Category Archives: Jobs

How to Get Outdoor Pro Deals

Wouldn’t it be sick to have access to brands like GoPro, K2, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Kelty for a steady 60% off?

That’s called a pro-deal, my friends. A lot of you reading my blog are outdoor pros or looking to become instructors, guides, naturalists and so on. Guess what!?! You can snag easy pro deals up to 60% off these brands. Wish someone had told me this when I was a county park ranger….

How to Register for Outdoor Pro Deals

There is an easy way to do this and a hard way to do this…. let’s start with easy:

Experticity.com

Sign up for hundreds of outdoor pro deals in one registration with experticity.com

Get some sick outdoor pro deals with Experticity.

Get some sick outdoor pro deals with Experticity.

This one used to be known as Promotive but I guess they’ve recently overhauled themselves. Maybe it was a merger, I’m not really hip on the happenings behind the scene. It doesn’t really matter, just go get your sick gear for dope discounts.

You can register on your own and hope for acceptance or, if your employer is cool, they’re already registered. It’s better to connect with an employer because brands usually offer deeper discounts through employers.

If your employer has an Experticity hub, simply make an account, search for your employer, link your profile to them (you may have to provide proof of employment) and BAM! Discounts.

If you’ve ever been on a NOLS course, you’re already eligible! All NOLS alum can connect with the NOLS hub on Experticity and get stick gear deals.

Get creative, ask friends, ask old employers, it’s not difficult to find a way to legitimately qualify for these badass outdoor gear deals.

Individual Brands

Many outdoor gear brands offer pro deals on a case-by-case basis. Don’t see a brand on Experticity that you want a deal with? Try checking out that company’s corporate website. Often you’ll find pro deal programs through the brand its self.

Here’s an easy example:

Patagonia’s pro deal corner of their site can be found here.

How do you become a Patagonia pro deal member? Here’s a direct quote from Patagonia’s pro deal FAQ:

The Patagonia Pro Program is a membership program for qualified pros and influencers specific to our brand. Membership is by application only and all members need to reapply/requalify annually to continue membership and access. Membership is not guaranteed and can be revoked at any time. If you are interested in applying, please visit our Apply for Membershipsection and follow the instructions.

Patagonia offers an individual pro deal!

Patagonia offers an individual pro deal!

So even if you can’t get ahold of the deals through Experticity – just go hook yourself up by convincing the brands that you’ll be a great ambassador for their gear in one way or another. Just get creative and be honest.

Here’s Mountain Hardwear’s Pro Deal page.

Maybe you need some Columbia gear on the cheap – here’s the pro deal page. Columbia has always been one of my favorite brands and snagging the gear a bit cheaper would be sick!

Outlet Stores

This one is often overlooked.

This is how I picked up a great  new pair of skiing pants, a jacket, and brand new pair of Mountain Hardwear gloves for well under $100.

Check your local shopping centers for outdoor gear outlet stores. The savvy gear shopper can snag sick gear on the cheap here.

My all time favorite? (No surprise here) The Columbia Outlet Store in Kimball Junction, Utah.

Conclusion

Hey, why pay full price when all these brands want you to rep their gear on the cheap!?

If you’re an outdoor pro, educator, guide, instructor, or anything else (media, blogger, etc) which qualifies you through these great outdoor pro deal programs – take advantage of them yesterday!

Cheers, friends and happy trails!

One Fatal Mistake of Team Leaders and Managers

Hey there, fans and followers. After a long hiatus, I am back on the scene.

Let’s get right down to it: here’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen managers and team leaders make over the years.

Not taking advantage of a team member’s passion and skills.

I know, it seems so obvious. And you might be saying “who is this kid to be telling me what mistakes my managers are making (or me)”?

Well you’d be right to question me up until recently: I’ve spent the last few summers running or managing (both maybe?) wilderness and adventure based trips programs.

Sure some of you have more years in the saddle than me but, as Frank Turner would say, “I’m the one who’s got the microphone here, so just remember this”.

Time and again I go into seasonal work and, either as an employee, or as a team leader I find that potential is lost because people in positions of leadership do not take the time to ask what their team is good at and passionate about.

Don’t just assume that you know everything about your employees.

Let’s use me as an example:

Just because I got on-boarded as a backpacking instructor doesn’t mean that I don’t have other skills. So many trip leading organizations are micro companies, often desperate for tangible skills.

I’ve been recruited to fix networking and WordPress issues for a company that hired and employed me as a Wilderness Programs Supervisor.

I’ve done mechanical work for nature education programs while technically working as a naturalist.

When you take the time to get to know your team (and I mean really know them) you’ll be better able to bring their skills and passions to bear in helpful ways.

