What happens when you get an engineer who is also an avid ultralight backpacker? The strong, lightweight gear of Suluk 46.
Steve Evans is the owner and creator of this backpacking gear company out of Toronto, Ontario. Initially, Steve wanted gear to suit his own ultralight needs, which led him to start designing and building his own items—an origin story with a singular, personal purpose.
Steve spent most of his life designing and manufacturing robotic systems and automations for various industries. Eventually, he began applying those design engineering skills to his hobbies, seeing how he could more efficiently update what he was doing outside of work. That included cars, motorcycles, and of course, backcountry gear.
“Every day I dream about adventures,” he says. “I think about what kind of gear I need, and plan those trips relentlessly.” Steve has no shortage of hobbies, but says that his true passion and calling is the act of going out on those adventures.
So it’s not surprising that Steve has been spending time in the backcountry for as long as he can remember. He grew up exploring the parks and public lands in Canada with his father.
As Steve became more involved in backcountry travel, he started to combine his engineering education and experience with enhancing the gear he already used.
He started by inquiring in the “Make Your Own Gear” Forums on Backpacking Light, a popular site for ultralight backpackers who are deeply invested in gear, and in discussing it.
“I inquired to the group about making an ice axe that was built for someone who may not need the strength of a UIAA-certified axe,” he says. “In certain situations, we could get by with something that was lighter.”
Steve ended up developing the ice axe project in those forums, using feedback from members to make the end product. From there, he wrote an article for Backpacking Light that explained the design, testing, and manufacturing process of this ice axe.
As with most new, niche gear, it attracted the attention of readers, who wanted to purchase one. Once he built ice axes for that group, Steve created a website to organize the orders. In 2008, Suluk 46 was born.
The name comes from two distinct meanings: Suluk translates to “feather” in some northern community languages of Canada.
“These indigenous peoples were the original ultralighters of Canada,” says Steve. “They lived off the land for an entire lifetime, relying only on the resources that the Earth provides. They are important to Canada’s history, and unbelievably impressive.”
46 represents the line of latitude that crosses Silver Peak in Killarney Provincial Park, Steve’s favorite Provincial Park in Ontario.
The idea behind Suluk 46 was to create intentionally engineered gear for hikers like himself: athletes who like to move fast and light, covering big miles deep in the backcountry.
At the time—more than 12 years ago—ultralight, durable gear wasn’t as common as it is today. Steve had trouble finding this type of gear to suit his needs, especially when his backcountry endeavors took him to remote, extreme locations.
Suluk 46 is known for its ultralight, ultratough gear, including a sub-five-ounce carbon and titanium ice tool, a 46-gram titanium drip coffee maker, and a 13 gram titanium trowel. To put it into comparison, other ultralight ice axes weigh around 11 ounces.
“What you see on the website is a collection of heavily engineered products,” Steve explains. “They are intentionally designed and built at the limit of materials and engineering.”
All of Steve’s gear goes through an intensive process that he describes as “painstaking.” Everything from the design, to the analysis, to the testing is done rigorously, until Steve feels there is little more that can be removed from a piece of gear. Steve is proud of his extremely high strength-to-weight ratios.
Over the years, Suluk 46 products have shipped internationally to thousands of ultralight mountain adventurers. The gear has been used and tested in some of the most extreme climates in the world and on excursions of all lengths and difficulty levels.
Steve is happy with the size of Suluk 46. He has a manufacturing facility with a machine shop and fabrication equipment, where almost all of their products are produced. However, demand has exceeded capacity, and like many specialized, cottage-industry companies, Suluk 46 is often backordered, sometimes with a lengthy lead time. They’ve recently been partnering with a larger local manufacturing facility to help meet the demand, but for the most part, assembly and packaging is done in-house.
While many aspects of the business are exciting for Steve, little is more satisfying than “bringing to market a product that outperforms everything that is readily available.”
“Most companies wouldn’t take the risk of supplying a product that was so specialized,” he says, “but that’s part of the thrill of designing equipment.”
Steve is the ultimate gear builder—designing something he saw a personal need for, testing and using the gear himself, and being the primary consumer. While he never considered starting a company, he waded into the ultralight market at just the right time.
“The infatuation with ultralight backpacking grew at an intense pace,” Steve says “I was there to simply supply what everyone was asking for.”
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
In one of his videos he mentions he tried and failed to build a workable chair, but hasn’t given up on it.
Great article… I checked out their website and the stuff looks brilliant. The only question is can I resist trying it all.
Given the growing popularity of backpacking chairs I can’t be the only one wondering what kind of ultralight backpacking chair Steve could come up with to compete with the 18 ouncer currently in the market.