Making his own ultralight travel and outdoor gear started out as a creative hobby for NAPACKS founder Michael Sheurs. “When I got to a point that it became the most expensive hobby,” he joked, “I considered selling.”
With an education in fine arts and a career in design and printing, it’s easy to understand how he gravitated to this pastime-turned-startup.
“I have a strong background in design programs so the learning curve of making my own patterns was an easy step. I was able to plotter cut my own patterns, which was a huge benefit early on. And, the creative and artistic challenges definitely drew me in.”
When Michael moved out west from his native New Jersey nearly 15 years ago, the camping and backpacking opportunities near his Oceanside, CA home drew him in, too.
And, like many backpackers, he loved researching and buying his outdoor gear nearly as much as he enjoyed using it. “The obsession with tents, bags, and packs was a big one…and I have a garage full of it,” he laughed.
It was when Michael was about to buy yet another bag that a friend encouraged him to tap into his creative craftiness and learn how to make his own gear.
He first purchased a couple of vintage black cast iron Singers, completely tearing them apart, then rebuilding and rewiring them.
“I learned the machines, learned about fabrics, needles, thread, and spent an obscene amount of time and money,” he laughed. “But, it was captivating!”
“Before this I never made any of my own gear, but I’ve always had a niche for precise, detailed work so it’s been a good fit.”
Utilizing YouTube tutorials, he started out making basic zippered pouches for his daughter “because she was easy to please”, and stuff for his brothers “because of their brutal honesty.”
Encouraged by the positive feedback from friends (and said family), Michael took the leap to brand his gear, and in early 2019 NAPACKS opened up shop on Etsy. His two daughters’ initials “N” and “A” inspired the name.
“The feedback has been amazing,” he said of the launch. “To get a positive review is excellent, but when I started seeing referrals, return business and requests for custom items, that is the best.”
Taking into consideration items he’d like to own himself, Michael built a simple product line of quality items, including pouches, packing cubes and fanny packs. “They’re not complicated designs,” he explained, “but I do focus on making sure they are made to a high standard.”
Some of those early prototype pouches have evolved into Michael’s favorite items to date. “They’re wildly versatile and durable,” he said. “Everyone should own at least one!”
He challenged himself with larger items, too. “Way too early on I made myself a tent with a purchased pattern. This brought me no joy and will certainly be the last one I ever make,” he laughed.
NAPACKS primarily uses the highly reputable, stronger-than-steel Dyneema Composite Fabric for their craft. “I love that it is so precise,” Michael said. “No stretch, no fray, can be laser cut, and it’s made for a specific purpose.”
Despite using featherweight Dyneema, he admits he didn’t start out looking to make the most ultralight pouches and bags on the market.
“In my own gear, I would usually lean towards durability or functionality over minimal weight. I wanted a more durable version of what was commonly made.”
Still, Michael believes his products would be useful to UL backpackers, experienced travelers, and style-minded consumers, alike. “My focus is definitely on well-made simplicity. It’s not the lightest, it’s not the most colorful, but it’s extremely well made.”
Since launch, NAPACKS has allowed its operations to scale parallel to sales, and Michael hopes that organic growth continues.
“I see businesses making poor decisions when the focus of making the best product shifts to ‘What can we do to make this cheaper or quicker to keep up with demands and profits?’”
“I just want to keep making great items and enjoy some steady calculated growth like 2020...minus the worldwide pandemic.”