California-based Eliza Bui was inspired to start making lightweight backpacking accessories after a trip to the Grand Canyon with her partner, Shannon. In the off-season from hiking, Eliza became involved in the ultralight community and started looking for ways to improve upon existing designs. This past year, she started Westbound Gear, also called WEBO Gear, drawing on thru-hiker slang.
Characterized by a graphic designer’s eye for clean lines and bold colors, Westbound Gear offers an array of small pouches, bags, and external pockets that can be worn on the shoulder or on the waist. These accessories are durable, lightweight, and convenient, and can be attached to a pack or carried on their own. They’re also stylish, adding a pop of color to any backpacking setup.
Starting the business has been a major step outside of Eliza’s comfort zone.
“The biggest challenge was just getting started,” she says. “I was hesitant with everything: learning to sew, using the sewing machine, starting an Instagram, taking photos.” The best part has been connecting with other small brands, and starting to get her feet under her in the cottage industry world.
While her company is just six months old, Eliza says the journey so far has been a mixed bag—a good mixed bag, but certainly with ups and down. Sometimes it has been easier than she thought, and sometimes more challenging.
“You never know if your designs will get great feedback and help the community through their hike,” she says. “It’s always easy to be your biggest critic, so it can be hard to remind yourself that you have to be confident in what you put out there.”
The first thing that catches your eye from the Westbound Gear offerings is a bold, bright fanny pack. The Thru Hip Pack is a structured, lightweight, durable fanny pack, and will soon be offered in an eye-catching rainbow stripe pattern. These brightly colored packs are made from X-Pac, which means they’re durable, highly water resistant, and look dang good on their own or combined with your main pack.
Despite the popularity of her fanny packs, her favorite piece of gear has to be the Shoulder Pouches. These pouches attach to the shoulder straps on your pack, and lock in place with secure clips. Like the other Westbound Gear offerings, these pouches are very watertight thanks to Eliza’s choices of materials and zipper closures.
“Shoulder Pouches are a good alternative for ultralight hikers who might not have a fanny pack or hip belt pockets,” she says.
The Shoulder Pouches are also made from X-Pac, and have a main pocket with an easily accessible mesh outer pocket for small items. These pouches are substantial enough to hold a phone, snacks, and a hiker wallet without feeling clunky. These are especially handy for this year, as they are the perfect spot to keep a mask accessible without getting it dirty.
Like many new startups, Westbound Gear pouches, fanny packs, and wallets are all made right in Eliza’s apartment. She designs the products on her computer, prints and cuts them at their kitchen table, then uses Shannon’s sewing machine to put them together.
As she grows, Eliza hopes to expand her offerings with more materials (Dyneema is on the list) and additional colors and designs. At this point, she offers several different models and designs in her Shoulder Pouches, Fanny Packs, and Hiker Wallets. Customers can choose from her selection of bright, color-blocked designs, or more low-key blacks and whites. There are also several options for modifications / internal pockets, perfect for hikers who appreciate even more organization in their gear.
Westbound Gear is big on representation in the queer and BIPOC community. In an industry often cited for a lack of diversity, queer and BIPOC-owned businesses offer a confidence boost for people who might not otherwise feel comfortable in an often non-diverse community. This representation matters, and new hikers seeing other hikers like themselves as confident creators in the industry can only be beneficial.
Overall, the community-building aspect is the highlight of the business for Eliza. Westbound Gear has helped her connect to other queer, BIPOC people in the backpacking world. Her hope is that at some point, she will be able to partner with LGBTQ+ organizations in the outdoor community, using Westbound Gear to help amplify marginalized voices in the industry and make everyone feel welcome on the trails.
Note: GGG will have stock of WEBO's rainbow-colored hip-packs in late March/ early April 2021.
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