GoLite, Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Brand, Is Back. Sorta.
Three years after the pioneering ultralight backpacking brand declared bankruptcy, it's relaunching under new ownership
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Three years after ultralight backpacking gear company GoLite filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its assets, the brand is back—at least in name. On Tuesday, GoLite announced its relaunch under new ownership.
Aside from the moniker, not much will be the same about the new GoLite. The logo is different, the product is different, and for the time being, the new owners have no plans to make tents or backpacks or specialize in ultralight equipment—the very products that made the original GoLite so popular with thru-hikers. Instead, GoLite 2.0 will be launching in January with a line of athletic outdoor apparel.
According to Andrew Skurka, a columnist for Outside who worked for GoLite seasonally from 2003 to 2007, the new brand seems to be picking up where the old GoLite left off. In the years before its demise, GoLite had started making more athletic and lifestyle apparel to fill its dozens of brick-and-mortar stores. That switch was ultimately the company’s downfall. “One mistake of the original GoLite was changing their identity every year or two,” says Skurka. “They never stopped long enough to own any category.” By 2014, the company had tied up too much cash in lifestyle apparel it couldn’t sell and moved to dissolve the business.
When GoLite went on sale in 2015, a Taiwan-based holding company named EGI Ltd. bought the naming rights and trademark. Ryan Hemmerling, founder of ExOfficio, had worked with EGI, got wind of the acquisition, and expressed interest in coming on board to help develop the brand. EGI said yes pretty quickly, and Hemmerling spent the next year building a small team of outdoor-industry veterans from companies like Patagonia, ExOfficio, and Royal Robbins. Some had been customers of the former GoLite in its heyday of ultralight hiking and backpacking gear. “We spent a long time talking about what the relaunch of GoLite would look like,” says Josh Clifford, GoLite’s brand manager. “Would it look like the original? If it would be different, how would it be different?” Ultimately, they settled on different.
The product line will center around what the company calls Outletics, a mashup of technical outdoor apparel and athletic training apparel—essentially outdoor-oriented athleisure with a heavy emphasis on performance. “I go out hiking and see people wearing North Face tops with Brooks running shoes, or Nike running tights with an Arc’teryx jacket,” Clifford says. GoLite’s goal is to fill the gap between hardcore, technical outdoor brands and fitness brands and ultimately create apparel that transitions from trail to town. (It’s not the only brand to move in this direction.) All in all, a far cry from the ultralight technical packs, tents, and shells that made GoLite such fan favorite with core long-distance hikers.
However, not all of the original GoLite legacy is lost. The new owners are upholding the mantle of environmentally conscious business. “We loved what GoLite stood for,” Clifford says. “It was a great opportunity to evolve the original brand to mean ‘go light on the planet.’” GoLite is manufacturing its apparel using solar-powered factories and waterless dye processes when possible. Almost all of its fabrics are Bluesign approved, and roughly 80 percent are made from recycled materials. The brand will also donate clothing to doctors and other aid workers in developing nations and has already made its first trip to Uganda to give more than 12,000 uniform shirts to doctors in a refugee camp.
Luckily for the old GoLite faithful, the company that specialized in ultralight backpacking gear does still exist, albeit under a different name. When GoLite went under in 2015, founder Demetri Coupounas bought the patents to several of its most popular designs, and opened a new company, called My Trail Co., which Skurka calls a “smarter and more deliberate GoLite.”
My Trail has a small line that focuses exclusively on backpacks, tents, technical outerwear, and base layers. “We’ve carried over the things we were doing right,” Coupounas says. “That is terrific, high-performance, durable, lightweight products.” What it’s not doing: reopening tons of stores or selling lifestyle apparel. My Trail, which has been up and running for two years, sells direct to consumer and has a single flagship store in downtown Boulder. Many of the packs, tents, and puffies lining the shelves are tweaked versions of GoLite classics.
In the end, it seems like the best of both worlds: Fans can still get their fix of well-designed ultralight gear, and a new philanthropic, environmentally conscious company gets to see the light of day.