The moment it hit, Dan Sedlacek was hiking up Mount Whitney using expensive hiking poles. It was the only piece of pricey, technical gear he had bought for his 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail hike. His tent and backpack were homemade.
So, as Dan explained, “I was plodding up Whitney with expensive trekking poles, all logo’d out. They didn’t fit with the rest of the gear that I had. And I saw this large jolly man coming down with two pieces of bamboo, all taped at the ends, and they were working great.”
This was the defining moment that started Uphill Designs, a company that makes bamboo hiking poles. Bamboo hiking poles excel because they are stronger than aluminum and as light as carbon fiber. They are also sustainable.
“When you are on the trail you have a lot of time to think and a lot of great people around you with ideas,” Dan said. “You see a lot of people creating their own gear.”
By the end of 2013, Dan had returned from his pivotal trip on the PCT and started drafting his five-year career plan. He would earn his master’s degree, work as a business analyst, return for his MBA and then start a company.
But that’s not exactly how life worked out.
Instead, Dan completed his M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering in one year and got accepted into University of Washington’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship – more specifically, the Jones + Foster Accelerator.
At the end of 2014, Uphill Designs raised $15,000 on Kickstarter and topped that off by winning the $25,000 prize from the accelerator program.
“We learned to tell our story and market in a way that was authentic to us,” Dan said.
The name for Uphill Designs came from Dan’s experience on the PCT. Dan began the trail with his brother, who then had to leave for a bit. Dan continued on solo and when he met back up with his brother, Dan’s speed and fitness on the climbs had improved tremendously. Hence his trail name – Uphill.
Rather than seeking out the most technical materials, Uphill Designs focuses on functionality, durability, and beauty using classic materials. In addition to its bamboo hiking poles, Uphill Designs also recently launched a line of backpacks made from canvas and leather.
Dan is quick to note that Uphill Designs doesn’t begin or end with gear. The company creates solid content in its MoAd blog to help people connect with the outdoor lifestyle. It also launched the Uphill Adventures group (currently at 75 members) and gives to the Pacific Crest Trail Association with money and gear, and showing up for trail maintenance days.