February 28, 2023

Outdoor Vitals founder, Tayson Whittaker is Driven to Make Better Gear for Getting Outside [EP 370]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Outdoor Vitals founder, Tayson Whittaker is Driven to Make Better Gear for Getting Outside [EP 370]

Hey everyone, welcome back, today on episode 370 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast I’m talking with Outdoor Vitals founder, Tayson Whittaker. Growing up Tayson wanted to be outdoors every day of his life. It called him to explore, regardless of the time of year or the weather. But he didn’t have the right gear to prepare for the elements. By the time he graduated College, he had figured out how to make better gear and was selling no-name sleeping bags to his friends. We’re going to talk about all that and more.

Brought to you by:

Thrive Market

Show Notes

How were you introduced to the outdoors?

I feel like I always was introduced to the outdoors but there are just different aspects that I learned over time. I grew up in this small town of, six or seven thousand people and was always able to get outdoors. Whether it was on my own or with friends. Every weekend it seemed like, by the time I was about 10 years old, my parents would drag this old 1970s trailer up the mountain and we’d go camp for two days. Half the time we’re sleeping outside the trailer. cause it’s not like it was a big trailer. I just spent a lot of time out there with my brothers and family.

Your profile mentions you were a college student, where did you go to school?

I moved down here to Cedar City, Utah. for those who are familiar with Utah, it’s the southern part of the state down here by Zion and Cedar Breaks. I came down here for college, and went to college at S U combined a lot of my passions. I really enjoyed business and so I graduated in finance, but more than that, I started the entrepreneurship club here at the school. And every weekend and weekdays it seemed like I was, taking friends out to the caves and getting into ultra-light backpacking myself. And so that’s really where all of this started, in my very last month of school I filed for the business name.

And how did you learn to design gear?

I really attribute all of my design skills from the time I spend outside. In retrospect it’s easier to look back now than it was when you first starting, but I just always had this knack to me that I wanted to know details and specifications.

I grew up riding motorcycles and stuff on trails and whatnot around here. You could have named any Honda or Yamaha product and I could have told you how much it weighed and how much gas it could fit in its tank and how many inches of clearance it had and these weird specs, right? So I just always loved details. And then when it came to designing gear, I think it was just really natural for me. In terms of specs and what those turn into.

I grew up outdoors, but I didn’t grow up backpacking and I spent a lot of time just doing exactly that. I mean, the amount of times I just slept in my backyard, right? Because we started with sleeping bags and so I was just sleeping in my backyard in the middle of winter here in, in southern Utah just to learn as much as I possibly could and really hone in and improve product.

On your website looks like the Rhyolite Pack was your first pack. Tell us a little bit about that and how it came to life.

Yeah, so the Rhyolite Pack was my first pack and really my only pack that I designed a hundred percent myself. And that was just a marriage of what I’d used and what I’d loved. Then thinking about some of the features. The side zipper access, that was one of the favorite features on that piece. Being able to get into the bottom of your pack without fully unloading the backpack. That was really, something that I had seen on other packs, had used a little bit and loved.

What was your, so your testing process back then, was it just you taking it out and testing?

Yeah, so now obviously we can send bags off to get rated. But what we publicly like to claim is that we sleep in every sleeping bag down to within five degrees of its rating. That’s like our stamp, and that takes a lot of field time, it takes opportunities that it’s gonna be this temperature at this time and we gotta get out there and sleep in this bag. So there, there’s some definite field time there, but we will also, take a poll on what things rate at, with the modern testing.

Where did the name Outdoor Vitals come from?

I designed our first logo just on a school computer, honestly, at college, and I’m not a designer in that sense of the word. The name wasn’t much different, I guess you could say. just the idea of trying to merge different things that could potentially create a great name, right?

And to me, really the name comes from the outdoors being a vital part of my life. I think it’s important for everyone to get outdoors. I think it’s absolutely critical in this day and age. Physical health, mental health, emotional health, that is the base. That’s what grounds us. And so to me it really stems from this concept of the outdoors is a vital piece what’s necessary to keep your sanity, at least for me anyway.

I saw on your website ‘opening the outdoors’ is your mantra. What do you mean by that?

Probably the biggest thing that drives me is to help people connect to the outdoors. Some of the biggest horror stories I ever hear are when I hear people that say something along the lines of, yeah, I went camping one time as a kid.

I froze my butt off. I’ll never go back. They’ve lost a lifetime of adventure, experience, connection, all of these amazing benefits that I know as a company knows. So opening the outdoors is this concept that the outdoors don’t necessarily feel like they’re open to everyone. Whether it’s from product or whether it’s from experience, right? If you don’t have someone to hold your hand and take you outdoors, you don’t have the confidence. But at the same time, gear really can matter. If you have great gear, you can focus on the experience there instead of being filled with anxiety that it might get cold tonight or that some rain might come through or, am I really prepared? All these types of things. And so we focus heavily on education. What’s gonna keep people from getting outdoors really comes down to reducing their unknowns, those unknowns turn into fears, right? Anything that you have fear about is typically an unknown. And so if we can educate people and reduce the amount of unknowns, they build confidence, and by building that confidence in the gear, in their skillset and their knowledge and packing list, whatever we can possibly do, we help open the outdoor. and that just really pulls back to our purpose of connecting people to the vital outdoors.

