Introduction

It’s not hard to find mass-market gear from big (corporate) brands at big box and specialty retailer stores. And for the most part, much of that gear is manufactured at reasonable standards of quality. However, the outdoor gear industry (and even the so-called ultralight sub-market) is mature enough now that much of the gear lacks innovation in design or materials, and is marketed as “does everything well enough” instead of being really good at addressing more specific use cases.

That’s where startups, small brands, and cottage gear makers come in. They are more nimble, so their designs can evolve more rapidly in response to customer feedback. They aren’t stuck producing giant lots in large factories, so they can be more experimental and innovative with materials and design. And they (often) don’t distribute through large retailers and distributors. This means that more of the markup you are paying for this gear goes directly to the brand owners and employees, domestic production, and innovative (small batch) design, rather than sales, marketing, and distribution.

This gear guide represents a collection of specific recommendations for gear our members like from small, startup, and cottage brands. Some of them are Cottage Gear Innovation Award Winners.

Cottage Gear Innovation Awards

Do you have a suggestion? Nominate your favorite gear for a Cottage Gear Innovation Award or see past award winners.

Suggested Retailer: Garage Grown Gear

Garage Grown Gear and Backpacking Light have partnered for many years – since Garage Grown Gear’s pre-startup days (affiliate, advertising, content, and events) to bring you the most up to date information, education, and gear about small, startup, and cottage brands. Garage Grown Gear is our community’s home-grown cottage retailer that supports our cottage industry by providing them with marketing, retail, and distribution services for small brands. Please join us in supporting small brands by purchasing gear using the links on the page (we may earn a commission, please review our disclosure letter for more information.)

Recommendations

  1. Zpacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors at Garage Grown Gear

    Very few shelters out there are tuned specifically for the ultralighter or fastpacker who wants full-perimeter protection with enough weather resistance to camp confidently wherever you land when night falls - the ZPacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with Doors is one of them.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  2. Gossamer Gear The One at Garage Grown Gear

    The Gossamer Gear The One shelter may offer the nicest combination of materials, manufacturing quality, and aesthetic design for the price than any other small brand shelter on the market. There are lighter shelters, there are bigger shelters, there are more weather-resistant shelters - but not at this price. Ideal for backpacking below the treeline, or above the treeline in mild conditions during the sumer.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  3. Slingfin SplitWing Shelter Bundle at Garage Grown Gear

    A traditional A-frame tarp-style shelter with protective storm beaks, doors, and an inner tent makes the Slingfin Splitwing Shelter Bundle a modular, versatile, and stormworthy shelter system.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  4. Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy at Garage Grown Gear

    The Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy Sack is water-resistant and breathable and makes an ideal companion for warmer conditions when paired with a tarp. Water-resistant enough to keep dew at bay for sleeping under the stars in mild weather.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  5. Suluk46 Atani Titanium Tent Stakes at Garage Grown Gear

    A truly ultralight tent stake with enough strength for hard soils. We use this for accessory guyline tieout points like sidewalls and mid-points. Combine with stronger stakes for a high-performance stake kit.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  6. Lawson Equipment Reflective Glowire Cord at Garage Grown Gear

    The new gold standard for lightweight shelter guylines, Glowire holds knots, absorbs little water, is light weight, and holds well in both cam and line-loc style tensioners.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  7. Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt at Garage Grown Gear

    One of the most fundamentally sound designs available. Highly customizable - fabrics, sizing, down fill, colors.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  8. El Coyote AlphaLite 900 Quilt at Garage Grown Gear

    For a 900-fp quilt that can be layed flat or buttoned up into a hoodless mummy, the El Coyote Alphalite is one of the most cost-effective ultralight quilts available.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  9. Western Mountaineering FlyLite 36F at Garage Grown Gear

    The lightest fully-baffled down sleeping bag available, the Flylite is a great choice if you aren't quite ready to bite the bullet on a quilt but still need a warm bag for mild summer and fringe-season conditions.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  10. Farpointe Alpha Cruiser at Garage Grown Gear

    An Alpha Direct hoody is an ultralight way to carry fleece that's more comfortable and breathable than a traditional fleece.

