By Eric Peterson | Jul 25, 2022
Trek pole water filtration systems
PÜRTREK "really spawned from a bad experience outdoors," says Stringham.
Case in point: Stringham led a backcountry trip in 2016 that ran low on water. "I'm taking my son and a group of Boy Scouts to Scout camp," he remembers. "I took the boys on a 21-mile day hike with myself and a few other Scoutmasters. We headed out into the woods and we got probably four or five hours in, crossing that third river. Boys are out of water -- time to filter."
"We were there for almost 45 minutes trying to filter water and really get enough water to fill up the vessel for the boys," he says. "A lot of the pumps just weren't efficient for this. Especially with young boys in this case, they're just drinking it faster than we can pump. Also, it was just really sore sitting down, kneeling down, trying to get access to the water."
Back on the trail, Stringham looked at his trekking pole and had something of an epiphany: "Wow, this would be easy!"
The event got him started on "a five-year journey" to bring the PÜRTREK, a trekking pole that doubles as a water filter, to market. "It took a lot longer than anticipated," says Stringham, whose background is in the mortgage industry.
Working with product development consultants, including Salt Lake City-based Swarm Product Design Studio, Stringham developed a design and working prototypes. A successful Kickstarter campaign funded the first manufacturing attempt in 2018, but the results didn't meet expectations: The 3D-printed prototype failed to pump enough water.
"That launched us into a pivot, which was a complete redesign of the product," says Stringham.
He connected with a manufacturer in China with the help of New Jersey-based China Performance Group in late 2019 and reworked the PÜRTREK desingn. About 20 molds are involved. "It was quite a project," says Stringham. "It was like going to school for manufacturing."
The finished product debuted on the market in spring 2022 with a MSRP of $189.99. "The feedback's been incredible," says Stringham. The key is "not having to take off your gear and really have a two-in-one combination that is very utilitarian," he adds. "You just put it right into the water source, plug in the tube, pump, and in seconds are filtering water."
The product was nominated for an ISPO award at the German trade show of the same name in spring 2022. "People are realizing this is not just a gadget, this is a great outdoor piece of gear," says Stringham.
First envisioned as a direct-to-consumer product, PÜRTREK has since pivoted to a hybrid. "We're really pushing this to the wholesale market, especially since the ISPO show," he says.
He's still working with a manufacturer in China, but might relocate production if he can find a good local partner. "I would love to be able to bring this to Utah," says Stringham. "I've been looking in Utah -- diligently -- with sprinkler manufacturers and molders up in Logan to find a manufacturer that felt they could take the project on, but after looking at something that was 17 to 21 molds, it was quite a project to take on."
Challenges: "The big challenge is just refinement of product market fit, learning how to sell these efficiently," says Stringham.
Opportunities: Exports. Following the trip to ISPO with several other outdoor brands and World Trade Center Utah, Stringham says he sees Canada, Germany, France, and Switzerland as fertile territory for PÜRTREK. "The European Union is really a strong area for trekking poles," he notes. "I saw it at the show, too: They're very accepting of out-of-the-box ideas."
He also says he sees military applications for the technology as he continues to iterate. A new design "just optimizes everything," says Stringham. "We can almost cut the weight in half, but it's going to take making an expensive filter overseas to do that."
Needs: Capital. Stringham says he is looking to raise about $500,000 in venture or angel funding for "one year of runway." Such an investment would also allow PÜRTREK to hire a few full-time employees instead of relying largely on contractors, he adds.