Ultralight Adventure Equipment with Chris McMaster
Chris McMaster and his wife Sally are the co-owners of Ultralight Adventure Equipment who manufacture fully featured lightweight packs. Judging by their popularity on the trail there are quite a few ultralight adventurers out there. Whether you are hiking 2 miles or 2000 miles ULA makes the packs that will make all your adventures more enjoyable. We had a chance to grill Chris a bit about the business and a bit about hiking. You can get the scoop from an independent manufacturer who is shaping the business in a big way. Take a look at what he had to say…
Hello Chris. Thank you for talking with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking and backpacking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
I spent my entire childhood outside either at the lake, creek or in the woods. we weren’t hiking, just walking and messing around, but that fueled my love of being outside. My first real hiking/camping experiences were with the Boy Scouts, and I guess I never stopped. I am outside an absurd amount of for some one with a real job, probably 4+ hrs a day most week days and pretty much dawn to dusk on the weekends.
Aside from running the business together do you and your wife hike together often?
We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, Park City Utah and we are surrounded with hiking trails, it would be a rare day we don’t get out together for at least a few miles.
What are some of your favorite places or trails to hike?
The Moab area, and the not so well known Medicine Bow range in south east Wyoming.
Which of the following best describes your personal backpacking philosophy: Super Ultralight, Ultralight, Lightweight, Conventional, Sherpa.
It varies from lightweight to Sherpa depending on the reason for the hike; they often involve fishing.
So, what is your present role in the company?
I do nothing requiring any skill in the shop, we have very skilled people there and I’m not one of them. I usually do the shipping on Mondays as that’s our busiest day, other wise I run the business, and do all the customer service. I am very involved with design, as the person who talks to all the customers i know what works, what doesn’t and what might need to be improved, A week doesn’t go by that Rodney ,the plant manager,and I don’t discuss possible changes and improvements.
Which aspects of your designs set ULA backpacks apart from other manufacturers?
I would say we are more focused on durability than lightness as compared to the other small guys, and we are designing more gear that will appeal to anyone looking for quality equipment, not just catering to the ultralight crowd. We are trying to spread the gospel so to speak that you can have light, durable and comfortable, and anyone who carries a pack should want that.
And which of your packs is your best seller?
The Circuit has taken over the best seller position from the Catalyst.
Where are your backpacks currently manufactured?
Everything is sewn here in Utah.
Would you care to share any thoughts on off-shore manufacturing?
One of the bad raps that the manufacturers in Asia get is that their quality is shoddy. We had a sample pack sewn by an outfit that was trying to get our business and the quality was extremely high, and the price was about 1/3 what our costs are. If we had to sell through retailers we would have no choice but to outsource overseas. As far as I know we are one of only 2 manufacturers of any size to still manufacture in house and in the US, Mystery Ranch being the other, the reason we both survive is a loyal customer base and the fact that we can make almost all our sales direct to the customer. The plus to manufacturing in house is that we aren’t dependent on others for our inventory, if you order a pack and we don’t have it, we’ll sew it that day.
Would you say the term “cottage manufacturer” is appropriate for your company, or do you prefer something else perhaps?
If you look up cottage manufacturer, we really don’t fit there anymore, we have 6 full time employees, not counting Casey, who does our tech a stuff, and me, we are really a small business now
Is there a point where it becomes difficult to balance a cottage business culture with business growth? Have you reached this point yet?
Even though I don’t consider us to be cottage industry any longer I think we still retain the good parts of that culture, particuarly with regards to customer service. My wife keeps asking me what I’m going to do when I can no longer handle the volume of customer service by myself. It is approaching that point, and that’s a good question. The customer service part is what i love and what makes the job fun , so we’ll see what happens.
Just for fun, what’s one of your favorite pieces of gear made by anothre manufacturer?
I don’t own one yet, but I love to look at Henry Shire’s tents, he’s really on the cutting edge of design and it makes me realize what is possible.
Is there anything new on the horizon that you can tell us about?
We are working a very cool design with a fellow utah company whose name I can’t disclose, but if it works as well as the protoypes have, it will be a huge hit with the UL crowd.
Does having an intimate knowledge of why, how, and where your gear will be used give you an edge, as an independent manufacturer, over the mainstream competition? What about added value for the end user?
It certainly helps us with the niche markets, such as thru hikers, we aren’t geared to make things that the marketing dept thinks will sell, we are geared to make things that work for our customers and since we have so much direct interaction with them, we all benefit.
What is your vision for yourself and Ultralight Adventure Equipment for the future?
As long as we own it our goals are to keep it fun, to provide the highest quality products possible, provide a decent living for our employees, and provide the best customer service anywhere, period. We continue to listen to our customers and always will.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that ULA products will…”
…continue to be the standard in lightweight durable gear.
Details and specifications for all of the amazing packs that Ultralight Advetnure Equipment offers can be found at www.ula-equipment.com. You can also find Chris and company on Facebook. We appreciate Chris playing along with us for the interview. Did this post make your day? You can send all praise to us via the comment form below and we will bask in the glow! Hike It. Like It.
We aren’t dependent on others for our inventory, if you order a pack and we don’t have it, we’ll sew it that day.
We are geared to make things that work for our customers and since we have so much direct interaction with them, we all benefit.
Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy.
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