And how do you guys do that? What kind of education programs do you support or do you offer?

Yeah, so from the very beginning, in fact, there are still videos of me in this tiny, little duplex that I own, and I’m sitting in front of our coffee table on a five-gallon bucket in front of our Drapes. I’m filming how to take care of a sleeping bag, how do you stuff the sleeping bag? How do you store a sleeping bag? How do you wash a sleeping bag? I mean, from the very, very beginning it was just any education we could do primarily through YouTube. How do we pack, what are gear lists? Taking ’em on trail to really showcase all of these, anything that we could.

And so video has been the main media for us. However, that has changed a bit to also introducing podcasts. So we have a podcast called the Live Ultralight Podcast. That’s our second medium now. Podcasts are huge. I think podcasts and YouTube channels are must have for business these days. You can do so much with that.

You guys already create, we’re creating fantastic gear, but you went through another evolution to create better gear, which you now, I think you now call outdoor vitals 2.0. Is that right?

Internally, that’s how we like to talk about it. You just say that to some of our big brand followers and they’re gonna know exactly what that means. But really, what that meant is, I didn’t have this Rockstar entrance.

I didn’t have a house to mortgage. I didn’t come from a background of designing product or this is my second or third business startup. I didn’t have those connections. And so really from 2014 to 2018 was us building cash flow, building team, building opportunities, learning grow. And we were always offering amazing product at the price points we were offering.

But our own sites started to increase from better experiences, helping people be able to just have so much confidence in their gear outside. And so as those all raised in 2018, We launched our first apparel piece called the Loft Tech Jacket. And the loft tech jacket was something that we launched on Kickstarter and we were able to pre-sell a million dollars worth of that jacket.

Then from that opportunity, I took that and I ran as fast as I could with it. So we went and basically petitioned some of the world’s best fabric mills, the world’s best suppliers, world’s best wool producers, and I just was able to sell ’em on the brand and say, Hey, look, we’re a direct to consumer brand. We don’t care about price points when we’re designing. You’re gonna love to work with us, by the way, look at this third party website showing what we’re capable of, showing that we’ve sold this much product on one product and the story that we’re able to tell you should work with us.

And we had a tremendous success rate getting into the world’s top factories and mills. And so we pivoted off of that as well. At that point in time. design had just outgrown me. I didn’t have the time and the resources to put into it and frankly, people that were trained and educated in this were gonna be able to, do things more efficiently and so on, so forth.

So I also at that time, went out and hired our lead designer today. And between, the team growth and our partner growth, it debuted this concept of 2.0 where we were able to take and do things with product that we just simply weren’t able to do before, that took a few years of us behind the scenes working our butts off.

So it seems like you get outside as much as you can. In addition to your camping and, product testing trips, what other activities do you participate in?

I still ride a dirt bike just a little bit. I need to ride a mountain bike a lot more than I do, but, so there’s those aspects. I think I just love to explore. I love to see new stuff. Right. So whether it’s Cross Country travel a little bit or anything related to that. I started picking up trail running a little bit, which has been a lot of fun. But that’s pretty similar to hiking, I guess you can say

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz?

I would say like my biggest mistakes that I would advise other people is just, Obsess about product and what you’re doing there versus what maybe what you think a business should be doing, where we live in this day and age, where business can get turned on its head in a heartbeat.

Meaning like the old concept of you need 10 sleeping bags, to have a line of sleeping bags, to be anybody who’s anybody. . It’s just totally false. Now you can have a single product such as that loft tech jacket did for us that can turn a whole business on its head and, be something truly innovative and whatnot.

So in my opinion, if you’re wanting to get into this space, just be obsessed about the product.

What are some of your favorite books?

Some of the time I’m reading business books and we are reading those as a team.

So I love Jim Collins and Good To Great and some of those books. I definitely was that era of growing up like on, on just like, Fiction books, like Harry Potter and some of those. I would be that kid, like as a fourth grader, I’d be out there mowing the lawn with a cassette player listening to Harry Potter. But I’ve also really enjoyed, recently, and like The Terminal List, it’s, I guess probably more in the public eye with their Amazon series that they’re doing on it. But the books are really good.

Is there anything else you wanna say to our listeners or ask of our listeners?

I’d just say get outside and take people outside, educate yourself.

Where can people find you? What’s the best way for them to follow up if they’d like to reach out?

We’ve got a podcast. If you like listening to podcasts, jump over there. It’s the Live Ultralight Podcast. Otherwise you can just go to outdoorvitals.com and find anything you’d need.