So many times I have been asked by an employer to do X task when really my skills and passions are much more aligned with Y task. And there are many times when, no matter your job title, you have to put on whatever hat your employer asks of you and get the job done.

But I’m not talking about that. Let’s say you’re developing summer curriculum with a team of a dozen people. Find out what they’re all knowledgeable and passionate about and help guide them in ways to bring those skills in line with your program so that both your employee and you can benefit.

Got someone with wild edible plant creds and passion? No wild edible plants class in your lesson book? Well then sit down with them and build a new class for them to teach!

The level of investment from your instructors and return from your students will go through the roof when you empower your leaders to teach skills and information that’s already waiting to burst out of them!

I think you’ll be amazed the next time you’re leading a team and you take the time to truly get to know them. Find ways to let their passions merge with their position in your team or company.

Don’t forget; this works wonders when you’re leading trips on trail, too. Get to know your students and give them opportunities to merge their passions with your course so that their impact on the trip and other students (and yourself) can be exponentially magnified.

You’ll be happy you took the time.

 

If you’re still with me after my hiatus and still reading, PLEASE leave a comment. I really want to get to know those of you I’ve been able to help and to bring you better content personally.

Happy Trails, friends.

Exploring Outdoor Education as a Career

Hi Casey,
I’m a junior in high school living in the suburbs of Philly. I’ve done a lot of hiking and tent camping, some skiing and trail riding and a little rock climbing, backpacking, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Not a ton of outdoor experience but I would love more. I found your article on whether it was necessary to have an Outdoor Education degree. I’m interested in an outdoor career and was wondering if you could answer some questions for me or direct me to someone or someplace who could
Is a love for the outdoors enough for an outdoor career or is there more to this type of work?
The question I get asked most when sharing what I want to do with my life is Is there any money in that. I’m not planning on owning a Lamborghini but is this a financially stable path? Could I raise a family with this type of work?
Is it wise or even worth it to get a degree or minor in adventure/outdoor education? For example I am currently considering and English major and adventure ed minor would that be a good plan?
Besides guiding, instructing, outfitting, and camps are there other jobs under this umbrella and if so what are they?
Any other information you would like to share would be greatly appreciated!

 

Let me start by saying thank you to Bethany who sent me this! I should also apologize to her for the original email being lost somehow.

Alas, now I have an opportunity to answer this great question, so here it goes. I’m posting it here so the rest of you can benefit from some of the answers. Hopefully it will be helpful to everyone.


 

Question 1:

Is a love for the outdoors enough for an outdoor career or is there more to this type of work?

Answer:

Since you mentioned rock climbing, skiing, hiking, backpacking, and paddle sports in your question I assume that your question is about becoming an instructor or guide. This field of work is known as adventure education, outdoor education, experiential education, or environmental education depending on exactly what outdoor pursuits you are involved with and what outcomes your program intends for its participants.

Let me mention, at the same time, that it is completely feasible to do something like environemntal sciences or conservation sciences and also have an “outdoor career”. These more academic based fields of study have potentially higher payrates but will require a lot more education up front and, potentially, a lot more lab-based work and number crunching.

There are a couple ways one could approach this:

No Degree (Experiential):

It’s possible to jump straight into leading summer camp activities without any degree or any real experience in the field. It might also be possible to start some environmental education with nothing more than some FFA experience from high school or an environemntal studies class.

Furthermore, it’s probably feasible to suggest that there are possible opportunities out there for leading adventure sports without any degree. If you’re a highly expereinced paddler, for instance, you could go through Nantahala Outdoor Center’s (NOC) river guide program. If I remember right, it’s a week or two long, costs a couple hundred bucks, and virtually guarantees you a summer of river guiding.

Doing it this way is completely possible but you’ll run into road blocks when you begin trying to move up into administrative and directorial positions in outdoor and adventure education. Many positions require at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to move past field based positions (and higher in the pay scale). Fortunately many positions also allow for a clause which permits “equivalent experience”.

If you envision yourself in a directorial position for an outdoor program or want to move past minor supervisory roles, it may be necessary to obtain a related graduate degree.

Degree:

The alternative approach would be to go get your schooling. Green Mountain College, Central Wyoming College, and Prescott College are some of the many schools now offering outdoor education or adventure education under grad or graduate level programs.

When I went through school there were only 4 schools offering outdoor education specific degrees (that I could find). Now there are many! Almost every state has at least one school offering an outdoor education degree.

Prescott is the only school I am aware of offering Master’s level courses in outdoor and adventure education.

At the same time, however, it is very common and almost as effective, to get a degree in a related field such as tourism, eco tourism, parks and recreation, etc.

These more common outdoor oriented programs are usually easier to find close to home and allow you to get in state tuition for a graduate degree which will be effective in leveraging higher paid positions in the outdoor career world.

