As a young Boy Scout, Stick Stasher creator Kevin “Spud” Parlato spent a great deal of time on the Appalachian Trail where he quickly learned there was something special about these so-called “thru-hikers”.
“They were eating candy and not going to school,” he laughed. “I thought these guys were so cool!”
In 2021, as a recent college graduate and in a time of great transition, Kevin was inspired to embark on his own AT thru-hike.
While he rock-scrambled his way to Springer Mountain on his SOBO journey, Kevin would often dangle his trekking poles on his wrists when not in use. He’d do the same anytime he’d need his hands free but didn’t want to stop and stow them in his pack.
But on a rocky section at Pennsylvania's Lehigh Gap, his dangling pole got tangled with his foot and he took a spill.
There were other tragedies, too. Like, fumbling with precious snacks only to drop them in the dirt because of precariously swinging trekking poles. Snickers a la dirt, anyone?
As a mechanical engineering graduate, Kevin spent the next 1,000 miles coming back to this recurring problem. “There’s got to be a better way to store my poles without taking off my pack. This was getting dangerous,” he laughed.
Shortly after summiting Springer Mountain, Kevin rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
“I grabbed a refrigerator magnet, rubber bands, and my 3D printer, and worked on prototype after prototype,” he said. “They were pretty crude, but it actually worked!”
A few months and more than 20 prototypes later, he had something “actually acceptable to show other people.”
Fitting any trekking pole with a 16mm shaft, the quick connecting magnetic pole mounts created a way to store poles on the outside of a backpack while on the move.
The concept was simple, but creating the perfect magnet was an integral part of building the Stick Stasher. It had to be strong and durable, yet easy to get one’s poles detached from a backpack.
Tapping into his degree from Boston’s Northeastern University, Kevin built a test fixture that counted the number of times the magnets engaged and disengaged. After ¼ million trials without any signs of wear, he was satisfied with his design.
In Kevin’s words, hikers could now look forward to and be excited about having to store their trekking poles, instead of it being a chore.
“For me, this also solved a problem that was related to safety.”
“Taking a fall can turn into a not-so-great situation, and it’s nice knowing you have the option if you need both hands free. And, it makes a really satisfying click,” he laughed. “That’s enough for me!”
As a true garage-grown business, Kevin assembles everything in his garage, often sitting on a cardboard box. Since its launch in 2022, Kevin went from 3D printing to now manufacturing via injection molding, and he also uses a riveting gun to assemble everything instead of glue. “I still assemble in my home, but making it manufacturable was a huge leap.”
While he finds his footing off the trail, Kevin loves that his small outdoor brand, Spuds Adventure Gear, keeps him connected with the hiking community.
“I fell in love with the hiking community – the amazing talks while on trail, meeting locals while hitchhiking into towns and just being able to hear everyone’s story was awesome – I felt this sense of connection that was really amazing and something that I wanted to be a part of when I left trail. This gives me a reason to talk to them,” he said. “It keeps me on the trail.”
Launching Spuds Adventure Gear was not unlike thru-hiking, Kevin explained. “You work at something every day, the goal is far off in the distance but if you enjoy the process, you’ll eventually get there.”
“It’s also like bushwalking without a map,” he laughed. “There’s not a set trail to follow, it can be fun and challenging at the same time, and you just have to choose your own adventure.”
For those curious, yes, Kevin ‘Spud’ consumed copious amounts of cold-soaked mashed potatoes on his AT thru-hike. He laughed, “Idahoan, all the way.”