by Maddy Zollo Rusbosin | June 17, 2019

Made in FLA: Happy Trails

A Melbourne outdoor gear company proves why it’s ahead of the pack.

Image of a man setting up his Zpack kit with a scenic nature backdrop.
A love of hiking brought together the West Melbourne crew that became Zpacks. Photography courtesy of Zpacks

When Joe Valesko was preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail 14 years ago, he couldn’t find any gear that he liked. His solution? To make his own, despite having little to no background in product design. After hours at the sewing machine, the upstate New York native succeeded in creating a tarp system and a backpack. He then hit the trail with his new gear in tow. “Other hikers commented on how he should sell his designs,” explains Matt Favero, Zpacks’ brand manager. “Eventually, enough people wanted the gear he made that he had no choice but to start making it in his apartment after work.”

Creators of Zpacks outdoor gear; Photography courtesy of Zpacks

As the demand increased, Valesko became a computer programmer by day, gear maker by night. It wasn’t until he relocated to West Melbourne, Florida, that Valesko was inspired to turn his side hustle into a full-fledged career. Valesko met Favero soon after his move, and they connected over their love of hiking. “The next thing I know, I’m working in his garage with him and his wife sewing backpacks and tents,” remembers Favero of Zpacks’ early beginnings in 2010.

From there, the brand expanded, supplying adventurers everywhere with top- notch gear that’s tried and tested against nature. “All of our gear is either the lightest version available in the world or pretty close to it,” continues Favero. “What makes our company different is that we are adventurers ourselves. We have purposely surrounded ourselves with people who regularly go on amazing trips and our gear is designed to handle the demands of those adventures. We do not make a single item that none of us would carry.”