My two cents:

My suggestion?

I’d advise people to get their WFR certification. It’s ~$800 but will make you an invaluable candidate in job applications.

If you have good experience in a particular outdoor skill (called an outdoor pursuit) it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to get a job as an assistant instructor or guide once you have that WFR certification. Just make sure you document your climbing trips, paddling trips, and backpacking trips. It’s essential to include them in your resume.

If you lack experience, then get a job as a summer camp counselor. Often you can be an assistant or lead facilitator of a certain activity in which you have some experience. For instance, my first summer in the field I became a lead rock wall and dynamic high ropes facilitator. I had almost no prior experience.

If you want (or your parents are bugging you to get) a degree and you’re not 100% sure that you want to commit to a nich field such as adventure education (that degree is not super transerfable) then I’d suggest something more robust such as tourism or parks and recreation for your graduate degree.

A degree like that is much more versatile and will allow you to secure jobs ranging from backpacking guide ($) all the way to park director for the National Forst Service ($$$$).

Whichever path you choose, you will need lots of documented experience in your chosen outdoor pursuit if you want to become a guide. Get after it!


Question 2:

Is this field of work financially stable? Could I raise a family with this type of work?

Answer:

Intially I would not expect your jobs to be stable. Personally? I have to move from coast to coast about every 5-6 months in order to keep employed. Almost all guiding work is seasonal.

It is possible to find positions which roll into year-round employment.

If a stable and steady income is a necessity (or priority) for you then you’ll need to take that into account.

Shooting for a supervisory or administrative role of some kind would probably be the best and most stable source of significant income while remaining active in the field. Many larger outdoor organizations (such as NOLS, AMC, and the ATC among many) employ marketers, directors, logistical coordinators, rations managers, customer service reps, etc.

You could also consider a career with a large outdoor retailer such as REI (though I can’t imagine seeing myself cooped up in an REI my whole life).

Once you’re in with NOLS as an instructor they more or less give you a calendar and let you declare what stretches of the year you want to work. I personally know several NOLS instructors who lead one or two trips a year for a few weeks to a month and then work relatively “normal” jobs the rest of the year. They just work their schedule around it.

In skiing, for example, most resorts now operate year round. They offer biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winters. Here at Deer Valley where I work, many instructors stay for the summer and work children’s summer camps or something similar. Alternately many younger instructors will ski the winter in the northern hemisphere and then flip to South America or New Zealand / Australia and teach skiing there during our summer.

Some outdoor pursuits work better together than others. For example, it may be difficult to stay in one place if your goal is to lead skiing and canyoneering. They generally don’t happen in the same places.

Now that I’ve word vommited all over the last few paragraphs I’ll remind you that superviosry positions (directors, assistant directors, wilderness programs supervisors, etc) tend to have a higher chance of year round employment or full time benefits. You’re going to trade the higher pay for more time in the office, however.

One thing that I constantly thank myself for is staying out of debt. I went to school on a scholarship, worked since I was 16, worked all through school, and have never once carried a debt. In this field, where pay tends to be low, sporadic, and seasonal, having debt hanging over your head is almost impossible to manage.

The off seasons when there’s no work (April – June and October – December) are almost impossible to make it through when you’ve got debt payments looming. Do everything you can to stay clear of debt! It’ll give you the flexibility to survive as you initially navigate this odd field of work.

Whether or not you can raise a family, I think, depends very heavily on what type of lifestyle you envision. In the field, actually guiding, you’ll be hard pressed to make more than $30,000 a year, even with good experience and education.

In a supervisory role, you could easily get into the $50,000 a year range and I’ve seen salaries approaching $100,000 for directors of large environemental education organizations.

You’re going to have to be realistic about how soon you intend to start a family and what income you will need when you do so.

It is 100% completely possible to support a familty with this work. You’re just going to have to plan ahead. Don’t start a family on your first season’s wage as a river guide. It won’t work.


 

Question 3:

Is it wise to get an outdoor education degree?

Answer:

Let me answer Bethany’s specific question first. English degrees don’t tend to have huge salary ranges nor does outdoor education. Outdoor education as a minor would be great but, personally, I’d pair it with something like recreation management or environemntal science. That would be a killer one-two punch for jobs from Park Ranger to backpacking guide, all the way out to conservation sciences and research.

Of course, if English is a huge passion then go for it! In my opinion, however, there are better majors to take if you’re looking for a “fall back plan”. Something like finance or business is absurdly useful and marketable to a massive range of employers and it gives you a fallback that can achieve huge salaries compared to outdoor education in the case that you ever need it.

If your plan is outdoor oriented, I’d really recommend a more outdoor focused major/minor combination.

