Weber County man designs water-purifying hiking pole, pushing it to market
SOUTH OGDEN — The eureka moment for Kyle Stringham came when helping lead a group of Boy Scouts on a long hike in the woods of Idaho.
They were on a break and he was helping clean river water through a portable purifier so the boys would have something to drink. As fast as he and another Scout leader could pump the water through the purifying system, though, they would gulp it down.
In that moment of exasperation, a jumble of backpacks piled along the trail, inspiration struck. “I’m looking down at my (walking) pole and I have this idea,” he said from his office in South Ogden.
Fast-forward six years, and the mortgage banker and loan officer by day has come up with a fix to the situation he faced — PurTrek, a hiking pole that doubles as a water-filtration system. Now he’s pushing hard to promote it, to spur sales, to play a part in the growth of the Ogden area’s burgeoning outdoor industry.
He mustered support from a Northern Utah business mentoring program and business accelerator, RAMP, which is sponsored by the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative, or UAMMI, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Just last June, ISPO, an organization based in Munich, Germany, that promotes sports businesses, announced that PurTrek was a nominee for an ISPO Award, meant to recognize innovative new sports equipment.
“Its innovative design creates efficiency, simplicity, weight-savings and enhanced survival security for casual and experienced hikers and backpackers,” reads an ISPO blurb about the product. Users dip one end of the walking stick into a river, stream or lake, activate a hand-pumping mechanism at the top of the pole and draw water through a filter out of the top of the device, clean and ready to drink.
ISPO recognition “really validates your product,” said Stringham, who grew up in Ogden and gets to the outdoors with his family as much as he can. His water purifier, he went on, will help hikers have a better time in the wild. “It increases the quality of your adventure because you’re actually hydrating efficiently,” he said.
The product is on sale online for $189.99 for a pair of poles — one with the water-purifying system, one without — and Stringham, who found a manufacturer in China, is reaching out to wholesalers and retailers to get his product to market. He’s also looking for partners willing to invest in PurTrek. “Now we’re looking for our first large capital injection,” he said.
In noting the ISPO recognition, UAMMI, which helped Stringham with a technical issue as he was fine-tuning his product, lauded him for reaching out to the organization for assistance, which underscores the RAMP program’s purpose. “This is an excellent testament to how the RAMP program benefits entrepreneurs and positions them to utilize Utah state support programs,” UAMMI said.
As a product developer making a go of it on his own, Stringham, too, noted the importance of tapping into mentoring programs. “For entrepreneurs, don’t go it alone. The reality is, I needed to get as much help as possible and talk to as many people as possible.” he said.
Still, it’s been a rocky road at times and getting to this point has required plenty of sweat, tears and money out of his own pocket, Stringham said. He’s kept his main gig in mortgage banking, though he’d be happy to shift his sole focus to PurTrek if the situation allowed. “There’s got to be something to pay the bills,” he said.
After that initial eureka moment with the Boy Scouts in Idaho, Stringham, a self-proclaimed “gear junkie,” set about designing his hiking pole/water purifier, initially using copper tubing to get the model down. He went through 30-plus versions and a model that emerged in 2018, which he had hoped would be the finished product, failed.
That sent him back to the drawing board. “If something’s broken, there’s always a way to fix it. I’ve always been Mr. Fix-It,” he said, also noting his father’s engineering background.
UAMMI helped him with a design change that strengthened the poles and his finished product formally launched last March, according to ISPO. He’s long dreamed of launching his own company and creating products, Stringham said, and given his love of the outdoors, PurTrek allows him to combine some of the things that inspire him the most.
“I’ve always felt a sense of calm when I’m in the outdoors,” he said.