WHAT YOU DO: 1. Find faults in products. 2. Sketch ideas. 3. Devise new construction methods. 4. Test prototypes. 5. Start over. "I pretty much spend every day burning stoves or testing solar panels or modifying binoculars," says Mike Lilygren, director of new-product development for Brunton. Most designers work for one company. The rare successful freelancers—like Paul Tusting, who manages Salt Lake City–based firm Design Engine and crafts carabiners and cams for Black Diamond and cycling equipment for Chrome Bags—enjoy more flexible schedules but need to diversify to make ends meet. (Tusting also develops consumer electronics.)
WHY NOW: The outdoor-gear industry has matured into a $46 billion juggernaut, with hot sectors—like kayaking and trail running—growing more than 25 percent in the past three years.
THE NUMBERS: New hires start at $40,000, while top designers at big companies make more than $100,000. Expect to log about 40 hours per week, mountainside R&D sessions included.
BREAKING IN: A degree in industrial design or mechanical engineering is ideal. Previous work with any consumer products helps. Many designers start out as testers or consultants—Lilygren was a local Lander, Wyoming, climbing bum before landing a job at Brunton. Follow industry news at snewsnet.com and hunt for positions at outdoorindustry.org/careercenter.html.