How often does a new company enter the highly competitive market for quality outdoor jackets and clothing … and succeed? Well, Boulder, Colorado-based HIMALI has done just that and judging by their second-generation line, they are excelling.
Full disclosure, company founders Dave Schaeffer and Tendi Sherpa provided at no charge all the gear I have used for evaluation. I’ve been using their first-generation down jacket for over a year now and it has become my goto jacket here in Colorado, on Nepal’s Island Peak last October and this year in Ecuador and Bolivia.
The second-generation is full of small improvements and maintains the quality and durability of its’ predecessor. Here I am on a crisp October day in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Park about to climb the 2nd of the Ptarmigan Fingers next to the Tyndall Glacier.
A quick list of features that I find well designed and implemented include large, large pockets that are strong and suitable for almost anything you need outside your pack, well-sized and fitted hoods for helmets, very strong exterior materials and easy, reliable zippers.
Now for a quick rundown on the new products I’ve been using for a month or so.
The Altocumulus Down Jacket 2.0 Men’s Hooded
This is my go-to down jacket. One of my favorite features is that you will never lose the stuff sack, it’s sewn into an outer pocket! The outer material is Pertex® Quantum ripstop nylon that is truly durable. It’s filled with 4.5 ounces of 850 Hyper DRY® down meaning you don’t have to worry as much if the jacket gets damp from sweat or wet snowfall as it will maintain its warmth. As for the tiny improvements, they include a bit of fleece around the section of the jacket, when fully zipped, that softy touches your mouth and a tiny “zipper garage”, again when fully zipped, keeps the end from poking you. These details show that Dave and Tendi are paying attention to climber’s needs. It retails for $294.95. It also comes in a nonhooded option.
Altitude Down Parka
This jacket is a step-up in terms of fill weight. It shares many of the same features as it’s little brother, the Altocumulus but is twice as warm with 8 ounces of down fill for those extra cold and windy days up high. One nice addition is the fleece-lined front pockets. Overall this is a solid piece that will do the job when called upon. It retails for $394.95.
Ascent Stretch Hoodie
The Ascent Stretch Hoodie is a synthetic insulation layer filled with 100g of Primaloft® Gold Active+ Insulation wrapped in a Toray® Primeflex Nylon Stretch Shell. This makes it one of the most insulated softshells on the market and thus one of the warmest. This piece meets the needs for warmth on a coldish day even in a brisk wind. They say it repels a decent rain but I haven’t tested that. It’s a bit bulky but wears well underneath with one the HIMALI down jackets. I wore it on an ice climb recently and was very pleased. It retails for $249.95. It also comes in a nonhooded option.
Guide Flex Pants
While these pants are only available through their outlet store, for now, I highly recommend them. I wore them on my recent ice climb and now they are my goto winter to shoulder-season pair. They are made of spandex and nylon resulting in a 4-way stretch softshell layer that are incredibly lightweight yet warm and wind-resistant. They excel at repelling water yet breathe well. There are bottom zippers for boot access and an integrated belt tension system to allow you to get the right fit. Overall a great pair of pants.
Time to get to know Dave and Tendi with an interview we just completed.
Q: Let’s start with the people behind HIMALI, Dave and Tendi. Many people know Tendi Sherpa as a 13-time Everest summiteer and IFMGA climbing guide. They may not know he is the Executive Director of TAGnepal Treks & Expedition, leads the Nepal operation for Swiss-based Audan Trekking and is a key leader for the US-based guide company, Climbing the Seven Summits. Tendi, what drives your love of climbing?
Tendi: I really love climbing because it’s simply a tradition for me. I have grown up in the mountains and have worked in the mountains for many years. Nowadays I simply feel that the mountains are like my home and climbers are like family members. The mountains have given me so much in my life, pleasure, a living, friends and introduced me to the world.
Dave, you live in Colorado and are approaching your 33rd birthday. Going to college in Colorado did you climb, ski or study more while at CU? Is HIMALI your full-time gig?
Dave: HIMALI has been a full-time gig, plus some, for about 5 years running 🙂 I started climbing indoors at the age of 12 and shifted to climbing outdoors, snowboarding, and some mountaineering around my mid and later teens. The culture and community had a super positive influence on my life, morals, and life trajectory.
Going to CU, we were right next to the best skiing and climbing in the world. I definitely live by the work hard and play hard mentality. I think a lot of Boulderites and CU students do the same.
Q: Dave, moving to the business side of HIMALI did you always dream of starting your own company while at CU or did it “just happen”?
Dave: I think entrepreneurship is in my bones. I recall trying to sell my baseball cards to friends when I was 8. At 11, I was passing out lawn moving service flyers to my neighborhood and had about 10 weekly customers each summer.
I also spent a lot of part-time hours at REI from ages 16 to 29. I had been brainstorming gear for a long time before “diving in”.
