Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Interview: Judy Gross From LightHeart Gear

A while ago I stumbled upon LightHeart Gear who makes a very innovative shelter. I contacted Judy, the woman behind the cottage, and she agreed to take part in the interview. It is the first woman who run's a UL cottage, so read on to find out how Judy came up with the concept for the tent and where LightHeart Gear is headed!


Judy entering the Great Smoky Mountain National park, in 2006 - and still carrying that 4 1/2 lb tent!

Judy, 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?

Hi, my name is Judy Gross, I grew up in New York City, and did not do any outdoors stuff as a kid. The past 20+ years I have lived in Houston Texas where I raised my twin boys. My sons were in Boy Scouts and I went on a lot of camping and backpack trips with them. In 1999, when they were 14 years old, we drove from Texas to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. That’s where I first saw the sign for the Appalachian Trail. That’s when the trail started calling my name, telling me to “walk”. In 2006, having never done any thing more than one or two nights out, I set out to Thru Hike the AT. I sustained a shoulder injury in a fall that took me off the trail at about 900 miles. The following year, I went back and did a further 600 miles. I had hoped to go back and start a new Thru hike this year (2010) but my new tent business needs me more. I am planning to hike the John Muir trail this summer though. Two years ago I moved from Houston, Texas to Asheville, North Carolina when my husband retired, so most of my hiking right now is day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where I am working on hiking all the 800 miles of trails in the park.

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

I am not an ultra light backpacker, and never will be, I strive to find the right balance between comfort on the trail and comfort in camp. Some things I’m just not willing to give up (like my tent). When I started the AT in 2006 my pack weight was 37 pounds (with 2 lt of water and 4 days of food). I think if I went back today it would be under 30 pounds.

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

I use a Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone pack, it weighs 3 pounds, but for me it is so comfortable that I don’t notice the weight, I have tried lighter packs, they just don’t carry as well for me. My sleeping bag is a Mountain Hardware 15° or 40° down bag, and my tent is of course is a LightHeart Solo tent. The fun part of the tent is I can take a different colored one each time I go out! Another item I just like for it’s convenience and not for it’s weight is the Jet Boil stove.

LightHeart Gear makes a very innovative tent, and currently it's as a Solo version available with a Duo option coming in April. Can you tell us a bit how you conceived the design, where the inspiration came from and how you decided to start the company?

Where do I start? I spent 30+ years working as a nurse in emergency rooms, and when I finally retired from that career I decided to pursue my interest and love of sewing and design. I started a small alterations business, and thought I would like to open a sewing school. During my thru hike attempt in 2006, I got really angry about the 4 ½ lb tent I was carrying. So much weight! I went home and bought a (used) single person tarp tent, but I felt very claustrophobic in it. This set me on the road to “Do Better!” My goals for a tent were; Room – I want to be able to sit up, turn around, get dressed in the tent. Simplicity of design, ease of set up, and of course light weight. I wanted my trekking poles to be the tent supports, but I wanted them tucked out of the way where they couldn’t get knocked over. I looked at many of the tents on the market to get some design ideas, and after several attempts and re-design I came up with the version of the tent now on the market.


Judy cutting out a new green tent.

My husband and I discussed the issues of going into the tent business or opening a sewing school, as you can tell, the tent business won. LightHeart Gear made its debut just 10 months ago at the Franklin North Carolina April Fools Hiker Bash. We sold 3 tents that day, and I had one lady ask if I could make her a purple tent. Customer service being such an important feature, I told her of course, and within 10 days, I met her further up the trail with a purple tent.

I think offering tents in a variety of colors gives me a special niche in this niche market. I have made tents in purple, navy blue, green, gray and I even made one in blaze orange. I have had two different women ask for one in pink, but I did talk them out of it. I just can’t see a pink tent sitting out in the woods! I now have new earth tone colors available that will blend into the woods very nicely, and in total I have 24 colors for customers to choose from.

