Gryphon Gear’s founder Dr. Gary Benninger wasn’t always focused on warm, lofty, technology-driven sleeping bags and quilts. But his obsession for innovating and creating gear to keep him warm in the mountains spans most of his lifetime.
As a young Eagle Scout, he got his hands on an antique sewing machine, using it to make himself a shell garment based on the principles employed by Admiral Richard Byrd during his Arctic expeditions.
Gary later earned a Ph.D. in Physics, and a position as a NASA scientist soon followed.
Another thing that followed Gary: cold winters.
After college, he joined the Cleveland Mountaineering Club, which took him on numerous cold-weather outings to Alaska, Wyoming, the Adirondacks, and a -25 degree trip in the White Mountains.
To prepare for the chill, Gary started sewing his own gear, tailoring it to his exact, foul-weather needs.
His custom-made down jackets, pants, and sleeping bags caught the attention of his mountaineering buddies. “Everybody thought my gear was as good as or better than you can buy,” Gary said. “One friend bought six of my sleeping bags!”
He soon made a real business out of his craft, but it eventually fell to the wayside as his young family and career took precedence.
But in late 2019, after retiring from his 9-to-5 day job, he decided to give it another go.
Mix together Gary’s passion for science, numbers and details with his enthusiasm for backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering, and you have Gryphon Gear.
“This is something I really hadn’t finished,” Gary said of launching his newest outdoor brand.
“It’s had its challenges, but I enjoy the hell out of it,” he said.
So, why sleeping bags and quilts?
Even though Gary was familiar with expedition-quality parkas and pants, he decided to focus on sleep systems for now. “With a small company, you can’t take a shotgun approach. We wanted to focus, not blow our brains out making too many things,” he joked.
While there have been some design changes over the decades, the biggest evolutions for Gary come down to materials. “Back then, the best down was 550 fill power. Today, we’re all using 900 fill power.”
And not surprisingly, materials are about half the weight they were when Gary began his craft.
But, when every sleeping bag and quilt maker is using lofty down, ultralight fabrics and weightless hardware, how does a brand stand out?
“At the end of the day, it is what you create when you put those materials together that matters,” Gary said.
Ultimately, Gryphon Gear is committed to building the brand on innovation.
“Innovative designs and innovative technology – that’s my approach,” Gary said. “Unique, technology-based designs that push the envelope.”
“We know that more down means more loft and more loft means more warmth,” he explained. As such, Gryphon Gear over-stuffs its bags and quilts by 80%.
“We don’t go cheap on the down, that’s the point. This ensures our products exceed our stated temperature ratings, and cold spots as a result of shifting down, are much less likely.”
Gryphon Gear takes a scientific approach when designing gear for cold weather, considering the four types of heat transfer: conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. Through this process, the brand has secured five patents with a sixth one pending.
Take one look at the technical specs and explanations Gryphon Gear illustrates on its website, and it’s apparent Gary has done the math, and double checked it, too.
“Innovating is the key to being different and the key to advancing the technology,” Gary said.
Clearly, Gary enjoys this creative outlet the most. “I’m into gear, I have a creative thing going, and I like to make stuff,” he said. “There are not many positions where you really have the freedom to express yourself. And, it’s very rewarding because being your own boss is a pretty good thing.”