Profile: Hill People Gear
Hill People Gear is the type of company and product that you won’t find on the shelves at your local REI or #tacticool on instagram. It’s the sort of company that you get lucky enough to stumble upon from someone who’s already a customer. They make the sort of packs that make your other packs look like disorganized day-glow zipper fests. If you are a pack hound then you’ll hate getting a pack or kit bag from HPG because it will become the one you want to grab every time you go out. Their simple and ultra functional kit bags are especially irritating to own because you will look for excuses to wear them. I am sitting at my desk wearing mine right now. Enough complaining about how great their stuff is.
I got in touch with Scot Hill and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Bugout: When I first found HPG my impression of the products were that they could be described as; intentional, simple, and durable. Are these fair descriptors?
Scot: Very fair, based on our experience, gear first and foremost has to be durable for long term usage. In the backcountry you don’t want to be worried about when your gear is going to fail. Ultimately everything will fail, but we do everything we can to combat that failure through design, materials selection, and simpler standardized design. Complexity adds weight, failure points, and really limits the way that a piece of gear can be used. Every extra buckle, zipper, seam, etc…, introduces another issue both from a strength or repair standpoint and also from a which pocket is x in. That can be a pain, but if you are in an isolating incident and you need a fire or tourniquet now, trying to remember the location of your fire kit or med kit may be deadly. On the flipside you need enough features that you can accomplish a lot of different things with a single piece of gear, because after all what you have with you is what you are going to have to use.
We do everything we can to combat that failure through design, materials selection, and simpler standardized design..
Bugout: What propelled you to create your own line of gear?
Scot: After college, Evan and I both ended up in the Seattle area, and as much as we tried it was just hard to keep up with the outdoor activities due to location and schedule. After a move to Bend, Oregon, we pretty much picked up where we left off in college, and found that there had been a big shift in the outdoor gear world. We where used to modifying gear to fit our own wants, but found out that to a large extent the outdoor gear industry had been taken over by designers, where features and color palettes had come to trump function and durability. In addition, there where things we wanted that just didn’t really exist on the market. Interestingly, some of them where things we had used in different forms years earlier, like the Serape. As a result, we started to design and make our own stuff. People saw pictures on some of the forums we were on and wanted to buy it. There was a short lived collaborative period between Evan and a well known company, that ultimately didn’t work the way Evan had hoped. However, at that point it was clear there was a market and opening for what we were doing, and after a bit of discussion it made sense to just start our own company, where we retained control and the guiding hand.
Bugout: Who is your customer?
Scot: This goes along with who we are as a company and how we fit in the larger context of the industry. I can say who we sell to as groups, but defining what they have in common and why they are customers becomes a lot harder. As I said we fit in the nexus of three groups, and while there is overlap between those groups it is not clear where that overlap truly lies. At this point we know our customers like simple, durable, high quality, made in America gear, and that is about as far as we have gotten.
At this point we know our customers like simple, durable, high quality, made in America gear, and that is about as far as we have gotten.
Bugout: When you survey the landscape of outdoor gear industry what is your impression and where does HPG fit in? Or can/does it exist outside the larger industry?
Scot: Man, that is a question that we discuss a lot as it directly impacts how we market. We are in kind of a no mans land, in that we seem to be at the nexus of the backpacking, hunting, and military/leo market. The first two groups are groups that we have belonged to and still do, the third is not. Neither of us have ever been mil/leo, and we don’t pretend to be other than civilians and don’t really design for that market intentionally. That being said our designs seem to resonate with a lot of mil/leo guys simply because they are looking for the same simple, reliable gear we were/are. There are really only two other companies of note that occupy that same niche. There are a few other companies with a couple of items in that niche or that are making moves that way, but to a large degree we are doing our own thing along with those companies. As far as the larger outdoor gear industry as I said earlier, it seems like a lot of the design these days is being driven by designers and not end users, in that something like a backpack will have all kinds of bells and whistles and a good look to it, but when you flip it over suspension is almost nonexistent. Almost like oh, yeah there needs to be a way to actually carry this thing, lets just thrown on some shoulder straps. The other thing I see is an increasing trend toward folks who are doing athletic activities that just happen to be outdoor. A lot of the be prepared mindset that we were raised with is just lacking. Statistically, it might never bite them in the butt, but if it does they will discover that mother nature can be down right deadly. Finally, there seems to be a huge over specialization, and by that I mean gear designed for single purposes, not multi-uses. We use the same gear for all outdoor activities by and large. We don’t have a separate set of equipment for hunting, skiing, backpacking, etc… The only real difference is load out for a given activity and environment.
Bugout: Which of your products has surprised you? Either due to it’s popularity, or it unexpected use(s)?
Scot: I guess I would have to say the way that folks who are mil/leo are using our gear. As I said I would have never guessed there would be an application, and it feels weird to be recommending gear to some of the guys we get calls from. However, I guess a back country traveler is a backcountry traveler no matter what their goal for the travel is, and really a lot of the needs remain the same.
I guess a back country traveler is a backcountry traveler no matter what their goal for the travel is..
Bugout: I also asked Scot, who owns HPG? I expected a brief answer about himself (and his brother, Evan Hill). Instead, he spends almost all of his words acknowledging other people. To me this reveals the character of the people behind the Hill People Gear. (I’ve left Scot’s full answer below)
Scot: Evan and I are the owners, and Brooke really helps keep things together on a day to day basis. Realistically we also consider First Spear, who does our production, as part of the team. Without the level of quality and expertise they bring to the table I am not sure that HPG would be where it is at now. Their level of institutional knowledge and facility are pretty amazing. There have also been and continue to be a lot of people who play a role in things, in large part friends with ideas or friends who introduce us to other friends is the best way to describe it.
Hill People Gear is based out of Grand Junction, Colorado and can be found online at HillPeopleGear.com.