Illinois-based Glacial Gear owners Shane and Shereen Petersen are proudly from a place that might not have mountains, but does have “some of the most beautiful remnants of the glacial retreat.”
They talk about the glacial kettles and kames — kettles are formed by massive detached blocks of melting ice that left a crater-like depression, and kames are irregularly-shaped hills made of sand, gravel, and till — and their love for the Ice Age Trail, which has an access point only 35 minutes from their house.
In a part of the country formed by melting glaciers, the name for Glacial Gear was a no-brainer.
“Most people think of actual glaciers when they hear the name,” says Shane, “but we’re proud of the area we live in and how every direction you look was shaped by them.”
Shane’s full-time job is in road construction, but his passion lies in the outdoors. Shereen grew up close to the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail, and has also long made the outdoors a central part of her life.
Whether hunting, skiing, fishing or hiking, Shane was always outside as a kid. His love for hiking was revived less than 10 years ago though, and through this, he realized he “hated every towel” he used for wiping sweat during hiking and backpacking trips. He’d long been a fan of natural fibers, but couldn’t find camp towels made from anything other than synthetic fibers.
“None of the man-made fabrics I used really did the job,” says Shane, “I couldn’t find one with an attachment point that worked the way I envisioned.”
With that in mind, Shane started looking into making his own camping and hiking towels from natural fibers. Around 2018, he cobbled together a merino handkerchief and a piece of cording. It was just what he had imagined: accessible from his pack and made from the right kind of material. He used the towel for a year, and then decided to start making more.
After realizing they wanted to make more merino towels, Shane and Shereen started to put the pieces together to form their company. They tested items, built a website, and launched in April 2020.
“Starting a company coinciding with a pandemic was interesting to say the least,” they said. “We had a month last spring that we were unable to get merino shipped to us because everything had been shut down, but despite that we didn’t skip a beat.”
ZQ out of New Zealand is their one and only fabric source. Above all else, Shane and Shereen “love animals of every shape and size.” That meant searching for a merino source that prioritized animal welfare and sustainability.
They said it took more research than they ever imagined, but in the end, they found ZQ to be the perfect organization, holding social responsibility and animal welfare to the highest standard. ZQ also sells merino in small quantities, which is perfect for a small brand.
Shereen and Shane run Glacial Gear out of their home, and have turned their daughter’s old bedroom into a sewing studio. Their dining room is used for fabric cutting, inventory sorting, and order fulfillment. Their tasks are split: Shane cuts the majority of the fabric and does the serger sewing. Shereen does all of the finish sewing and adds the labels and cording.
Their best seller is called the Trail Rag, which is a durable, lightweight towel you can attach to the outside of your pack. They also offer a Merino Blanket as well as an ultralight Glacial Gaiter, which can be used as a headband, eye mask for bright nights, or as an ear warmer. All items come in a variety of earthy colors that complement the deeply wooded area where the Petersens live.
“The biggest success we’ve had so far has been building relationships with our customers,” says Shane. “One of my favorite things has been hearing about their stories and just truly caring about them and being a part of the adventures that bring joy to their lives.”
They’re hoping to continue to grow the company, and have a longer-term goal of eventually making it Shane’s full-time job. Until then, they’re happy to take their sustainable, lightweight, natural merino items on plenty of testing trips.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com