Canadian gear maker creates quality tents for hikers all around the world
By Steve Barrett
Creative Content Writer, Hilltop Packs LLC
Although Dan Durston calls Canada home to his family and business, he is proud to be creating special gear that appeals to hikers and backpackers from all over the world.
His company, Durston Gear, started as a small grassroots family business that has turned into a thriving passion for him.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” admits Durston, who resides on the west coast of Canada in the British Columbia area in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with his wife of 16 years and their recently born daughter.
“The crazy thing is, I never set out to start a company. I come from a community of hikers, I have always loved to hike, and I consider myself a hiking gear guy.”
Dan said it was during one of his hikes in 2017, when he and his wife were on a Yo-Yo hike along the Great Divide Trail – a trail running north-south through the Canadian Rockies.
“As I was geeking out on gear, I had this idea for a tent that I thought was pretty cool,” he recalled. “I thought, maybe I’ll create the tent prototype myself, if I ever get around to it. But then I was talking to this company that said if I ever come up with any gear ideas I should talk to them and they might be able to market it. I told them I happened to have this idea for a new tent, and they basically took that project on. I came up with the tent design, and we came out with it, and people were excited about it.”
The company gradually parted ways after deciding to get out of the outdoors business, and they gave Durston back his designs.
“People still wanted them, so I started running the company out of my spare bedroom, trying to figure out how to run my own business, and make gear that would improve a hikers’ experience.”
Durston Gear launched its first pre-sale in 2018 and it began to take off in 2019; since then, the company has added more tents and backpacks to its merchandise that is available for sale.
Durston Gear is best known for its line of tents called the X-Mid, a very functional and user-friendly tent for hikers, with a simple setup not just for beginners but for all levels of hiking.
“When you’re cold at the end of a long day of hiking, you don’t want to be goofing around with complicated setups,” he explained.
“There are no poles blocking the door or in the living space. Our tents don’t have the hassles that a lot of other tents have, while also being very functional. For example, the tent pitches fly first and the doorways are protected so rain doesn’t come inside.
“Any tent works well when the weather is nice and sunny,” he continued. “But when the weather gets rough and you’re cold and tired, that’s really when our tents stand out.”
Some of Durston Gear’s tents are sold by a partner, www.kaviso.com (an Ohio-based outdoor retailer), as well as directly by Dan at www.durstongear.com. Durston said the goal is to eventually sell all of the company’s gear on the DG website.
“Our ultimate goal is to sell all gear directly to the customers so we can keep our costs low,” he said. “We offer one-person and two-person tents, and three versions of each. People ask us for bigger tents. I’m open to the idea, but I haven’t had much time to dig into that yet.”
He stressed that ultralight gear is very important for hikers to want to enjoy their hikes.
“I think a mistake that beginners tend to make is they think of their gear as individual pieces,” he said. “They buy the jacket and they don’t think it’s heavy and then they go to the next piece of gear and do the same thing … once they go through all of their gear and see how much it collectively weighs, it’s obvious they didn’t look at the bigger picture.”
What makes Durston Gear stand out is that the company is genuinely focused on the actual needs of the hiker.
“A lot of gear out there is not user-friendly or functional, so we adopted a ‘hiker first’ mentality with our gear,” he said. “The gear that we make absolutely must work for hikers. That’s where our ‘first principle philosophy’ comes from. Instead of building off of popular designs, we think things through from the ground up to start with the core shape that will work best for the end goal. In doing so, we can have a more functional tent with less seams, less weight and less complexity. It’s important that we focus on the hikers’ needs and literally start from scratch to build the tent based on those needs.”
Information and videos about Durston Gear may also be found on Instagram (with 25,000 followers and counting) and the company’s YouTube channel that showcases videos of personal hikes and trips, gear reviews and much more.
Durston’s personal hiking / backpacking experience has been 20 years in the making, when he enjoyed his first trek in the outdoors at the age of 17. He said he discovered ultralight gear at the age of 25, which helped make hiking more fun for him.
He guesses that he has hiked at least 5,000 miles over the years, amassing more than 400 total hikes.
In 2014, he and his wife – who is also an avid hiker – trekked the Pacific Crest Trail, their first really long hike.
“That was a 2,600-mile journey that took us about 4 ½ months to complete,” he fondly recalled.
Another hiking memory that stands out for him was a recent trip through rich history.
“I’ve been reading about early explorers in the Rockies who were climbing in the early 1900s,” he said. “They went in with crews and horses and used axes to cut their way in, and most of the heyday was over a century ago. There’s this one spot in the Rockies where I knew they had been to in this book I was reading, and this summer I went in there and found the trail.
“It was exciting to me that someone was there more than 100 years ago cutting their way through it – you can still see the axe marks on the trees – and at the end of the trail there’s this lake with glaciers pouring into it,” he continued. “It’s not just gorgeous, it’s overwhelming to see and understand the amazing history there.”
As for experiencing danger, Durston said most of his scary misadventures came from pack rafting, including incidents when he dislocated his shoulder and got his raft stuck in treacherous waters.
He has also experienced many encounters with grizzly bears while hiking in the Rockies.
“So far, they’ve always run off,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been very fortunate.”
When he is not hiking, serving as a devoted father and husband or working on his business, Durston somehow finds time to enjoy the mountains.
“I love the mountains, I enjoy back country skiing and rock climbing, and white-water rafting,” he said. “I volunteer at the Great Divide Trail leading trail restoration projects, working with preservation groups that are restoring historic trails, which is going to make the trails so much better. It deepens the hiking experience. We’re not just there to backpack, we’re also understanding the area’s history and environment. It’s pretty special.”
Durston encourages all hikers, regardless of experience, age and health, to conduct research before hitting the trails.
“It is absolutely essential for everyone to do the proper research,” he said. “Every hiker must figure out what they are specifically looking for in their gear, in the area they wish to explore. Once the hiker has become more educated, only then should they purchase gear. And really take the time to figure out what type of hiker they want to be. Don’t be afraid to start out small.”
When asked why hiking and backpacking is so special to him, Durston said he has two important reasons.
“The first is that I really feel a strong connection to the outdoors,” he said. “It’s gorgeous, wild, complicated, unpredictable and fascinating. The most phenomenal thing in the world is the natural landscape.
“The second reason is that I love adventure and challenges,” he continued. “You can go to places you’ve never been to before. If you want it to be, backpacking can be very challenging and exciting, and it can most certainly become a tremendously important part of your life.”Read more and purchase Durston Gear products here