Pack NW: Homegrown & Humble
With unmistakable nautical influences, Pack NW creates high-quality, attractive bikepacking bags in the cycling hub of Bellingham, Washington. We paid Hilary and her shop a visit to learn more about what makes Pack NW unique and what we can expect from the company in the future…
The Pack NW story is a unique one. Instead of being fueled by a passion for bikes and adventures, although they definitely played a role, Hilary started putting her industrial sewing techniques to the test while making and repairing sails for the local sailing community. Bombproof stitches, extreme precision, and working with materials designed to withstand some of the harshest marine environs means Hilary is no stranger to making high-quality products. The bikepacking bag side of the business evolved organically shortly after she created the Hobo Tote, a multipurpose convertible tote / backpack that also still happens to be one of Pack NW’s most popular products. Today, Hilary has expanded the product line to include stem bags, custom frame bags, hip packs, backpacks, and much more. Just like the company’s deep roots in the sailing community, each bag is handmade in their basement workshop in Bellingham, and the attention to detail and superb craftsmanship are hard to miss.
I was in the area to ride Bellingham’s huge network of local trails while on route to the southern terminus of the Oregon Timber Trail, so I figured I’d stop in to see what Hilary is up to…
How long have you been making bags under the Pack NW name?
I started Pack NW in 2014 as an offshoot of my sail repair business, which I opened in 2009. I’d been making bags out of old sails and Sunbrella scraps for years, but that felt a bit limiting when I got interested in making my own bike bags, so I started exploring other materials to work with and that eventually led to the creation of Pack NW.
What’s the story behind the name?
I knew I wanted the name to have something to do with the Pacific Northwest because I draw a lot of inspiration from where I live. I was brainstorming with my brother, David, and he came up with Pack NW. It’s hard to resist a good double entendre, and was surprised that the name wasn’t already taken. We sat on it for a little while, and it just stuck.
What kinds of bags are you currently offering?
I make a variety of bicycle accessory bags: stem bags, beer koozies, top tube, and handlebar bags. I make a lot of custom frame bags, mostly for local folks, which has been a great way to connect with my customer base here in the Bellingham area. I also make hip packs, hydration packs, bike panniers, and some non bike-specific items like wallets and a convertible tote/backpack called the Hobo Tote. One of the biggest challenges I have with being mostly a one-woman show is finding time to keep the website up to date. I have a lot of products that are available in person but aren’t up on the website yet. I guess I kind of like it that way because it gives me a chance to see how things go over locally before pushing a product out into the wider world and it’s a lot easier to get feedback from people I meet in person.
There’s clearly some nautical influence in your designs and colours. How much crossover is there from the sail repair side of things?
Pack NW was born in a sail loft, and I wanted to at least give a little nod to its origins with the logo and some of the original designs and colors. My background in sailmaking made me proficient in industrial sewing and helped me understand a lot about wear and stress points. In doing repairs, I came to learn that good sailmakers not only build a high quality sail with good materials and reinforcement in all the right places, but they also build them with future repairs in mind. I’ve tried to carry that mentality over to making bags. I try to err on the side of simplicity and to consider not only the look and functionality of the bag, but also how reasonable it would be to deconstruct for repairs.
Which of your products are you most excited about?
A couple of newer products that I’m pretty excited about are our hydration pack and top tube bag. I’ve been working on the hydration pack for a long time and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’m also pretty stoked on the top tube bag – it’s hard to find ways to innovate with such a small, simple item when there are so many other people out there doing a great job at making something similar, but I think I managed to give it a unique touch and functionality that will appeal to some people. Both of these items should be up on the website soon.
How important is being based out of Bellingham, Washington, for you?
Very. Both in terms of being a great jumping off point for all sorts of adventures and the fact that it’s an incredibly supportive community for small businesses and artists. It’s home, and Pack NW would be nothing without the support of our community.
What is your favourite local riding spot?
I’d probably have to say the Chuckanut Mountains. It’s a great area for day rides or short overnighters and it’s easily accessed from town. The views of the San Juan Islands to the west and Mt. Baker to the east are hard to beat, and it’s the only point where the Cascade range extends west all the way to the sea, so it’s a pretty special place.
What can we expect from Pack NW in the future?
I’m working on shifting things around so that I can dedicate more of my time to Pack NW. Up to now it has just been a side project, but my goal is to make it more front and center in the next year. That means more time dedicated to new designs, and I have plans to round out our bikepacking offerings. I don’t have any interest in growing too much too fast, but I do hope to be able to streamline some processes and potentially bring on an employee at some point.
Any upcoming trips planned?
Well, my partner Chris and I are building a house right now and have pretty much been on lockdown for the past year. It’ll still be a few months before we finish, so in the near future we’ll just be trying to sneak in some quick overnighters in the back yard. But, we’re mulling over some ideas for a big bikepacking trip next spring. We haven’t settled on anything specific just yet, but we’re open to suggestions!
Learn more about Pack NW at PackNW.com and stay tuned for more coverage of some of Hilary’s products.