RightOnTrek Express & Gear Rental is live in select locations!
This week we are super excited to announce the official launch of our Gear Rental Program!
With so many moving parts, it can be difficult to keep track of all the new happenings here at RightOnTrek. The launch of RightOnTrek Express and our Gear Rental Program has been spearheaded by our Head of Gear Operations, David Diehl, a certified mastermind and jack of all trades. This week, I sat down with him to learn more about RightOnTrek’s latest advancement - just in time for the summer backpacking season.
Hi David, thanks for agreeing to sit down and chat. Can you tell us about your background and how you came to head RightOnTrek’s gear side?
Yeah, sure! I thought I was unique, originally, but it sounds like a lot of us come from varied backgrounds, not necessarily classic outdoor industry backgrounds. I come from 28 years in the Air Force flying C-130s, and I lived all over the world. Okinawa, England, Thailand, Bolivia, Hawaii and, in the Middle East, having been deployed a few times.
During those tours, being avid outdoor enthusiasts, my wife and I really took advantage of what was offered and explored as much as we could. After our kids were born, we introduced them to Bangkok, Thailand, and got to trek some in Australia and New Zealand. Later in Bolivia, which is a fabulous place to check out and holds really unexploited, raw geologic wonders - like dinosaur footprints everywhere, a lot of thermal activity, and giant 6,000 meter mountains! So anyway, I've been a long time outdoor enthusiast and that worked well with the military because I got to see a lot of the world.
And my wife is very similar. She's from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but she has a lot of ties to Italy. So during our courtship, we kind of grew up running around, trekking and backpacking Europe.
She's also a big outdoor enthusiast and bike rider. She does some backpacking as well, and now we're getting good at car camping, given the fact that we have two teenagers and are getting to explore that side of things.
A few months ago, I retired from the military and discovered [RightOnTrek’s founder] Victoria through a local news article in the Flathead Beacon. She had just moved here to Whitefish in October of 2020, and I reached out to her and said, “Hey, I'm interested in working for you guys.” I sent over a resume and a cover letter. Victoria thought there was something there, we had a few meetings and the rest is history.
S: That’s awesome that it came from that - just from reaching out.
D: Yeah. I had initially thought my background would be best utilized as a business development, marketing guy, because I know all kinds of contacts worldwide, and that might still be valuable in the future. So that's what I wrote my cover letter under, that premise, and came to find out, Victoria's like, ‘Hey, that's great. Though right now we're focusing on the United States and in particular Columbus, Ohio and the Flathead Valley in Montana, and we need a gear guy.’ I know gear. So, that's how it all started.
S: Definitely. You’re the logistics guru for the gear side.
D: It is a pretty logistics heavy position, but we did a lot of that in the military. You know, our acronyms are different, but moving things and supplying for particular missions and efforts, that’s what we did. As a C-130 guy, we moved stuff - it’s just in the air and not on the ground and obviously for different missions...now my focus is helping more people access the wonders of the great outdoors.
S: Well, let’s jump further into the gear services side. So what locations will RightOnTrek be active in this summer?
Ohio started as more of a warehouse gear supply model , but has changed into what is proving to be a unique gear rental delivery option - on demand mobile gear delivery, or as we like to call our truck/trailer combo the RightOnTrek Express. We focus not only on the truck and trailer, and delivering gear to individuals through our affiliates, but also lockers akin to the classic Amazon locker. We're looking at delivering gear to, right now, less smart lockers, but in the future, the idea is to field smart, autonomous lockers where you would go and pick up your gear near your trailhead. And once you're done, your gear would be dropped back off to that location.
In addition, we’re squarely focused on limiting our impact upon the environment - you know, slowing overconsumption and waste. And at the same time, we’re offering the convenience of not having to bring your own gear with you on vacation. You can rent premium quality, ultra-light backpacking gear for a reasonable price, and then leave it behind for the next individual to rent.
We’re focused on backpacking, bikepacking, and car camping for now. So that's what we're piloting and, if it proves viable, we're gonna take it to other towns next year. And then there are designs on going nationwide, maybe even global, in the not too distant future.
