From the Frontline to Our Production Line: Meet Scott Thibeau
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Engineer Scott Thibeau shares how the common threads from his experiences as a born and raised Mainer and a military veteran get sewn into every aspect of the products he has a hand in.
Introduce yourself. What’s your background?
I grew up in the small town of Saco, Maine, which is the twin city to Biddeford. Growing up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Saco was like a giant family, and like many communities during that era in America, many neighbors knew each other. Parents raised not only their children but all the kids in the neighborhoods. We all played sports, any sport, and we were always outside. As I turned to High School, Saco and Biddeford were huge rivals in sports, especially football, where the term “Battle of the Bridge” was coined as there is a bridge separating the two communities. That football game, always the last game of the regular season, was the biggest in the state. Bigger than the State Championship Game many times. Biddeford kids wanted to beat Saco kids as much as Saco wanted to beat Biddeford. Both teams were generally in the hunt for playoffs, so it was important to the respective communities. During my junior year in high school, my friends and I were talking about seeing the world and joining the military, so two months after my high school graduation in 1986, it was off to bootcamp I went.
What are your takeaways from your experience in the military?
Looking back on my life, the military was a great influence. It taught me discipline, seeing the job through, adapting to situations, and never quitting. Sometimes those teachings were brutal; sometimes, they were beautiful. Brotherhood, honor, and patriotism have all been instilled into my core. I’ve been to Africa, the Middle East, Spain, France, Israel, Italy, Guam, Philippines’, Australia, Central America, and all over the U.S.
How were you equipped as a soldier?
Typically, everything carried weighed 60 to 80 pounds in total. The goal was to always try to get lighter. There was no excuse for not hitting predefined checkpoints just because we had to carry too much gear. We carried weapons, mostly standard issue, and the ammo to go with it. Breaching gear, body armor, nighttime optics, and nourishment, depending on the spin-up, were also part of the gear we carried. I’ve been out 25 years, and I know our Armed Forces have been working on getting the weight down for what a soldier carries into battle. I believe they are trying to get that weight to 50 pounds or less. I also know it’s been unsuccessful across the board for most of the branches.
What were some of the trials and tribulations that came from using that gear?
The biggest challenges did not come from the gear. When packed correctly, everything was used. The biggest challenge was mobility, the way it affected our ability to move quickly, to take defensive positions. It’s not easy to maneuver carrying 80 extra pounds. I’m now 52, and I feel it every day in my knees, lower back, and shoulders. Our joints can only handle so much. Extended wear and tear over time, regardless of whether you’re serving your country, hiking the AT, or you just got a little lazy on your diet, the consequences to your body over time are irreparable.
What is it like transitioning from the standard-issue military grade equipment to the gear you’re now a part of producing?
It should come as no surprise that I’m biased working for Hyperlite Mountain Gear as an engineer. I see the time and attention that goes into our products. I talk to the operators who are making our gear, and I see the passion, pride, and detail that goes into producing our products. For me, learning about ultralight gear has been an eye-opener. Gone are the days of suitcases when I travel, everything goes into a backpack or two depending on the trip and timeline. Camping is much easier now as well. Having five kids and a wife creates a lot of logistical challenges when packing. I love the fact I can throw a pack to each one of them with a few Stuff Sacks, and even a shelter or two, and everything is clean, refined, efficient to organize, and a lot easier to carry and move with.
What does Hyperlite Mountain Gear being built here in Maine, USA mean to you?
I have a strong sense of patriotism, and many other veterans I know feel the same way. We have a shared dedication to keeping our country healthy and vibrant by supporting and purchasing made in the USA products. I also know that it may cost more financially, but that is something I’m willing to pay. We have competitors who make gear oversees, and I get it; it’s all about the cost to the customer. I want to believe, however, that if the customer knows the product is 100% sourced and constructed in the U.S., the price difference is no factor if you are a citizen. In terms of building it here in the great state of Maine, I have talked with people all over the world, and many have a perception that Maine is the last frontier, like the Alaska of the lower 48. The geography is rugged, and you must be able to deal with the seasons, the snow, the bugs, and the cold. It’s all true. To live in this climate, you must be able to adapt and overcome. You must have perseverance, and as I have heard before, good ole Yankee ingenuity. The environment we work and live in here in Maine is echoed in the badass gear we build. Tough, rugged, and in some cases, the difference between an enjoyable experience or a very miserable one. Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it.