BURLEY, Idaho (AP) — Burley native Galen Bench was living and teaching in Indonesia in 2004 when the 9.1 magnitude Sumatra-Andaman earthquake occurred off the coast of northern Sumatra. The massive tsunami that followed killed over 227,000 people and left 1.7 million displaced, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Witnessing the devastation moved Bench to secure a patent on an invention he’d been working on for years — an all-in-one backpack-tent system.
“He likes to invent things,” Bench’s brother Mike, general manager of TentPak said. “He teaches and invents.”
Bench’s idea was that a portable emergency shelter built into a backpack full of other emergency supplies could help people survive for three or more days following a natural or manmade disaster. He patented his invention in 2007 and brought it home, where it became a family business. He has since moved back to Indonesia and the business has been taken over by zombies.
“The zombie stuff has started to overtake the other stuff,” Mike said.
TentPak is the maker of the Zombie Apocalypse Pak — a modified version of Bench’s integrated tent and backpack system loaded with survival tools. It’s marketed toward consumers with a fear of the undead. The zombie packs range in price from $250 to $445, depending on the model. The general packs range in price from $264 to $350, depending on size.
“The zombie people like to have a machete for the chopping off of heads,” Mike said.
The packs come in various sizes with different size tents. They’re embroidered with the companies Zombie Apocalypse Pak logo and are sold bundled with survival items including fire starters, first aid kits, multi-tools and 18-inch long machetes.
The idea came in a conversation at an outdoor retail trade show in 2011, Mike said. He and his supplier were talking to a buyer from Overstock.com about “different things that sell for unusual reasons.”
“They have been selling a bundle of zombie related items over the past few years,” Mike said.
The buyer suggested creating and marketing a bundled zombie survival pack and Mike took a swing.
The backpacks caused a stir when they were first showcased at trade shows, Mike said.
“The zombie packs are met with great humor and laughter,” he said. “People are surprised by them.”
They are still selling on Overstock.com. and Amazon.com, Mike said. TentPak has sold packs to customers in Canada, Japan and England through its own website, but everyone in the family business based in Burley still keeps their regular jobs.
“We still consider ourselves in start-up phase,” he said.
Mike said the uptick in the company’s zombie packs is a result of pointed marketing.
“It’s had a stronger marketing approach, he said, “But we’re trying to balance it back out.”
Tentpak also produces a line of identical backpack systems geared to everyday outdoor consumers.
Early modifications to Bench’s original design helped to accommodate this market. The tent still stows away in its own compartment in the pack, but it’s physically deteacheable. This allows backpackers to separate food from shelter in bear country.
“Our market is the entry-level to mid-range outdoor person such as a scout or a family camper,” Mike said.
The line also is sold without the zombie bundles and branding.
“Not everyone wants a zombie logo on their backpack,” he said.
Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com