Now, on to the more general… if your plan involves guiding or teaching outdoor or adventure education then a degree in the field is definitely worth your time when it comes to getting a job. I covered a lot earlier so I won’t go into detail but keep this in mind:

Outdoor and adventure education does not pay huge. You’ll be lucky to hit $35,000 within your first 5 years (that’s crazy low compared to most professions).

If you asked me, “should I pay $60,000 in student loans to get a bachelor’s in outdoor education?”

I’d tell you, “hell no!”

Keep your educational expenses stupid low or you’ll stuggle getting started when you leave shool. That kinda applies across the board though, so tell your friends I said so.

Get in state tuition, work through college, get scholarships, but whatever you do please don’t take out loans!

What did I do?

I got an academic full ride in state and took all my transferable general education credits and then transferred into an undergraduate program in Wyoming with NOLS at Central Wyoming College. It only took me two semesters to finish my focused degree since all my general eds were taken care of and the school I attended was absurdly cheap. I also worked every night to make some money.

I don’t regret any part of that educational approach a sit kept my expenses low and allowed my to very effectively enter the market. I have now moved into supervisory roles and am considering returning to school for a graduate program.

That approach worked great for me.


 

Question 4:

What jobs fall under this general umbrella of outdoor and adventure education?

Outdoor Education encompasses both Adventure Education and Environmental Education.

Adventure Education covers most guiding positions. Backpacking guide, rock climbing guide, river guide, wilderness therapy, ski instructor, etc.

Environmental Education covers most natural history and inertpretive positions. Naturalists, nature interpreters, historical interpreters, conservation education, park rangers, etc. These positions would be found with the DNR, BLM, nature centers, non profits, etc.

There are jobs galore in these fields! You can find office positions ranging from accounting and marketing for outdoor organziations. To jobs focused more on criminal justice like some park ranger positions. To environmental and conservation education such as LNT master educators and interpretive naturalists at nature centers. To behavioral and correctional type positions such as wilderness therapy which may require pertinent training and education.

SCUBA diving, sky diving, youth trips, international travel, historical tours, sea kayaking, mountaineering, base camp chefs, wilderness medical staff for expeditions….

I could probably spew out potential positions for hours.


Final words:

Working in outdoor education needs to be a passion. You’ll never make it if you’re not truly passionate. The pay is low, the jobs are difficult to get started in, and moving seasonally is a very real possibility.

However, if it’s something you truly want to pursue you will never work a single day in your life.

I wake up every day and put on my ski boots and click in to my skis for a ride up the mountain. It’s my office. It’s  

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Welcome to my office.

 

 one of the greatest jobs in the world. They pay me to play, they pay me to do things I’d be happily doing anyways.

Can you make enough money to support a family reliably? Yes.

Can you find stable employment in this field? Yes.

You’re going to have to work for it, though. You’re going to have to plan a bit up front and figure out where the job market is.

There are some states, and many many areas in most states, where outdoor education simply isn’t a vialble career. It’s not like being  a banker, where every city has five banks you could apply at.

Get in touch if you need helping narrowing down a degree choice or a location to start working.

When I first started in the field I had to (and still do) just go where the jobs are. Which means moving every 5 months as you begin this career.

Get used to living out of your car and having some the longest road trips and greatest jobs of your life.

Do What You Love

How do I choose my Career Path?

When I was a kid I always heard “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

Do what makes you happy!

It’s really true! I don’t make much money, but I have some of the best jobs in the world. I get paid to play, stay in shape, challenge myself, and teach others about the wonderful challenges and experiences waiting in the world.

When I was a senior, graduating high school, I was faced with the decision of what to do with my life. What job to get. What school to attend. What degree to seek.

I knew I didn’t want to go work in a cubicle all my life. I narrowed down my options to a degree in Forestry from a major technical university. They wanted $21,000 per semester.

Then, before finalizing that commitment, I got a letter stating that I’d been accepted to a community college on an academic full ride. Financially it was an easy decision.

Some time very shortly thereafter I was watching Survivorman and realized, “Hey, they pay this guy to hang out in the wild, film himself, and practice survival. I could do that, too.”

That solidified my decision. I enrolled at the community college and took my gen eds. While taking care of my education, I researched how to become more like Survivorman.

That was the very first time I’d ever heard of Outdoor Education. I learned there was a popular school called NOLS and they had education degrees with a few colleges.

Two years later I was living in Riverton, Wyoming. I got my degree in Outdoor Education and Leadership from Central Wyoming College partnered with NOLS.

While I love my profession and all the jobs I’ve had, there have been many forks in the road recently trying to pull me away.

I love motorcycles and would like to spend more time making and repairing them. I thoroughly enjoy computer programming and have been doing it on and off since I was only twelve. I really enjoy economics and finance and would enjoy going back to school for that or, perhaps, business.

