Ben Smith had cold feet. Literally. That’s the short story behind GooseFeet Gear, makers of ultralight goose down socks, pillows, and balaclavas, among other clothing items.
It took just one sub-freezing night on the Appalachian Trail for Ben to rethink the quality of his gear. As a self-described poor college student at the time, the gear Ben actually wanted exceeded his price range. But, what he lacked in currency, he made up for in cleverness.
It was 2010, and Ben was a 20 year old Industrial and Material Engineering student at Georgia Institute of Technology. Crafting his own backpacking and hiking gear came naturally to Ben.
“It’s basically manufacturing meets material science,” he said of his academic interests. “Which corresponds nicely to what we do at GooseFeet Gear!”
“I knew that my feet were always the first to get cold, so down socks were an obvious solution!”
Another obvious solution was to use nature’s best insulator, goose down. GooseFeet Gear fills its ultralight clothing and accessories with DownTek — 850+ fill power, water repellent, ethically sourced goose down, processed in Ohio.
“We were using goose down to make socks for your feet, so we mashed it together to create GooseFeet,” Ben said.
Once he got the hang of making the down socks, he shared pictures of his finished products on multiple online backpacking forums. (This was pre-Instagram).
“People started asking me what I would charge to make them a pair,” Ben said. “I had enough requests that I had to make patterns for various sizes.”
After whipping up a website for ease of ordering, it dawned on Ben, in that moment, that he actually just started a business. “Whether I had intended to or not,” he laughed.
“I felt that everything that was currently on the market was either cheap and heavy, or expensive and light. I wanted to try to bridge the gap and create products that were moderately priced, while still very lightweight for backpackers,” Ben said.
After Ben graduated and began working full time in manufacturing, GooseFeet Gear filled his evenings and weekends.
“The volume was slowly growing,” he said. “I decided to take the leap to working full time at GooseFeet Gear and haven’t looked back since! I love working from home and being able to have the flexibility with time for my family and passions!”
While the brand’s primary target market is thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers, countless customers purchase down socks to use at home, too. “Almost everyone has cold feet at some point!” Ben laughed.
“Thru-hikers have been a big part of my word-of-mouth marketing. I have sent many, many pairs of socks to a hostel or post office along the way for thru-hikers that are desperate for warmer feet and better sleep!”
Since its inception, Goosefeet Gear has expanded to create down pillows, balaclavas, pants, jackets, and vests — with a pair of “laundry shorts” in the pipeline.
Ben still has a few of those early pieces he made over a decade ago.
“It’s amazing to see the difference!” he laughed. “We are constantly evolving our patterns and techniques based on customer feedback, especially with the more complicated items like pants and jackets."
Ben is all about custom, too. “People like to be able to choose their own colors and warmth levels,” he said.
Ben always finds it fun to interact with customers coming to his home state of Georgia to thru-hike the AT. “I am always willing to take a customer from Atlanta to the trailhead,” he said.
Over 10 years at it, Ben still has the muse to create. “I love making new things every day; custom creations that haven’t existed except in someone’s mind,” he said.
“The most fun aspect is being able to do the design from the ground up and brainstorm with customers how to improve my early designs. And, being able to keep someone warm while they are out exploring nature is a very special thing!”