Two decades ago, when Glen Van Peski’s son joined the local Scout troop, he found himself at REI, asking the sales clerk, “What do we need?”
“They just loaded us up,” Glen said. The pair walked out of the store with everything from leather boots and a bear canister to a backpack that weighed 7 pounds empty.
As a capstone to a summer spent practicing outdoor and backpacking skills, the Scout troop, with Glen as a trip leader, headed out for a week in the Sierras. Glen’s pack weighed 70 pounds at the beginning of that trip and the “poor kids” had packs that towered above their heads.
Today, Glen has fully loaded base weight under 5 pounds. The journey to this point involved more than just ditching unnecessary gear and replacing what was left with lighterweight options. It also involved founding what has since become one of the most iconic ultralight backpacking brands: Gossamer Gear.
“The backpack to me seemed like a good place to start,” Glen said of his foray into gear development and production.
Glen replaced his 7-pound pack with one he sewed himself that weighed under a pound. It was essentially just a huge bag with shoulder straps and a hip belt. He called it the G1 (with the G standing for Glen).
“As anyone who makes gear knows, you don’t stop with just one,” he said. Glen came back from each backpacking trip with ideas for modifications, and before long the G1 had become the G4.
At that point he did what anybody who is already working 60 to 80 hours per week and has no intention of starting a business would do: He drew up some plans with instructions and put them on the Internet, so that anybody who wanted to could replicate his design for free.
But rather than stymieing requests for fully made backpacks, it actually spurred them. Eventually, enough emails hit Glen's inbox that he decided to at least look into what it would take to place a small order.
Glen found a production facility. He only wanted to get 25 packs made. However, the minimum order size was 100 packs. After some negotiations, a compromise of 50 was reached, with Glen fully expecting to have packs sitting in his garage for 5+ years.
But as soon as word got out about Gossamer Gear’s first production run, orders started pouring in. And before he knew it, Glen was calling his production facility to ask how many packs they could make with the fabric on hand. The answer was 85, so he ordered 85.
Glen still has the pad of paper that recorded those first orders — a single handwritten line was given to each customer, each order.
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There was only one size choice but four color choices. “I have no idea why I thought color was more important than size,” Glen laughed.
Gossamer Gear soon became a family business, with their spare bedroom becoming the center of operations. Glen’s then teenage son, Brian, built a basic website, while Glen’s wife, Francie, did the shipping.
Glen soon found himself spending 60 hours each week on consulting engineering with an additional 30 hours each week put toward Gossamer Gear.
“It got to the point where it wasn’t sustainable,” he said.
Cue Grant Sible.
The year was 2005 and Grant, who had just finished a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, was looking to do something different professionally. An investor had offered to put some money into Gossamer Gear and as part of that wanted to hire Grant and move operations to Austin, TX.
Glen and his family were on board. So Grant rented a cargo van and drove it to Glen’s house to pick up Gossamer Gear’s inventory. Back in Austin, Grant rented a house and ran Gossamer Gear out of the garage.
The brand’s name recognition continued to grow and it also developed a reputation for stellar customer service with phone support.
Gossamer Gear soon outgrew that first house, so Grant rented a different and bigger house. And then he repeated the process when that second house could no longer sustain operations.
“It was always funny when a truck would pull up with a delivery in some neighborhood,” Grant said.
Just recently, Gossamer Gear moved into space that was specifically set up and built out for the brand, “so it kind of feels like we’ve arrived 19 years later,” Grant said.
Throughout that time, Gossamer Gear pushed the envelope with its lightweight backpacking designs and innovations. In addition to several backpack models, Gossamer Gear built out its line to include shelters, trekking poles and a range of accessories.
“We were the first company to use fabric from the sailing industry in backpacking gear, which is common now,” Glen said.
While Gossamer Gear has experienced many successes over its two decades in business, it’s also encountered plenty of challenges. The 2008 economic recession, specifically, caused a rough spell, with sales dropping by 80% over the course of one month.
“When it turned around, we had $1,000 in the bank account, so that was a bit close,” Grant said.
Today, Gossamer Gear still runs a tight ship, with four employees plus contractors. “We joke that Gossamer Gear is a lifestyle brand — it’s our lifestyle,” Grant said.
And beyond getting to adventure with best-in-class gear, it really has been the people they’ve met along the way that’s made Gossamer Gear so worthwhile for both Glen and Grant.
“The benefit has been the people I’ve met in the industry, from the famous to the people nobody knows — all the friends I’ve met around the world because of Gossamer Gear,” Glen said.
“I agree with Glen, the positives are just all the people,” Grant said.
And both of them still get a particular thrill when they see Gossamer Gear products out in the wild, on the trail.
“I just picked up thru hikers who said they saw a lot of Mariposas out on the trail,” Glen tells Grant, referring to their bestselling pack.
In not too long, the duo may find themselves swapping stories of G4 sightings, because ... insider info ... stay tuned for the re-release of the original pack that got the whole crazy journey rolling.