Zombie survival packs drive Idaho biz

Mike Bench, general manager of TentPak, helps a shopper try on a Zombie Apocalypse Pack during a survival and preparedness expo on April 26 at the Twin Falls County Fair Grounds in Filer.

BURLEY — Burley native Galen Bench was living and teaching in Indonesia in 2004 when the 9.1 magnitude Sumatra-Andaman earthquake struck off the coast of northern Sumatra.

The massive tsunami that followed the temblor killed more than 227,000 people and displaced another 1.7 million, 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,” said Bench’s brother, Mike, general manager of TentPak. “He teaches and invents.”

Bench decided 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 man-made disaster. He patented his invention in 2007 and brought it home, where it became a family business. He since has moved back to Indonesia, where the business has been taken over by zombies.

“The zombie stuff has started to overtake the other stuff,” Mike Bench 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 who fear 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,” he said.

The packs come in various sizes with different size tents. They’re embroidered with the company’s Zombie Apocalypse Pak logo. They are sold bundled with survival items, including fire starters, first aid kits, multi-tools and 18-inch long machetes.

The idea was born during 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 . The backpacks caused a stir when they were first showcased at trade shows,.

“The zombie packs are met with great humor and laughter,” Mike said. “People are surprised by them.”

They are still selling on Overstock.com. and Amazon.com. TentPak has sold the 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.

The uptick in the company’s zombie packs is a result of pointed marketing.

“It’s had a stronger marketing approach, Mike 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 that market. The tent still stows away in its own compartment in the pack, but it’s also detachable. That 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.