My name is Jim Schipf -- I'm the “J” in J.A. Gear -- and I have been making outdoor products for 30 years. All the packs I've designed and built have undergone literally thousands of hours of outdoor testing. I happen to be the tester as well. I ski about 100 days a year, and I mountain bike at least that many, always wearing one of my packs, always making sure my designs fulfill my outdoor-gear philosophy: My packs must be sturdy and simple, they must be easy to use, and they must be ideal for the activity.
I grew up in Missoula, where I met my wife, Annette Piccirillo -- she's the “A” -- though now she's mostly involved with theatrical costumes and wedding dress design. We moved to Bozeman in 1988.
While my own packs are my passion, I've also built high-quality outdoor gear for some of the world's leading companies, including Dana Design, Simms Fishing Products, Complete Angler, Craftsman, and Adventure Medical Kits, among many others. I've designed bird-hunting vests, tool belts, and Neoprene technical equipment cases,to name a few. I made the packframe that Big Bird wears on the traveling Jim Henson's Sesame Street Live show. I've made packs for a paraglider needing to carry his rig up mountains. J.A. Packs have joined expeditions on every continent. If you can imagine it, I can probably make a pack for it.
I began making my most popular product, the Ridge Pack, in the early '90s, soon after Bridger Bowl started asking skiers and snowboarders to carry shovels when we hiked The Ridge. ( They don't require a shovel any more. But a shovel and probe are essential back country tools.)
My chief rule of design is simplicity. I like to leave the bells and whistles off that most people don't use. Nobody needs eleven pockets or a half-dozen little dividers -- one big space, I've always felt, is preferable to several small ones. You can better utilize the pack's capacity that way, and carry a wider range of gear.
I put belts of some sort on all my packs. I think people should use them. Even a skinny web belt will take some weight off your shoulders if you snug it up a little.
Most of my competitors packs are just too heavy. I see people carrying an 8 pound pack (just the pack) on an over night trip.Even my big packs are at about 3 pounds. I feel you don't need big plastic sheets and heavy fiberglass rods. The most important thing is that they are adjusted right and they fit.
I have done outdoor gear repair all along. I have worked on most all brands of packs so I see what goes wrong. I can tell you the packs that I see regularly that have the same problem, and it usually starts with the design, then the materials used, and then the workmanship.It's really not that hard to make something that lasts, but some outfits don't do it or don't know how. They are more concerned with making a cheap fashion accessory. And that mouse or porcupine that chews on your pack at night doesn't care how many hundreds of dollars you spent on your gear.
When I do put in a zipper I keep it on the short side so if the zipper fails -- always the weak point of a pack -- the pack is still functional. Zippers, I've found, wear out faster when they're curved, so I also keep mine straight.I don't think a bigger zipper is necessarily stronger, but I use a size that fits the application.I don't really like those (so called) water resistant coated zippers.They are not as smooth operating,so I feel they wear out faster.They also won't keep your stuff any more dry because all the seams will leak too.( On that note- If you are swimming with your pack, get a real dry bag that fits inside.Water is a powerful thing,and wear a little hole in your expensive "water proof" pack, and guess what!) Everything gets sewn at least twice and then back-tacked. Nearly all seams are taped. I use Nylon Cordura fabric in the 500D and 1000D weights; it's really tough and reasonably priced.
I look forward to helping make your trips into the backcountry, on the ski hill, or along the bike paths as simple and worry free as possible.