It is 2017, and we are now #adultsummercamping. Don’t judge: That’s pretty much the No. 1, unspoken rule of the wild and wonderful new CamelBak Pursuit Series. It is the opposite of the “Gore-Tex Vortex” you’ll find in places like Boulder, and it’s a beginner outdoorist’s paradise.
And according to brands that attended, it’s a highly valuable way to get in front of customers.
In early August, I traveled to Salt Lake City for the first-ever Pursuit, at Snowbasin Resort, to check it out for myself. The bar was set high. I would be leading a “scenic hike with an outdoor writer," perfectly aligned with SNEWS’ new writers’ course, and as a "Pursuer" I was promised an epic, fully-custom weekend of glamping, adventure, new friends, sweet gear, and—most intriguing to me, a relative newbie to many outdoor pursuits—a chance to take beginner classes in rock climbing, mountain biking, SUP fishing, backcountry cooking, hammock camping, first aid, and more.
More than 30 brands signed up to teach courses, supply gear for adventures, and hang out with customers one-on-one, including Icebreaker, Altra, Petzl, Trek, Granite Gear, Smith, Giro, Oofos, Camp Chef, Juniper Ridge, Sunset Magazine, LEKI, and Slackline Industries. Backcountry.com, based in Salt Lake, had Gearheads on hand to help participants purchase gear they tried on-site, and Leave No Trace educated new hikers on backcountry ethics.
With a focus on education rather than sales, there were no hard sells. The goal was to provide participants the outdoor equivalent of a turn-key vacation: People could show up with clothes for the weekend, and everything else would be taken care of. No need to haul—or purchase—mountain bikes, climbing gear, kayaks, or even running shoes, backpacks, or hydration bladders. Everything was available to demo.
“How did you learn to bike, who taught you how to bike? You remember who that person is,” says Julia Stamps Mallon, co-founder of Eventus Outdoors, which founded Pursuit Series along with The Outbound Collective and title sponsor CamelBak. “Sometimes it might be a father figure or a parental figure, sometimes it could be a best friend. In today’s world, why couldn’t it be a brand?”
You can automatically build a long-term relationship with a customer if you’re part of their first “aha!” moment when they try an activity for the first time, agreed Whitney Standring-Trueblood, CamelBak’s senior consumer marketing manager.
That’s why these types of events are quickly increasing in popularity. See the OUTFOUND Series, Cotopaxi’s Questival, the Fjällräven Classic, REI’s Outessa Summits, and, for journalists, Outdoor Press Camp, for just a few examples. And they’re here to stay, says Trudie Abel, North American marketing head for Icebreaker, which held clinics on smart layering, led hikes throughout the weekend, and offered participants the chance to “Share a Pair” of socks or underwear with a friend for free.
“Pursuit, and events like it, offer variety, addressing a growing consumer need around choice, experience and accessibility—more people wanting an entry point to the outdoors,” she said in an email after the event. “‘Brand Acts’ are also a trend we see as brands start to understand the value in moving beyond ‘telling’ the consumer to ‘showing’ the consumer, and these events offer a platform to enable brands to do this.”
Standring-Trueblood spent months planning for the series and said it was absolutely worth it for the brand. Each participant got a CamelBak Arete daypack, Crux reservoir, Crux lumbar reservoir, and Kickbak tumbler (among swag from other brands) when they checked in. That hydration pack seamlessly became part of participants’ adventures throughout the weekend, which was sunny and hot.
“Maybe it’s not your running shoes and maybe it’s not your apparel, but it [CamelBak hydration] is the cornerstone of every adventure no matter what your sport or discipline is,” Standring-Trueblood said after the event. “I think Pursuit was the perfect embodiment of that.”
It was worthwhile for many other brands that attended, too. For Heather Swanepoel, founder of Rinse Bath and Body Co., Pursuit offered an opportunity to edge its way into the outdoor world. Rinse makes a plethora of all-natural soaps, deodorants, essential oils, and balms. Not what you’d typically think of as an “outdoor” company right off the bat, but far too few of us take the time to care for our bodies after punishing activities, Swanepoel says. So Rinse taught sessions on how to show your feet some love after a long day on the trail.