    WEIGHT: 4.0 to 4.9 oz (113 to 139 g)
    WHAT'S UNIQUE:
    • available in both 60g and 90g weights
    • very high air permeability for fleece
    • when worn under a shell, very high warmth-to-weight ratio
    MAIN ISSUES:
    • not as durable as grid fleece or pile
    See it at Garage Grown Gear See it at Farpointe Outdoor Gear
  11. Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket at Garage Grown Gear

    We recommend a synthetic insulated jacket for most conditions where weather is unpredicatable, and the Torrid Apex is one of the best in terms of its warmth-to-weight ratio.

    WEIGHT: 7.4 to 8.4 oz (210 to 238 g)
    WHAT'S UNIQUE:
    • available in 7d or 10d fabrics
    • very high warmth-to-weight ratio for synthetic insulation
    MAIN ISSUES:
    • synthetic insulation requires care, not as durable as down
    See it at Garage Grown Gear See it at Enlightened Equipment
  12. Jolly Gear Triple Crown Button Down at Garage Grown Gear

    A hybrid woven/knit sun hoody with button-down ventilation. A unique and versatile way to execute the hiking shirt.

    WEIGHT: 7.5 oz (213 g)
    WHAT'S UNIQUE:
    • style: combination of button-down, hood, collar, adjustable cuffs with thumbloops
    • stretch fabrics
    MAIN ISSUES:
    • not 100% resistant to aggressive swarms of biting mosquitoes
    See it at Garage Grown Gear See it at Jolly Gear
  13. Goosefeet Gear Down Socks at Garage Grown Gear

    If you're going to spend a few ounces on luxury, spend it on warm feet. These are the lightest booties available and make great sleep socks.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  14. Nitecore NB10000 at Garage Grown Gear

    The gold standard of portable battery chargers, this one has the highest charge density we've ever tested.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  15. Nitecore NU25 Headlamp at Garage Grown Gear

    Our pick for an ultralight headlamp that's still bright, functional, and comfortable to wear.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  16. Thermoworks Zipper-Pull Thermometer at Garage Grown Gear

    Functional, accurate, waterproof, easy to read, and cheap - buy a half dozen of these and attach them to all of your packs, get another half-dozen for gifts and stocking stuffers!

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  17. Flextail Zero Pump

    Save your breath, and leave the bulk of an inflation bag at home. One of the few pumps that actually works well and is still very light, with a decent battery life. You'll get 15 to 25 mattress inflations on a single charge if you use a full-sized mattress.

    WEIGHT: 1.2 oz (34 g)
    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  18. FlipFuel Fuel Transfer Device at Garage Grown Gear

    Use this to transfer fuel from one canister to another easily and safely. Essential gear for canister stove users, so you don't waste remant fuel in partially-empty canisters.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  19. Vargo Bot 700 pot with Lid at Garage Grown Gear

    Perhaps the most versatile titanium pot on the market - more durable than Toaks, screw-top sealable lid can be used for cold-soaking or extra water storage, usable handles, and a lid that can be used for a mug or fry pan in a pinch.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear See it at Vargo Outdoors
  20. TOAKS Titanium 750ml Pot at Garage Grown Gear

    If you're new to ultralight and are wondering where to start with a titanium pot, this is a great choice. It's ultralight, cost-effective, and big enough for a hearty meal.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  21. CNOC Outdoors Vecto 2L Water Container at Garage Grown Gear

    Opt for 42-mm threads for compatibility with popular squeeze filters for a durable and easy-to-use hydration solution.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  22. Kula Cloth at Garage Grown Gear

    The original pee cloth - make this LNT-friendly option a staple if you're a female hiker.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  23. CuloClean Ultralight Portable Bidet at Garage Grown Gear

    A life-changing way to improve your butt hygiene and minimize TP waste on the trail.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  24. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Versa Fanny Pack at Garage Grown Gear

    There are many fanny packs out there, but this one is the most versatile—you can wear it traditionally, cross-body, or thread it through your chest or hip straps.

    See it at Garage Grown Gear
  25. Nylofume Pack Liner at Garage Grown Gear

    Use two (inverted to each other) inside an Ursack or bear canister to hide your food from bears (by containing odors).

    See it at Garage Grown Gear