If your friends’ lack of kayaks keeps spoiling your dreams of organizing flotillas in nearby lakes, weep no more: last week, a small group of New Jersey men formally quit their jobs to focus on The Outdoor Exchange (OX), a subscription-based gear closet.
The brainchild of outdoor enthusiast and startup veteran Dariusz Jamiolkowski, five-week-old OX gives subscribers access to a catalog of high-end, expensive gear. Basic subscriptions to OX (there are a few options, the cheapest of which is $100) allow users to rent one item per week. You can rent more items at 10 percent of each additional product’s value. OX recently started an Indiegogo campaign to boost its membership, and expects to be “fully operational” by July, after which point basic subscription costs will double.
So far, most of the rentals come from New Jersey (OX is based in Fairlawn), but subscribers hail from California, Colorado, Florida, and even England. Jamiolkowski estimates the young company rents about 10 items per week, and he hopes to attract more than 1,000 total subscribers by the end of summer, mainly by preaching the company's cause at big events like the Philly Folk music festival and relying on word of mouth.
But while OX is still young (currently it only has a couple hundred paying members), it's run by seven business- and tech-savy teammates whose resumes are padded with names like Lockheed Martin and Novo Nordisk. Jamiolkowski officially left his position as Handybook’s vice president of finance in February after being accepted into startup incubator TechLaunch, while marketing lead Adam Hackett quit his day job on June 6.
That team has come up with a unique gear-sharing model. Unlike GearCommons—another peer-to-peer program that depends on its users to supply gear—OX stocked its warehouse full of gear by working directly with manufacturers and distributors. The majority of the 300 products in its inventory were provided by companies like Black Diamond, Hobie, Maverick, and Folbot, a foldable kayak manufacturer. It's a relationship that benefits both parties.
“The issue (Folbot’s) having is that they have a great product, but it's hard for somebody who hasn't been in a foldable kayak to spend $1,200 on a foldable kayak,” Jamiolkowski said. “So we're putting butts in the seats for these guys. We're gonna get people to try the product and nine out of 10 people are gonna try it and say it was great, but one person is gonna end up purchasing the kayak...And our customers are going to be happy because they get to use a premium product at a low entry-point.”
The company is still working out some kinks, including how to streamline shipping costs. For New Jersey residents, OX will drop off and set up gear at trailheads within 25 miles of its warehouse for $20. But the idea of spending $100 a year on shared gear doesn’t sound as good if you have to pay an additonal $200 in shipping.
This week, OX began testing what its founder calls the Trailblazer Program. For a set $74 per year, subscribers can ship all their rentals for free within the continental United States. Ultimately, the team hopes to open local warehouses where subscriptions are most concentrated to help defray costs.
You may be wondering, “What happens if the gear gets damaged?” Well, Jamiolkowski and his team have set up a system to incentivize good gear treatment. OX rates both customers and gear internally when products are returned. If a customer gets low enough marks, she can’t rent gear anymore. “In order for this to work, it's gotta work both ways,” says Jamiolkowski. “Have you seen Meet the Fockers? We're building the Circle of Trust.
“We have families to support and mortgages to pay for, but we strongly believe in what we're doing, based on everything we've done so far to build a very successful, not only business, but a community for outdoor enthusiasts,” he says.
For true adventurers, the traditional RV is the epitome of “blah.” There’s nothing exciting about a boring-to-drive, boxy vehicle that’s limited to campsites that are little more than glorified parking lots.
But there are other vehicles out there that can double as the ultimate base camp. Take the EarthRoamer XV-LT—which is a bit like a five-star hotel merged with an off-road truck.
Starting with a Ford F-550 chassis, the Colorado-based team at EarthRoamer converted the heavy-duty truck platform into a luxury off-road camper. Through efficient use of space, they managed to pack a huge list of features into the XV-LT. Better yet, they did it all elegantly with few off-road performance compromises.
You want granite countertops? No problem. A stainless-steel refrigerator and freezer? Of course. The XV-LT also comes with a microwave (how else would you make popcorn to eat while you watch movies on the 32-inch HD TV with Bose 5.1 surround sound?) and a hot-water shower.
But while the EarthRoamer’s bourgeoisie interior is a serious bonus, you’re ultimately buying this vehicle for its off-road capabilities. Thankfully, the options for off-road travel customization are just as plentiful as the ones for interior design.
If the 37-inch standard tires aren’t enough for you, EarthRoamer offers a 41-inch, aggressive military-spec tire that’s paired with an off-road air suspension system. If you’re worried about getting into trouble on the road, you can install front and rear electric winches that let you self-recover the vehicle.
You will pay the price for this backcountry luxury. The price tag for an EarthRoamer XV-LT starts around $280,000, and rapidly goes up depending on the options you add. So it’ll cost you roughly the same as a Lamborghini, but hey, you can’t take the latter camping.
The stainless steel contraption is designed with a full, built-in windscreen and, with no moving parts or valves, it's easy to set up instantly.
The stove supports Esbit 14-gram solid fuel tablets, which burn at low temperatures and high elevations, and can serve as fire starters in a pinch. Plus, you'll know exactly how much fuel you have left (no more running out of gas before your water boils). With the tablets, you can boil 16 ounces of water in about eight minutes, according to the company. The stove also works with the Trangia spirit alcohol burner.
The final bonus? The Vertex comes with a lifetime warranty.
For long treks, check out one of these solar-powered watches. You never need to change the battery, and the timepiece is durable enough to handle the elements: mud, shocks, and water (up to about 600 feet). There’s an electronic compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and even a sunrise/sunset alert. $300, gshock.com
In certain situations, this 15-foot spool of tinder could be a lifesaver. Cut each section into a two-inch strand, then use the material to get a flame started. The tinder, made from jute cord, is treated with a highly flammable but long-burning paraffin wax that also happens to be waterproof. A single spool can help start about 450 campfires. $10, gearward.com
The Woodsman is part saw, part hammer, part ax, and part stake puller. The 15-inch bow saw can cut through small trees, while the ax—concealed in a plastic compartment that doubles as a hammer—measures about five inches long. $80, zippo.com
Survival camping isn’t always about lighting a fire or building a shelter. For some, it might mean figuring out how to get their electronics running again. This 14-inch solar panel generates 12 volts of power from the sun and comes with battery clamps. The panel can constantly keep your battery charging, or you can use it for reviving a dead powersports battery. $25, northerntool.com
Handpicked survival gear that comes in a large wooden crate you can throw in your trunk? Sign us up. This kit includes a combination shovel, ice pick, ax, and saw that’s perfect for clearing an area for your shelter. There’s a paracord knife, a survival blanket, glow sticks, a cooking pot and stove, a meal bar, and a small pack of beef jerky. The crate even comes with a crowbar. $99, mancrates.com
I know what you're wondering. Do I really need a hammock to survive? Probably not, but we're sure you'll appreciate it on those rainy nights when you want to get off the wet ground. Made from 210-denier nylon, this hammock has a mesh tent cover to ward off bugs, and the seams are triple-stitched to ensure durability. Plus, the aluminum carabiners are strong enough to hold up to 400 pounds. The hammock, which is about ten feet long, comes with a stuffsack and weighs about a pound and a half. $100, eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com