Bum Knee Designs owner Sean Kamp always enjoyed being outside growing up, but like many eventual thru-hikers, he didn’t get too deep into hiking and backpacking until he moved to North Carolina for college at Appalachian State. He hiked the Appalachian Trail every weekend, and knew he would eventually hike the entire trail.
It was actually the offer for a job promotion that jump started Sean’s first experience with thru-hiking. In late 2014, Sean was working for a local government doing environmental permitting when he was offered a job promotion.
“I got scared I’d get stuck there 20-plus years and never follow my dreams,” Sean says. “I put in my notice that same day.” Sean started the AT in March of 2015, and since then, he has also hiked the Benton Mackaye Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
The idea for Bum Knee Designs sprouted in August of 2020, when Sean sewed his first zip-stash pouch. The smart, simple design proved popular, so Sean made more of them.
Prior to Covid, Sean had been working in the outdoor industry as a sales rep for ENO. There, he was continually inspired by the designers and product creators, but traveling full-time for work left him little time to learn how to sew.
When the world abruptly ground to a halt, Sean decided to invest in some equipment and began teaching himself to sew. He didn’t intend to sell anything at first. Bum Knee Designs was more of a way to collaborate with outdoorsy artists. But it worked, and Sean’s trail wallets and zip-stash pouches have become popular enough to get picked up by yours truly here at Garage Grown Gear, providing Sean a partial source of income.
The name “Bum Knee Designs” is somewhat of a joke, referencing the knee issues Sean experienced while thru-hiking — something a lot of long-distance hikers can relate to.
Sean mostly makes wallets and zip-stash pouches. These accessories might seem small, but can end up being one of the most handy “extra” items a hiker or outdoorsperson carries. They provide an alternative to a clunky wallet or the more minimal option of a rubber band around a few cards and soggy dollar bills. Plus the weight they add to your pack is fairly negligible — the wallet, for example, clocks in at 0.3 ounces — and they are highly watertight, protecting your valuables.
“There are a lot of zip pouches out there and a lot of companies making trail wallets,” says Sean, “so while mine are certainly different from the rest, I think the niche I’m filing is more in my vision for my business model.”
Sean is looking to market his handmade gear outside of the outdoors and thru-hiking community. He is selling his wallets through local fishing shops, and is working on pattern collaborations with artists from across the US.
“I like to do limited runs of colors and constantly tweak designs for each wholesale customer,” he says. “It’s the one-off collaborations I’m most interested in. Ultimately, this vision and model will be more apparent as I shift towards bigger projects.”
Sean sources most of his materials from the ubiquitous Ripstop by the Roll, which is located right nearby in North Carolina, as well as Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics from Idaho. He rents a room from a friend and has a workshop set up in the house. A trout pattern has been the most popular wallet so far, and Sean uses the feedback and sales from patterns to inform future designs.
The most exciting thing for Sean about Bum Knee Designs is working for himself. Owning your own business is never easy, but having complete creative control over new projects and the direction of the company can make the efforts worth it.
Conversely, the biggest challenge for Sean has been time management. He works part-time at a pizzeria, and has to balance completing projects, learning new skills, and working his wage-paying job to fill in the gaps.
“I’ve been surprised at how stoked people have gotten about zip wallets, but they are pretty cool,” says Sean. “Ultimately, the goal is to be fully self-employed, however long it takes to make that happen.”
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