Sleep In The Dirt

Q&A with Co-Founder, Bill Gamber: The Flex Pad Sleeve

The Campfire Chronicles

Over the years, our co-owner and gear mastermind, Bill Gamber, has served as more of an elusive character when it comes to our blog and social media. After much bribing and triple lattes, he has agreed to (what we hope to be) a quarterly blog featuring the man, the myth, the legend himself, Bill Gamber. We’ll talk about a variety of topics including the Pad Sleeve System, our first sleeping pads, the Copper Spur tent series, and more. Please share your comments below and be sure to include any questions you might have for him to answer in future interviews! Scroll all the way down for the full video-interview, or read the condensed version below.

Shop our new Flex Pad Sleeve System bags HERE.

"After college I wanted to fish more, and have better weather and bigger mountains."

Our first topic features the birth of the Pad Sleeve – the most genius invention ever – that ended the dreaded problem of rolling off your pad in the middle of a good night’s sleep. Our very own Brett got to sit down with Bill to talk to him about how the idea began and how far it has evolved leading up to 2019’s introduction to the new Flex Pad Sleeve.

BB: What inspired you to move west and start a camping gear company?

BG: Growing up in the honey business, we traveled west all the time to fly-fish. After college, I wanted to fish and have better weather and bigger mountains (than the East).

I started BAP! in college and moved that here. The more I got outside, the more I started thinking about making better gear. It was that simple. My original partner liked an old design he saw, so we started working on that to make a better sleep system. At that time, people started using sleeping pads more. We were at the right time to believe that you should be able to sleep better and be more comfortable. That was it.

"The more I got outside, the more I started thinking about making better gear."

BB: How did the idea of a System bag transpire?

BG: We started asking, “Why do you wake up from sleep while you’re camping?” And one of the main reasons was because you slide off your pad. That was integral in designing the sleep system. The more we worked on it and the more people we talked to, the more we heard people didn’t like to be confined in a mummy-style bag. Those were the two things we heard – stay on your pad, and give people more space.

The original offerings were  1-inch, 1.5-inch, and 2-inch sleeping pads. So we had a grey 1-inch, a blue 1.5-inch, and red 2-inch self-inflating pads, 20″x72″ and 20″x78″ (in each pad). Six sleeping bags, and six pads, that was our total offering.

BB: How excited are you with the evolution of the Pad Sleeve and the launch of the new Flex Pad Sleeve?

BG: It really hasn’t changed that much. The new Flex System took our original design and made the same system work with more pad options and different sizes of pads. That was always something that was a bit of a limitation. Our goal was that our bag wasn’t some weird, quirky system set up in the corner of the shop. We always wanted the customer to view our sleeping bags like the rest of the bags hanging on the rack. If you owned a Thermarest, we wanted you to be able to use it. We didn’t want people to feel like they had to buy a new pad with their new bag. That was really important to us. We wanted to make it convenient for the customer – and essentially get people into our sleep system. That was how we launched Big Agnes.

Bill Gamber - Founder and Owner of Big Agnes, and inventor of the Pad Sleeve System

BB: Are there any other sleeping bag companies making a Pad Sleeve?

BG: A few companies have attempted sleep systems and never committed to it the way we did. We didn’t make a mummy-style bag until a few years ago. We started making mummy bags because we had specific customers who had outfitter programs where they were sleeping on cots or in cabins and didn’t necessarily need a System bag.

"The System is what launched the brand -- and it's still what we're based on -- to get people outside."

BB: How does it feel to be the inventor of such a novel and necessary idea?

BG: We pretty much own the System (bag). Other bigger brands have looked at it, but they know they would be following us, and they don’t want to follow or copy us. We used to really be worried about that, and we’re not really anymore.

We went from our first designs all the way to minimalist lightweight to full comfort throughout the System. That’s what I really like about it. It’s so versatile. In the second or third year, we introduced the Zirkel and Pomer Hoit,” which were all mummy-shaped bags, so we introduced mummy-shaped pads. That was more specific, which was a really fun part of how the System grew. We could make a really technical system bag. That was a fun project.

So many companies want to blow their horns about all that they do, and we just don’t do that. There are times I think, “We do that, we need to tell people we do that.” But I don’t want to. There’s a real balance.

The system was what launched the brand, and it’s still what we’re based on — to get people outside. We want more people outside and comfortable doing what they love.

Shop our new Flex Pad Sleeve System bags HERE.


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