Benji Wagner of Poler & His Mixtape Standard Read the Q&A

BENJI WAGNER OF POLER STUFF & HIS MIXTAPE STANDARD

"Don't be overwhelmed by the idea that you have to do something grand to connect to the outdoors." —Poler Stuff Founder Benji Wagner

A Campfire Chat with Poler Stuff Founder Benji Wagner

You once mentioned that outdoor brands weren't really engaging young people the way you envisioned. How does Poler Stuff speak to that demographic? What did you guys want to do differently?

For me, music provides the best answer to your question. A generation ago, a typical young person was probably primarily interested in one kind of music. Now, your average person’s mixtape is a true mix of different genres. In our industry, I felt the brands were focused on very specific types of activities, even though their customers and how they relate to the outdoors was much more diverse and much more like a modern mixtape. So we try to inspire and relate to people in a variety of ways that are relevant to their lives in the modern world.

What's the one thing you always take with you whenever you venture into the outdoors?

Water!

What's your best piece of advice when it comes to enjoying the outdoors responsibly?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea that you have to do something grand to connect to the outdoors. People often travel across the world to feel like they are on an adventure when something equally amazing might be right in their backyard. The more time you spend in nature, and the more you're inspired by it, the more likely you are to care about it and try to protect it!

Tips + Tricks to Make Nice with the Great Outdoors See our field guide

TIPS + TRICKS TO MAKE NICE WITH THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

A note on moss: these flowerless bryophytes grow wherever they can find shady, humid spots to chill out.

This means moss doesn't just seek northern exposure, so bring a compass if you're heading into the woods.

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

Strap your headlamp—bulb side inward—to a translucent water bottle or jug for some instant mood lighting in your tent.

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

Ignore what your mom said.
Save your lint.
Lint + flint = fire starter.

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

How to Survive Avoid a Bear Attack

  1. Seal your food in bear-proof buckets or bags, available at most hardware and sporting goods stores. Bring some rope or a pulley (or someone who likes to climb trees) to hang them out of paw's reach.
  2. Make a ruckus in bear country. Whistle a tune, sing your favorite RiRi or Bieber song if you prefer. Bears hate noise (and they're probably tired of the Biebs too).
  3. Stay on the lookout for claw marks, large tracks, freshly butchered game and very big poops.
  4. If you spot an adorable cub, resist the urge to whip out your phone and take a selfie. Instead, back away quietly and gingerly. Where there's a baby, there's always a very large and overprotective mama bear.
Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

Toss some fresh sage into the fire for a natural (and very aromatic) mosquito repellant. Add the rest to your dinner for a zingy lemony note in whatever you're cookin' up on that camp stove.

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

If it's a relatively simple tent, designate one person to pitch it. It may take a few extra minutes, but you might just save a relationship.

Pop-In@Nordstrom Gets Out illustrated field guide: tips and tricks.

Stay away from Team P: poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac. Keep an eye out—they travel in bunches of three.

Summiting Cotopaxi Read more

SUMMITING COTOPAXI

Eradicating global poverty might seem unreachable—but Cotopaxi founder and CEO Davis Smith can scale mountains.

"One of my earliest memories is from the Dominican Republic. My family moved there when I was four and I remember seeing children my age on the street who were completely naked. It was the first time I'd seen anything like that, and it just shocked me. I mean, I can't even describe to you how I felt."

When four-year-old Davis Smith asked his parents why his life was so starkly different from that of those children, he was told he was simply lucky.

"Lucky to have been born into a family that didn't have to think about those types of things. That was life changing," he tells me. "I developed a deep sense of empathy, an understanding that it's not that some people are always smarter, or more hard-working—but that it comes down to circumstance."

Smith spent most of his youth living and falling in love with the outdoors in foreign countries—five in 11 years—many of which were gravely impoverished. Early life lessons in privilege and compassion, coupled with a fervent desire to help others, drove Smith to establish Cotopaxi, a Utah-based gear and lifestyle brand. Founded as a public benefit corporation, the for-profit company is dedicated to doing public good by sharing some of the profit generated by colorful windbreakers, stainless steel water bottles and lightweight backpacking provisions that really hold up. This means money can be given sustainably, without relying solely on grants and donations that often dry up before more funds can be raised.

