Montana's outdoor gear scene is finally flowering

The thought of spending a night in the backcountry spooning a bunch of guys in Lycra shorts was all it took to inspire James Davies to start his new Polson-based company, GearPods. That mountain-bike ride gone awry 10 years ago—and the threat of a cold night without warm clothes or shelter—got Davies thinking about a better, more convenient way to package survival, first-aid and minimalist camping gear so anyone could carry it. His company launched last fall, and it won't be long before GearPods are available in stores nationwide.

While you might be thinking "a gear company in Polson?" most out-of-staters are scratching their heads and thinking "a gear company in Montana?" Which is understandable—the treasure state has always been rich in wild country, but it's been something of an outdoor-gear hinterland. Sure, we've had some artisans handcrafting birch canoes and hunting knives, but outside the fishing industry, which boasts Simms in Bozeman and Winston in Twin Bridges, few marquee or nationally known manufacturers have roots here. Colorado, Utah and Washington, by comparison, were swimming in successful companies making bikes, skis, boats, backpacks, shoes and more. Montana was a great place to use your gear, but the places making it weren't often based here.

click to enlarge Hammer Gel headquarters in Whitefish - AARON TEASDALE

Thankfully, that's starting to change. In recent years, outdoor gear companies have been popping up like fireweed. Here's a look at a few of the best.

Fit to be tubed

GearPods • $18 to $200


Originally from England, and later California, the outdoor-loving Davies moved to Polson in 2006 after a Montana vacation exposed him to the state's natural beauty and vast backcountry. He'd been studying survival gear ever since that ill-fated but ultimately fortuitous mountain-bike ride, when he and his friends spent most of the night in the woods trying to find their way back to the trailhead.

What he invented as a result is a unique, customizable system of "modular adventure gear" made of interlocking polycarbonate cylinders you can throw in a pack, put in oversized bicycle water-bottle cages, or stow in your car, snowmobile or boat.

click to enlarge AARON TEASDALE

About the same diameter as a can of soup, GearPods come in a variety of heights and can be used alone or threaded together with other tubes to create longer, stacked compartments. The waterproof container system is a potentially useful way to protect your stuff from impact, liquids and other insults.

But the products that really shine are the pre-built kits, including first-aid, cooking and shelter packages. The 8-ounce GearPods Cook kit ($50) uses a minuscule but effective Esbit solid-fuel stove that nests in an aluminum mug, which also doubles as the system's cook pot. The Survival CS ($80) uses the same cook kit and fits a full-featured survival pack into the mug—including everything from a whistle and water tablets to fire-starters—for a slick, grab-and-go, save-your-ass system.

Perhaps the ultimate GearPods kit is the Wilderness ($165), a deluxe, 29-ounce affair that includes the cooking and survival gear, plus a first-aid kit and a Spartan shelter, complete with a silicon-coated nylon tarp, space blanket and nylon cord. The beauty of the package is the simplicity—just about everything you need for a night out or emergency is here. No wracking your brain or forgetting crucial items: just grab it when you head out and you're set.

If you're a backcountry vet and already have your gear systems dialed, you might have no need for GearPods. But for the casual crowd, the search-and-rescue professional, or anyone searching for well designed survival and outdoor goods in tightly organized, cool-looking containers, the pods are an excellent choice.

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