In terms of CU, I approached business school with a true passion to learn about business. I like to think I got a greater benefit vs. the guys trying to pass classes for “the piece of paper”.
Q: In the beginning, you used Crowd Sourcing to fund the business. How about today? Do you have investors or funding your growth through profits?
Dave: We’re forever grateful to the folks who Kickstarted our first jacket! Today, we’re a combination of organic growth, crowdfunding, and outside investment.
Q: Can you talk about your down sourcing and manufacturing process?
Dave: There’s a lot of potential pitfalls in manufacturing practices, especially when it comes to livestock sourcing. Being an animal lover, I believe in the responsible and fair treatment of animals and I wouldn’t enjoy what I’m doing without ethical sourcing and manufacturing practices. Our entire line currently uses RDS certified down.
When choosing our partner factories, I chose the best I could find in the world. Naturally, strict auditing by other large brands and quality control quickly followed. I tour every facility we work with and have found some amazing partners doing amazing things in all avenues.
Q: What about the materials? Some are industry standard but are some of your own design and propriety?
Dave: Most every one of the materials we are sourcing are BLUESIGN certified which has a sustainability-driven process of auditing and influencing environmental controls. In terms of proprietary materials, I’m not sure if any brands are vertically integrated into their fabric or zipper suppliers but I think utilizing the highest performing materials available is what makes the most sense. We’re thoroughly impressed with the options out there and we’re very happy to work in partnership with suppliers such as YKK and Pertex. Amongst other top brands, I’m very confident in these guys to make “the best stuff out there”. We also have some proprietary fabrics in the early stages of development but I’ll have to leave that for another discussion. It will be exciting if it proves true that we can push the envelope forward on the materials side. Still, we are working on that in tandem with fabric mills who have 30+ years of experience in weaving and knitting.
Q: Moving to you and Tendi and the business, how did you two meet?
Dave: I was climbing Aconcagua solo (Normal route – north side). The rangers were super friendly and feeding me constantly, Argentine-style 🙂 I was waiting out a weather window for about 9-10 days. Hanging around the ranger station, I met Tendi and we just hit it off immediately… I noticed Tendi tends to make all of those who meet him feel special. He’s such a humble guy. We stayed in contact and I approached him to partner about 6 months after meeting. He’s the kind of guy with this sort of aura…there’s a solid gold heart somewhere in that guy.
Tendi: I met Dave on Aconcagua at the ranger’s station at Plaza de Mulas when I was guiding there. It was so great to meet with him there, and chatting for a few minutes with him felt as if we had been friends for many years. We became very good friends after that and we continued chatting with each other about both of our experiences in the mountains and plans. Later Dave came up with a very good idea to work together and create the clothing company which I was very interested in immediately. For me, during climbing mountains, I’ve met many, many great people and among them, my friend Dave. He has been one of the most important friends who shares the same dreams and the same philosophies. One of the main reasons I liked working with Dave is that he is always very helpful, super hardworking and no matter how tired he is from the stressful works but still he maintains the good energy and always happy mood.
Q: What was the vision behind HIMALI, how did it get started as a partnership between you two?
Dave: The Himalaya hold the gnarliest peaks and greatest mountaineering challenges on the planet. After visiting Nepal in 2012, I trekked to Everest Base Camp to feel out whether I might attempt Everest someday. I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape and the culture, however, I noticed some unfortunate issues such as unsanitary water and poverty.
I wanted to find a sustainable vehicle to fuel positive change in the region – I believe that a business can be one of the most effective tools to achieve that. In combination with my passion for gear, history in the space, and entrepreneurial background, it all just seemed to make sense. I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for the Sherpa people. I think that often, they still don’t get the credit they deserve.
Partnering with Tendi was a way to take input from one of the strongest and most technically trained mountaineers on the planet. To me, it just made perfect sense to choose him as the primary ambassador for HIMALI and to guide and direct our culture and design principles from a “higher level” and also from a Himalayan perspective.
Tendi: As a Mountain Guide in Himalaya I know how important is it to have the right gear in your bag while guiding on the big hills. I was very excited when Dave came up with the idea of partnership in HIMALI just after a few months of meeting each other and chatting.
One of my dream with HIMALI is to introduce the world to Himalaya Nepal through our brand because it’s truly amazing country with full of natural beauties, culture diversity, land of world’s highest peak Mount Everest and land where Buddha was born, so with this brand name I hope to help Nepal where and how Himalaya develops tourism. Of course, tourism is one of the most important income sources for Nepal.
