How Andrew Bentz of Pa'lante Built a Better Ultralight Pack
By Mekenna Malan | May 10, 2021
Andrew Bentz knew he could build an ultralight backpack that was efficient and simple, weighed less without sacrificing durability, and looked better than anything else on the market.
Five years and four pack models later, Pa’lante packs — which are currently manufactured right here in Ogden, Utah — have quickly risen to the top of every in-the-know hiker’s wish list. Named after a Spanish slang word loosely translated as “onward," Pa’lante packs are in high demand, with each batch of product selling out just hours after being released online.
Bentz was raised in Los Angeles and grew up exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains, hiking California trails and learning to love the outdoors as a boy scout. After moving to Utah, he took only three sewing classes in college and graduated in geology, which is to say he’s almost completely self-taught in sewing and product design. But he’s had a lot of practice: as an avid hiker whose resume includes the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, making his own gear has always been an obvious part of getting outside. “There’s always been a lot of DIY stuff within the ultralight hiking community,” Bentz says. “It’s a common thing for companies to sell kits for people to sew their own packs. When I saw that, I started making my own blankets and learning how to sew other stuff.”
Unable to find the kind of ultralight pack he’d be excited to carry, Bentz set about designing one. “Instead of trying to make a pack that could work for every hiker, like lots of companies do, I wanted a pack that would serve as the niche ultralight pack,” he says. “I wanted to make something with high-end materials and truly minimal aesthetics. Something that actually looked nice on a person.”
Together with business partner John Zahorian, a friend from the CDT, Bentz made an initial batch of 40 packs in 2016 and began marketing them on Instagram, YouTube and the (very committed, somewhat cutthroat) ultralight backpacking subReddit r/Ultralight. “John and I were active enough in the hiking community that it was easy enough to sell the packs, so we kept making batches,” Bentz says. Within six months, Pa’lante was in-demand enough to require outsourced manufacturing.
“Instead of trying to make a pack that could work for every hiker, like lots of companies do, I wanted a pack that would serve as the niche ultralight pack. I wanted to make something with high-end materials and truly minimal aesthetics. Something that actually looked nice on a person.”
So what makes these packs special? According to Bentz, the overarching goal of Pa’lante is to create a pack that’s so light, a hip belt is simply unnecessary. “A lot of our packs have a stashable 1.5” webbing hip belt that you can cinch up if your pack gets heavy, but you shouldn’t be trying to load it and get all the weight on your hips,” he says. From there, Pa’lante packs are differentiated from the competition through uniquely streamlined aesthetics and purposeful details, from super-accessible shoulder strap pockets to a small loop for stowing an ice axe. The feature Pa’lante packs are most revered for, however, is the ingenious bottom pocket: a stretchy pocket on the bottom panel of the pack that can be easily accessed while the pack is on your back, and a perfect place to stuff a windbreaker, snacks, or trash. “The principle is to not have to take your pack off and dig through it so you can crush miles on the trail,” Bentz says.
Bentz turns to woven and laminate materials like Ultra Weave, dyneema mesh, and PU-coated nylon ripstop to create waterproof packs that weigh very little but maintain rugged durability. Pa’lante’s newest pack, the Desert Pack, is even made out of recycled materials. “That’s one cool distinction about being in the ultralight scene. We get to use whatever material we want,” Bentz says excitedly. “For reference, Patagonia and other big companies need to get their fabrics for under $2-per-yard at the most. They don’t have the ability to make 100 packs out of some crazy expensive, $80-per-yard material. The price of the product would be way too high, no one would buy it, and it wouldn’t be worth their time. But that’s the realm in which ultralight exists: providing a premium product made with high-end materials that the big companies don’t want to touch.”
“I never thought of [creating Pa’lante] in terms of ‘success.’ I just wanted to make good shit.”
This intersection of durability, comfort and style is exactly what makes Pa’lante the kind of pack that ultralight hikers — including Bentz himself — actually feel excited about wearing. “If I could have hiked the PCT with the Desert Pack, I would have been so stoked,” Bentz says. “I never thought of [creating Pa’lante] in terms of ‘success.’ I just wanted to make good shit.”
Looking to the future, Bentz spends his workdays developing a series of new products for Pa’lante, including an ultralight mock neck fleece, a crossbody bag, shorts, and even a running vest. But his motto is, as it always has been, to hike first and “make cool shit” second. Since residing in Utah’s playground, Bentz frequently enjoys the activities that drew him to creating outdoor products in the first place, namely backcountry skiing, bikepacking and hiking. “I go on a lot of weekend trips these days,” he says. “I try to keep my life focused around the trips I’m doing. The rest of my time is spent scrambling to get my work done in between.”
While it may seem like an unorthodox business model, it’s Bentz’s prioritized devotion to the outdoors that shines through in his brand to build a successful — and inspired — community of customers. “Think of all the companies that are always trying to force their products down your throat. People are so over that,” Bentz says. With only an Instagram profile and a small YouTube presence, Bentz’s focus on creative, lifestyle-driven marketing has resulted in Pa’lante becoming one of the hottest products on the ultralight radar organically.
Though he might shy away from the comparison of Pa’lante to recent collaborations between the outdoor world and the fashion world (like The North Face and Gucci, or Arc’teryx and Palace), it’s apparent that Bentz’s pack designs are a bold step towards the intersection of the two. “It’s so exciting in the outdoor world right now. Fashion has picked up interest in the outdoors big time,” he says. “To converge fashion design with the outdoor space is going to give it so much more life and make it so much more fun.” Could Pa’lante be the next big thing in Gorpcore? Maybe. But it’s the next big thing on the trail, that’s for sure.