“We’ve done other events like this, and it’s always so amazing because we get to know the people who come,” Swanepoel said. “We get to spend quality one on one time. We get to solve the problems they have.”
A brand can’t pay for the emotional social connections they build with customers when teaching them new skills, she added.
Joshua Silva, marketing manager for Jimmy Styks, agreed. Pursuit was the brand’s first major consumer event. There were a few hitches he plans to resolve before Sanborn—he led dry-land classes on SUP fishing, for example, and many people showed up expecting to fish out on the lake—but overall, the weekend was valuable and the brand plans to attend again in the future. As brand-specific events like Questival and Fjällräven’s Classic become more prolific, Pursuit offers hands-on consumer interactions for brands not ready to make that kind of investment.
“The way we’re shifting culturally into the fast, easy, get-it-now type culture, this [Pursuit] helps people kind of reset to some degree, like disconnect, get away,” Silva said. “And at the same time, they can integrate some of what they’re doing in that. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen taking Instagram shots or Snapchats of what they’re doing.”
The concept of Pursuit was an entirely new endeavor for Kuju Coffee, too, says co-founder Jeff Wiguna. He agreed that interactions with customers were high-quality—and so were opportunities to network with other outdoor industry professionals and media who went to the event. People would swing by their booth in the mornings and chat casually with them while making their own coffee.
“It’s really difficult to achieve that tone when you are maybe cold-emailing, or calling, or at a trade show, because the focus of that is to do business,” Wiguna said. “We got to have an in-depth conversation with the editor-in-chief of Sunset magazine, and it was just like meeting a friend.”
Wiguna sees one major drawback, though, and that’s the cost of participation. He and his brother, Justin, recently co-founded the Outdoor Diversity Coalition and they’re looking for ways to get more minorities outdoors. Pursuit is a great way for beginners to get their feet wet, but Wiguna says he worries most people wouldn’t be able to afford it.
The upcoming Sanborn, California, event, Sept. 8 – 10, costs $650. There’s a lot included: three days of lessons in all kinds of activities that would cost hundreds if you pursued them separately, free gear worth a few hundred bucks on its own, three nights of camping, meals, and alcohol. But $650 is $650, no matter how you slice it, and that’s a barrier to entry for many (SNEWS readers: Get a $250 discount for registering here, with code SNEWS250).
It was indeed a high-value event, though, and Pursuit delivered as promised. Each day was packed with options from sunrise to well beyond sunset. Each "Pursuer" made his or her own schedule out of activities like rock climbing 101 with Petzl, hammock camping 101 with ENO, or sunrise photography hikes with The Outbound.
I got on a mountain bike for the first time ever, with Trek and local guides, and quickly gained confidence and an eagerness to get out again, stat. There were no dumb questions, and the guides’ feedback was constructive and kind.
There were a few first-time event snags, like not having a buffer of travel time between classes that often meant activities started late, but overall, Pursuit was wildly fun (and event organizers were eager to hear constructive feedback).
Small talk (like the obligatory “How’s your show?”) was not a thing. I stayed up late talking with new friends about everything from adventure travel to politics to van life to the future of trade shows. For two nights, we all rode out a wild thunderstorm together. I worried briefly for the first-time campers among us, but then I realized they couldn’t have possibly been in a better or more supportive place, where experienced campers had their backs.
I completely crashed when I got home, having forgone too many hours of sleep for too many interesting conversations, but it was worth every minute of the sleep debt I paid off in the following weeks. Pursuit was the sleepaway camp I never got to attend as a kid, and the complete and total vacation from “real life” (and news alerts) that was long overdue.
I’d go again in a heartbeat.
This story is part of our ongoing coverage of industry events. If you'd like to attend the upcoming Pursuit Series outside San Francisco, California, sign up here for a $250 discount.