Superior Wilderness Designs: Semi-Custom Packs Made in Northern Michigan

Maria Weidich

Superior Wilderness Designs Founders wit their packs on

Before Superior Wilderness Designs’ Brandon and Ashley McIntyre set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017, their obsession with quality lightweight gear led them to make their own, including their backpacks.  

Not unlike many thru-hikers, the McIntyres were also looking to make a little extra cash to fund their extended adventure. As the quality of their own gear improved, and the drive to make some extra money for the hike increased, Brandon thought, “maybe we’ll throw some pictures of these packs online and see if anyone wants one.”

Turns out, several people wanted one. 

Superior Wilderness Designs founder packing up their packs near a mountain

Before they got to Campo, they sold nearly 30 packs. “I didn’t know what I was doing at that point, and we didn’t know what to expect,” Brandon laughed. “I always thought backpacks were cool and have always been drawn to them. Making them felt like the ultimate thing to me; maybe this can be something.”

After a successful thru-hike, and no concrete plans in place, Brandon “Stitch” and Ashley “Good Lady”, returned to their Michigan home and have been dedicated to hand crafting ultralight backpacks, now with way more confidence, ever since.

Ultralight Long Haul 50L - Internal Frame by Superior Wilderness Designs

In their tiny 300-square foot attic, the first evolution of Superior Wilderness Designs’ minimalist thru-hiking packs were created from start to finish. “But people were not shy about telling us what they wanted,” Brandon chuckled. As a picky hiker himself who knows what he wants, Brandon was more than willing to oblige to their requests.

“Customers would give us a whole list of notes of what they wanted as far as features, additional pockets and colors.” While the bones of the pack are Brandon’s own unique designs, every pack is ultimately made to order. “They’re pretty much all semi-custom,” Brandon explained. “I feel like everyone ultimately wants that, and it’s now what we’re known for.”

SWD workshop

When the McIntyres relocated to a small township (population 283) in Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula in 2020, the move provided not just more room to work, but more space to play.

The cramped sewing attic was replaced with a spacious pole barn “out back” adjacent to their property, lending ample space for manufacturing. 

SWD co-founder Ashley wearing her backpacking

Now surrounded by state forests and water ways, Brandon and Ashley are outside daily in, well, superior product-testing ground. The Long Haul, the Movement, and newly released SL packs can all carry up to 35-40 pounds comfortably and are a solid choice for backpacking light.

But when the couple found themselves getting into pack rafting, their new hobby naturally led to needing new gear. “I’ve always enjoyed designing stuff for what I’m personally into,” Brandon said. “That’s when you actually come up with the best stuff.” Enter their “ultralight load hauling monster” packs like the Big Wild and Wolverine which offer burlier suspension and can comfortably haul 50 pounds without awful shoulder tug.  

superior wilderness designs founders testing their packs in the mountains

Lighter than anything in this category and ideal for pack rafting, extended trips or front country adventures, they quickly saw the demand for these 50L and 70L options. “It certainly is a niche that isn’t quite filled, and there’s a huge user group for packs like this.”

Superior Wilderness Designs knows there are many different sub-areas of backpacking, and whether it’s a 12-ounce pack for a solo thru-hiker or a 70L gear-hauler for a family overnight, they’re proud to offer it all. Designing a piece of backpacking gear as vital as a backpack, putting it out into the world and having other people find value in it is never lost on the McIntyres. “Not to sound dramatic, but it’s cool to see people feel that way about something you made with your own hands that could potentially change their life for the better.”

SWD Superior Wilderness Design founders in life jackets for rafting

From designing, cutting, sewing, customer service, and marketing, it’s just Brandon and Ashley at the helm cranking out 15-20 backpacks a week. “I don’t know what the secret recipe is,” Brandon laughed. “Production is pretty dialed in and we can do quite a bit, even with just two people.” 

The two-person team will soon become three as the couple is about to welcome their first baby this summer. “This year is going to be interesting,” Brandon laughed, “but we’re looking forward to learning how to backpack and be in the woods with a baby in tow.” While nothing is confirmed, you better believe this new adventure will inspire more innovation and creativity for Superior Wilderness Designs. 

SWD founders under an ultralight tarp shelter with their gear


Originally from Alaska, Maria currently resides in Montana with her husband, two young daughters and chocolate lab named Echo. When she’s not chasing her kids or that next running goal, you can find her weekend-warrioring in the mountains or thinking about her next cup of coffee.



Ultralight Long Haul 50L - Internal Frame by Superior Wilderness Designs
Ultralight Long Haul 50L Pack by Superior Wilderness Designs



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