Tom Gale’s résumé includes more than 12,000 miles of thru-hiking — the AT, PCT, CDT, Te Araroa, England’s South West Coastal Path (twice!), and working as a mountain guide.
Suffice it to say, he’s enthusiastic about well-made, ultralight gear. So much so that he’s also the founder of Atom Packs, a now well-respected cottage brand based in England.
“Honestly, it started because of food!” he laughed. “I’m a big guy and need a lot of fuel. I realized that if I got lighter weight gear than I could carry a few more Snickers bars, and that seemed like a no brainer!”
Eventually, Tom was inspired to try building a pack to fit his 6’7” frame. With limited access to materials, he cut up old backpacks he bought at a thrift store and crafted his first monster-like prototype.
“It was just an ugly red tube with straps and a hip belt, but I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life!”
Each bag thereafter got better and better, and in 2018 Tom took the leap and made Atom Packs official.
“I’m inherently curious and just wondered how far it could go,” he said of launching the brand. “I spotted the gap in the market in Europe way back and figured whoever would be the first to fill that gap with a quality product would have a good chance of success.”
Tom launched Atom Packs out of a bedroom. “Our first 40 sales came out of that room, it was a disaster!” he laughed of his first tiny workspace.
After relocating a couple times and adding a few more employees, Atom Packs now dwells in an old, refurbished 18th century barn.
“This space was designed for us,” Tom said, “but we moved in just nine days before total COVID lockdown so we have never fully utilized the building space. Now that we’ve all had our vaccines, I’m excited to see how efficient the space can become.”
The shop is located in North West England’s Lake District, famed not only for its lakes, but its forests and mountains too. The accessibility to it all is what drew Tom in.
“I think you are bound to be influenced by the landscape around you,” he said of living in this region. “It’s great that we can have an idea for a pack in the morning, design it, cut it, sew it, and walk the completed pack out the door and into the mountains that afternoon.”
When designing new gear, Tom considers more than just the weight of the product.
“There used to be a lot of enthusiasm in the industry for low weight at any cost, but what we saw was pretty unsurprising gear failures as people inevitably surpassed the load that pack was designed to carry. In our view, our packs cannot be allowed to fail under any circumstances, so we sacrifice a little extra weight to allow for increased durability.”
“Any time someone chooses to take one of our products on a thru-hike, it makes me super proud,” Tom said. “It’s a confirmation that the product is as good as we think it is.”
While customer feedback is overwhelmingly positive, the small cottage brand is receptive to solving any issues that might arise.
“There should never be any ego on the table when a customer comes to us with a problem,” Tom said. “After all, they are giving us an opportunity to make the product better and that should be the top priority of everyone in this building.”
Tom and his team of six (who have their own wildly impressive outdoor résumés) keep the wheels turning and operation moving. “All of them are ninjas in their field,” he said of his crew. “They all bring their own incredible attributes and I am fiercely proud of their efforts.”
As the brand grows, so does Tom’s excitement.
“I have always been interested in creating, that’s always been what keeps me ticking. I sometimes find myself coming into the workshop on the weekend because I’m still interested in designing and fiddling with ideas.”
“It’s a really great creative space where you can take roll goods — flat and boring — and turn them into something three dimensional like a backpack — interesting and useful. That process will never get boring to me.”
“Someone once said happiness lies in finding a paid job that you wouldn’t mind doing for free. I feel very lucky to have found just that.”