It was on a modified kayak on the French Broad River where I got my first experience with the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina. After watching a number of outdoors gear manufacturers slide on their ‘Bellyaks‘ down a wooden flight of stairs and into the river, we got to talking about this cool new way to get on the water.

More than any sales pitch, what caught my interest was the friendliness of the group—everyone seemed to be coming from the same place, living in the same region and grasping for the same goals with their brands; it was community, not competition, that came from these gear builders. Over a long weekend in Asheville with member brands of the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina, I got a look at high-quality gear and the unique cooperative organization, along with the place, that inspires them.

The Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina Offer a Local Spin on the Outdoors Industry

a group of gear journalists and manufacturers in asheville

Image from the OGB

While Asheville’s breweries are world-famous and its population growth has been on an exponential incline in the last decade, the surrounding outdoors have played a major role in the city’s visibility in the past decade. The western North Carolina area now plays host to 30+ outdoors gear brands, each meeting a specific need for hikers, bikers, rafters and more in the area around Asheville, and nationally. The presence is so strong in the area that building an outdoor gear community seemed obvious, and the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina was born.

“The OGB was created to unify and help amplify the voice of local WNC outdoor gear manufacturers,” said Kyle Mundt of SylvanSport, in a quote on the OGB website. “Since its inception, it has grown in ways I never could have anticipated.” Participating companies have access to media exposure, startup growth and mentorship, grants, seminars, and so much more, allowing smaller brands to have a bigger impact on the national market—all from the place where they started.

During my time in Asheville, I got to check out great items from these gear brands including a tricked-out toy trailer from SylvanSport, ultralight camping hammocks from Eagle’s Nest Outfitters, and much more. Beyond just the upgraded gear, it was a unique outdoor community on display, where experience and tips are shared between brands, rather than kept secret. As the outdoors industry continues to grow and increase in popularity, its groups like these that allow outdoors enthusiasts to see cooperative efforts towards innovative gear and more outdoor experiences to come.

Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson

Kevin is the Assistant Editor for The Dyrt, with bylines in National Geographic Traveler and Atlas Obscura. Although originally from the swamps of Washington, D.C., he's now based in the trees of Portland. He's been interested in geography and travel since seeing his first map as a kid, and is now working toward seeing it all in person. You can find him exploring the coastal beaches or a record store in his free time.