Trail Days is an AT festival held in Damascus, VA (southwest VA) every spring. The AT goes through the center of town, and Damascus has been labeled the friendliest town on the AT. It's a chance for current hikers to have fun, hikers from previous years to reconnect with old friends, and others (like me) to soak up the atmosphere and talk with both the small and large gear manufacturers.
I’ve attended the festival most of the last 9 years, and have seen it change a bit over those years. Although we see lots of UL backpacking discussions from the Sierras and west coast, Trail Days usually has many of the leading names on site. However, there were some notable people missing this year that had attended previous years, including, Six Moons Designs (an anniversary of some sort prevented Ron from attending), BPL, GoLite, Etowah Gear, Equinox, Big Sky, Trail Journals.
We had great (hot and a little humid) weather this year. So there was good turn out of locals. I was planning to share lots of details of new gear and discussions with the cottage manufacturers, but I brought along my 7 year old son (Chris), who has the attention span of a 7 year old, so I was constantly being yanked away to the next booth in search of a child size backpack. We live in PA now, so we arrived late Thursday evening, but found a good site with headlamps and settled in after the 9 hour drive.
The hiker trash have been sequestered away from town for the last several years since the majority of thru-hikers are college guys that have had limited town time. Combining that with locals and previous hikers that come into town just for the party, results in some arrests for rowdy behavior and excessive/obvious substance use during/after the bonfires and drum circles.
Nonetheless, it’s mostly a very friendly and eclectic crowd. The open fields that previously housed “Tent City” had been plowed under in preparation for ball fields, so this year we were pressed back into the woods.
On Saturday there is a hiker parade for the current and past thru-hikers.
There were a wide range of shelters in Tent City, with traditional double tents dominating. I saw several Six Moons Design and Tarptents shelters, along with a few tarps, but there are always a growing number of hammocks.
Some of the traditional gear suppliers (Osprey, Jansport, Leki, Gregory, Printon Tec, Mountain Hardwear, Granite Gear, & Thermarest) have booths near Tent City and many offer free repair services for the hikers. Backpacker magazine also had a booth and did a gear give-away that made many people happy.
The lightweight manufacturers were in town next to the food and craft vendors. I’ll give a quick run down of who was there and what I saw, but hope that others chime in to fill in the gaps. As I said, I didn’t get much chance for long discussions. I appreciate that manufacturers usually don’t spend much time “advertising” their stuff here on BPL.com, but hope that they will be willing to talk a bit about what they had at the festival for those members that weren’t able to attend.
This is a local show for Ron Bell, who is based in Roanoke, VA but he had a tough time getting there since his truck broke down and had to eventually squeeze his wares into a smaller vehicle. We caught him setting up Friday morning, but he made time to talk with us and show off two prototype packs. One was a (get this) heavy-duty Cuben pack for mountaineering (it’s the bottom left one in this photo). It uses a very thick layer of Cuben, which can be sewn. Ron also had his tarps and bug shelters up, along with quilts, gaiters, & event mittens. Ron said that he was working on a child’s backpack
Gossamer Gear http://www.gossamergear.com/
Grant came in from Texas to attend the festival while Dave got the opportunity to drive the gear to VA. They had a full compliment of shelters, packs, poles, and accessories. All of the shelters looked taut and sharp. I was glad to see that they also had Glen Van Peski’s “Lighten Up” DVD since it’s a great introduction to UL backpacking for folks. Dave is working on a child’s backpack at a reasonable price, so I’m eager to see what he comes up with (Osprey had one for $150 and 3 lbs 3 oz, which isn’t high on my list).
Brian also made the long drive down from PA. He has a retail store in Lewisburg, PA. Brian is another long time attendee. He had a couple of his Ti stoves, stakes, and other items. His retail store has lots of lightweight gear options, along with gear for water activities.
Terra Nova http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/
This British company had several double walled tents, including their 2.47-lb (1.12-kg) Laser tent, which was reviewed by BPL. I spoke briefly with Allie (sp?) about their company since I wasn’t familiar with them and had not read the BPL review at that point. I saw the little Ti stakes that they send along with the tents, but I have to agree with the review that I don’t think they are substantial enough for even moderate weather. They had some interesting looking packs, mostly targeting the adventure racing crowd. Nice to see them make the trip since there is rarely any overseas representation at Trail Days, other than Hilleberg a few years ago.
