Homegrown: Grassroots efforts and local Passion drive Utah’s outdoor innovators

written by: Tony Gill        photo courtesy of: Altra Running

Utah’s most well-worn yarn concerns the intrepid traveler converting a temporary Beehive State pit stop into an oversized “Don’t Hassle Me I’m Local” t-shirt. The familiar ingredients—easy access to mountains, favorable orographic precipitation numbers, a welcoming and likeminded community—lend a magnetic appeal to many (this author among the masses), including a litany of outdoor-industry heavyweights in search of a literal and cultural home base. Hipsterish incantations of provenance aside, it’s tough to identify which companies are native and which are more like Bob Wiley, which is to say beloved and welcome but wearing a disingenuous shirt.  

We’ve set out to identify the former by unearthing outdoor products born from passion and forged by experience in Utah’s mountains. The people behind the companies didn’t arrive here for a friendly business environment and a recruiting pool flush with engineering talent; they turned a lifestyle of their
own making into something they can share with the outdoor community.

Run Right

Altra Running

The science around running footwear is about as reliable as the science in the gluten-free chemtrail article your aunt posted to Facebook. The barefoot running trend of the late aughts led to shin splints and inflamed knees, which was overcorrected with highly ramped, maximally cushioned shoes. There’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, but Brian Beckstead was looking for a Goldilocks solution to running footwear.

Beckstead ran cross country at Utah Valley University, but injuries hampered his career. After studying biomechanics and exercise science, he teamed up with friends Jeremy Howlett and Golden Harper to form Altra, a footwear company based around a Zero-Drop design. Zero-Drop means the forefoot and heel are the same distance from the ground, which takes advantage of the biomechanical efficiencies of barefoot-style running while still providing a supportive and protective platform.

The Altra crew got its start by cutting up and altering existing running shoes to find a better performing design, but they didn’t find much traction among major manufacturers for their creations. That was for the better, as the Orem-based brand grew from three guys in a house to a company that’s working with more than 1,500 retailers. Altra isn’t shy about its Utah roots. Many models bear names proudly representing the Beehive State, like the Escalante, winner of the 2017 Runner’s World Editor’s Choice award.


In It For the Long Haul

Broad Fork Bags

Naively entering a 2,768-mile bike race (the 2013 Tour Divide) before ultimately capitulating to a damaged Achilles after 10 days and 1,000 miles isn’t the most serendipitous way to enter the outdoor industry, but Josh Van Jura found inspiration in the rubble of his effort. “That was my first bike-packing tour, and I was in over my head. But I totally fell in love with it and kept thinking there was a better, smarter system we could figure out,” Van Jura says. At the time, there were only a handful of companies making gear for bike packing, an endeavor that requires cyclists to efficiently carry everything they need to be self-sufficient on the trail. The gear is very specific to each individual bike, but non-stock items had six to ten-week lead times.

“My mom had taught me to sew, so after I did research on things like what kind of fabrics to use I made my first frame bag. It didn’t go so great, but I made another one that worked. Then a couple buddies wanted bags. Then buddies of buddies. I got an industrial sewing machine, made a website for Broad Fork Bags, and the orders just started coming in,” Van Jura explains.

Van Jura’s wife Jacquelyn is the other half of Broad Fork Bags, and today she’s responsible for sewing about 75 percent of the bags they produce in their spare bedroom workshop. Broad Fork’s bags are one-off designs that utilize all available bike space and express their owners’ personalities with customizable designs, from red woodland camo frame bags to Mardi Gras-themed bags that fit and protect your MacBook Air. Van Jura had to end our interview as he was running out the door for a quick overnight bike-packing trip in Park City. “It’s a good excuse not to sleep in your bed,” he explained.


Hangin’ Around

Hobo Hammocks

Hammocking is a bit of fad right now. How the act of lounging in a stretched piece of cloth could become the Millennial whim du jour is beyond me; nevertheless, hammocks are trending. Jake Anderson, after living in a hammock for a summer, hit Kickstater with a custom-designed hammock equipped with premium materials, a lifetime warranty, free shipping and a socially-conscious bonus of being a solution to urban hunger (see article, page 60). Before long, preorders were shipping and brick-and-mortar shops were knocking at the door to get in on the effort. “Right now we’re still bootstrapping, running things cheaply and shipping inventory out of the house,” Anderson explains.  Apparently, outdoors folks appreciate bomb-proof equipment and an opportunity to do good.


Hang out for the homeless.

Jake Anderson, in a lean period, spent a summer sleeping in a hammock on an abandoned Draper softball field. During that summer, Anderson met many homeless people and it sparked an idea that became a guiding principle when he started Hobo Hammocks. Buy a hammock and you also fund a meal at the Salt Lake Rescue Mission. The orders for Hobo Hammocks are rolling in. “We’re growing because the community is excited and gets behind helping people get back on their feet.”



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Tony Gill
Tony Gillhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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