A conversation with “Titanium Man”

Brian Vargo’s ultimate goal is to create outdoor products to lighten your pack.
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Brian Vargo, CEO and founder of Vargo Outdoors, built his entire brand around ultralight titanium.

Brian Vargo, CEO and founder of Vargo Outdoors, built his entire brand around ultralight titanium.

Brian Vargo has a thing for titanium. His love affair with the superlight, superstrong, and quite expensive metal began on the Appalachian Trail in 1995. He simply wanted a lighter load for his thru-hike.

He began his quest for minimal weight by developing titanium tent stakes, but flash forward 12 years and the Vargo line now includes backpacking stoves, pots, mugs, water bottles, and even apparel. We caught up with him to geek out on gear and find out what’s on the horizon for the world’s sexiest metal.

SNEWS: You built your whole company around titanium. Is it safe to say you are obsessed with it?

Brian Vargo: (Laughs) I don't believe I'm obsessed with titanium. However, I am obsessed with creating quality, innovative new products that in some way improve upon the gear that’s currently available. Titanium happens to be the best material for most of the gear I create, but I do occasionally work with other materials.

SNEWS: The first two things that people often think of when they hear titanium is “light” and “expensive”. Do these two things describe Vargo gear?

BV: I think that it is fair to say our products are both light and expensive. Of course, there are other qualities such durability and strength.

Brian Vargo testing out the original titanium external frame backpack.

Brian Vargo testing out the original titanium external frame backpack.

SNEWS: Titanium-infused apparel…who knew? How did this come to be and why should we all be wearing titanium in the outdoors?

BV: Compared to silver dioxide, titanium dioxide is much better for the environment and not harmful to your body.

Silver dioxide is commonly used as an odor blocking chemical in apparel, and I was curious if titanium dioxide might have similar properties. After confirming the results, the chemical worked and TiFusion was born. We make four styles of men’s and women’s base layer tops.

The titanium dioxide treatment gets applied to our polyester. In the presence of sunlight, it displaces other unwanted particles, such as bacteria, and in effect detaches them from the fabric. This happens at a measurable level, but it's not like you don't have to wash the shirt. The most noticeable feature of TiFusion is its ability to prevent odor.

SNEWS: It’s safe to assume that there’s a lot of titanium in your pack any time you venture out on a trip. Metal aside, what are some of your other must-have gear items?

BV: There are two things that I personally consider essential that a lot of people I’ve met do not carry backpacking. The first is a plastic pot cleaning scrubber. They generally don’t retain grease and with the flick of the wrist retain no water. Sponges and wash cloths don’t work well in the backcountry. The second is a small, square, closed cell foam seat. Sitting on wet rocks is no fun. Having something comfortable and dry to sit on is priceless.

SNEWS: Which of your products is super-hot right now and why?

This ultralight stove folds flat and weighs only 7.4 ounces.

This ultralight stove folds flat and weighs only 7.4 ounces.

BV: Our Titanium Hexagon Stove has been one of our top selling products for many years and still is. When I designed the stove about seven years ago, all of the existing stoves had to be manually assembled part by part. I took a chance in developing a hinged system that I thought would be easier to assemble in origami-type fashion. It worked, and it’s probably the easiest and fastest wood stove system available. Customers still seem to appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of this product.

The Dig Dig Tool works as a tent stake as well as a mini trowel.

The Dig Dig Tool works as a tent stake as well as a mini trowel.

As for our newest products, our Titanium Dig Dig Tool has been selling really well and recently won Gear Institute’s “Best New Gear” award at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market for its dual use as a trowel and tent stake and its effectiveness at digging cat holes over normal trowels.

SNEWS: What’s your favorite, never-leave-home-without-it titanium product?

BV: Easily, the Titanium BOT, a water bottle plus cooking pot. On a company outing a few years ago, we all seemed to agree that the BOT is one of our favorite pieces of gear, the one that none of us wanted to go without. It probably epitomizes my ethos of simplicity in design and multiple functionality.

SNEWS: What’s next for the brand?

BV: We started making titanium tent stakes from the very beginning but never the tent itself. That will change. I have resisted this for many years because I will not create a new product unless I believe I can improve upon the existing designs currently available. I’ve created a new tent concept that I fully believe is an improvement over anything currently available. I’m excited to introduce it Spring next year, and we will definitely have a tent at Summer OR. But that’s all I can divulge for now!

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