The first night Dan ‘Hot Pink’ Gerken spent on the 220-mile long John Muir Trail was also his first night of backpacking. Like, ever.
The ANDA Ultralight story begins when Dan, a former firefighter and paramedic, along with his wife Silvia and two other friends, managed to score walk-up JMT permits at Tuolumne Meadows. In the weeks previous, the couple had quit their jobs and sold their possessions, leaving their life in Chicago in search of adventure. Despite an ill-fitting backpack, unnecessary spare clothes, and excessive camera equipment, Dan was smitten … and completely bitten by the backpacking bug.
“I know my body was hurting, but that’s not what I remember. I remember the views, the surroundings, the sunshine, the mountain peaks and massive trees. Words just don’t do it justice. It’s a surreal environment that no one else will experience unless they make the effort.”
Exhausted but exhilarated, Dan and his crew completed the JMT in their three-week timeline. “I walked off knowing my body would eventually feel better, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
“It’s a very difficult hobby, but that’s how I felt about it,” he said of backpacking. “I wanted to do this all the time. I just love it. Of course there are days it’s not as magical, but it’s superseded by those times that are really special.”
Once they completed the JMT, Dan and his wife continued to live nomadically for the next three years. They road tripped across the United States for several months, ending at a Carmax, where they sold their car and promptly hopped on a plane. The couple visited 20 countries over that next year. Finally, in 2020, they settled down in Vietnam, enjoying the warm, tropical beaches, swearing they’d never move back to cold and snowy Chicago again.
Ultimately, the pandemic forced the couple stateside. They laid low in Florida, sheltered in place for a bit, and mulled over what to do next.
Still with that hiking itch, Dan applied for and was granted a PCT thru-hiker permit in the spring of 2021. With refined gear and loads of stoke, Dan soon found himself back in his element.
And, as it turns out, when you whip out a mini hot pink hair brush to tame your mane every morning, your trail family takes notice!
He made it nearly halfway on the PCT, where, unfortunately, family affairs forced Hot Pink to make the difficult decision to step off trail in Quincy, California.
“So, it was time to figure out a new job!” he laughed.
When he was doing his own gear research, before setting out on the PCT, Dan was shocked at the lead times of several gear-making cottage brands. “You couldn’t even buy if you wanted to because their wait time was several months out!” he said.
In response, Dan bought a heavy-duty home sewing machine, queued up “how to thread a sewing machine” on YouTube … and the rest is history.
“At first, I had no idea what I was doing,” he laughed. “I ordered some random fabric, made some reusable shopping bags and stuff pouches for our socks!”
Over time, and with practice, Dan built up his sewing skills. “Top stitch, flat felled seam … I just started watching tutorials! I’d start with small stuff sacks, then added zippers. Eventually, I put all the skills together into larger projects.”
“Then, I just thought, what would I like to use? I’d like to have a bivy, so I guess I’ll make one of those,” he laughed.
Going out on a limb, Dan posted his gear on a Reddit Make Your Own Gear (MYOG) page — and, everything he posted for sale sold out. “People were super awesome and trusting,” Dan laughed. “I was just some random guy on Reddit with a sewing machine!”
This encouraged Dan to create a website and make ANDA Ultralight more official. “It was like having this little baby. I was watching it grow up and I didn’t know if I was ready to share and tell people about it just yet!”
Since 2021, Dan continues to hone his skills with ultralight tarps and bivies. “There are brands that make both tarps and bivies, but they aren’t marketed to work well together. I feel like if you’re making both, you should show people that they’re made to fit and work together.”
His top seller, the “Uno Mas” Tarp, is roomy for one and cozy for two.
“Knowing I take these roles of fabric and cut and transform them into something that someone is trusting and relying on for the enjoyment of their backpacking adventure is so great,” Dan said.
“This is their only shelter. Every tent is great when it’s sunny,” he laughed.
Whenever possible, all the tarps and the bottoms of ANDA bivies are made of 100% recycled ECO SilPoly Ripstop fabric.
“They have the same exact specs as non-recycled stuff, the only difference is limited color selection,” Dan explained. “It costs more than the non-recycled materials, so it’s not the cheapest way to craft, but if it resonates with some people, that’s awesome.”
ANDA is derived from the Spanish word for to walk, to wander or to be in a state of being. “It all speaks to hiking and being in the outdoors. In that moment, it’s just you and hiking, and the rest of those real world worries melt away.”
“No one ever said I wish I brought heavier gear,” Dan joked. “ANDA Ultralight is about enjoying more with less.”