Zimmerbuilt with Christopher Zimmer

So it’s the holidays and we’ve been a little lazy over here. Well not really, lots of things going on behind the scenes actually, butwe’ve been slow to post anything lately. Earlier this fall I had the chance to speak with Christopher Zimmer of Zimmerbuilt. Christopher is a backpack sewing maniac – but in a good way, of course. If you can dream it, he can sew it. That’s the neat thing about Zimmerbuilt, Christopher is all about custom designs and making gear that works for you. But does he have a standard product line on the way too? Hmmm… you may just have to read the interview to find out!

Hi Chris. Thank you for talking with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking and backpacking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
CZ
I was introduced to the outdoors by my parents who would take my brother and I camping quite often. It was not until I got to college that I really got into backpacking and hiking. I try and do a couple of longer hikes a year, but since getting serious about building packs, I find all of my free time being devoted to that endeavor. Living in Ohio, you have to travel a ways to get to any descent trails, unless you love hiking through corn fields.
What are some of your favorite places to hike?
CZ
I would have to say one of my favorite places I have hiked would be up on the island of Unalaska, Alaska, out on the Aleutian Islands. I have spent several months up there for my day job and spent all my free time hiking the island. Very cool scenery and wildlife with the mountains and Bering sea right next to each other. Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the UP of Michigan are also some of my other favorite places to hike.
Sounds like you’ve explored some great places here in the US. Which of the following would you say best describes your personal backpacking philosophy: Super Ultralight, Ultralight, Lightweight, Conventional, Sherpa.
CZ
I would have to say I teeter between Ultralight and Lightweight. My camping gear is mostly ultralight, but I like to carry my DSLR and lenses which make for a heavier pack. I love the idea of carrying less and hiking further.
You are building custom backpacks, correct?
CZ
Yes, right now all my packs are custom built based on what the customer is after in a pack. I have a couple basic body styles which fit the bill for most packs but every now and again I get a request for a design that needs to be built from scratch.
ZB2-Alasdair
The ZB2-Alasdair
ZB2 Degraw Pack
The ZB2 Degraw Pack
What type of hikers, or hiking styles have you built packs for?
CZ
The packs I build are for hikers that are going ultralight to lightweight. With my blending of different materials and using more durable fabrics in high abrasion areas along with my tendency to overbuild a pack, my packs come in a little heavy for super ultralight.
So, what have your pack building endeavors taught you about backpack design?
CZ
I have learned that there are a lot of different ways to design and build a pack. Some designs function better than others, while some designs are easier to build than others. They all do the same thing in the end though and that is carrying your gear. I have also learned that there is a correlation between the simplicity of a pack design and the weight of the pack. The fewer bells and whistles a pack has, the fewer materials required to build, thus less the pack will weigh. Less is more, or in this case, less is less weight.
If someone wants to get in touch with you to have a pack built, what’s the procedure?
CZ
The easiest way to get in touch with me is through my website. If you know what you want in a pack the best thing to do is make up a detailed list of features you want your pack to have and send it to me. I then go through your list and make any comments or suggestions I might have for the pack and we go from there. It usually takes a few email exchanges to get all the details worked out and then the build process begins.
You’ve built quite a few packs! Are there any that you get repeat requests to build?
CZ
I have been getting quite a few requests for my Half Dome pack as well as variations of my ZB2 pack.
Where are your products currently manufactured?
CZ
I build all my packs at my home in Ohio.
Any plans to develop a standard line of packs?
CZ
Yes, I am working on a couple of designs to offer standard. It will definitely speed up the building time as well as turnaround times. It will also make the ordering process more stream lined which will be nice.
The HalfDome Pack
The HalfDome Pack
Would you say the term “cottage manufacturer” is appropriate for your company, or do you prefer something else perhaps?
CZ
Yeah, cottage manufacturer would be correct; it is definitely a term I never thought I would be labeling myself. I didn’t even know I could sew a year ago and now I have people from all over emailing me wanting me to build them a pack, this is all very cool, I am truly enjoying it!
Looking at what you’ve done, it’s amazing that just over a year ago you weren’t sewing packs. How did you manage this?
CZ
I had absolutely no idea I could sew before I bought my first machine a little over a year ago, although I did make a pretty sweet sweatshirt back in 7th grade home-ec. I had been thinking about getting a machine for some time before I actually did, and was really close to not even getting one, but my wife took me to a nearby store and had me pick one out as an anniversary gift. I am so glad she did, building packs is pretty much all I think about now.
What would you say to the folks out there who aren’t familiar with the smaller independent manufacturers and what to expect in terms of customer service, and product quality? Is there anything about your products, business, or the cottage industry in general you’d like to emphasize?
CZ
With cottage gear you can expect to get a specialized piece of gear that the bigger companies are not going to make because it might not suite the larger audience. You can get most cottage gear customized specifically the way you want which I think is very cool. That is what I really enjoy about building custom packs; it seems everyone wants something a little different. By listening to what others want in their gear it has really helped me push my abilities in design and craftsmanship.
Just for fun, if you were one of your backpacks, which one would you be 🙂
CZ
I would probably be one of my ZB2 packs, a solid pack that is a little different.
Aside from backpacks what other types of gear do you build?
CZ
I would probably be one of my ZB2 packs, a solid pack that is a little different.
Looking toward the future, what’s your vision for yourself and your company?
CZ
I have built all kinds of gear from tarps, hammocks, top quilts, to bike panniers and fishing gear. It’s funny though, I just don’t seem to get the same kind of enjoyment out of building other gear as I do the backpacks. That is why I have been cutting back on building other types of gear so I can focus more on backpacks.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that Zimmerbuilt backpacks will …”
CZ
…allow you to hike in comfort and style.
Chris Zimmer in Unalaska, Alaska
Chris Zimmer in Unalaska, Alaska
Thanks for the interview, Christopher. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or any sage advice to bestow upon those reading this interview?
CZ
Thank you so much for this opportunity, I really appreciate it!
Christopher has built a ton of packs, many of which you can see photos of on his website at www.zimmerbuilt.com. We recommend checking it out, especially if you’re looking for a little inspiration for that perfect pack design. In case you’re dreadfully horrible with a needle and thread, or just downright dangerous with the scissors now you know who can build your dream pack! Party on! Hike It. Like It.
Jacob D Written by:

Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy. Follow on Strava

3 Comments

  1. December 22, 2011
    Reply

    I agree with Eugene. Chris is one of the most talented guys out there. Keep up the good work!

    • Jacob D
      December 17, 2011
      Reply

      Thanks Eugene, and thanks for stopping by. It’s always nice to see BPL folks visiting.

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