Rad Sportlight: CamelBak Interview

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Behind the scenes in CamelBak’s past and future

I caught up with Steven Nadler, VP of Product and Marketing, Colby Pastore, Field Marketing & Global Event Manager and Sebastian Ohrmann, International Marketing Manager of CamelBak at the world’s largest sports trade show ISPO in Munich, Germany. We talked about how it all began and what the future has in store for CamelBak;  how they are focusing on sustainability and innovation to lead the way.

Oli Russell-Cowan, Founder of Rad Season: CamelBak is best known for its hydration products. Can you give an insight into where it all began?

Steven Nadler of CamelBak: CamelBak is 30 years old. We were founded on the idea of hydration under the most strenuous circumstances.  The founder of the idea behind our product, Michael Eidson came about the idea during a bike race in Texas called ‘Hotter Than Hell’. It was in August and if you know the US, in Texas it’s hot all the time and it gets really hot in August. He basically took an IV bag for fluids from a hospital and put that in a sock and safety pinned it on his jersey and got a tube and that was his hydration. That was how the hydration pack was born.

He sold the idea to some guys who developed it and made it to what it is today. We are the market leader in hydration backpacks in many parts of the world. About 15 years ago we started to expand into the bottle products that you see today. Here at ISPO we are launching the Horizon Collection. It is a line of vacuum stainless steel drinkwear coming in lots of different shapes, sizes and colors.

Our business model is that if it’s hydration or carrier-related, like something you would carry with you, then that’s our business.

Was biking the main reason for starting CamelBak for the founder or was it also other sports?

It started initially with the bike idea and then went to anybody that was hiking, biking and running. The business has evolved ever since. One of the things we’re most proud of is when we meet consumers that know our brand and own our products. The message we consistently hear is, you’ve helped me do something that I couldn’t have done otherwise.

‘You’ve helped me go further, faster, and stay in it longer.’

We’ve looked at biking and we are still very strong in mountain biking. We’ve looked at running products and also people who just want to go for a hike. Maybe you are going to hike 15 or 20 miles and just love the idea of hands free hydration. Maybe you’re at some precarious climbing location and want to get some hydration. You don’t have to worry about stopping and getting something out of your pack. It allows you to keep doing what you are there to do.

Is the majority of the business at the moment coming from packs or bottles?

It’s almost close to 50/50. Bottles are a slightly larger business for us than packs. That’s just because there are more people that need a bottle rather than a hydration backpack. But the business is pretty close to 50 50.

You guys are based out of the US. How is the business split globally?

It’s right there between 65% domestic US and 35% rest of the world, which is a pretty good balance. We are seeing certain parts of international markets growing at a faster rate while others are more stagnant. Some of it is down to the adoption rate. There are areas of the world where our product is really needed but maybe people aren’t going to spend 100 dollars to buy a backpack.

Sebastian Ohrmann of CamelBak: It’s also climate related. Take Australia for example, which is similar to the southwest of the US. It’s really hot and you need a reservoir if you go for a hike. They are targeted as stronger than Scandinavia for example, where it’s a lot cooler and you have streams everywhere that you can drink from. Australia and New Zealand is an important market for us as well.

Steven: In the US some of the water bottles have become a fashion statement. People are really thinking about having a bottle that matches their outfit today. A lot of people tag us on social media.

Not many people know that we do business with militaries all over the world. Soldiers that are going off into training or war, water and hydration is part of survival. We also do a fair amount of business with first responders as well as fire and rescue people around the world.

The new CamelBak Horizon product is launching at ISPO. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

The CamelBak Horizon collection is a line of vacuum stainless steel drinkwear. They all have a lid with a 3 position slider: 1. walking out without splashing out on you, 2. drinking something cold like a cold beer, 3. drinking something hot and you can control the flow. It’s all vacuum stainless steel which means it’s insulated. Depending on the size of the product you can have anywhere from 4-6 hours of hot or cold performance all the way up to 30+ hours.

Our lineup includes products for wine, rock tumblers for drinking cocktails and a camping mug which is a little more outdoorsy. Especially in the US people are buying different size drinks from coffee shops and so forth. The 30 ounce tumbler is huge, people like to drink a lot of beer out of that.

The line is available in 5 different colors and there are 8 different products that make up the product line. It will be available through retail late spring/ summer. It’s a little off our normal launch cycle as we wanted to get it out into the market soon.

Any other product innovations in store for this year?

Another product that’s not new but it’s the first time at this show is called ‘Zephyr’. One key difference with people that run vs bike is you’re not using reservoirs with a tube. Runners use super lightweight vests and soft flask bottles that are loaded upfront. The Zephyr is CamelBak’s most state of the art running vest, it’s super lightweight and has more storage capacity than products we’ve ever made. It uses a technology called ‘Engineered Knit’ where you have a very complicated patterning for how you sweat. There’s a different product for men and women as we sweat differently on our back in particular. For people that are running 30 km or 50 km anything that’s going to affect your ability to focus on your race is important. If you’re wet, something is sticking to you or weighing you down, this product is designed to perform with you as you go.

