By Gregory Daurer | Oct 04, 2021
Water bottles and hydration systems
MODL Outdoors is rethinking the trusty water bottle. "Basically, our goal is to make water easy," says Guld.
MODL is short for "modular bottle" -- signifying how customers can enhance and modify their bottle by utilizing a series of add-ons. The main bottle is made from food-grade silicone. It's resilient, yet flexible enough to be folded up when not in use. There are openings on both ends, which makes it easier to clean, according to Guld.
While a standard lid with a spout can be fitted over an opening, and then popped open when someone wants to take a drink, the user can also add a hydration tube, making the water even more easily-accessible and hands-free. A water purification filter can be fitted inside the bottle, allowing someone to scoop up water from a stream and make it potable. And another cap can be added which serves as a way to rinse off a bike (or a dog during a hike); or heated water can be added to the bottle safely, and the bottle can be used to take a shower, for instance, while camping. The lids have detachable and re-attachable loops, which make it easy to secure to a pack or bike.
"We want one hydration system that works for our entire lifestyle -- and lasts for life," says Guld. "The alternative right now is having full bottles and bladders and filters that kind of get dirty, you have to replace, they're hard to clean. They're clunky. They're hot. We try to put together everything we love about all the hydration products out there into one easy-to-use system that we're calling this new category of hydration-utility bottle."
The company's origins can be traced to a 2017 camping trip taken by three University of Georgia friends. Stuck in a tent during a big storm -- and surrounded by assorted water bladders, bottles, filters -- they hashed over an idea that (now-CEO) Barak Zitron had already begun brainstorming for a next-generation water bottle. The trio formed their company in 2018, thus pursuing brand-new career trajectories. Guld says, "I was going into medical school, another investment banking, and [now-COO Zack Leitz], consulting. None of us were terribly excited about our paths."
In 2019, they put their idea on Kickstarter. By 2020, they'd sourced manufacturing assistance in Shenzhen, China and had begun selling their products online. "We've sold about 10,000 units," says Guld, noting that 95 percent of sales are direct-to-consumer.
The company was first established in Georgia, but its principal founders have moved to Denver, which Guld calls "the mecca of the outdoors [products market] in the U.S."
On its website, MODL Outdoors promotes the product's use for outdoor adventuring; Guld says the bottle and its mods have taken off especially strong among bikepacking enthusiasts. But purchases have also come from the military and from law enforcement. A helicopter pilot -- or car road tripper -- might appreciate the relatively hands-free nature of the hydration tube. Same goes for wildfire fighters for whom metal bottles heat up uncomfortably; some of them keep MODL's silicone bottle inside their insulated jackets with the tube sticking out.
"We're finding a lot of people in wheelchairs are using this, as well," says Guld, "because it can clip on really easily [to the chair]." He adds how Craig Hospital has taken differently-abled people on outdoor trips accompanied by bottles from MODL Outdoors.
Guld envisions additional modifications in the near future: one would provide lantern light; another one, made with stainless steel, would be able to be placed directly on a jet boiler to heat up water. And there will be a mod to connect two bottles together, which would allow someone with two MODL bottles to filter larger amounts of, say, river water into other peoples' bottles (whether ones made by MODL Outdoors or not, naturally), or extend the amount of water for showers.
For Guld, MODL Outdoor's bottle product "ecosystem" helps people engage in the "natural flow" of life, less encumbered than they were before. "We're kind of playing in a category of our own here" and "doing something genuinely different," he says. "Once people see it -- and get [the concept] -- they really get excited about it. They tell their friends about it, and they keep going back to buy more. "
Challenges: Getting consumers to understand how they can switch from a host of different products to using just one MODL Outdoors bottle. "It's really going to make your life easier and it's going to save you money down the stream," says Guld.
Opportunities: Guld says, "The opportunity is that we can basically connect anybody in this world who drinks water with their perfect hydration system" -- which "works for everything" they want to do.
Needs: Guld says, "We'd like to find, ideally, domestic suppliers -- and it's been a pretty big challenge."