At this time, I make each and every tent myself, I have a wonderful studio in my home where I cut out each tent individually and sew them from start to finish myself. This allows me to keep my inventory low and overhead very low. Starting up in a business like this, not knowing how the tent would be received was scary and I didn’t want to get in over my head.

Judy, 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 at the moment?

The Duo tent will be available in April. We are having it and the solo now manufactured for us, this will allow me to spend some time on designing a few new items. I will still make the colored versions of the solo tent myself.


The many sewing machines, these are the main ones used for the tents.

What is the most sold piece of gear from LightHeart Gear, the Solo or the Duo? Also, where do your customer come from?

So far, the ONLY piece of gear we have for sale is the Solo, but I have a lot of people asking about the Duo tent. My customers come from all over, I’ve sold 2 tents to people in Japan, and one to Holland. I’ve had inquires from several other countries, and I’ve sold tents all over the USA. People hear about me through the hiking grape vine, different internet hiking communities such as WhiteBlaze, Trail Journals, Trail Place etc.

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

A little bit of both. The groups I hike with know what I do, and I test ideas and gear out on them. I also ask them for ideas, what would you like to see in a hiking /backpacking item? One thing I learned from this group is that it’s not just backpackers interested in smaller lighter weight gear, it’s cyclists, kayakers, & motor cyclists, they also want small, compact gear that they can fit into small saddle bags etc, most tent poles are way too long to easily take with them, so we have developed alternative, adjustable tent poles that will fold up quite small.


The sewing room with parts of the green tent on the table.

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 don’t think ultralight backpacking is for everyone, just as long distance backpacking isn’t, but for those that want it, the choices are getting better all the time. I do think it is innovative cottage industries like mine and the others you have interviewed for your blog that are making these inroads.


A double needle sewing machine making nice seams.

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

LightHeart Gear is very new, but I have met several of the other “cottage industries” at Trail Days or other hiking events, and we have talked about combining our purchase power to get better deals.

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

Hendrik, it’s been my pleasure. If you (or any of your readers) have ideas for gear items they think would be a good idea, I’m always open to suggestions.

Gear Talk: Gear That Worked and Gear That Didn't

So obviously I had a lot of gear with me on the last tour, and a detailed review about everything would be nice but its not possible due to time constraints. So, inspired by PTC's "Kit that broke, kit that didnae, and other stuff before I forget" series of posts and a post by Markus on the trekking-ultraleicht.de Forum I decided that a post in which everything in the pack and worn gets a sentence or two written about would be in order.


Various gear drying out at the cottage.

Spork: Not good if you eat out of bags. Happily Q had a 2nd Sea to Summit long handled spoon with him, which he gave me. Very useful and light at 13 g. Sea to Summit = Keeper, Spork = retired if I eat bag food.

Ti-Tri + Inferno: Didn't use it once on the whole trip, as I melted snow on the fire in my Tibetian Titanium 1100 pot. There was just no need for it, and I would leave it at home if I know I will be going to campsites. The pot was perfect, good size for melting snow.

Platypus: Two 1l bottles and the PlatyPreserve for the "Pepi". I borrowed a cozy which held the tea warm for a couple of hours, and if the water froze some massaging of the Platy always gave some water free.

Real Turmat, Travellunch: Both high quality food. Real Turmat slightly better, but at 8€ a meal I'm not sure if they will be the standard. Travellunch tasted good, and has a wide variety of meals for around 6€. If I have the extra cash I go for them, but Ramen and selfmade food taste as good, if not better.

Puukko & Kuksa: Both Keepers. Puukko so handy if you need to cut small pieces of wood to start a fire after your quilt collapsed, wouldn't miss it for anything. Kuksa isolates excellent and is easy to clean.

Multimat Adventure + Multimat Summit Compact 38: Perfect Duo, never got cold from down under. Keeper.

GoLite Ultra 20°: Fine till -10°C without a VBL, over that and it collapsed. My mistake, not going to take it if that kind of low temps could surprise me. Still top notch for the summer.

