While thru hiking the Continental Divid Trail in 2017, the idea for a new outdoor gear company took shape. Conor 'Dos Eggrolls' Brown had known since his Eagle Scout years that he wanted to design and make outdoor gear, but it wasn’t until pounding out those long day-after-day trail miles that the idea fully blossomed.
“I realized there was a niche to fill in the outdoor market for more expressive, fun designs,” he said.
He described the scene of walking into a restaurant filled with thru hikers, and all the backpacks crowded in a corner having basically the exact same, utilitarian look. Sure, there were some hand-sewn patches on them to give them a bit of personality and flair, but that’s about where it stopped.
“I’m just as much of a gear junkie as anyone else. I definitely understand the need for ultralight and more technical gear, but also self expression,” Conor said.
So, when Conor returned home at the end of his Thru Hike, he launched High Tail Designs — a brand that currently makes ultralight fanny packs, stuff sacks and rain mitts.
All High Tail Designs gear is covered in bold colors and playful designs done by sublimating Dyneema. To Conor's knowledge, no other outdoor gear brands are doing that.
Not yet celebrating its first anniversary in business, High Tail Designs is off to a roaring start. Conor’s degree in industrial design from Virginia Tech and his partnership with a company that specializes in custom apparel and dye sublimation have given him a big leg up.
But the true fuel for growth has been tremendous support from the thru hiking community. Conor started his business by making a bunch of prototypes and sending them out to thru hikers and other adventurers. All he asked for in return was feedback and social media posts. This helped him quickly refine products and build hype.
“Word spreads really well up and down the trail,” he said. “It’s really humbling to see that.”
Conor says he think his products resonate because thru hikers are “just a bunch of goofs” who wear Hawaiian shirts and trucker hats and call themselves Hiker Trash.
“It’s about being out there and having fun, so why wouldn’t you want gear that looks fun and also works really well,” he said.
High Tail Design's best seller — and one of Conor’s personal favorites — is an ultralight fanny pack called “Low Poly.” It’s covered in a geometric, black-and-white, line-drawn depiction of a mountain range on the CDT. The design was done by Japanese illustrator Ryosuke 'Sketch' Kawato, who Conor met while out on the trail. Conor was hiking northbound and Ryosuke was hiking southbound.
“We met in Idaho and chatted and when I got back I asked him to design a colorway,” Conor said.
Another popular colorway is the "For the Birds" ultralight fanny pack. The design for this one was done by Conor's longtime friend who he did the CDT with.
"He's not really an artist, but I thought his bird designs were quaint and funny and needed to be a print," Conor said.
The biggest challenge Conor has faced so far has been fabric sourcing.
“Dyneema is a notoriously difficult material to get ahold of,” he said. “It’s really been only a cottage industry fabric for a decade, but now the fabric is entering the mainstream.”
Similarly, finding that sweet spot between durability and weight has been a hard line to walk. Conor wants High Tail Designs to make products that last, but that also weigh mere ounces.
Someday, Conor hopes that High Tail Designs is one of the big names in the technical cottage outdoor gear industry — one that sponsors thru hikers and has a full catalog of product offerings.
And, just like a thru hike, getting to that point is done one step at a time: Check emails, fulfill orders, post to social media, get those prints, press them, cut them, sew them, package them, ship out product. Repeat!
But, on the occasional down day, Conor is instead able to focus on R&D. In those moments he gives his full attention to dreaming up and designing new products.
High Tail Designs is planning two new releases in the near future, both of them rain jackets. The first will be an emergency rain jacket to take with you on those days when you’re not really expecting bad weather but still need to be prepared.
“It will be the lightest rain gear you can get with no frills, no whistles,” Conor said.
The second product will be a fully featured rain jacket made of waterproof, breathable Dyneema.
Also, just like a thru hike, for Conor starting a business is just as much about the journey itself.
“I love it, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” he said. “I’m super excited to get up in the morning and leave at the end of the day having done a lot of good work.”