Product design at NEMO begins with first-hand adventure, without a doubt.
But ideas often come to life behind the scenes, through meticulous prototyping and development with trusted manufacturing partners. When I first learned I’d be visiting Taiwan to finalize tent designs for the 2019 season, I began drafting an itinerary. My visit was primarily business-oriented: its objective was explicit and its timeline was bound by the workweek. But I’d flown half way around the world, and I wanted more.
In true NEMO fashion, I wanted to find a way to blur the line between work and play. I decided to extend my stay to explore Taiwan’s mountainous regions, and when a couple friends from the tent factory voiced an interest in joining, I knew I was in luck. Transportation, navigation, and translation barriers all but disappeared.
After a productive week of work in Taipei, my friends and I were ready to escape the city. A couple hours of driving through mountain villages, cabbage fields, and mudslide-induced road closures led us to our destination: Wuling Farm. Over the next three days we conquered the Wuling Sixiu, a collection of 4 mountains (Taoshan, Kelayeshan, Chiyoushan and Pintianshan) that comprises the northeastern section of the Holy Ridge trail.
Actually, “conquered” might be a strong word.
Packing List: A Retrospective
With naive confidence in my ability to wing it, I refused to check a bag when I flew out of Boston. Everything I thought I needed for nearly 2 weeks away from home was either crammed into my 30-liter backpack or already on my body. I had misjudged. Since I was missing some key elements the first time around, below is a retrospective packing list for my adventure on the Wuling Sixiu trail in Shei-Pa National Park.
1. Rain Boots
Before even hitting the trail, I noticed that one of my Taiwanese hiking partners wasn’t wearing hiking boots – at least not the flashy Vibram/OrthoLite/Gore-Tex technical hybrids many of us have become accustomed to. It only took a few hours on the trail to realize that he wasn’t an anomaly; it’s perfectly common to sport knee-high rubber rain boots in the mountains of Taiwan. Rugged rain boots originated as utility footwear for valley farmers, but hikers soon adopted them for their traction and waterproof performance. Although the winters are typically mild, Taiwan has a reputation for receiving heavy rainfall, and the alpine trails were no exception. It. Was. Muddy.
2. Headlamp (or Coffee)
As someone who relies on an alarm clock during the workweek, one of the simple pleasures of backpacking is waking up with the sun – no alarms required. So I was a little surprised to learn that most hikers at the mountain campgrounds (including my hiking buddies) had the same morning agenda: reach the first summit of the day by sunrise. There’s romance in that…I suppose.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally a morning person. I just I didn’t count on starting my days at 3am. Coffee or headlamp – you choose which is more important.
3. Rain Coat
No, not just for rain. It didn’t take much snow accumulation to droop the pervasive stalks of dwarf bamboo lining either side of the trail inward, transforming the trails into dark, misty, waist-high tunnels. These bamboo tunnels were super cool, but they were also super unavoidable. And super wet.
No granola bars, no energy drinks. Electrolytes were replenished and water breaks were deferred by…candy. Delicious salt and lemon candies. Sign me up.
When I’m backpacking in New England, my meals of choice are often energy-dense, quick to prepare, and easy to clean. Okay, full disclosure…I usually ditch my stove entirely and fill my backpack voids with trail mix. It wasn’t until visiting Taiwan that I gained an appreciation for the restorative power of a hot bowl of soup. It could have been that preparing and enjoying meals with fellow trekkers radiated a sense of community that transcended language barriers, or maybe it was just a sodium deficiency. The point is that whether we ate beef noodle, vegetable, or fish soup, chopsticks were a hiking staple as ubiquitous as the spork.
A couple sections of the trail to Mt Pintianshan were nearly vertical, requiring some tricky footwork and some rope assistance. With no harness to rely on, I would have taken any additional traction I could get.
Documenting alpine adventures in Taiwan can have benefits beyond posterity and Instafame. In order to attempt some of the country’s more technical climbs, park permit applicants must supply photographic proof of successful prior (lower grade) assents. Each major peak has an official elevation marker at the summit for this very reason. No camera = no proof = no permit. Bonus: you might be lucky enough to snap a picture of the elusive Formosan Black Bear.
Tenderfoots beware: it rarely snows in Taiwan’s cities, but the high mountains can pose some icy challenges if conditions allow. New England is no stranger to snowfall, but watching Oliver experience snow for the first time was a great reminder to cherish the winter months at home. At least until February.
I came, I saw, I forgot a spoon.
Over the course of three days, we trekked through gorgeous Chinese Hemlock forests, ate our weight in sticky rice, and managed to find just enough water to keep us moving. Perhaps Shei Pa’s Shengleng (Holy Ridge) trail is next! Legend has it that those who finish the strenuous 7-day trek are qualified for marriage. (Alright, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I can barely pack a backpack.)
- Disco™ 15° – With its Spoon™ shape and added room at the elbows and knees, this amazing backpacking bag kept me comfy in all temps and allowed me to side sleep throughout the night.
- Blaze™ 1P – It lived up to its promise to not compromise on space. The design sets a new standard for livable space in its weight class.
- Fillo™ Luxury Elite Pillow – My go-to pillow on all of my adventures.
- Tensor™ Ultralight Pad (prototype) – A great way to test some of the new improvements to our flagship sleeping pad.
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Gabi Rosenbrien manages Tent Product Development, is an avid ultralight backpacker, and a force on a mountain bike.