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We try to build the lightest weight functional backpacking gear possible. We make everything from tents, backpack, sleeping bags, and rain gear to many accessory items. Most of our gear items are things I designed for myself for my own long hikes, or products customers requested. I have done four long thru-hikes now and I use that experience to design the gear that is necessary to do those kinds of trips.
I have around 30 employees now, but we still operate as a small company with the flexibility to offer many options and customisations on our gear.
Why did you start your company?
I did my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2004. I used mostly home made gear on that trip because I wasn’t happy with how heavy most mainstream gear was. Some hikers suggested I start selling gear, and that is what I did after that trip. I was just out of college and was simultaneously looking for a “real” job, and starting ZPacks as a hobby. It started out very small, it was just me working alone from my apartment or garage for the first five years nights and weekends.
What are the three biggest benefits to your target customers and why?
I think in most cases we have the lightest weight gear choices available. I have “been there and done that” so our customers have that resource available to ask questions. My manager Matt and I are always happy to answer questions and can solve any issues that come up down the road. I don’t think we have many unhappy customers, we will always solve a problem if a customer lets us know. I also think that the level of customisation and the number of options we have available is a big advantage, customers can get exactly what they want in many cases, and we are always open to suggestions.
What are the 3 top questions asked by your customers?
Most of the questions I get have to do with sizing or recommendations. For example someone might be thru-hiking the PCT this year and wants to know what temperature and what size sleeping bag they should get. Or they wonder which tent will work best for them on the AT with a dog. Stuff like that.
I also get a lot of questions about making modifications to gear. Sometimes we can make changes to our gear, or else I can suggest an alternative that will work.
Sometimes people share their trips with us, or offer suggestions on improving gear. That is always cool.
Tell me about a day in your life before and after you started your company?
Before ZPacks I was in school for Computer Science. After college I thru-hiked the AT, then worked as a software engineer for about 4 years while also running ZPacks nights and weekends.
My day would usually involve getting up at 3 or 4am and knock out a backpack or another project before work. I would walk to my “real” job at the office and spend 8 hours writing software. Come home eat, sleep, and repeat. I did take a couple breaks to thru-hike the PCT and CDT during that part of my life, but otherwise I was working all the time. I finally transitioned to doing ZPacks full time in 2010.
A typical work day now involves answering customer’s emails for at least half of my day. The other half of my day is spent helping my employees with any questions they have or with any custom projects they are working on, and generally just making sure everything is running smoothly here.
I like to get outside and do hikes here on the Florida Trail, or I do canoe trips or surf when I can on the weekends. I travel when I can. Last year (2012-13) my wife and I took off for 4 months and thru-hiked the Te Araroa in New Zealand.
What tips can you recommend that you’d only share with a close friend (and everyone visiting your website)?
It takes some experimenting to figure out what is the best gear for you. In general less is more when backpacking, but sometimes it is worth a couple extra ounces for gear that is more comfortable. I think the real trick is figuring out how to be comfortable when you hike. That is a balance between carrying the lightest most minimal option, and also having enough to stay warm and dry.
My other tip is get out and do things whenever you can. Always say yes to a new experience.
What do you think will be the next big change in your industry within the next 3-5 years?
I think things are going well for the UL industry. There seems to always be more small companies popping up, and also bigger companies are experimenting more with using Cuben Fiber and lighter designs. I think backpacking gear in general will keep shifting towards ultralight. There is a lot of innovation all around.
Hopefully more ultralight technology will come down the pipeline (better fabrics and that sort of thing), but I don’t know what is next.
How did you stay motivated during your darkest hour?
I am a pretty optimistic person. I try to do as best I can in whatever situation I am in.
I don’t know if I have had a “darkest hour” per say, but I am definitely more happy now than when I was doing the school / corporate job grind.
What are three life memories you recall most frequently and why?
I think about the high points of my thru-hikes a lot. I remember some of the friends I met along the way, and still keep in touch with some people I hiked with. It makes me want to get out and do more trips!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Make sure to check out zpacks.com, and feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions!
Thank you for your time!