It comes back to: What really makes me happy?

I am often torn between dreams and aspirations. I love spending the winters as a ski instructor and traveling for the summers working at various adventure education establishments. The problem is: I really want to pursue many other things!

What I’ve done many times at large turning points in my life is ask myself this:

What would make you the happiest?

A year from now would I be as happy as I could be if I come back to ski?

Would I be happier finding somewhere I could work part time adventure education and part time mechanical?

Even simple decisions can be answered this way:

Would I be happier going home, saving my money, and reading a good book while eating home made dinner. Or, would I be happier if I gave in to a request to go out drinking for the evening where I would be less than productive, spend a lot of money and, sometimes, regret it in the morning?

Usually I stay home (not to say that I don’t really enjoy going out with friends on occasions!).

I’m not much of an advice guru, but this is something that has helped me many times.

Maybe you’re considering leaving your day job and becoming a rafting guide. Answer this question:

What will make me the happiest?

My Not-So-Digital Nomad Experiment.

Well here I am a few weeks into seriously beginning to apply the ultralight backpacking philosophy to my life in the front country. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

I have this strange affinity for neat and organized austere spaces. It’s super contradictory though because my car, workshop, and often many parts of my life are super disorganized and not particularly clean.

Maybe this will be an opportunity for me to bring physical organization and attention to cleanliness to other parts of my life?

I shoved about 90% of my already super minimal selection of clothing into a box in my closet. So far I haven’t needed any of it. This will take some balance, however, because as seasons change and as I spend time backpacking and doing various outdoor pursuits, I will need different arrays of attire. Not to mention I practically live in my ski instructor uniform right now.

I like reading people’s minimalism blogs.

I don’t like that almost every minimalist blog (and every blog in general) is highly based around making income. It’s starting to get annoying. Even the ones who (on the surface) aren’t making an income, really are. By selling eBooks or consultations these bloggers are using their blog to make money.

It’s really just me being irritated with the fact that everything revolves around money. These successful bloggers have earned it and they should enjoy it.

The more I think about getting rid of my car, the happier I am about the prospect.

A huge part of my has been wondering how I’m going to settle into the adult routine of paying bills. Phone bills, health insurance, car insurance, vehicle maintenance, etc.

My solution has been a great big middle finger to consumerism. Sell the smart phone, sell the car, and stay healthy.

Without a bunch of stuff I can live in a smaller space. Rent is cheaper.

With cheaper rent, fewer and very small monthly bills, no debt, and carefully monitored personal expenditure I really feel very little pressure to worry about how I’ll pay my next bill. There are few of them and they’re small.

Once I’ve paid rent, most of the month’s income goes straight to savings! It’s quite relaxing.

Selling the car has been a hard logistical obstacle. I keep coming up with reasons I need it (and to be honest I really do for the time being). I see an opportunity on the horizon to get rid of it, however, and intend to do just that when the chance comes up.

Deactivating my FaceBook account has created some cool new contacts. People I occasionally brushed past in the digital world actually reached out to stay in touch. It’s pretty cool. I’m very near to ready to deactivate Facebook and it’s exciting and scary at the same time!

I’ll probably keep elaborating on my discoveries and experimentation as it happens.

I’m hoping this new lifestyle will make it even easier for me to get to new and cool job opportunities as they come up seasonally in my field!

I’ll be sure to let you all know if it helps me in the long run and if it’s a viable option for other outdoor educators and adventure educators.

Sorry for the rambling!

Oh, P.S. using the WordPress app for putting pictures into posts is still a pain in the ass. Maybe I’ll leave that in a review on the App Store.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Interview With UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s Paul McWalters

Readers, I always try to bring forth information about the outdoor industry that most of us just don’t get insight on regularly. Today I have an enormous treat for you. The following is a Q&A session with Paul McWalters, owner of UGQ Outdoor Equipment, maker of lightweight down filled backpacking quilts.

When I asked Paul if he would answer some of my questions centered around the “cottage”  industry, his products, and what it’s like to start your own outdoor gear company, he graciously acquiesced.  In the following lines you will find out about ultralight backpacking technology, cottage manufacturer insight, and a plethora of topics that I’ve just been dying to pick Paul’s brain on.

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UGQ Outdoor Equipment (UGQ)

If you’ve ever been interested in making your own gear (MYOG), running a small backpacking gear company, or what it’s like on the other side of the “order” button when you purchase gear, this Q&A will certainly prove insightful.

Not every day I get to find out what it’s like to start a gear manufacturing company!


 

Q: (me) When did you know you wanted to start your own gear company and how did you decide on what products you would offer?

