By Eric Peterson | Aug 29, 2013
Employees: 70 (including sister brand Honey Stinger)
Bill Gamber started Big Agnes in 2001 as a response to his own experience in the backcountry. Namely, sleep was fitful under the stars, despite the serenity of the setting.
The solution: a sleeping bag with a sleeve for an inflatable sleeping pad.
"All of our bestselling bags still have that pad sleeve," Len Zanni, co-owner of the company. "We call it the Big Agnes system."
Gamber continues to head up design at Big Agnes, and the company continues to be on the front end of innovation for outdoor gear.
DownTek, a proprietary water-repellent down filling from Down Decor, "has been a game changer," says Zanni. "It absorbs less water and dries faster." Big Agnes DownTek bags feature vertical chambers connecting "horizontal baffles of down" to further increase the bag's warmth.
Dubbed Insotect Flow, this third-party technology -- which is licnesed by only a few companies, Big Agnes included -- features "flow gates" that keep the down from shifting, resulting in over- and under-insulated spots. As Goldilocks preferred, these bags are just right.
The design also improves the ease of manufacturing, says Zanni. "It's a more efficient sewing process," he explains.
Big Agnes sleeping pads are also on the bleeding edge: They are lighter, more durable, anti-microbial, and feature larger air chambers on the outside to keep users comfortably cradled in the middle of the pad.
"It's just a real comfortable pad," says Zanni, pointing to alternating I-beams and "three and a half inches of air."
Over the last decade, Big Agnes has moved from sleeping bags and pads into tents, trekking poles, duffels, and other camping accessories, and a DownTek-based outerwear line will debut in fall 2013.
Zanni highlights the new zipperless Fishhook tents, launched earlier in 2013. Not only do zippers wake up your tentmate when you open the flap in the middle of the night, says Zanni, but "zippers are bulky and they can fail." In other words, one innovation kills three pesky birds.
In 2004, Gamber, Zanni, and company started a sister company to Big Agnes in Honey Stinger, which offers a full array of energy snacks made of honey -- bars, gels, waffles, and chews -- and now is moving into the kids' market with a smaller waffle. The company has more than half of the combined 70 employees, although about 10 work for both.
Zanni credits the company's five manufacturing partners in Asia, as well as licensors like Insotect and Down Decor. No manufacturer is an island, he explains. "Our sleeping bag manufacturer, all they make is sleeping bags. They're one of the top one of two sleeping bag manufacturers in the world. It's very similar with tents."
He points to DAC, Big Agnes' aluminum tent pole supplier in South Korea. "They're crazy smart guys and really help us with tent design."
The company's open culture at the Steamboat HQ is also critical, Zanni adds. Employees go out on several backcountry outings together every summer, and ideas are welcome from everyone, Zanni notes. "If someone in the warehouse has an idea, they just walk over to product development," he explains. "We're not a big company.
And this dates back to Gamber's initial vision for Big Agnes, a vision that still holds today. "Bill is constantly tinkering and thinking about things in the backcountry," says Zanni. "We're always innovating."
Challenges: Zanni says increasing brand awareness is the biggest current challenge for Big Agnes, adding, "Innovation is both a challenge and an opportunity."
Opportunities: Going global. "There's so much opportunity to expand internationally," says Zanni.
Needs: "Capital is always an issue when you're a growing business," Zanni zays. "Plus we need people to get off the couch and get outdoors and camp, hike, and fish."