Hello Jotaro. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking and backpacking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
I started hiking when I was a little boy, and then stopped while I was business man. That is long story not to tell now. I came back about 10 years ago. Before that I was rather surfer. I currently sleep outdoors as much as I have time, 2 or 3 times per month… almost every weekend.
What are some of your favorite places or trails to hike in Japan?
There are quite many good places here. Tanzawa mountain range (where the nearest I live), north and south alps ,and Yatsugatake mountain range.
Have you done much hiking abroad?
Not so much for long term. But I am going to Canadian Rocky mountains from the end of July to mid August 2011.
Which of the following best describes your personal backpacking philosophy: Super Ultralight, Ultralight, Lightweight, Conventional, Sherpa.
In between Ultralight and Lightweight. Rather lightweight. :p
As the founder/owner, how are you currently involved with the business?
My main work is designing. And then make it into the real products. Field testing is a big part of my job. There are so many ideas of new designs in my brain coming out, however, the process of becoming reality takes me quite a long time.
Which aspects of your designs set your designs apart from other manufacturers?
Our minimalist design combined with high tech fabrics.
Which product or products are your best sellers?
There is not only one outstanding. Because, I think, we advise based on hearing the details of our customer’s needs before they order our shelters and tarps. There are quite various demands of our customers. Here is a little info about our shelters to make it easier for our friends in the U.S. to find:
The materials we use are:
– Silnylon: 30d, 1.30 oz/yd ~2500mm water resistance (average sample)
– Cuben Fiber: CT2K, 0.75 oz/yd
– Tyvek: Soft 1446B UV, 1.40 oz/yd
The Shelters we offer are:
Khufu: ~ 106″ x 51″ x 63″ tall, approx 14.1 oz in Silnylon
Khafura: ~ 106″ x 106″ x 66.5″ tall, approx 23.6 oz in Silnylon
Apollo: ~ 106″ x 106″ x 70″ tall, approx 18.9 oz in Tyvek
(check www.locusgear.com for up to date information)
Monopoles and inner nets are available for each shelter however the weights above do not include them.
Is there a point where it becomes difficult to balance a cottage business culture with business growth? Have you reached this point yet?
I really feel the difficulty how we should go forward in business. Because I know our customers prefer that Locus Gear remains the same as far as our customer service is concerned. We are very close to them with hearing their demands and requests. The shelters are all made only for the customer each time. I personally like this way, but it is difficult as a business.
Do you feel that the Cottage Industry is at odds with the mainstream gear industry, or is there room for everyone?
This is hard to answer. Because here in Japan there is even not yet “the Cottage Industry”, I think. The style I started is still a very rare case. However, several followers after me appear recently. This is exciting to have fans.
Is there a great demand in Japan for lightweight hiking gear?
Yes. It is surely booming. I feel I am taking part in the movement at this moment
What is your perception of the cottage industry in the US?
Of course the U.S. manufacturers are pioneers in the world. I am influenced by them a lot. And now I hope I can make it more progressed in my own way.
What would you say to the folks out there who aren’t familiar with the smaller independent manufacturers and what to expect in terms of customer service, and product quality? Is there anything about your products, business, or the cottage industry in general you’d like to emphasize?
In my opinion, I always discuss with the people who are not really U.L like this: I would like to say that the weight is not the main purpose but the method which you could probably be free from something. To find a happy balance between the weight that suits you and your personal comfort is important.
What does the future hold for lightweight and ultralight backpacking?
About gears, I think the technology will lead to become lighter, which means backpacking will be lighter automatically, too.
Do you have any advice for backpackers who are considering the transition to fast and light travel?
Try one by one, maybe from only changing one item. It should be always in a way that works for you as your skills are improving.
Can you tell us what your personal “big three” items are for a typical 3-season, 3-day hike?
- BackPack: ULA CDT
- Shelter: Locus Gear Khufu Cuben
- Sleeping Bag: Locus Gear Down Sleeping Bag (prototype)
Just for fun, what’s one of your favorite pieces of gear made by another manufacturer?
The Tenkara fishing rod.
Is there anything new on the horizon that you can tell us about?
We will have e-Vent shelters available soon and now I am working on synthetic quilt and backpack. (as of time of publishing the Apollo is available in eVent)
What is your vision for yourself and your company going into the future?
My vision is to make Locus Gear more valuable for hikers who are lightweight oriented.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that Locus Gear products will …”
…be more individual.
Thanks again Jotaro for talking with us and having the patience for this to be published! Is there anything else you’d like to add, or any sage advice to bestow upon those reading this interview?
Jacob, thanks for waiting for me so long. Everyone else, thank you so much for reading about us! I am very happy if anyone in U.S is interested in us. In Japan there are so many beautiful places you can walk through. E-mail me in English, of course, if you have chance to come and visit!
Since we talked with him, Jotaro has been out hiking the Canadian Rockies. He’s updated the Locus Gear website with some awesome photos (some seen here) and also to reflect all of the shelters he offers along with specs that can be read without having to translate the page. You can check them out for yourself at www.locusgear.com
or just drop Jotaro an email
if you have any questions. You can also follow Jotaro on Twitter
as @locusgear, and you can “like” Locus Gear on Facebook
. Throw out a comment and let us know what you think! Hike It. Like It.