A: (Paul) I didn’t plan on starting UGQ at first, making my own gear was out of necessity due to lack of funds available for purchasing from the already established companies and the limited number of companies offering the gear I needed. My job at the time had seen some pretty major income reductions resulting in no “play fund” so I would DIY what I needed. Ordered some fabric and down, borrowed a sewing machine, which I proceeded to break in five minutes, and got busy.

Next thing you know friends were asking me to make quilts or tarps for them, so they’d buy double the materials on their dime which gave me extra materials to continue making revised gear for myself. Pretty soon I had email inquiries and decided a small website would get the ball rolling, giving me some extra funds to enjoy some backpacking trips and gear purchases…. Boy, I wasn’t ready for what happened next, 25+ orders my first month, apparently there is a demand for this stuff. It hasn’t slowed down any since and we keep growing month after month, year after year.

Products offered again were a result of what I personally needed at the time and my preference for down gear. I could have gone the synthetic route but after 2 decades backpacking with down I knew what to expect from the products in terms of benefits and risk.

Q: What process did you use in determining the pricing of your products and sourcing the suppliers of your materials?

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UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s 40º Flight Jacket quilt

A: Lets talk about sourcing first as that is the biggest hurdle. Finding a reliable and stable supply chain is quite the process and we still run into supplier delays these days. But working with the same suppliers helps build relationships. They get to know your business and can help out with improved material offerings. By having a stable relationship you can secure better prices and service. We work with some of the biggest material suppliers in the world, knowing the BIG BOYS also using them instills a confidence in our materials and our end products. It not just about the lowest price available, it also about the quality and assurance of that quality that is important in finding suppliers. All our major materials are tested to make sure we are receiving the best we can.

To make a competitive product you need to secure wholesale pricing which mean buying materials in large amounts. Back when I started it wasn’t the easiest thing to do as cash flow was not there. I’d buy in bulk for fabrics but in small lots of 25-50 yards or so and I’d buy down 8-10# at a time. While both of those helped with pricing buying in much larger amounts secures much better pricing. We now have a commitment contract with our down supplier for a certain poundage annually. This provides for a locked in price to avoid market fluctuations. We order fabric direct from the mill in the 1000’s of meter per order which again provides for much better pricing.

All of these savings are passed to our customers, we have a material cost for each of our products and a labor cost that is used to determine pricing.

Q: How many iterations of your current Flight Jacket Top Quilt have you created since the very first “draft”?

A: Not as many as one may think, the Flight Jacket is a great top quilt and will always have a place in our product line. The general construction has not changed much and is pretty much industry standard for a top quilt. We have made many little improvements over time that get integrated into the Flight Jacket without much hoopla. We did have one major revision to the entire construction of the quilt roughly 18 months ago and that is the product we currently ship today.

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UGQ Outdoor Equipment’s Renegade quilt (Available Jan 2015)

The fun part of our business is new product development, for the past 8 months we have been working on a new radically designed TQ. The RENEGADE will be release Jan 1, 2015 for purchase and is a completely different approach to top quilt design and construction. Featuring a more thermally efficient chamber design and a contoured shape overall the RENEGADE is built to provide maximum performance and comfort. No other quilt on the market that we are aware of combines the construction methods employed on the RENEGADE making it the most advanced quilt soon to be available.

Q: What are the greatest design improvements you’ve made to the Flight Jacket Top Quilts since your first draft and how do you believe they benefit the users of your products?

A: Our major redesign 18 months ago was a pretty big change. Up until then we had pretty much the same quilt as everyone else. They all had a few issues with down shifting and movement from chamber to chamber. The construction was known as open baffle meaning the ends of each chamber were open to the ends of the neighboring chamber. Marketed as letting you move down where you need it sure sounded good but I never have moved down from one chamber to another in a quilt or sleeping bag in over 20 years on the trails.

So we first redesigned the construction of the chamber to close them off, isolate them, keeping the right amount of down in each chamber. Then we narrowed the chambers from the industry standard of 5-8” to 4” maximum field chamber size. Both of these changes resulted in a much tighter and consistent down density which in the end keeps the user warmer.

We also switched to a 15d fabric at roughly the same time, a true garment-class fabric intended for down filled gear. After reviewing literally hundreds of samples we went with the 15 denier for its weight to performance ratio. It weighs .92oz per SY (square yard), independently tested to 850+ fill power down and has a DWR, durable water repellant, finish. At the time it was the best fabric available for our quilts. Just recently we have added a 10 denier .66 oz per SY fabric for the inner shells of our quilt. This provides for even more weight saving [versus] the 15 denier. We’ve opted to continue using the 15d for our outer shells for durability and it’s excellent DWR finish [which helps] keep both you and your down dry.

