In the world of lightweight and ultralight backpacking, the cottage industry is booming. From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, Charlottesville to Bozeman, one and two person DIY workshops churn out hand-sewn packs, tents, quilts, and everything else a hiker needs to navigate the trail with as little weight as possible on their backs. Using Instagram, Youtube, and Reddit, the community is fascinating. And one of the more exciting new brands I’ve been tipped off to is Allmansright, an ultralight “outdoor gear lab” located right here in New York City. The Bronx to be exact.
Launched in June of 2020 by artist and designer Livio Melo with the goal of diversifying the hiking community and inspiring all to better protect the environment, Allsmanright offers a modest number of innovative backpack, sling bag, and accessory designs for hikers of all experiences and abilities. As for the name, it stems from the right to roam (also known as the “freedom to roam” or “everyman’s right”) concept shared by nearly a dozen socially-minded Nordic and European countries which establishes the general public’s right to access public and privately owned land, lakes, and rivers for recreation and exercise.
For Melo, who grew up in the Dominican Republic before moving to NYC where he attended high school and college for industrial design, the path to making his own gear came naturally—“if I’m anything, it’s a maker,”—but suddenly. “My first overnight hike was in February 2018 in Harriman, the most challenging trail in the park,” says Melo, referring to the popular state park located some 30 miles northeast of the Bronx. “That was my first time sleeping in a tent, first time sleeping on the trail. Second hike I returned with some homemade gear. Third was in the Sierras with a 60 liter pack… then I went full UL.”
In the years since Melo has fully immersed himself in the UL hiking community. For the first time since becoming “disillusioned” in design school he found purpose in designing. “Objects can help people care more about the environment. Gear can really show you what’s at stake in the immediate, and allow you to see what’s at stake on a larger scale, too.” Which gets at part one of Melo’s goal with Allmansright, to help protect the environment. By making gear that gets folks into nature, he hopes they become more inspired to protect the trails we tread.
But why ultralight hiking and backpacking? Isn’t it expensive and inaccessible? “I call BS on that. My kit is hilariously cheap,” says Melo, proud owner of a homemade tarp, many Smartwater bottles, and other heavily modified handcrafted gear.
And though UL principals are often adopted by thru-hikers, the approach is not exclusive to long distance backpacking. “UL makes backpacking more democratic. It’s better for people with different bodies and abilities.” The idea that a hiker carrying less weight can travel farther and faster while expending less energy than a hiker under the heavy burden of a traditional backpacking setup rings true for all body types, ages, and endurance levels.
For Melo, the experience of being among nature, vulnerable to the elements, with so little to rely on is the real hook. “UL really creates a connection with nature that I don’t think traditional backpacking would allow. It’s so much more visceral of an experience,” he explains. “I almost exclusively camp under a tarp—I love the feeling of being able to see outside. Being more susceptible not only forces me to understand where I’m at more, but feel it more.”
And he wants more to feel it, too. Melo’s time on the trail has encouraged him to consider his friends back in the city who don’t have any formal “outdoors” experience but might benefit from it as well. “I saw what it did for me and I know that longing [for nature] is there for other people too.”
Allsmanright is an important avenue for Melo and his partner, Jennifer Jacobsson, a Swedish national who’s half Filipino, to physically get out and inspire other hikers in BIPOC communities. Though the pandemic is making efforts more difficult, the two hope to establish a loaner program and explore other community-focused ways to get gear into the hands of Black and brown folks in the very near future, too.
Like the concept for which the brand is named, Allsmansright reminds that these trails and that wilderness belongs to us all, regardless of background, appearance, or pronouns. And dang does it look good doing it.
Each Allmansright product is designed and made by hand by Livio Melo in his Bronx apartment. Backpacks start around $220 with sash bags and other accessories like food bags and stuff sacks selling for between between $12 and $50. Follow Allmansright on Instagram to stay up on the latest product releases.