In the summer of 2013, Dan Sedlacek, an engineering student at the University of Washington, set out with his brother to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – a 2,650 mile network of trails that connects Mexico to Canada. To enhance the ‘getting back to nature’ experience, he made much of the hiking gear for the trip himself. When his brother had to pull out after 1,000 miles as a result of stress fractures in his feet, Dan pushed on alone. He completed the journey in 101 days and in the process formed a vision for what would become Uphill Designs.
Upon returning to Seattle, Dan teamed up with fellow students Mounica Sonikar (Engineering) and David DeBey (Business / MBA) to develop a process for manufacturing a trekking pole made out of natural, sustainable materials. The following 12 months were spent experimenting with different designs. Their hard work and commitment to a shared vision resulted in an elegantly crafted bamboo trekking pole that is “stronger than aluminum and as light as carbon fibre”.
A Kickstarter campaign followed, launched in November 2014. With a modest target of $10,000, the project achieved 100% backing in only 15 days. Two versions of the poles are available; fixed length $99 per pair) and collapsible ($149 per pair). They are comprised of 95% sustainable materials, including bamboo and cork. The cork used as handles in their design is sourced from up-cycled champagne corks. The small amount of metal needed also comes from recycled sources.
The pole tips consist of 3D printed biodegradable plastic, providing evidence that the latest technology can be used to produce a fresh take on traditional designs, in a manner that is environmentally friendly. In a recent interview Sedlacek stated that “the best way to engineer is to identify the ways in which technology can enhance what nature has given us. Our poles will last a lifetime under normal conditions without degrading, but if you do lose a pole on the trail, they will degrade naturally without giving off any unnatural toxins.”
As a hat-tip to the source of inspiration behind Uphill Designs, the company has pledged to give a percentage of their revenue to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. A special focus will be on supporting efforts to maintain particularly needy sections of trail in their home state of Washington.
Whilst the company’s focus has been on delivering on it’s successful Kickstarter campaign, it already has its sights set on the next phase of growth. This involves ramping up both manufacturing and logistics capacity, as well as solidifying lasting relationships with key suppliers and partners. Longer term there is a strong desire to expand their product range of natural hiking gear beyond trekking poles.
As an avid trail runner and hiker myself, I can’t wait to get my hands on a set of bamboo poles and hit some trails.