The inclusion of DWR treated downs has also been a major change. We were one of the first US based companies to start offering products filled with DWR treated downs. Our current offering that is standard in all our quilt is called HyperDRY and is about as close to water proof as it gets. Independent lab testing shows it outperforms virtually every synthetic fiber available today in terms of water repellency. This finish is applied at the nano level and designed to last for the life of the product. It also has been verified safe for the consumer and the environment which is of great importance to us and our customers.

Q: What advice would you give to DIY hikers who are looking to create the lightest and most individually tailored gear for their packs?

A: Understanding there are limits and understanding those limits is the key to making a durable and lightweight piece of gear whether it’s a quilt, tarp, or backpack. For example we now have access to 5d fabric. “D” stands for denier, the diameter of the thread used to weave the fabric. A 5d fabric is extremely light, .54oz SY, but can it survive the harsh environment of our packs as well as a 15d fabric? So when making one’s own personal gear the choice of hyper-light will result in the loss of some durability and only you can make that decision.

On a weekender or even a weeklong trip a piece of gear failing may be frustrating but will not trash the trip. On a thru hike it could certainly be a huge problem if you tear a tarp or lose half the down out of a quilt due to a poor fabric selection. So, weigh your choices carefully and choose wisely.

Q: Does UGQ ever plan to create synthetic fill quilts?

A: With the advances in DWR down and the more affordable duck downs on the market we do not see UGQ venturing into the synthetic fiber market in the near future. When, and I say when, there is a man-made fiber that equals all the properties of high fill-power downs we will certainly be the first in line. It will happen but it is hard to beat the quality of down that Mother Nature has provided us with.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge of operating a small business in the outdoor gear retail world?

A: Balancing work and personal life will always be a challenge for me. I take my commitment to [my] customers seriously; they have made a contract with us. They have provided funds and we have agreed to provide them (our customers) with a quality piece of gear made to their specifications. Sometimes I let this driving commitment occupy my life 24/7 and we all need proper balance in our lives. I’m committed to finding better balance as we grow, having staff takes some of the pressure off and I need to RELAX!!!! We are only human and we need family, friends and time off just like everyone else. Being a small business owner, burnout is always just around the corner, so care must be taken to take care of oneself as well as the customers.

Q: What advice would you offer to someone interested in starting their own backpacking gear company?

A: Be sure it is done from the heart in the pursuit of your dreams. Be sure to set reasonable expectations of yourself and be sure your commitment to others are reachable. We hate to say “no” to any request but if we can’t provide the requested service we will shoot straight and get it out front.

Be sure to be adding something of value that is missing in the market. For us it was the high quality and attention to customer service, we saw both lacking from most vendors at the time when UGQ was started. Funny, it seems to have turned around as customers are now expecting the same level of quality and service that we deliver from all vendors.

Q: Have you found help, advice, and acceptance from other cottage manufacturers or has it been more tense and competitive in this rather niche market?

A: We’ve had the chance to meet many of the other vendors and I think for the most part everyone is pretty respectful of others. I’ve had many a conversation with some of them regarding work and life, pitfalls to avoid, things that do work and things that don’t. The Jacks at Jacks Are Better have lent their 12+ years of wisdom in business to us and I am grateful to them for their sharing of this knowledge.

When I started we were the small fish in the pond, folks were pretty welcoming but in the end we are all in business in similar markets and as you grow you start to represent more of a threat. We’ve bumped heads with some other vendors recently on issues. I always try to resolve them with both respect and honesty as I believe that is the best approach. Sometimes there will be no resolution but at least you remained respectful and can sleep at night on a clean conscience.

Q: What piece(s) of gear is on the Christmas list for the man who makes his own gear?

A: Oh Boy!!! I recently have gotten into moto camping and the new bike is in need of some pannier boxes to haul the gear. I have big dreams of cruising the world on my bike at some point in life but I need to work on this whole relaxing thing a bit more. Apart from that I’m pretty content with belongings, in my youth it was must have have have… now with the wisdom of age it comes down to how you use what you have and not what you have. Friends are also more important than any material item, memories are created with friends and family hold them tight cause in the end those memories are all you will have left in life.

Q: Where do you think the biggest growth is in the outdoor gear industry? What growth trends would you expect to see in the next ten years across the industry?

A: I think we will see more sustainable materials and supply chains, you are already seeing it from major companies. TNF and our down supplier launched a Responsible Down Standard that is being adopted by many outdoor manufacturers. It’s a program that tracks the down used in down filled products from hatchling to the end consumer product. There will be a number on the down filled gear and a website where you can track the down. All certified by a third party to the ethical treatment of the animals. That’s pretty cool thinking and I think we will see more of that in the future.

Advancements in down are still coming, there are lots of new products coming to market, thermal downs, biotech downs, blended downs and more. These will only make gear lighter and warmer. We see test reports on our HyperDRY 850+ well above 900FP on a regular basis and this is a direct result of the HyperDRY treatment. Maybe someday we will see a standard fill power in the 1000+ range, it wasn’t long ago that 650+ was considered King of the Hill….