LightHeart Gear http://lightheartgear.com/
Unfortunately, I did not speak with Judy Gross about her company and tents. They have lots of room and there should be plenty of ventilation. This company has been in the BPL forums lately, and Ryan Jordan reviewed their solo version. After reading that, I’m really sorry that I didn’t make time to speak with them.
Nemo Equipment http://www.nemoequipment.com/
This was another company that I didn’t talk with. I had seen their “air supported” technology the last time I was at Trail Days and have read about it some. It sounds like a neat idea, but just hasn’t excited me much.
Appy Trails http://www.appytrails.com/
Another local (Bristol, VA) company that I don’t know much about. His webpage covers his scout background, and he offers 3 & 5 person tents, so he seems to be targeting the scout crowd.
Hennessey Hammocks http://hennessyhammock.com/2009newproducts.html
Tom Hennessey always has a large booth and gets lots of attention. He had his bottom entry hammocks with new, lighter materials, double bottom insulation option, and some low cost reflectix sun hats. I saw several people walking around with their new Hennesseys, so Tom was doing some good business.
Jacks R Better http://www.jacksrbetter.com/
The Jacks have also become regulars at Trail Days with their popular and well made quilts. However, due to the hot weather, it was a tough day to convince people to buy a down quilt. They also had their Bridge hammock and tarps on display. They also supplied an apparently endless supply of candy to my son.
Speer Hammocks http://www.speerhammocks.com/index.html
Tree to Tree Trail Gear http://stores.tttrailgear.com/-strse-Hammocks/Categories.bok
Ed Speer made a brief appearance to Trail Days since he was section hiking through the area, and had merged his company with Tree to Tree Gear. Ed will continue to be active in the hammock world, where he has always been one of the strongest proponents. Ed’s hammocks are side entry, and has provided lots of DIY assistance to would-be tree hangers. The T-to-T Trail Gear hammocks are similar in design, but have some different options. They had some of the new synthetic insulation on hand for inspection. I had just heard about it recently (during my Phoenix trip with some hamrockers). It sounds promising with the insulation per thickness numbers they were quoting.
& Molly Mac Gear http://www.mollymacpack.com/index.html (insulation
Molly Mac was co-located with Speer and T-to-T in a booth. They have a unique backpack that provides lots of flexibility.
ENO (Eagle Nest Outfitters) http://www.eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com/
These hammocks seem more appropriate for casual use, rather than backpacking. The user takes on a banana shape, instead of the flatter shape achieved with the other hammocks.
Anti Gravity Gear
Tin Man was there, sharing the booth with a few other familiar names. He has found a useful niche by manufacturing alcohol stoves and cozies, but also marketing/distributing other items, including Caldera Cones. He was a great UL ambassador by demonstrating his cooking system for uninitiated backpackers.
Enertia Trail Foods http://trailfoods.com/
These are my favorite store bought trail food, so I was surprised to see that they had changed their packaging and had added lots of new flavors. I bought a handful to try the next time out with my kids.
Cedar Tree is another local manufacturer and there with his silnylon poncho/pack cover. He also makes other items and does some custom work.
There were also other groups there such as ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association), ATC (Appalachian Trail Conference), AHS (American Hiking Society), Leave No Trace.
A number of AT centric authors and producers were also there.
“AWOL on the Appalachian Trail,” David Miller http://www.awolonthetrail.com/
“Walking with Freedom” & “Walking West with Freedom,” Michael Davids http://walkingwithfreedom.com/
“A Road More or Less Traveled,” Otis & Robets http://www.readaroad.com/authors.php
“The Trail of My Life,” Gene Espy (second person to thru-hike the AT) http://www.geneespyhiker.com/
“Walkin on the Happy Side of Misery” and “Walking with the Ghost Whispers,” J.R. (Model T) Tate http://modelt.homestead.com/
Here is a nice video I found on Etowah Outfitters about last year’s Trail Days 2009.
Here is an example of finding multiuse for a Calder Cone.