Who are Nashville Pack team members Levi Morton and Grant Leonardi? “We’re just some guys that like to walk,” says Levi. Sounds about right for two hikers working full-time on their pack company within spitting distance of their Great Smoky Mountain National Park stomping grounds.
Both Levi and Grant grew up hiking and camping. Levi has been backpacking since childhood, then he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2018. It was this immersion in the backpacking community that fully hooked him.
Despite spending time in the outdoors growing up, Grant’s first backpacking trip was on the Appalachian Trail in 2015.
“It completely changed the course of my life,” he says, “I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
Grant went on to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017, the Continental Divide Trail in 2018, the Arizona Trail in 2019, and the Colorado Trail in 2020. He says he hasn’t lost the passion at all, and is planning on hiking many thousands of more miles.
Levi made his first backpack in 2017. He stripped everything off his framed pack (including the frame) and realized it still weighed two pounds. He knew he wanted to go lighter, and he also knew he had a sewing machine and a vague understanding of how to use it.
According to Levi, his first pack was an abomination. It was so bad, Levi’s wife called it the “nipple pack” thanks to bottle holsters that placed the caps at nipple height. The construction was so wonky that it required shock cord compression to keep it together. Clearly, things improved from there, and after much trial and error, Nashville Pack was born.
Levi was the first to consider the idea of starting a gear company. He brought Grant (and his Triple Crown experience) on, and they’ve been partners ever since.
“Nashville Pack is about sharing an appreciation for the outdoors,” says Levi. “We've loved our experiences in nature, and we want to help others enjoy their time by making equipment that strips away distractions.”
For Grant and Levi, that means building packs that are comfortable and accessible. In the true ultralight ideal, they want you to be able to reach your gear and water as you’re walking. Light, convenient, comfortable, and efficient.
The Nashville Pack Cutaway is the pack their company is built on. The Cutaway is a sleek, lightweight pack that doesn’t skimp on pockets and organization. Hikers can choose from Robic Nylon Ripstop, X-Pac, DCF hybrid, and more… and the prices aren’t outrageous.
The Cutaway was built with thru-hikers in mind, but they still want it to be appealing for the non- thru-hikers out there. Grant and Levi cite dialed-in pack volumes, put stock in a comfortable carry, and have plenty of pockets for organizing gear and keeping small items handy. This deviates somewhat from the more pared-down ultralight packs on the market, a deliberate design to help make the Cutaway appealing for everyone from thru-hikers to weekend warriors.
“We've tried to design our pack with as many body types in mind as possible,” they explain. “Over the past year, we've doubled our pack size options and added to our strap offerings.”
Accessibility was also key. In their initial design, Grant and Levi were constantly asking themselves: “Where can we reach while wearing the pack? Is there a pocket there?" If the answer was no, they finagled a way to build a pocket in that spot.
They build “structureless straps” to better conform to the hikers’ body, transferring the load across the sternum. They explain their “modular strap system,” which can be adjusted and angled to help reduce point loading and fatigue. Every detail is incredibly thought out.
When you see how much attention goes into their design, it comes as no surprise that Levi created more than 20 pack iterations before he felt comfortable starting the company.
Everything from the cutting to the sewing is done by hand in Grant’s garage, and they contract out a few different parts and accessories.
Levi and Grant’s biggest challenge hasn’t been material sourcing or demand: it’s been tempering their own expectations. Their attention to detail might result in a thoroughly engineered and convenient pack, but it also means they are their own harshest critics.
“At some point, we need to sell something,” they said. “Though our design is constantly evolving and improving because we're never 100% satisfied with what we've got.”
Levi and Grant came into the roller coaster of business ownership with a thru-hiker mentality. This means they were aware there would be ups and downs, and they were ready to roll with it. They’ve been pleasantly surprised by how small the cottage-industry gear world is, and how friendly (and similarly small) many of the other brands are.
The co-founders want to ensure the company grows organically, so they don’t have any one-year, five-year, 10-year goals. They’re currently expanding their crew, hiring trusted hikers. They do hope to bring more products to market, and as the team expands, they’re itching to get back on trail ... carrying the Cutaway, of course.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com