When entrepreneur Mike St. Pierre took it on himself to lighten the load for hiking enthusiasts, his pioneering research soon led him to Dyneema®.

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One man moving mountains

Based in the hiking mecca of Maine, USA, Hyperlite Mountain Gear is an innovative manufacturer specializing in ultra-light backpacks, shelters, and accessories. The idea came from founder and CEO Mike St. Pierre and his frustration with standard hiking gear: “I used to go hiking on the weekends, but I struggled to find the right gear for my adventures – everything felt heavy and over-designed. The last thing I want to carry on a 50-mile hike is an uncomfortable backpack!”

A big part of the problem, he discovered, was the heavy suspension systems used in most backpacks. “The big outdoor brands tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t account for the uniqueness of different human bodies; namely, the different curvatures of people’s spines and the shape of their torsos.”

Weight was another important consideration. Owing to the limitations of conventional materials, designing most outdoor gear means walking a fine line between low weight and durability. So St. Pierre decided to create his own solution: a lightweight, high-strength, functional pack that could naturally conform to the size and shape of the wearer. He began researching flexible composites, drawing inspiration from military databases and countless other sources.

Trail and error

His search led him to Dyneema®. Using the world’s strongest fiber™ – made in America, of course – as his starting point, the trailblazer built himself an ultra-light tarp and a rudimentary backpack using a sewing machine borrowed from his mother. The positive response to his makeshift gear from hikers he met on the trail inspired St. Pierre to create Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a niche outdoor brand based on the use of Dyneema® to create composite and technical fabrics.

Hyperlite’s pioneering approach has reinvented the way outdoor gear is made. “Working with Dyneema® Composite Fabrics is very different from the fabrics traditionally used in the outdoor industry,” explains St. Pierre. “Because of the laminated nature of the fibers, we had to develop our own techniques for seam-sealing the products. It’s a highly skilled process that can only be done by hand. We’ve had to trial a number of approaches, but the end result is high-quality gear that’s unlike anything else on the market.”

This is especially true considering that Dyneema® Composite Fabrics are made from 100% bio-based Dyneema® fiber. Given the more environmentally sustainable credentials of the resulting products, it’s no surprise that Hyperlite gear quickly caught the attention of the outdoor-loving hiking community. Indeed, within just six years, Hyperlite grew from a one-man operation to a 24-strong company.

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“Dyneema® fibers, threads, and fabrics are the lightest and strongest on the planet. When it comes to outdoor equipment, I’m convinced that this is the best technology available.”

Mike St. Pierre, founder and CEO of Hyperlite

A whole new dynamic with Dyneema®

For St. Pierre, it’s only a matter of time before his novel solution becomes an industry standard: “We believe that Dyneema® fabrics – especially Dyneema® woven fabrics – are the future of the outdoor industry, especially when laminated to Dyneema® Composite Fabrics.”

For now, though, the Hyperlite team is focused on its own innovation, making its products the best they can be. “We're looking at ways to create thinner, finer weaves that incorporate more fibers,” St. Pierre explains. “This would allow us to make our Dyneema® backpacks even lighter, while still maintaining excellent durability and waterproofing.”

A breakthrough may be coming round the mountain sooner than we think. Advances in R&D and IT are allowing St. Pierre and his colleagues to streamline their workflow and engage in rapid prototyping. “We can now work much faster than we could in the beginning – and that's important when you’re trying to innovate.” So, next time you hit the trail, keep an eye out for the next generation of Dyneema®-based outdoor gear!

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