Six Moon Designs’ founder Ron “Fallingwater” Moak is a seasoned thru hiker. In 1977, Ron and his wife, Linda, claimed their place in the history books as the first couple to ever hike the Appalachian Trail southbound.
Two decades later Ron hiked 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail with his son. And then, in the year 2000, he thru-hiked of the Pacific Crest Trail.
For that latter trip, he made a lot of his own gear — everything from his pack and quilt to his shelter. It wasn’t a matter of penny pinching, but a result of the fact that, at the time, lightweight gear wasn’t widely available.
Upon his return from the PCT, Ron decided to take a break from his 20+ year career as a software developer and coder, and instead pour his energy into creating a lightweight backpacking brand.
Six Moon Designs officially launched in 2002 with its Europa Tent. In those early years, Ron primarily focused on shelters and packs, pioneering game-changing designs, including becoming the first company to ever make a tent out of Dyneema.
While thru-hiking spurred the creation of Six Moon Designs, it’s thru-hikers who are now fueling its second wave of growth. In the past year, the Six Moon Designs team has grown from two people (Ron and his son, Brandon) to six folks. Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, head of sales and marketing, is among the newcomers.
“Our philosophy is to provide lightweight, high-quality and, most importantly, affordable equipment to people,” Whitney said, adding that “gear shouldn’t define one’s experience out on a trip. It should just aid it.”
For example, Whitney says, “Why buy a $600 tent, when you could buy a $200 tent, and then have $400 to actually take a trip?”
With tents starting at prices just slightly above what you’d find at Walmart, Whitney said that part of the mission behind Six Moon Designs is reducing the socio-economic barriers to long-distance hiking, which he only half jokingly referred to as “the sport of privilege.”
“We all think the world would be a better place if more people got outside and explored the world around them,” Whitney said.
But just because Six Moon Designs’ gear won’t break the pocket book, doesn’t mean it lacks quality. The team obsessively designs each new product it releases, aiming to “keep pushing the envelope.”
Ron has been teaching the Six Moon Designs newcomers the process of going from prototype to final product, in a slow handing of the reigns to the next generation.
In addition to his love of sales and marketing and backpacking culture in general, Whitney has been particularly thrilled by this aspect of his new job.
“Something came out of my head and now I get to use it out in the field to test it and prototype it,” Whitney said, adding “I feel like a kid every morning getting up to go to Christmas Day.” This feeling is all the more pronounced when contrasted with Whitney’s 17 years as a commodity broker, a career he was successful at but didn’t love.
Whitney’s personal favorite Six Moon Designs gear includes the Deschutes Plus, which he describes as an “ideal one-person shelter” because it has all of the benefits of a lightweight tarp plus bug protection from the included netting.
His favorite two-person shelter is the Haven Tarp, which can be used by itself when there are no bugs or in combination with the Haven Net Tent when mosquitoes are in full force. The Haven Net Tent can actually be set up by itself as a standalone structure serving as “cowboy camping training wheels,” especially if snakes, scorpions or bugs are a concern.
Whitney also said that while Six Moon Designs’ packs tend to get overlooked in the marketplace, they are a great choice for anyone who needs to carry more than a 25-pound load, a position that even the most ultralight of backpackers can find themselves in. Whitney points to his trip last year on the Oregon Desert Trail as an example, where he had to carry seven days of food and three gallons of water out of town, resulting in a 50-pound load.
“We didn’t want to make a pack again that couldn’t comfortably carry a load,” he said.
If you’re curious to see Six Moon Designs gear in person, as well as learn more about some of the new creations the brand has up its sleeve, make your way to a trail event this summer.
“We’ll be at all the trail events this year,” Whitney said. “We look forward to seeing people and showing them what we have.”