Ten percent of profits or two percent of revenue—whichever is greater—goes to handpicked nonprofit organizations that aim to alleviate the devastating effects of rampant poverty in collaboration with the local communities they serve. The measurable results are then published in annual impact reports, made available to the public right on the brand's website—because transparency leads to accountability.

I'm surprised to learn this larger-than-life mission is being tackled head-on by a corporate team of less than 40 people.

"Well, we're only a couple of years old," Smith remarks. "We still have all-hands-on-deck staff meetings every other Friday."

It's a small but highly specialized team. And when you're designing expertly crafted wilderness gear while also problem-solving unfamiliar and sensitive issues regarding international supply-chain integrity, you need all of the specialization you can get.

"We know the supplier of our llama wool, but who are the thousands of farmers the supplier works with? Are child workers being used—which is common in many parts of the world—and if so, how do we dig into that? If there's a teenager working full-time to help support a family in South America, do we come in and say, 'You're not allowed to work here?' These are all questions we're trying to answer right now. In fact, we have a full-time person in Bolivia whose whole job is tracking down original sources of wool and surveying individual practices. I'm going there soon to meet with some of our llama farmers to try to tell their stories. It's important for consumers to understand the people behind the supply chain."

Smith's dedication to chipping away at inequality around the world influences everything Cotopaxi does, from employing as many international workers as possible in ethically operated factories to establishing close, supportive relationships with Salt Lake City's growing refugee communities.

"There are so many opportunities for anyone to get involved locally as well. Whether it's with refugee communities, or the homeless, or struggling families. It allows us to build empathy and understanding for others, because sometimes we just live in bubbles and become intolerant—what you don't understand, you fear."

This action- and compassion-oriented worldview even permeates his seemingly less extraordinary interactions—evident when, toward the end of our conversation, he can't help but ask me, "So what about you? Tell me your story."

I offer a truncated response, then ask Smith if he's ever summited the real Cotopaxi, a large volcano that overlooks the city of Quito, Ecuador, and the site of many backpacking trips taken with his father when Smith was a teen.

"No, not yet," he replies. "But I plan to."

Uniquely Keen Uneek Read the Q&A

UNIQUELY KEEN UNEEK

"We live on an amazing planet if you really start looking at how Earth supports life and study what a slight change can mean." —Keen Uneek creator Rory Fuerst, Jr.

A Campfire Chat with Uneek Creator Rory Fuerst, Jr.

What were some of the main inspirations behind the Uneeks? Who and what covered your mood boards?

Our inspiration really came from our constant desire to innovate and challenge convention. We didn't set out with the intention of making a "shoe," but rather an entirely new way of constructing shoes that adapt to your feet. Our mood boards were theoretical, with our innovation group constantly asking, "What if we did this?" Once we finally decided on something, we made and tested both the assembly process and the actual product, constantly tweaking until it was right.

What's the one thing you always take with you whenever you venture into the outdoors?

Shoes. I've spent a lot of my time thinking of, designing and making shoes—it's one of my passions in life.

What's your best piece of advice when it comes to enjoying the outdoors responsibly?

Respect. Respect the outdoors and our planet. We live on an amazing planet if you really start looking at how Earth supports life and study what a slight change can mean. Respect this planet because based on what we know now, this is the only one we've got. And please don't leave behind garbage on the trail, that drives me crazy!

Cool People Share Their Most Memorable Trips View the photo map

July 1-31

We're celebrating long summer days in the great outdoors with our latest Pop-In Shop, curated by VP of Creative Projects Olivia Kim.

July 1-31

We're celebrating long summer days in the great outdoors with our latest Pop-In Shop, curated by VP of Creative Projects Olivia Kim. Hit the open road, climb every mountainside or glamp like a champ with the best wilderness gear and nature-inspired home goods. The adventure starts now.