Hyperlite Mountain Gear recruited a variety of expert thru-hiker and/or multi-sport adventurers to work the Trail Days 2015 booth alongside our President and Founder Mike St. Pierre. Between them, they have hiked, climbed, rafted or otherwise traveled through the backcountry tens of thousands of miles. In this year’s wrap-up blog post these athletes reflect on the importance of events like Trail Days. Check out a full album of Trail Days photos on our Facebook page.
According to Mike St. Pierre, first and foremost, Trail Days offers outdoor adventurers and thru-hikers the opportunity to see the most groundbreaking gear in the industry.
“All innovation is coming out of small companies like Hyperlite Mountain Gear and many of the other brands represented at Trail Days,” he explained. “You can’t find these products at REI and other big box stores. People who are truly active are starting these businesses; they need cutting-edge gear for their adventures, and so they are making what they need.”
Brian Threlkeld, who climbs and packrafts extensively around the world, including spending at least two months each year in the backcountry, added that events like this allow customers to interact with manufacturers and the products they make. “That face-to-face and hands-on-fabric experience is crucial to educating people about the gear available and the best buys for their money,” he explained. “Plus, it gives us the opportunity to meet customers, obtain their feedback and build the rapport and brand recognition that is key for the success and growth of these companies.”
Matt “Porter” Laclair has manned the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth for four years, after completing his “pub crawl” of the Appalachian Trail (AT) over four months in 2011. “It can be very overwhelming to plan and pack for a long distance hike, and being able to test and touch the newest, lightest gear can make all the difference between a successful thru hike and going home early,” he explained. “I love going to Trail Days to talk about Hyperlite Mountain Gear with hikers and help them lighten up to make their hike better.”
But Trail Days is not just about gear, he added. The event raises awareness for the amount of work it takes to maintain the Appalachian Trail, it educates people on Leave No Trace principles, and it brings together a trail town, trail maintainers, the organizations involved in managing the trail and hikers. And it’s a really good time.
According to Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams, who thru hiked the AT southbound in 2009 and did the Pacific Crest Trail (2011) and Continental Divide Trail (2013): “The best part of Trail Days is the overwhelming support for the Trail, the hikers and the experience of being in the woods. It’s really fun to go to an event to see a hugely diverse crowd of people that are supportive and inclusive of everyone, based on the common interest of walking outside.” Plus, it gives like-minded people the chance to stay connected.
“People develop life-long bonds hiking together for section hikes, thru hikes or even just short backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail,” St. Pierre stated. “This event gives them the opportunity to reconnect.”
MacWilliams agreed: “Often I fall out of touch with hikers over the years as life carries on, but then you might cross paths with them on a later trail or while traveling the country. But the community continues to be important to me.” Trail Days is one of those signature events that bring more than ten thousand thru hikers to one spot each year.
“I appreciate the fluidity of the community where it flows over the years, but never seems to exclude anyone that wants to be a part of it,” MacWilliams added. “And while the Trail is very exact in its location, the hikers on it come from all over the world, and the overwhelming sense of kinship extends beyond the trail to lifelong friendships and open invitations to share more adventures together.”
For Laclair, the AT was the ultimate social experience. Armed with $25,000, he and his partner, Pace, hiked 25+ miles per day so they could hit a pub every four days. There, they not only sampled the local beer, but also bought rounds for all thru hikers. Plus, they left town every night with four liters of boxed wine to share with fellow hikers. Laclair has worked at the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth for four years because of the overwhelming positive energy and enthusiasm people have for the Appalachian Trail and the tight-knit community of thru-hikers, day hikers, section hikers, trail angels and others who attend.
“I return to see old faces, but I am equally excited to meet the current year hikers, the prospective hikers, and to have a good time with everyone,” he stated. “The community is so supportive and welcoming, that people from all sorts of backgrounds are embraced. Trail Days, and more specifically the Appalachian Tail, is so accessible to millions of people that it draws a diverse crowd.”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail, all agree, is a life-changing experience. Though Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Angela VanWiemeersch hasn’t done it, she understands the dedication it takes to live, unsupported in the wilderness for months at a time. Among other things, she paddled 430 unsupported miles along the Mackenzie river in the Northwest territories of Canada and became the first woman to free solo Ham and Eggs on the Moose’s Tooth 3000′.
“What really impressed me about the thru hikers was their dedication to the Appalachian Trail as their own personal contribution to the universe,” she explained. “Many hikers had sold their home or quit their job just to live ultimately simple lives just for a handful of months. Everyone I met who had hiked the Trail or was currently doing so had chosen this not only as an adapted lifestyle, but also as a new and beautiful way of viewing the world. Trail Days was an inspiring reminder to live your own existence, whatever that may be. To embody the spirit even after the trail is over.”