Firm focuses on backcountry comfort

Big Agnes bags promise built-in functionality

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— A couple of longtime local residents, Bill Gamber and Brad Johnson, have started a new company that promises innovative sleeping systems for backcountry travelers.

Big Agnes Inc. is named after a peak in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness northeast of Steamboat Springs.

"After 40 cumulative years of sleeping in the backcountry, we were still somewhat restless with the current products," said Gamber, who also is the owner and operator of BAP! Inc., a maker of outdoor gear in Steamboat Springs. "We were tired of pads that deflated or slid out from under us, and bulky sleeping systems."

Johnson is the director of development and planning for Big Agnes, and, Gamber stressed, provides the creative energy. Johnson is the one who originally designed the company's sleeping systems. No decision on where the bags will be produced has been made yet and right now the only employees are Gamber, Johnson and a bookkeeper.

From the top, the Big Agnes sleeping bags look pretty traditional, except that they're a bit wider than the average mummy bag.

"It's great because you have a little bit more room to move your legs around," Gamber said.

The bottom of the bag, however, is completely different from what you'll normally find in an outdoor shop. Instead of another side of the same material as the top, the bottom of the bag is, essentially, a 20-inch wide sleeve, which is meant to hold a sleeping pad in place.

"You can use a Thermarest, or you can use one of our pads. We're designing those too," Gamber said.

Because the bag is only half as bulky as a traditional bag, it can be packed a lot tighter and take up a lot less room in a pack.

"We started working on this because the biggest, bulkiest thing in your pack, other than a tent, is your sleeping bag. And there haven't been any design changes in bags for a long time," Gamber said.

Gamber and Johnson are developing nine different bag styles, all made of the same fabric but in different shapes and sizes. They also have created two, three-season bags. The Encampment and the Lost Ranger, both named after areas in the Zirkel Wilderness, are 20-degree bags.

The most versatile of the sleeping systems is the Cross Mountain bag, which is a 40-degree, super-lightweight system that can be used as an "over bag" during the winter.

"You can just slide your old mummy bag right into the system. It's super versatile and we're really excited about it."

Big Agnes, Inc. is still in the development stages of the sleeping systems. Locals and friends of the new company's co-founders have been the testers.

"We've been sending them out all over with our systems. We just sent a bag to Mount Rainier for a couple of days, and it came back with great reviews," Gamber said.

The bags will be on display for the first time at a trade show in Salt Lake City in August.

"At that point we'll start selling them to stores," Gamber said.

Customers can expect to pay between $150 and $350 for a system.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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