Dean Jensen, an Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver recipient and longtime Scouter, instilled a love for the outdoors within his five sons, all of whom earned the Eagle Scout rank. He’d attend every Scouting event, and some campouts were dubbed “Camp Grandpa,” a nod to Dean as he shared his skills and wisdom with Scouts.
His son, Scott, wanted to start an outdoor gear company with his father, but Dean passed away from a heart attack in 2018 at the age of 71. Shortly after Dean’s death, Scott and his family moved to China, where Scott worked as a corporate supply chain director and manager. The outdoor gear company idea didn’t fade away — Scott continued camping and backpacking.
A year later he founded Near Zero, an outdoor gear company focused on lightweight, affordable camping equipment. The concept mirrored how Dean approached backpacking.
“He was one of those gram counters,” Scott says. “He’s one of those guys that cut his toothbrush in half. He was an ultra-ultra-lighter.”
With that ultra-light inspiration, Scott designed a 50-liter backpack that weighed 3 pounds. When packed with 30 other lightweight items Near Zero sells, such as a tent, sleeping quilt and pad, the total package comes in at only 17 pounds.
The name for this pack? “The Dean.”
Finding his passion
Growing up in Mesa, Ariz., Scott joined Scouting as a Cub Scout, earned Eagle when he was 15 and stayed in the program until turning 18. He went to Arizona State University and later received his Master of Business Administration degree from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an ASU business school.
He managed supply chains for aerospace and medical companies. That led him to a position in Dongguan, China, where he’d oversee a team of 100 people at a factory of about 3,000 employees. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Scott, his wife, Liza, and their five children moved back to the U.S.
Living in China had introduced him to camping manufacturers. In July 2021, he quit his job to work on Near Zero full-time and connected with those manufacturers.
“I love the outdoors,” he says. “I found a niche. I can get quality lightweight products and offer it to backpackers at a very affordable price.”
In a short time, the family-owned company blossomed to projections of $1 million in revenue this year. Near Zero’s products are sold on their website nearzero.co, Amazon, small retail stores, and nearly 300 Travel Centers of America locations nationwide. Scott points to his time in Scouting as helping him keep his company moving forward.
“I think it’s assertiveness; it’s being a leader,” Scott says. “The Scouting program taught me how to not be afraid of new adventures.”
Designing the backpack
Near Zero offers tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, first-aid kits and backpacking gear. But you need something to carry all that in.
Scott’s initial design for a backpack, weighed down with gear, topped 60 pounds. He wasn’t satisfied with it.
“My wife is a very organized, compartmentalized person,” Scott says. “We were talking about backpack designs, and she said, ‘Why don’t you make it easy, make it like a suitcase?’”
He drafted a design in which the front panel unzips and flips open, allowing access to everything inside without needing to dig. He added labels to different compartments to help backpackers pack.
The backpack went through 10 iterations before becoming “The Dean,” which has 10 patentable features.
“It took me three years to go from idea to production,” Scott says. “I hiked the Grand Canyon twice to test it.”
“The Dean” retails for $199.50 and has options to come prepacked with bundles of camping gear aimed at helping a beginner backpacker.
As Near Zero sells its backpacks, Scott pays close attention to customer feedback so he can deliver a better product. Thanks to feedback, an adjustable torso length was added to accommodate growing teenagers who want the backpack. Plans include selling a 20-liter children’s backpack.
Near Zero has also partnered with other companies like Sawyer, Peak and Outdoor Element to sell their gear through the company’s website.
Scott, now 43 and living in Mesa, Ariz., has served as a Scoutmaster and leads monthly backpacking trips with his church and neighborhood. He hopes his work helps people enjoy the outdoors, like Dean did.
“It’s about family,” Scott says. “He was a very inspirational person to me.”