Before Jonny ‘Mayfly’ Waldman started crafting “super-duper-hyper-nano-ultralight” camp shoes, he remembers his feet feeling miserable after hiking.
When he was young, his best buddy and both of their moms would go on weeklong backpacking trips every summer in the Shenandoah Mountains.
“There’s a lot to love about backpacking, but the abuse inflicted on one’s feet does not make the list,” Jonny said.
“I internalized the best thing about it was when you finally stopped at the end of the day,” he laughed. “My feet were very unhappy.”
But that didn’t stop his insatiable appetite for the mountains. “I’ve been playing outside in every way since I was old enough to not have a babysitter,” Jonny said. “Once I went up a mountain, I couldn’t get enough of it.”
He has the outdoor resume to prove it, too — decades spent rock climbing epic peaks, scrambling up almost every one of Colorado’s 14ers, and summiting all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers.
Once Jonny turned 40, though, rock climbing pursuits became less important, and he found himself more interested in solo endurance goals, like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
In an effort to have happy feet and an even lighter pack, Jonny crafted a crude pair of camp sandals out of Coroplast® aka those corrugated plastic yard signs. “I hacked it up, started playing with what cord fit through. It was chunky and jagged, but it worked,” he laughed.
Fast forward to March of 2020. “I was going on hikes to test my backpack, I packed up my food drops, and I had a ticket to Atlanta. I was ready to go. Then, days later the world shut down.”
Like many aspiring thru-hikers that year, Jonny’s plans to hike the AT were foiled.
The months of hunkering down that ensued led Jonny to tinker, build and scheme. He reconsidered the integrity of his DIY camp shoes and was convinced he could make them even better, and that other people might want them, too.
Before launching Mayfly Ultralight, Jonny refined every aspect of his ultralight sandals, including buckles, cords, knots, adjustability and durability. He also engineered two styles: the Nymph (with a toe thong) and the more popular Imago (no toe thong).
Jonny thinks hikers tend to lean toward the Imago because of their versatility. “Or maybe they’re all dads,” he joked, “and they all want to wear socks!”
Just how preposterously ultralight are they, you ask? A mere 1.8 ounces for the pair! In hiker nomenclature: that’s less than a Snickers bar or about the same as 21 gummy bears.
Yes, the sandals are light and tough, but they’re still only intended for kicking around camp. Jonny joked that he’s still in the testing phase of counting the number of tent laps the soles can endure.
“I’ve tried a lot of weird things in the outdoors,” Jonny laughed in reference to the simplicity and near weightlessness of his shoes. “Everyone has their preferences, but half the fun is to dork-out and look at the numbers and see how it adds up.”
“What was once so weighty that it was written off as a luxury item is now so lightweight that it’s an essential item.”
The brand name was inspired by the term given to thru-hikers who intentionally delay their start until May. “Who needs the head start of the tortoise when you can zip along like a hare?” Jonny asked. “That’s what a Mayfly is: a backpacker who travels faster and more comfortably because they travel lighter.”
“I knew that traveling light was a priority. But traveling stupid light had less appeal because it often means suffering more. I wanted simply to maximize my comfort while minimizing the weight on my back.”
As far as getting back on trail and walking from Georgia to Maine, Jonny has no imminent plans just yet. But he did complete the Colorado Trail earlier this year, as well as tackle a few of Colorado’s 14ers he hadn’t yet to summited.
“I’m psyched that someday, when I start walking north from Springer Mountain, my feet won’t be in a world of suffering.”
“Metaphorically speaking, why take a tank when you can take a bike? Less weight equals more comfort, which equals more exploring, which equals more fun. That’s the simple but profound idea at the heart of ultralight adventure, and it’s the notion that propelled me to design these camp shoes in the first place. It’s time to quit sloggin’!”