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!

The Week in Review

I'm off to Scotland tonight. Edit: My flight got cancelled due to the heavy snowfall in Edinburgh. The option I had was to fly to London on Monday, but there's no flights to Edinburgh or Glasgow that day, so my wee trip to meet Steven, Johnny, Peter and Phil are off. I'm pretty bummed :(

News & Various:

You know what is so awesome about UL backpacking? The people. The people, who, driven by their desire to make something unique, more light, more perfect, create with much blood, sweat and tears a great product, with plenty of input from the UL community. Guys like Devin from the boilerworks, for example. Go read his blog and bookmark it. It's awesome.

Locus Gear has a 1st Anniversary Sale going on, so now is a good time to get those fine shelters and bags.

Titanium Goat, that elusive cottage manufacturer in Utah which doesn't want to be interviewed, has a bunch of new gear. The Yagi tenkara fly rod for trekking poles is awesome - you may buy me one!

Nibe gives useful advice on how to pass your time and includes a Optimus Crux Lite Solo Cook set review in between!

Fishing in Finland is an article I wrote for the Helsinki Times newspaper a while ago, go have a read if you have a passion for angling!

Coiling ropes - with a twist is a great video for the folks among us who carry ropes in the wilderness and need a quick and easy way to coil their ropes.

This week also saw another cottage manufacturer interview, this time with Eric Parsons from Revelate Designs. Bikepacking your thing? Definitely check this one out then!

The guest post on terrybnd's blog - Can Extreme Hikers Learn To Love Germany? - is a very nice read, and worth your time.

Also news-worthy this week is that both Phil and Martin joined Joe and me as Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors.

Andy Kirkpatrick tells the truth about breathable waterproofs.

Goof-off Tuesday started this week, and economies the world over collapsed within minutes of me publishing this disruptive article as people stopped working and thought about what they'd rather do, like Dave from Bedrock & Paradox and Tookie's A paddle and a walk.

Eric would like to know how to fix his puukko knife - can you help him?

The MYOG community will fancy a read of Michael Krabach's My Cheap Snow Camping Sled.

With all that festive stuff going on, we should remember those who aren't as fortunate as we. Beads of Courage is a recommended read and reminder to cherish what you have while thinking how you can help others. Same goes for James' Photo Voices article, which you also should check out.

Gear Talk:

Basti and his wife finally finished their MYOG Down Duo quilt. Looking for a project to do over the cold days? This could be it.

Jason does a Solid Fuel Burn Time Test, and pitches the likes of WetFire, Trioxane and Esbit against each other.

Phil went to the coast to shot some photos for the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Compressor PL Jacket and I am sure that the photos now also are used as the desktop background of female UL hikers the world around.

Mike shows us how to make a Bushcraft Winter Kitchen. Great stuff.

Joe talks about the Kupilka kuksa and alternative drinking strategies, lovely photos and great writing!

Mark shares his first impressions of his Laufbursche huckePACK with us.

Richard shows off the Berghaus Pro Trek Shell Jacket.

Maz showcases his First Aid kit and asks what you carry - go check it out, a good post!

Philip is selecting a bivy for winter, read his great article on this top if it is of importance to you.

Yours truly did a review of the Rab Demand Pull-On, an ultralight hardshell made from eVent.

Trip Reports:

Roman goes to Kimberly Australia, down the King Edward River and into the Bungle Bungles, hunted by snakes, crocs and bulls, sleeping with scorpions, flown over by fruit bats, yes, Epic stuff. Recommended read and see!

Dave enjoyes early winter.

Maria enjoys a winter day in Nuuksio.

Also Yeti reports more about winter!

Thomas and Glenn are going onwards, on snow. Winter is here =)

Mike Knipe met Martin Rye on Red Pike who met James Boulter on Mellbreak.

In case you missed it, Sam reminds us that winter is here and went Splitboarding and Backcountry Skiing.

Finally, forget Mini Bull Designs - this is the future of UL cooking (the video might not work everywhere due to copyrights!).

Rab Demand Pull-On Review

Ah, a pull-on rain jacket for the ultralight community, that were my thoughts when I saw the Rab Demand Pull-On back in the day. A whooping 76 g lighter than my Rab Momentum jacket, made from the same 3 Layer eVent material, reduced to what is really necessary, yeah, I'd like to try that out indeed.

The important part: 252 g in Size S. It is Black. I like it.

The cut is spot on for me, a bit longer in the back to cover me buttocks, a front zipper which can be opened far to allow ventilation, a good hood and one front pocket, which is big enough for me to fit in my puukko, a map, compass and a chocolate bar. Rab says that the pocket ain't waterproof, which is sort of true: Keeping your phone in there is not recommended as it can get a bit moist; that moistness is however coming from the inside when the eVent membrane transports your sweat out. Keep gadgets in a waterproof bag and it is fine.

Hood off.

Hood on.

Speaking of hoods, I don't know why Rab didn't put the Momentum visor on the Demand. The Demand is like the reduced Momentum, sure, but why would you make the visor smaller? If you put a visor on a hood, make it big so that it has a full function and not just half of it. There's companies out there who make far worse hoods and visors, and this one is still good, but heck, why make it smaller?

The eVent membrane still kicks ass. I wore the Demand Pull-On every day in Russia and had no problems with sweat building up on the inside, while keeping the rain out. Also on subsequent outings - night orienteering in the snow, walking in the wind and rain - it kept me dry, warm and ventilated.

Wide open. Taped seams.

So it is a pullover, saving weight by not having a full zipper. If you follow me for a while already then you know that I like pullovers, and the Demand is no exception. The long front zipper facilitates getting in and out and allows for additional ventilation if needed. It is easy going as well, which is nice - no fiddling around in the cold or rain with it.

Longer in the back, short in the front, much like that 80s haircut.

With the pullover being longer in the back you wear it over your pants, so that water run-off doesn't get in them. Cover your buttocks to sit down where it is wet, though it isn't that long that you could loung in comfort, but for a short quick sit-down on a edge or tree it works fine. To round things out, elastic hand cuffs and a hem with a good drawcord keep the heat in, wind and wetness out.

Elastic cuffs. Standard, I'd say.

Any other shortcomings, you ask? Well, as all oil-based garments, keep away from fire. Sparks burn through eVent like a hot knife goes through butter, so be careful when sitting around the fire or feeding your Bushbuddy. Room for improvements? Just make the visor the same size than on the Momentum and I am happy.

What about the competition? Yeah, the Montane Spektr is lighter and also from eVent. But will it be available in black? It also has a new kind of front closure mechanism, but from what I have heard from my trusty sources, the functionality isn't quite there yet, but until I have seen and tried it myself judgement on it is out. Then there is the Haglöfs LIM OZO Pullover, which I also own, and it is even lighter (and unlike Rab, which are talking since over a year of getting a sustainability programme in place and there's still nada, Haglöfs is ISO 14.001 certified and is active in sustainability matters Edit: Information on Rab's Sustainability approach). I'll review it during next week, so stay tuned for intel on it.

To sum it up, a very nice Pullover, made of the highly breathable eVent material, with good features at an excellent price. It is the lightest full-feature 3 Layer eVent Smock currently on the market, and I can highly recommend it. If you want to lighten your load and are looking for a functional rain jacket, ähem, pullover, the Rab Demand Pull-On is what you might want to buy yourself for the holidays. The lads at the Outdoor Warehouse have it in stock with 10% off and will see to it that it arrives in time for putting it in your stockings/ under the tree.