Danny Warnock is a full-time software engineer, a part-time musician, a husband, a father, and the owner of Minnesota-based Superior Gear. Known for hammocks that come with integrated insulation, this creative design was the jumping-off point for the fast-growing company.
“No,” Danny says, “I don't relax or sleep much.”
Danny spent the majority of his childhood in Kenya, where being outside was an important part of his life. Once his family moved to the US, his father introduced him to backpacking in the Sierra Nevada and Daniel Boone National Forest. In college, he was introduced to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota, a massive collection of lakes, forests and connecting bodies of water.
“I fell in love with canoe camping in the BWCA and have been almost every year since,” Danny says. “You could say that the ideas and problem-solving of Superior Gear were born there.”
The first piece of gear Danny ever made was a group-sized tarp. He was looking for something large and lightweight, but the ultralight options were out of his price range. He contacted a hot-air balloon company and bought SilNylon from them, building his own tarps from the material.
He made a few other pieces of gear, then took a break until a solo trip to BWCA that had him sleeping in a hammock for an extended period of time. Hammock camping was an experience he appreciated, but he felt it could be improved in both setup and comfort.
When Danny returned from his trip, he started more in-depth research about hammock camping. He learned about underquilts, and the need for proper insulation in a hammock. He saw room for improvement with this aspect as well. The underquilts would slide around and feel drafty, so he reconfigured the idea into an integrated unit. He sourced the fabrics from different manufacturers, and bought thrift-store jackets to extract the down. In the end, what he created was the first prototype of his flagship product: the Superior Hammock with an integrated down underquilt.
The hammock set up quickly and the insulation was part of the sleep system, so it didn’t slide around. Danny experienced no drafts when he took it out for test trips. After friends asked where he’d gotten it, then if they could buy one, he started thinking it might be a viable business. Thus, Superior Gear was born.
Danny is proud of many aspects of his company, but most of all, that they offer a “simple and complete hammock camping system.” He’d found other hammock products lacking either in simplicity or comfort, and created a unique solution. The integration of the underquilt isn’t the only part of the hammocks he talks about — the suspension buckle is intuitive and easy to adjust, helping take the learning curve out of hammock rigging.
The whole setup is lightweight — the system rated down to 45 degrees weighs 31 ounces for the insulated hammock and rigging.
“Hammock camping can be intimidating to newbies,” says Danny. “Everything about our designs are geared toward simplicity and being super warm, while still designed for lightweight backpacking.”
Everything Superior Gear offers is centered around hammock camping. Their best-seller is the down-insulated hammock, but they also offer ultralight, simplified hammocks like the DayLite Hammock, a featherweight 4-ounce model rated to 250 pounds. They sell bug nets and tarps, and additional insulation in the Superior Comforter, which can be used as a top or bottom quilt. As with many cottage-industry brands, customizable bundles and specifications are also available.
Superior Gear is a small operation currently run out of Danny’s home. However, they are anticipating moving into a commercial space soon as demand keeps increasing. At some point in the near future, Danny hopes to build a factory and make Superior Gear his full-time job.
Danny strives to make quality gear without being prohibitively priced. This is a constant balancing act, which makes margins one of the most challenging aspects of operating Superior Gear. Material sourcing can be difficult and prices are constantly fluctuating. But above all else, the products offered by Superior Gear are labor intensive to build, adding to the tightrope walk between price and profit.
“Starting a business has been harder than I ever could have imagined,” says Danny. Keeping up with marketing, design, production, shipping, material sourcing, and the administrative side of things is an overwhelming amount of balls to juggle ... especially for someone who was already busy.
But it’s all worth it when you realize you solved a problem that you, yourself, experienced out in the woods, Danny says. The cherry on top? Helping to make hammock camping more comfortable and accessible for new hikers!
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