Best Outdoor Brands for Hiking and Backpacking
Most of us have probably heard of the big names when it comes to outdoor brands and gear... backpacks by Osprey, shoes by Salomon, or bikes by Trek. Many of those outdoor brands are almost household names. However, there is a huge range of other outdoor gear manufacturers who are smaller scale but still doing amazing things.
Many smaller businesses in the outdoor gear world manufacture their products entirely in-house (known as the "cottage industry”) rather than outsourcing the manufacturing process to external contractors. This close proximity to the manufacturing process means that many cottage manufacturers experiment with novel and innovative designs, as well as often allowing gear customisation. In addition, smaller businesses are often more willing to communicate directly with their customers.
At Ultimate Gear Lists, we believe that a healthy and thriving cottage gear industry is highly beneficial for the backpacking community. Therefore in this post we put a spotlight on some of the best outdoor brands for hikers and backpackers, including many from the cottage industry. Our list doesn’t only include smaller businesses though. We also include several bigger outdoor brands who are industry leaders in terms of quality and innovation. Nonetheless, what is certain is that each of the businesses listed below are doing something awesome that is worth checking out!
Note: This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather it is a selected list that highlights some of our favourite outdoor brands and businesses. We will expand and update it over time. The list is in alphabetical order, not in order of preference.
Arc’teryx are in no way a small business or a cottage company. In fact they are perhaps one of the most popular outdoor brands in North America. But that doesn’t exclude the fact that they are also one of the best. Arc’teryx make high performance, high quality gear for a number of outdoor pursuits including hiking and backpacking. They focus predominantly on clothing, footwear, and backpacks and they prioritise durability and performance over anything else, including price.
I used to be sceptical of the price tag attached to Arc’teryx gear. And to a point I still am, particularly now that many Arc’teryx products are manufactured offshore in parts of Asia and elsewhere around the globe. But when I bought my first Arcteryx product a number of years ago I began to realise what all the fuss was about. It was an Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket and it was f**king epic. The cut, the hood, the pocket positioning, the durability. Everything was spot on and it made every jacket I had owned before that seem like a waterproof sack. Arc’teryx has a reputation for perfecting their designs and with many of their products it definitely shows.
Of course with the scale at which they now produce products, the number of manufacturing plants they operate, and the fact that they are now owned by China’s largest sportswear brand some might believe it’s only a matter of time until Arc’teryx begins to cut corners.
Nonetheless — for now anyway — Arc’teryx remains one of the best outdoor brands for hiking and backpacking. They design some of the best high-performance outdoor apparel. They still manufacture many of their products in Canada. They stand by the quality of their gear with a pretty awesome limited warranty — e.g. they recently replaced a jacket of mine at no charge when it started delaminating even though it was several years old. And they have a number of policies around social and environmental responsibility. All pretty cool really…
Started in 1972 by husband and wife team Peter and Carol Hickner, Feathered Friends have grown into one of the most popular manufacturers of high-quality down garments for lightweight backpacking and alpine adventures. They are best known for their down sleeping bags. But they also manufacture other down garments, including jackets and pants.
All their products are made with the highest quality goose down (e.g. their sleeping bags are made with 900 fill power goose down or better) and sewn to the upmost standard. In fact Feathered Friends offer a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship or materials.
Better yet, 100% of the goose down they use is responsible down standard (RDS) certified, meaning it has been sourced from farms that are independently assessed for their animal welfare standards.
Our favourite Feathered Friends sleeping bags are the Feathered Friends Lark UL for the shoulder season or the Feathered Friends Flicker 20 UL for summer. But their awesome products don’t just include sleeping bags. For instance, the Feathered Friends Eos and Helios are two of the best down jackets money can buy.
And after almost 50 years of trading, Feathered Friends sleeping bags are still manufactured at their factory in Seattle, Washington!
Hyperlite Mountain Gear manufacture ultralight backpacks, tents & shelters, and accessories. Mike St. Pierre started Hyperlite Mountain Gear in the early 2000’s, driven by a frustration at the lack of durable, ultralight, and design-driven backpacking gear that was available. His solution was to design and construct products that were minimalist in design and made from ultralight materials.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear focus on designing products that are void of unnecessary features. The goal is to reduce products to the bare essentials that are required to get the task done. Their products are made from Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber. DCF is an amazing material — 100% waterproof, super strong, and seriously ultralight (the only downside is that it is expensive).