Laufbursche shelter: Slept only one night under it, but it was great. Easy set up, heaps of space, well-thought-out design. Might need to get a own one.

Petzl Tikka Plus: Gets retired. For winter you need a serious lamp, and the Tikka Plus ain't it. Some test lamps from Fenix and Princeton Tec coming in, expect a post in the coming weeks.

Julbo Dolgan sunglasses: The Anti Fog only worked half of the time, but otherwise I was glad to have them on those bright and sunny days. 33 g well worth to carry, but need to test them more.

Cyclone Buff & Merino Buff: Perfect for wearing during the day, kept me warm and dry. Wearing the Cyclone around my neck and up over the nose, and the Merino on top. Keeper.

Rab Microlite Vest and Klättermusen Loke: Great duo for wearing at camp and sleeping. No problems with being close to the fire either, the Loke can withstand some sparks without getting holes. Keeper.

Rab Momentum Jacket and Drillium Pants: Both great for when its windy and snowy, though I was able to get the eVent to the limit and had a bit of moisture build up, but when snowshoeing at -15°C that can happen. Keeper.

You already know that I liked the GoLite Pinnacle and the Woolpower gear, and expect a separate review of the Integral Designs PLQ jacket and pants. I will also give my thoughts on the Suntrica charger in the next few weeks. That's pretty much it what I had with me, most of it Keepers as you see, with some stuff needing more trail time.

So what about the stuff I didn't had with me? Well, a pair of VBL socks would have been a welcome piece of gear to have, because they keep your feet warm and minimize the danger of frostbite. An Cyclone buff for the neck and face also would have been useful, and probably more multiuse than a balaclava?

That was it. Questions, comments, observations, recommendations?

Gear Talk: GoLite Pinnacle 2010 Backpack Review

On the TUFWT 1.0 was carrying all my gear in a nice red GoLite Pinnacle backpack. Its the 2010 model, and it's awesome for winter backpacking - which was the reason I got it. My original plan of taking my Joutsen/ Tunturisusi sleeping bag asked for a big backpack to accommodate it, as my ULA Ohm isn't up to the task. And if even Andrew Skurka is taking a GoLite Pinnacle for his Alaska-Yukon-Expedition in the winter, I can't go wrong with it, surely.


Packed, and my snowshoes on the sides.

I have the 2010 model in Size L. This 72 l monster brings 974 g on the scale, and yes, I know that its more than the predecessor. But considering that I carry around 15 to 17 kg with it for a longer trip, I still find it's an acceptable weight. Plus, it has space-a-plenty for all that bulky winter gear to fit in. So, as I learned from Joe's fantastic Montane North Star review, I am giving you the photographic run down of all the details of the GoLite Pinnacle 2010, paired with my thoughts on the backpack. Click on the photos to see them bigger if the shown size is too small.


Packed up and ready to go on a trip last December.


Backside.


Hipbelt.


Hipbelt detail.


Close up of the double wishbone hipbelt. Also the ComPACKtor straps can be seen.


Shoulder strap detail.

Lets start with the back of the pack. It has a comfy backpanel made of mesh, with a removable back pad made of CCF. You can take it out in case you don't need it, I left it inside as I use the backpack as part of my sleep system under my legs, and so I get a bit more insulation. If you're inclined to take it out, it will save you 62 g. I haven't yet bothered with that for a trip, as I like the bit of stability and shape it gives me; though as I either way carry a rolled up CCF pad in there I could as well leave it out. You also got a internal hydration pockets with openings on the top left and right, as I don't use hydration bladders I can't comment on it, but its useful for flat stuff like maps and books to store.

