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Im Gespräch: Joe Valesko von ZPacks

3. Dezember 2009

Für meinen heutiges Interview konnte ich Joe Valesko von ZPacks gewinnen. Er ist seit einigen Tagen von seiner Tour auf dem CDT wieder da und hat durch die Beendigung das Tripple Crown geschafft. Außerdem hat Joe mit ZPacks noch eine Ultraleicht-Manufaktur, wo er Ausrüstung herstellt. Während seines Tru-Hikes hatte Joe seinen Shop geschlossen und startet demnächst richtig durch.
Here we go!!

Could you tell a little bit about yourself for those who don’t know you?

I’m 27 years old. I started ZPacks.com in 2005 shortly after my AT thru-hike. I thru-hiked the AT in ’04, the PCT in ’07, and the CDT this year, ’09. Up until this year I was also a full time software engineer in addition to running ZPacks. I’m building gear full time now.

How did you come to hiking, and how often do you go hiking nowadays?

I hiked a lot as a kid, but didn’t do my first backpacking trip until high school (late 90’s). I had heard about the AT and that is what got me into backpacking. Nowadays, aside from thru-hikes, I try and get out on weekends whenever I can. I probably do more canoe trips that backpacking trips though.


When did you start with lightweight backpacking?

When I first started backpacking in high school I bought a set of the lightest gear I could find (3lb backpack, 3lb tent, etc. uhg!). I did two weekend trips, sold all my gear, and bought materials to replace it all with homemade lightweight gear. The website thru-hiker.com was my first intro into do-it-yourself gear.

Let’s speak about your last tru-hike. Since some days you’ve finished the CDT and now you’re a Triple Crowner. How do you feel after such a long tru-hike?

It has been about two weeks since I finished the CDT. It is strange not having someplace to go, or something to do. I miss the freedom, the friends, and the junk food! I would be outdoors doing that sort of thing all the time if I could.

Can you describe my readers a few impressions of the tour?

The CDT was amazing. The scenery was epic, and the trail was challenging. On the CDT you are constantly navigating with maps, guidebook, and compass since the „trail“ is seldom marked. Unlike the other long trails you have the freedom to choose your own route and go pretty much where you please. I liked that aspect a lot. Towards the beginning of the trip I hiked solo, many days I didn’t see a single human being. There were more animal tracks on the trail than foot prints. The second half of the trip I hiked with a large group (16 of us) and probably socialized more than on the other trails even though there were far fewer people overall.


Have you ever been in great danger on the CDT trip?

Yes! The snow was the scariest part. On a southbound thru-hike the snow starts falling in Colorado in mid-september. We hiked through several blizzards, some days the temperature didn’t go above freezing. We had to take short, standing breaks and then keep moving to keep from freezing. Nobody had winter gear but we all made it ok.
There are grizzly bears, wolves, and rattle snakes too but the wildlife never bothered anyone.

The Triple Crown adventure is now finished. Do you want to realize some other great tru-hikes in future?

Yes! I am hoping to do the New Zealand trail next. Maybe a year or two from now. I would also like to do the Hayduke trail.

Ok let’s speak about a little bit about your manufacture. Can you tell me something how and why you started your manufacture?

I had been making homemade gear as a hobby for a long time. On my AT thru-hike several people suggested that I start selling gear. I didn’t have a „real“ job yet at the time so that is when I started.


Do you manage your manufacture as a second job or as a main job?

Up until now ZPacks has been a second job. I worked full time as a software engineer. I am going to try ZPacks full time now and see how it goes.

What is the philosophy behind your company?

I basically just build gear that I want to use. It turns out that many other people are looking for the same thing. Most of my gear is „simple“ and focuses on utility over appearance.

Do you release new gear in future or do you even upgrade the existing ones?

I am constantly upgrading the existing gear. I get good suggestions from customers, or get new ideas all the time. Some brand new items including tents and tarps are coming.

How many customer opinions do you get and how many customer opinions are incorporated in your products?

I get quite a bit of feedback. Whenever customers report a problem I modify my designs to fix it. Many of the options that can be added on to backpacks were also suggested by customers.

Is environmental impact important for you and what do you do to help minimize it?

I build all of the gear myself, and work out of my home. I suspect that very little energy is being used compared to commercial manufacturing. Many of the materials (including Cuben Fiber) are produced in the US.

Meanwhile, many manufacturers produce lighter gear. Do you think that this is a trend which ends in some years or will ultralight gear conquer the marketplace?

I think the trend towards lighter gear will continue. I don’t know of many people that switch to lightweight gear and then go back.

In which direction will ultralight gear develop?  Even lighter and more stable?

I think all of the ultralight manufacturers are coming up with innovations to make their gear lighter, more durable, and more useful. I know my own gear has come a long ways since I started. One of the biggest things I’ve done is to allow customers to pick and choose from many backpack options. They can decide which features are worth the weight.

Joe, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there something you would like to say?

Thanks Benjamin for the good questions!

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3 Kommentare leave one →
  1. 3. Dezember 2009 23:16

    Love it, thanks Ben.

    Pleased to see Joe is making gear full time now, I really rate his stuff. I hope there’s not going to be a price increase to reflect the fact that it’s no longer a hobby….

  2. hrxxl permalink*
    4. Dezember 2009 04:20

    yes he’s making really great gear. the packs and the new shelter looks fantastic

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