South Lake Tahoe trio ramping up hammock, backpack business
Three South Lake Tahoe men are tapping their passion for outdoor recreation to drive their business efforts, and with their fledgling company, Bakpocket Products, trying to help outfit other campers, hikers and adventurers.
Bryan Burnam, Jacob Hanneman and David Williams run Bakpocket, a company launched 18 months ago that offers a growing collection of hammocks and backpacks, as well as handbags, slings, duffels and other accessories such as beach blankets and rain flies.
All of the products are made with lightweight and highly compressible, yet strong, parachute material.
A Kickstarter campaign started this weekend aims to raise $20,000 to help the trio launch a half-dozen new products, start offering online sales and get the company into major trade shows in a push to expand into larger stores and markets.
“We’re kind of building upon what we’ve already done and introducing some new ideas,” Burnam said. “We’re excited about it.”
To sweeten the company’s online crowd-funding effort, contributors who pitch in $100 will get a hammock, a reusable shopping bag and a pocket daypack that turns from a shoulder bag into a backpack with the pull of a zipper.
Burnam, who was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, founded the company with Hanneman, who grew up in Southern California.
The two met at Humboldt State University where Burnam was studying oceanography and Hanneman was studying to be a fisheries biologist. They switched into outdoor recreation majors after hearing from friends who were out hiking and camping for class, and eventually deciding their own passions and interests were in that field more than in the sciences.
“A week after (Hanneman) joined I was still sitting in class looking through microscopes, and he was calling me and sending me photos from all his camping trips,” Burnam said. “They were learning some really cool ecological practices as well, which I felt were a bit more practical in my day-to-day life. I stuck it out the rest of the year and then decided to switch to recreation as well.”
Burnam and Hanneman created a business plan for Bakpocket Products for their senior class project at Humboldt State University and later teamed up with David Williams, the company’s president, who also grew up in South Lake Tahoe.
“We made like 45 hammocks our first time. They sold in a flash and we were kind of amazed. We sold them to friends at school and from there it just kind of jumped into the senior project,” Burnam said.
The hammocks offer a lightweight, comfortable alternative to tent camping and can be set up in places a tent is just not possible. The trio has been refining and expanding their product line ever since they started the business, testing gear and doing R&D while in the field on their own outdoor adventures.
Bakpocket Products are available in 20 stores in Northern and Southern California, a list that includes outdoor retailers, surf shops and even organic groceries, as well as Grass Roots Natural Foods, Sports Ltd. and Lake Tahoe Outfitters here in South Lake Tahoe.
Based in a California mountain town that touts itself as a year-round playground for outdoor recreation, Bakpocket has developed a local following in its first 18 months in business. Angela Moniot, a lifelong hiker and camper in the Sierra Nevada, said she’s one of the young company’s biggest fans. She has most of its products: a hammock for a good night’s sleep on the trail, backpacks to haul it and other gear and a blanket for a day at one of Tahoe’s sandy beaches.
“What I love most about my Bakpocket products is the convenience,” Moniot said. “It’s like carrying your life in a little pocket. You can bring your ultra-light backpack, blanket, hammock or bag with you anywhere, yet their functionality and durability is not compromised by their compact size.”
David Williams said it’s been fun to watch people take a liking to the gear that he, Burnam and Hanneman are creating. “It’s just a good feeling to see the product in people’s hands and hear the reviews. All of our friends love them. It’s awesome,” Williams said.
The company’s products have also spread to other parts of the world. A Bakpocket bag was recently spotted at the World Cup in Brazil. Other bags and hammocks have been seen in Alaska and Australia. Customers have filled the company’s Instagram stream with snapshots from around the world showing that “home is where your hammock’s hanging.”
“The other day a woman called us up and wanted to buy a couple of our shopping bags. She said she was down in Costa Rica and bumped into somebody on a tour bus who had our product and gave her our information,” Burnam said.
While getting out into the great outdoors with their own hammocks and trying to grow their business’s reach in California and beyond, Burnam and Williams said it’s also great to be back home in South Lake Tahoe and active in not only the recreation community, but the business community.
“I was born up here and this is something I never thought would happen. You look at Tahoe and you want to strive to live here, but the career is hard to find,” Burnam said about his move back to the area. “This is something we could bring back and I’m really stoked to be here and really doing what Tahoe is all about, backpacking and being outdoorsy.”