This issue of the Gazette's "Sponsor Spotlight" features Glen Van Peski, of Gossamer Gear, one of ALDHA-West’s sponsoring gear companies. We asked Glen a few questions about Gossamer Gear so that we can get to know them better. If you have any additional questions for Glen, please leave a comment.
1. Did you start as a DIYer? How did you make the leap to starting a gear business?
My mom thought that every kid should leave home knowing how to cook, bake, and sew, and we all did. I sewed the early Frostline and Holubar kits for down clothing and sleeping bags. When I graduated from high school in 1976 I rode my bicycle across the country, which got me thinking about, ironically, ultralight travel and making my own gear. I had sketches of bike panniers based on having pedaled 4,200 miles thinking about it. It wasn’t until years later when our oldest son Brian got into Boy Scouts that I got back into making my own gear. We joined a backpacking troop, and the Scoutmaster, a good friend of mine, had just read Ray Jardine’s original book. He was enthusiastic and enrolled me in getting lighter. For our first Sierra trek with the Scouts, I had gone down to REI, and they had loaded me up, starting with an internal frame backpack that weighed 7 lbs. empty. It’s hard to imagine now, with all my gear weighing less than 5 lbs. After reading Jardine’s book, I figured the pack represented a great opportunity to start lightening up, so I got a pattern, heavily modified it, and sewed my first pack… the G1 as it were. I kept at it until the fourth one seemed to be what I needed. This was the early days of the internet, and I put together the G4 plans and put them online for people. I never really intended to get into business, but people kept bugging me because they didn’t know how to sew. So I figured out how to have a few made, figuring that would be the end of it. But instead, it was the start of quite an adventure, leading to the creation of GVP Gear, now Gossamer Gear.
2. What do you think are the greatest market opportunities for your product…expand the US market, Europe, Asia? How do you plan to achieve these opportunities?
Our vision is to inspire and equip everyone to get outside, by providing thoughtful, functional solutions to simplify their outside adventures. We see a trend with younger people to care less about accumulating possessions and more about having experiences. Our commitment to “take less. do more.” is right in line with caring less about how much you have, and more about what it allows you to do. After many years out of the shelter market, we finally had a satisfactory material designed for us, and brought back “The One.” In the future we plan to expand that segment, with a 2-person model, a minimalist version and possibly a ‘mid offering. In the past we’ve carried a sleeping bag with some unique features, so we might decide to bring those back in the future. We already have some fairly robust dealers overseas, but that’s certainly an area that could be explored further. There are a lot of great European manufacturers already, but the market seems to have some room for our offerings. We are planning on traveling to the European outdoor show this year and do a hike there, to meet some dealers and customers.
3. What do you think was the smartest move you have made? Conversely, what was the biggest mistake you have made?
Hmmm, probably the smartest move was selling 75% of the company to someone who would put in the funds and staff to run it so I didn’t have to, when I was ready to close it down. Biggest mistake? Oh, there have been plenty along the way, as we lurched along between sewing operations. Our foray into affiliate marketing would have to be right up there. Most mistakes seemed like a reasonable decision at the time, but ended up having bad impacts. Luckily for us, having quality, innovative products and dedicated customer service have kept us growing.
4. Have you found that customers outside the US are skeptical of ultralight/lightweight clothing/gear? If so, how do you turn skeptics into believers?
We have a solid customer base outside of the U.S., so there’s obviously interest in lightening up their gear. Certainly it’s always important to take into account local conditions when planning for a trip, no matter where in the world you are headed. Underestimating conditions is a good way to veer into “stupid light”. As far as turning skeptics into believers, showing them is the best way. There’s nothing quite as effective as taking a trip with someone, with half the base weight they are carrying, and them seeing that I’m perfectly comfortable; in fact more comfortable because I’m carrying less weight. Even after going on a trip with someone to show them what ultralight looks like in practice, they still may not be willing to make the choices I make to get there. Ultimately it’s generally about two tradeoffs; first, trading off some comfort in camp for comfort (through carrying less weight) on the trail. Secondly, being willing to acquire greater knowledge in some areas (for instance the knowledge to effectively use a tarp for shelter). There’s still ways to trim weight without those two tradeoffs, but to get to ultralight, you ultimately end up bumping up against those two tradeoffs. People have varying willingness to make two tradeoffs, so we’re committed to making gear at different points along the spectrum, that allow them to reduce their pack weight while minimizing the amount of camp comfort and skill level decisions they are forced to make.
5. Favorite hike?
Wow, I just like to be out, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. I’m not a fan of day hikes, in fact I seldom engage in them. For me, the staying overnight, carrying everything I need on my back, and having the ability to keep going instead of turning back, is a huge factor. While I love to be anywhere outside, above tree line in the mountains is definitely my favorite, especially off trail. I’ve taken to getting extra permits for hikes I’m planning, and then sending out an invite blast to a list of people I know are 1) fit, 2) have their gear together and most importantly 3) are good company in the backcountry. I get to introduce people to some of my favorite areas, and since it’s different people on every trip, they get to meet others with similar interests. The Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon trip is in danger of becoming an annual tradition at this point, it’s just so beautiful and unique. Humphreys Basin, in the John Muir Wilderness out of North Lake is also a perennial favorite, because it’s easy to get to, and easy to put together off-trail loops to explore the area (and it’s an area where bear canisters are not required). My favorite hike in 2016 was 6 days off trail in the Weminuche Wilderness with Will Rietveld and a buddy of his; 60 miles and 42,000 vertical feet chasing a couple of guys in their 70’s; good times.
6. Where will you go on your next vacation?
As I’m writing this, I actually don’t have a trip on the books, which always makes me a little jumpy. Come January, I’ll get permits for another trip down Buckskin Gulch in April and start getting a group together for that. I’ll probably end up getting a trip together in the Sierra again. We’re building a house in Bend, Oregon so we have a couple of trips planned up there. I’m not much of a beach guy, but we spent a week at the Ritz Carlton on St. Thomas after Thanksgiving with my dad and stepmom, and it was pretty nice; we’re talking about doing it again in 2017. Some trips are related to ultramarathons, so it depends on what I sign up for in 2017. I’m looking at the Ruston and Elkhorn 50-mile races, but haven’t made a final decision.
7. Is there anything about your company that you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?
Not really. It’s interesting to me that when I started GVP Gear, there were only a couple of us doing that. Now there are SO MANY cool cottage manufacturers, I can’t begin to keep up with all of them. It’s great to see the creativity and commitment to finding innovative new approaches to gear.
Glen Van Peski
Our thanks to Glen for answering our questions and giving us an insight to Gossamer Gear. If you would like to join in the fun and submit questions we can ask our great sponsors, please send them to - firstname.lastname@example.org.