ve not gotten out much at all lately. I did get out for a winter campout with some friends in Feburary, but it was a vey lazy trip. Basically car camping with alot of eating and drinking.

Some of my notable trips in the past have included backpacking and climbing in the appalachains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. I did a trip in the Joyce Kilmer/slickrock wilderness area that was pretty memorable. I hiked the firey gizzard trail on the Cumberland plateau, that was my first backpacking trip ever, around the age of 14. Looking back, that was probably the ignition point for my love of outdoor adventure. Once I entered college I began climbing (pretty much every weekend). My stomping ground was the Obed wild and scenic river area in Tennessee. I spent hundreds of days exploring those miles of cliffline and river. There’s a lot of good climbing in the TN/NC area, and I probably made it to most of the main areas, including climbing in Kentucky, and in north GA/AL as well. Toward the end of my college career I started focusing more on traditional-style climbing, and when I graduated I headed west for Yosemite valley. I’ve pretty much lived in the western United States ever since. Some notable climbs include:

- East buttress of middle cathedral in Yosemite Valley (one of the 50 classics of north America, I think a few of the following are in that category)
- North face of higher cathedral (yosemite, CA)
- First half of the rostrum (yosemite, CA)
- Lost arrow spire slackline (yosemite, CA)
- Levitation 29 (red rocks, NV)
- Leave it to Beaver (joshua tree, CA)
- The finger of fate (sawtooth range, ID)
- The Petite Grepon (rocky mountain national park, CO)
- The Naked Edge (Eldorado canyon, CO)
- Tennessee tai-chi (FFA, TN/NC border, Big Creek)

I’m hoping to have time to get out on a few trips this summer. Some friends are talking about a remote multi-day whitewater rafting trip in june somewhere in the Colorado rockies.

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

Seems to me like lightweight backpacking is quite popular already, and there will always be those that take it to the extreme with SUL methods. I personally like the idea of “comfort weight”. It seems like everything is getting lighter though, but i don’t know if the majority of backpackers will ever adopt SUL methods, that is probably something that will stay in the minority simply because of what has to be given up to achieve those numbers. I can see more people in the UL category in years to come. With new gear it’s pretty attainable without having to give up so much. Carrying a lighter load and thus being more comfortable in the backcountry is an easy choice for most folks, at least to a certain extent. It (UL) seems like the logical choice for backpacking and I could definitely see it becoming more mainstream in the near future. As for hammock camping, I do think it’s destined to catch on in the mainstream as well. Things take time to catch on, but similar to lightweight backpacking, it’s a logical progression that’s based on more comfort and convenience with little weight penalty. That’s why I switched, and it's why hammocks are catching on.

Brandon, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!

The Week in Review

Last week a lot of folks were out backpacking and were making us envious with beautiful photos and trip reports. While you read what happened last week, I'll enjoy the Finnish spring with Phil and Steven who arrived last Thursday to go out for some tenkara fishing and backpacking in Pirkanmaa!

The trekking-ultraleicht.de forum had this May weekend another Forum Meet-up in the workshop of LAUFBURSCHE in Cologne, and you can make sure that some of the German bloggers and on the forum itself there will soon be lots of accounts and photos of gear and stories!

Geoff from v-g Backpacking in Britain went on a three day trip to Dartmoor, and brought back beautiful photos and a great write up.

Also Martin Rye set out to navigate the hills of Dartmoor, and his account you can read here.

Michael is a German who is thru-hiking the PCT this year, and you can follow his pursuits here at "Freiwild auf dem Pacific Crest Trail" - he writes at the moment a couple of times a week, so we can nearly follow him "live"!

And if you are curious what the ADZPCTKO '10 looked like, head over to The Beeman's Picasa album to take a look.

Benjamin from hrxxlight went to France and walked the GR 53 and brought back some nice photos and story.

Finally, Gustav from The Bearable Lightness made a solo trip to Vålådalen to wet the appetite for a certain group of UL outdoor bloggers from the far north...

In the Gear Review Department, Jason Klass takes a brief look at the MLD Exodus and tells us what he likes about it.

I did a small HD video of the world lightest gas stove, the Monatauk Gnat and also will organize a passaround with it - go comment if you'd like to give it a try!

PTC was at innov_ex 2010 and was reporting live from the event.

Robin made an initial review of the Tarptent Scarp 1 Mk II and had much good to say about it, as well as suggestions for improvement.

Q has a look at the 20l Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil backpack, and wonders if it is big enough for a weekend trip.

And in other news, Fraser from McAlisterium tells us what he has learned about photography so far.

Talking of photgraphy, if Northern Lights, aka aurora borealis, are fascinating to you, head over to this site to have a look at the photography of Jorma Luhta. I saw his exhibition while up north, and it is so beautiful & magic.

Last, but certainly not least, IovokiTangra is a blog which shows superb photography from Japan - beaches, castles, mountains, it has it all. But be careful, it makes you want to go there =)

Book Corner: Snow Walker's Companion by Alexandra & Garrett Conover

If there is one book that stood out in the last weeks, it is this one. It came as a recommendation from Don Kevilus, though because I didn't write the name down right away I didn't remember it when I went to look for it. Good that Nick from Skills for Wild Lives mentioned it in an article, so I found it again and have been thoroughly enjoying it.

The Conovers remind me a bit of the Jardines, though I find them (Conovers) much more likable. The book is excellently written and captures the reader's interest, so that it is difficult to put it down. Good photographs, excellent drawings and even patterns for making your own gloves, anorak, tent and moccasins are included - a tomb of knowledge! I wish I would have read this at the start of the winter, and not at the end.

I took a lot more than ten things away from this book, but here are those that stood out:

1. Reading ice on rivers and lakes
2. Good winter foods
3. An axe is a useful tool
4. About traditional snowshoes & footwear
5. Winter clothing
6. The three Ts: Toboggans, tents & trail stoves add comfort and security to a winter trip
7. Navigation in winter
8. Leadership of groups (applies also to my professional life)
9. Appreciate your surroundings while being at inner peace with yourself
10. Develop skills to feel at home in the wilderness

It is an outstanding book, and I am going back to it all the time to look up a thought or idea. While you won't hear Garrett and Alexandra talk about Ultralight gear - they value traditional materials and craftsmanship, based on by native Americans - they have lightweight principles in every aspect of their gear. Very fascinating is also their two month journey across Labrador in the depth of winter, and which beauty and also hardships they encountered. I was so fascinated by the book that I ordered the "Making The Attikamek Snowshoe" book and am planning to try to build it during the summer, and also will try to build my own toboggan. If this sounds like a departure from UL for you, so rest assured, that is not going to happen - it is more to broaden my horizon and learn more. The idea of stove-heated tent in winter is very appealing to me, and with companies like Four Dog Stove and Titanium Goat producing UL alternatives for stoves and tents, I am certain this is possible and can enhance the winter hiking experience.

If you plan to get your winter camping skills up to par, I highly recommend this book. Its promise of letting you know of "How to sleep warm, travel safe and enjoy the white season" is not marketing BS, the Conovers impart their years of experience, and the skills from the natives with whom they have talked, with the reader, in an excellent book.

To buy your own copy, click the photo:

Disclosure: I have an Amazon Affiliate account and would earn a few cent if you buy the book via the link.