One of our athletes Scotty Hawker ran with a prototype this past fall and finished in 3rd place at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. He only ran with it for a couple of days of training and liked it so much he ran with it and ended up coming 3rd.

Any new events that you are partnering on this year?

We are going to be back at UTMB as the key hydration sponsor. In the US we are key sponsor of Austin City Limits, we are also the key hydration sponsor for the Crankworxs series. Colby is heading off to NZ in a month to kick off Crankworxs. Whistler is huge, it’s the pinnacle of the Crankworxs series we’ll be doing a major activation there.

We are looking at a few other things which haven’t yet been finalised. We are looking at additional concerts and even some food and wine festivals, especially with this drinkwear line.

Are there any new athletes onboard?

Our European runners such as Xavier Thévenard, 4 times winner of the UTMB and second last year and Sebastien Camus are some of the best trail runners in the world. Scotty Hawker from New Zealand and runners from some of the most epic trail running spots worldwide.

We have a number of domestic and international bike athletes in cross-country, enduro, travel.

We also signed a group out of Boulder, Colorado called Tinman Elite: 12 runners that are part of a big group. A few of them have the chance to compete in the Olympics. Kicking the year off, we are excited to be working with them.

You mentioned music festivals, is that going to be a focus as well?

Photo credit: Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL)

We are definitely focusing our resources more on bike, run and hike type of events. Music festivals are important for us  and sponsoring the event helps to provide water and avoid waste. Austin City Limits saved over 1 million disposable water bottles by us being there. ACL in October was almost 100 degrees with 80% humidity. On the first weekend, they sold out for what they thought the event would need for both weekends. We were rushing bottles down there to make sure people could stay hydrated.

CamelBak Sustainable Products

Let me show you this product which is also new, it’s called MutliBev. It has a removable cup so you can fill your main with whatever you want. Imagine you leave for the day and fill it with ice water. You stop by your favorite coffee store and fill up there.

Almost 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used worldwide. Most people think they are recyclable but many of them are not. They are lined with plastic which insulates it also protects it from being too hot to hold. Not only is it waste, it’s super resource intensive to produce.

There are stats that for every plastic water bottle or stainless water bottle sold the user avoids wasting 150-200 disposable water bottles.  We don’t think all of our products will meet every need every day. There are going to be some occasions where you don’t have it with you. One of the mottos we have is ‘to do more tomorrow than today’.

‘You don’t have to be perfect tomorrow but if we’re better, we think that’s good for the world and the economy.’

We talk about the waste output but the cost to produce is massive. If you think about a plastic water bottle, you probably use 6-8 times the amount of water that is going to go in the water bottle to actually make the plastic. Think about how much water is wasted to make the plastic so that they can put water in for you to drink.

Sebastian: We connect the sports world with sustainability. In the case of UTMB we sponsor the running vests and we provided water fountains in Chamonix’s city center. The idea was you can get a water bottle for a good price and use the water fountains all over the city. Buy the bottle and get the water for free. Every athlete drinks water and coffee at the end of the day, as a brand we want to show that it’s important for us and the athletes as well.

Steven: It feels like this is becoming more of an important topic everywhere. Obviously you look at water and there are parts of the world where a water bottle might be the only way to get safe clean drinking water. That’s just not the case with coffee, it is a first world problem so it should be something we can eliminate. In the US there are some big and small coffee chains who do not offer disposable cups. Either you bring your own, have your coffee there or rent a cup. That’s super positive for us.

Our reason for being is really about the sport. What we were seeing in our offices is that our athletes like to go out and crush it but then you would see them that night having a beer or in the morning having coffee. We didn’t necessarily have the products that they needed. So our campaign for the Horizon Collection is ‘Inhale’ and ‘Exhale’. Exhale is the chance to kick back and relax, chill with friends. We want to present these moments.

I don’t know if you’re into wine but one of the things about a good wine glass is the bowl shape as it allows you to swirl. We designed this with some curvature so it’s rounded on the inside to allow you to have that kind of taste. Another thing that we did differently is our product doesn’t have the stainless steel band at the top. We are in the wine country in California, that’s where our headquarters are. We talked to some wineries, in particular, Kendle Jackson. They said when your lip touches metal or stainless steel it creates a reaction. The liquid touching metal is fine but the minute your lip touches that it changes the way you taste. So we went with a full powder coat finish and we are saying hey taste your drink, not your cup.

These products will ship in late spring. We are launching some big campaigns this summer and into the holiday season.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?

The main thing is how honored we are that people use our products in their pursuit. Whether it’s getting back and forth to work every day, setting a personal best as a runner or kicking arse on a mountain bike. It’s always exciting when people are using our products and tagging us on social media. Our ask is to tell them to keep pushing and we are going to keep making great products that they can use for those pursuits.

Photo credits: CamelBak
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Oli Russell-Cowan

The concept for Rad Season came about when I was trekking around Latin America. I found it difficult to find cool events and festivals going on that were a bit different and had an element of adventure and general radness to them. I knew that there was always something rad worth going to somewhere in the world, but there was no single platform bringing them together for like-minded people. With over 15 years experience in international business development, spanning multiple industries including action sports, events, media, digital, ICT, travel and tourism, I decided to combine them all with Rad Season.

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