I find it funny that in this media driven world, we can find ourselves sending emails back and forth with someone for almost a year, and never really grasp their personality and vibe as you can when you meet someone face to face. I am not big into Facebook stalking either, which brings to light that sense of mystery and unknowing when you finally cross paths. This was how I felt when I met Joe Tonsager, the owner and operator of J. Paks.

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Photo: Kristen Shoup

We were invited to tour J. Paks HQ in downtown Denver this past weekend. Joe is a particularly humble individual with a laid back demeanor. The kind of guy you want to spend your afternoon talking about bikepacking with… and that is exactly what we did. Immediately upon entering into a conversation with Joe, you can sense the care and thoughtfulness that goes into his product. He embraces bikepacking as a community. There was something he said that really stuck with me when we were discussing the ever-growing market of bikepacking, and that was the concept that “…we all win, as long as the consumers are getting out there and experiencing these adventures.”

J. Paks was established as an LLC in 2012, but that wasn’t when Joe’s passion for textiles and design began. He moved to Denver from Minnesota to attend the Art Institute of Colorado as an Industrial Design student years before. Throughout his time learning how to design functional pieces, he was introduced to sewing in a soft goods class. During this class he created his first bag. It was a multiple purpose fly fishing bag designed to keep the anglers in the water, while having hold of all of their necessities. After this, Joe was hooked.

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He made his first frame bag in 2011, as a personal solution to his own discovery of bikepacking. Soon after that he outfitted his friends and was on his way to improving his process. The first bag he ever sold to an actual customer was for a gentleman on a Salsa Spearfish. If you are familiar with these frames you know that they are not necessarily the easiest dimensions for a frame bag designer. Having a background in industrial design keeps Joe on the tip of his creativity while consistently finding solutions for bike bags. As the company evolved, so did the product. J. Paks has moved from using Cordura fabric to using all X-Pac and Cuben Fiber for a lighter weight, more durable solution. While this endeavor began as a part time gig, J. Paks has now become his full time career. He also volunteers at local bike shop called Lucky Bikes, which is a non-profit selling donated bikes that have been refurbished.

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All of J. Paks bags are tested in one of the most rugged areas for mountain biking in the country – the Rocky Mountains. The process behind the product stems from functionality and simplicity. J. Paks produces one of the only one-panel top tube bags on the market. Another element which is unique to J. Paks is the use of thin foam on the bottom of the top tube bags instead of hard plastic. The foam allows the bag to conform more seamlessly to the tube.

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Joe likes to start the day building something more simple such as a RukSak or a SnakPak, and as the day progresses and his creativity begins to peak he moves toward creating more custom items. He recently fabricated an interesting hydration solution for Mark Gregory’s Arizona Trail Race rig. The bag was for a Salsa Horsethief, another difficult bike to make a bag for. The frame bag had an integrated bladder sling which sat below the down tube. It was held by velcro so that the rider could tighten the sling when no water was being stored there. This solution allowed the rider to carry an additional 3 liters on top of his already loaded frame bag.

J. Paks will now be on the shelves in a few local bike shops in the Denver area including Golden Bike Shop, which will be the first to carry inventory of his Cuben Fiber run of SeatPaks and Handlebar bags. J. Paks has a few future ideas in the works so be sure to keep following his progress.

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Bolted bag prototype
Soon to be released GravelPak SeatPak
Soon to be released GravelPak SeatPak
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Joe’s White Rim rig for his trip last weekend.

6 Comments

  1. Awesome! One of my coworkers is a friend of Joe’s and raves about both the dude and his work. Once I finish grad school and get my life back so that I can start bikepacking, I know I will be purchasing gear from JPaks (even though I could get deals elsewhere). Always good to see love for local artisans.

  2. Great article and totally on point about Joe and what he is accomplishing. Just visited him at his shop for a custom frame pack for my Specialized Epic. What a great guy! Can’t wait to pick up my frame pack and hit the CT this summer.

  3. I’m sorry to come across as a downer, but someone needs to say it. I wish Mr. Tonsager would have addressed the elephant in the room when it comes to his gear – namely, his blatant copies of other manufacturers’ specific designs and critical ideas. Everyone builds on the work of those before them, but ideally will improve upon it, change it up in some way. With J.Paks, there’s a major lack of innovation, but a major excess of claiming it. Specific designs/critical ideas from at least Revelate, Bedrock, and Porcelain Rocket have been copied and claimed as original ideas, which sucks for everyone involved. And as nice as everyone claims Mr. Tonsager is, when approached by these craftsmen about his appropriation, his response is downright nasty. Show some respect, kiddo!

    I’m sorry to all Mr. Tonsager’s friends – this isn’t a personal attack. Just trying to put the other side of this story out there. It’s difficult to watch the true craftsmen and innovators of our sport get buried under free advertising pieces about duplicators with shady ethics. Right place (Front Range), right time (bikepacking becomes “a thing”), I guess.

    • Lindsay Arne
      Lindsay Arne

      Thank your for sharing your opinion. As a community driven publication, Bikepackers Magazine strives to support and cover all brands in the industry equally – whether big or small, each company helps make the bikepacking community what it is. Our hope is to do many more bag manufacturer site visits and interviews moving forward, this is just the first of many.

    • 4130 4LIFE

      @GUEST.
      I built custom steel frames for a living, and I bet I have a lot of competitors that look feel and ride just like mine. Yet I still have happy customers..strange the way supply and demand works.
      It’s funny because every article I read about JPAKS, there you are..saying the exact same thing, which is fine, but it’s starting to sound more personal than informative. So you have peaked my interest and maybe created another elephant in the room in the process. When someone signs on as guest and rants it smell of trolling or a bitter competitor. So if you really are just a concerned citizen calling out JPAKS every time you read about him, why hide behind an alias?
      So my question to you is..Who are you really? A troll or a competitor (Feel free to answer with your real name)
      Michael

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