Beside that, as I am a mountain guide having right gear is always very important for climbing and trekking in Himalayas and there are so many little details that you want to change, so I am very happy that I can get to test my own brand HIMALI when I guide on Everest and other 8000+ peaks in Himalaya and come up with lots of things that we can improve and change for our future productions. And I’m very happy that Dave has been very helpful and positive with the idea and suggestions I come up with. Both Dave and I aim to help with education and clean water projects through our company to bring changes for health and the future.
Besides that, we also want to help climbing the Sherpa community in Nepal getting them the right gears with high-quality products at very reasonable cost. Not many climbing Sherpas and guides in Nepal get a discount on clothing and as you may know that the mountaineering apparel is very important to them too.
Q: As you know, I’ve been using HIMALI gear, kindly provide free to me, for a few years now and has become my goto down jacket. Who are the brains behind the designs?
Dave: Super stoked that you’ve been getting good use out of the gear!! I handle the primary with a lot of input from Tendi. I partnered with him when we were just making t-shirts and hats… I had no idea how solid his design acumen was at that time but he’s IFMGA certified guide who has deep experience with all of the gear we make – he always has solid design input for our designs and the materials we use. He’s usually guiding on serious peaks year-round so I handle a hefty portion of the design legwork. However, Tendi always steps in with solid final input (such as the fleece chin guard)…if we ever back and forth and he puts his foot down, I take it with 99.9% consideration. He’s my boss at the end of the day.
Q: The newly updated line is just out and I love the new details like the fleece-lined mouth guard and zipper garage. Of course, the integrated stuff sack is simply brilliance so what else drove improvements in this 2.0 line?
Dave: We had some great input from Tendi, the rest of our athlete team, and many of our core following who have purchased the product. Also, we went all-out on the materials. We cut zero corners and no cost was spared – we managed to absorb a good chunk of the margin to keep the jackets priced as economically as possible. It’s a slimmer market selling into the high end vs broad range but that’s what gets us stoked and charges our core values, to create gear good enough for the world’s 14 tallest 8,000ers. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. I feel like I’ve really dialed in the materials game and the feedback we’re getting on our newest line seems to confirm.
Q: What is your most popular item?
Dave: Our Altocumulus Down Jacket has been our most popular item since day 1. Down is super versatile – It can last 10-20 years easily if you take care of it. You also can’t beat the performance of down. The design of the Alto Down is really special in that it’s form-fitting. It reduces the volume and thereby decreases having to heat “dead space”. You also get less updraft. I believe in keeping breathable insulation close to your core, and down is a great way to do that. I packed it with just under 5 oz. of Goose down and it’s turned out warmer than I could have expected. This jacket has surprisingly summited almost all of the “7 summits” in the last year – it has been the “go-to” for many guides and climbing expeditions.
Q: I know you “give back” through 5% of net proceeds to selected charities and causes. Would you talk about them?
Dave: Charity: Water is one of the first organizations that we donated to. Clean water is one of the projects that I’m most passionate about. However, with the earthquakes in 2015, we felt we had to step in and shift our donation avenues for the immediate need. Since then, we’ve also donated to organizations such as Sherpa Foundation, and schools in remote regions of Nepal. School is Tendi’s passion project. He speaks 8 languages fluently but never had the opportunity to attend school. He currently sponsors 23 children for schooling – it’s something he’s been doing since before HIMALI.
Q: OK, the elephant in the room is that you are competing against many long-time, well established high-quality brands. How can you compete at your size and why should people buy HIMALI vs other quality brands?
Dave: Fair question. Firstly, I think it’s important to remember that many of my “competitors” are friends, “on and off the court”. I’ll be the first one to tell you that there are a lot of other good jackets out there. I don’t view it as “us vs. them”. To me, it’s like a rock climbing shoe. Every single shoe fits a little differently and there are all types of feet. We have a different fit from many brands and we use higher-performing materials in many cases. Aside from personal design details, our cultural mission is also unique compared to many brands. I feel that the folks who are looking for a more authentic experience combined with premium quality will find us. “If we build it, they will come” 🙂 To date, we’ve sold our product to quite a few prominent athletes and individuals. Believe it or not, we’ve also sold it in over 30 countries.
Q: Finally, Tendi, thoughts on the hanging serac over the Icefall and impact on the spring 2020 season? Dave, any climbs upcoming for you?
Tendi: yes that’s been my concern about the hanging sérac and hopefully this will disappear by next spring, fingers crossed.
Dave: I’m planning to knock off a couple other of the 7 summits this coming summer. Admittedly, I’m not in my peak shape these days after working long hours with HIMALI for the last 5 years. It’s ironic that I had to sacrifice my climbing since starting the brand but now that our momentum has picked up, I’ve hired more help. It’s allowing me to take more time and get time back on the trails around Boulder and Colorado. I’m planning to tackle Elbrus and Kilimanjaro solo in June or July next year.
Thanks, guys for your time and great products. Best of luck. You can see their entire product line and place free delivery orders at the Himali website.