Hyperlite Mountain Gear manufacture all their gear in-house in their factory in Maine, USA. You can see the factory — an old cotton mill from the 19th century — in action in their video below.
They may not have a history as long as some of the other outdoor brands on this list, but in the relatively short time they have been around they have certainly made an impact amongst the lightweight backpacking community.
Their Southwest and Windrider backpacks are fast become a favourite amongst thru-hikers and lightweight backpackers. They are comfortable, bombproof, and weigh less than a kilogram — you can read about the HMG 3400 Southwest in our review of the best lightweight backpacks. Hyperlite Mountain Gear also make some of the coolest tarps and tents around, and their pillow stuff sack is one of our favourite backpacking pillows. Be sure to check them out!
Tarptent - as you can probably guess - is a manufacturer of tarps and tents! Since pre-2000 this outdoor brand has been designing and manufacturing innovative shelters suitable for a variety of backpacking and bikepacking adventures.
They make single or double wall, freestanding or stake supported, single or double entry, and one-person through four-person designs. All shelters are fully enclosed with "no-see-um” netting to provide full protection from bugs and insects. They have a focus on being lightweight, for example their three-person Cloudburst 3 is massively spacious and still weighs in at 52 oz (that is less than 1.5 kg)! They also make designs suitable for use with trekking poles which can provide additional weight savings for those hikers who use them. You can check out Tarptents full product listing page here.
Some of the cool and innovative things we love from this outdoor brand are the sidecar add-on that converts one of your vestibules into an enclosed shelter for your dog… how cool is that! Or the popular Double Rainbow, which has a novel design that includes open vestibules that provide full shelter even in heavy rain.
Their website also includes a bunch of tips and useful info, including this Tarptent Basics 101 page that is worth checking out. One important thing to note is that their tents do not come seam-sealed by default. That means that a standard purchase will get you a tent that is not fully waterproof on arrival! Rather, you need to paint the seams with silicone yourself (Tarptent sell pre-mixed silicone for you to use). Alternatively, if you are happy to pay a little bit extra, Tarptent provide a seam-sealing service so that your tent is ready to go as soon as it arrives on your doorstep!
Tarptent are based in Nevada City, California, USA, with their shelters being sewn in Seattle, Washington.
Zpacks — without a doubt — make some of the best ultralight backpacking gear available today. They are an outdoor brand that focus on making backpacking gear ultralight, whilst also retaining functionality and performance.
Since starting business in 2005 Zpacks have grown steadily and consistently, both in terms of product lines and customer base. Today they are one of the most popular manufacturers of ultralight tents and backpacks. However, their product line now also includes sleeping bags, quilts, rain gear, clothing, and other numerous backpacking accessories.
Joe Valesko — the founder of Zpacks — is an accomplished thru-hiker who originally built homemade gear for himself. When numerous other hikers on the trail started asking him where he got his gear, and then whether he could make them something similar, he realised their was a market for Zpacks to fill. Starting with one sewing machine in his lounge room, the business has grown to numerous staff operating out of a manufacturing facility in Florida. All gear is still built in the United States.
Zpacks initially focused on making gear from Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber. DCF was originally designed as a material for making yacht sails — it is strong, 100% waterproof, and seriously ultralight. However DCF is also extremely expensive and not quite as durable against abrasion as some other alternatives. Therefore Zpacks have now branched out slightly. The majority of their gear is still made from DCF — including all their tents, dry sacks, and rain gear — however their backpacks are now available in either DCF or alternative Dyneema fabrics.
Our favourite item has got to be the Zpacks Triplex… as a 2-person three-season shelter this tent is unbeatable. But we also have many other items we could list off as favourites too. From the ultralight wallet (0.22 oz!) that I carry in my pocket every day, to the ultralight fleece beanie I use daily in winter, to the pillow dry bag which we awarded top pick for best dry sack pillow.