Regardless of what the future brings I’m sure I’ll be carrying that pack for many years to come into the mountains, reconnecting with nature, old friends, and my inner being….


I know Paul personally and own products directly from UGQ. This is not only a company I would recommend without reservation to any reader, its also a company and a product which I often recommend by word of mouth. I make the recommendations (and write this article) without any kind of compensation from Paul or UGQ. I make recommendations because I value the service and product.

Why? Because Paul (and UGQ) are friendly, cooperative, helpful, and insightful. They create top of the line lightweight products with cutting edge technology and Paul is always happy to make a piece of gear exactly to my specifications.

I hope you’ve gained some insight into what it’s like to create a lightweight backpacking gear manufacturing company. I hope that Paul will continue to let me pick his brain about the industry as I am always hungry to learn as I’m sure you readers are as well.

Please, drop us a line in the comments if you have any questions for Paul. If you’ve got burning questions you’d like answered by insightful industry leaders leave us a comment or send me an email and I’ll get that question answered!

Find UGQ Outdoor Equipment on Facebook or their website.

Thanks, Paul and UGQ Outdoor Equipment!

Outdoor Job Search Ideas (Be Your Own Search Engine)

With a few days off from work as a full time ski instructor here in beautiful Park City, Utah I’ve been working to stay productive. This includes 6+ hour days of Google searching for summer jobs.

As I’ve been working over job applications it occurred to me that many of you probably are missing out on one of the most valuable and fine tuned job finding solutions.

I’m going to tell you how to maximize your changes of landing your dream outdoor job!

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Be Your Own Outdoor Job Search Engine.

While my previous article Four Best Places to Search for an Outdoor Job is still applicable and useful the advice therein has been regurgitated so many times in “outdoor” blogs that it’s not as helpful as I’d like to be for my readers. I want you to land the perfect outdoor job interview you’ve been dreaming of.

I still believe that the NOLS Alumni job posting bulletin (which is still accessible to non-alums) is probably the single most helpful (and least known) avenue of job acquisition in the outdoor education and adventure education industry. It attracts job postings from a huge number of potential employers in a single list delivered to your inbox each week. It also attracts highly qualified candidates and creates huge competition for employment.

The NOLS listserve and all other job posting sites (www.coolworks.com for example) are missing out on a huge number of potential employment opportunities and if you’re using them exclusively you’re killing your professional career.

Actually manually going out and finding businesses in need of guides, educators, and camp staff is a lot more work but often well worth your time investment.

Not every employer posts their openings to other sites and even among many employers some don’t list job openings at all.

That’s right, you may have to actually ask like I did. I landed an interview for a backpacking guide position simply by contacting the business which I was interested in working for. They didn’t even have any open job listings but, as I had guessed, it turned out they were in fact hiring.

I sent them a cover letter, email, resume, and supporting documents in a very professional email inquiring about seasonal guiding work. Later that same day I got an email back, they were impressed with my efforts to find employment and what’s more, they thought my credentials were very impressive. They wanted an interview!

Your avenue of approach on this email is critical! Keep it straightforward and make it clear you are inquiring about open positions. If you haven’t, go read up on how to interview for an outdoor job.

To get started, determine where you want to work. Then decide on a job type. Maybe you want a camp job in North Carolina. Search “North Carolina Summer Camp” and start clicking through the results.

Don’t be too specific with your searches. Try to be broad and use keywords, here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:

  • Outdoor Education
  • Adventure Education
  • Summer Camp
  • Trip Leader
  • Guide
  • Counselor
  • Naturalist
  • Interpreter
  • Jobs
  • Employment
  • Seasonal
  • Backpacking
  • Rafting
  • Climbing

Use regional keywords to hone in your location search. Try the name of a state like “Arizona Guide Employment” or the name of a region like “Appalachian Summer Camp”. If you are interested in a specific area of guiding you could try park or trail names such as “Pacific Crest Trail Guide” or “Denali Trip Leader”.

Try gaining some insight into the outdoor job market by reading up on these helpful outdoor job articles by me:

Entering The Outdoor Education Industry

Outdoor Job Trends and Opportunities

Most sites have their “Employment” link in the “About Us” or “Contact” section. Some sites are more straightforward but look hard and you’ll usually find the employment section.

Do yourself a favor, get off of Coolworks (their new format sucks anyways) and Backdoor Jobs. Everyone uses these methods of job searching and while they can be effective, they’re limiting you.

Don’t hold yourself back! Go after the job you really want. It’s out there. Go get it, friends!

Email me for any additional help you might need, I’d be happy to offer advice.