The hipbelt is comfy for my slim frame and sits where its supposed to sit. The two hipbelt pockets are integrated and work well, the zippers are easy to open and close, even with gloves on. I have usually my firestarter kit in one pocket, and some snacks in the other one. You can fit about three normal bars in one pockets, which should be plenty. As you can see underneath, the shoulder straps do not connect to it, but are connected to the bottom of the backpack, this helps in my opinion to transfer the weight quite nicely. Finally, the shoulder straps. Also made of a soft mesh, they sit well on my shoulders, though on the last trip there were moments late in the day when they felt like they're cutting into my shoulders. They have a sternum strap with a whistle, which should be handy in emergency situations. I'd think it would be useful to engineer the sternum strap so that you can take it off and put it back on, so that's a suggestion for improvement. Furthermore, it also has a handle to grip it from, and from experience I can say that that's the right place to lift a backpack.


View of the hipbelt from the outside, mind that the shoulder strap connects to the little wing down on the left.


Load lifters and tube ports.


Props to GoLite to walk the talk and use recycled content in their 2010 backpacks and clothing.

As you might know, GoLite is now using recycled materials in their line. In the case of the 2010 Pinnacle that means Tier 1 recycled 210 Denier Nylon Gridstop + Dyneema, as well as Tier 1 recycled 210 Denier Nylon Double Ripstop. The quality of this material is as good as made from virgin material, but results in a 70% reduction in energy use and CO2 emissions for the recycled nylon, and even an 80% reduction for the recycled polyester. Way to go!


GoLite goes Green with recycled materials!


The gaping mouth that is the front pocket.

From the back we go to the front, where the Pinnacle has its huge front pocket. Its massive, and I carry my kuksa, puukko, spoon, toilet paper, first aid, hygiene bag, sunglasses, polar buff, snacks and food for the day in it, and there's still heaps of space. It gives me a way to store all the smaller pieces of gear as well as the stuff I need to have handy during the day. It also keeps the stuff inside dry, as no snow or water can get through - with a mesh pocket you'd need to think what can go in there. Love it.


Zippers on the front pocket. Easy to use also with gloves.


Side pockets. Plenty of space.


Bottom of side pocket, with drainage.

The side pockets are big, and stretchy. Fill them up with a Platypus, snack bars, and other things you want to have close by and ready to take without taking the backpack off. I can easily access them for taking stuff out and putting it back in. What I also like is that my snowshoes fit in the side pockets and can be fixated with the side compression straps, that's handy for when you don't need them.


Closed the roll top closure.


Cinch closure.


Tardis.

The Pinnacle has a volume of 72 l which is massive, could fit twins in there and still have plenty of space (I don't advise putting twins in there. If you do, you do so at your own risk and on your own responsibility). I had gear for a week in there, and still had some space to spare. I reckon that a week or two of food should easily fit in their with your UL gear, so if you make longer trips further away this would be a great backpack. I got it because of bulky winter gear, like down clothing and my big down sleeping bag, for which it is made in my opinion. And once all your food is eaten, you can make the pack smaller with the ComPACKtor system; "Tada" and you got a pack roughly half the size.


Hydration sleeve, hook for valuables and the CFF pad pocket behind it.


Still not at the bottom.


ComPACKtor anchor and ice axe/ trail pole loops.

GoLite says it will carry up to 18 kg comfortably, I had close to 16 kg in it and it carried very well. The narrow and tall structure of the pack meant for me no excess width, easy maneuvering on the trail, and the before mentioned easy access to side pockets. You got extra space when you need it - start of a hike with plenty of food - and with the roll top closure and ComPACKtor system you can make it smaller while the journey continues. The material is sturdy, and I love the colour - its perfect for the autumn and winter in my opinion. It also has ice axe/ trail poles hooks and handle straps, so if you carry one or two of these there's a place to put them when they're not in use. And as you saw on the first photo, my snowshoes also can be fixated on them.

If you look for a new backpack for your winter adventures, or you're making your first steps in UL backpacking and need something lightweight yet durable with well-thought-out details, check out the 2010 GoLite Pinnacle. Ultralight Outdoor Gear in the UK already has the 2010 model, or check Bergzeit for the 2009 model. You could also check the GoLite website to find a retailer near you. They retail for 100€ to 150€, and you can find older models used for example here.


Side view.