S: I’m glad that we’re thinking about that kind of scaling model. It’s nice to start with Montana and Columbus and build out from there.
D: Prove the concept and then move out. Exactly.
S: So who are our partners in Montana and Ohio?
D: Right now in Montana, our partner is the Glacier Outdoor Center. They’re really close to Glacier National Park, and are kind of the gateway to Glacier’s west side, where Kalispell and Whitefish are, and the major airport. So you always funnel through West Glacier to get to the park. They offer great retail products and focus their rental program on rafting and fishing gear. In addition, they are a full on guide company - doing a lot of rafting and fly fishing tours, as well as providing cabin and lodging rentals - a little bit of everything going on there. So we found each other last year and we offered to pick up their backpacking and car camping gear rental program this year. We’re going to do it via two lockers out front, where you can pick up your gear and drop it off, 24-7.
In terms of Ohio, we’re linked up with Outdoor Pursuits. They’re a non-profit that advocates for all types of outdoor adventures, and they are right in the middle of Ohio, in the
Columbus area. We're also looking at putting a locker in there as well - that's about a month behind our Montana operation, scheduled to be up and operational in early July.
And Outdoor Pursuits is also growing really fast themselves. They were bike focused for a while, or at least they were perceived that way. And so they're really trying to expand the scope of their operation beyond just being an outfit that supports folks that want to go fast on bicycles. Now they’re looking to get bikepacking, backpacking, and rafting. So it's cool and it's going to be fun - it's good to be part of some progressive operations on both ends.
S: Are there any other area’s we’ll support beyond backpacking and bikepacking?
D: We’re supporting backpacking and car camping in Montana and backpacking and bikepacking in Ohio. And we’ll marry the gear up with our meals - as we have a huge meal operation. It can be a la carte, sent to your home, or you can rent gear and have the pre-packed gourmet trail meals show up with your gear at the same time. So you have, not only great gear, but you have great food on the trail or on the bicycle.
S: So car camping is part of it as well.
D: Yes! We're trying it out here in Montana and we've got the full setup of really good gear to include coolers, tables, chairs, cook sets, headlamps, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mattresses, and all premium stuff at the same time.
S: So where’s the gear coming from?
D: It’s all sourced from really high end providers. And you know, that's all located in the back of the RightOnTrek Express. I've got it cubed out right now. We've got so much gear in there, I don't have an inch to spare. I was thinking of putting a microwave in, but gear’s more important than me eating a burrito!
S: Haha that’s too funny! So why is RightOnTrek venturing into gear rental? What’s the long term goal?
D: We saw a lot of indicators that, even before COVID, people really want to unplug, to get out into the backcountry
and be more human. So as a part of this, we saw the market building and we wanted to be there, and be ready for it. And a central pillar of the company is being ecologically friendly. So the fact that you don't have to go and source your own gear, you can travel light, show up to a destination, rent really good gear, go into the backcountry for a few days, come out and move on to your next objective - without dragging all of your stuff with you, and then allowing another person to use that gear is a novel concept. That's what we're after.
And we knew that this year was going to be big, and Glacier’s a good proving ground for it because it's attracting people to the backcountry - permits are up over double what they were last year. So it's a big year for all national parks. We want to help people get out, cause a lot of folks aren’t really familiar or comfortable knowing what gear to buy. We're trying to facilitate access to the great outdoors and not just stuff you can reach in a day. Hike and really have an incredible, transformative experience once you get out beyond the boundaries.
S: I couldn’t agree more with that - the goal is to get people out there. What makes us different from other gear rental services?
D: Most of them focus on a la carte rentals and only a few of them do full kits like we're doing. I haven't seen any local suppliers with the same level of premium quality or ultra-light equipment that we have. A lot of what I've seen is mid-level equipment. Good stuff and it definitely gets you out there, it’ll just be heavier and it might not be as high quality compared to the gear we are offering.
Another concept on the market is where companies will ship you your gear, but they have maybe a seven day lead time, from ordering to receiving. We’re more responsive because we're here and local, and able to deliver gear much faster than seven days.
S: So the customer service side of it is a big focus.
D: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's a big piece of it. And with the RightOnTrek Express, we can be very responsive and get to you within hours if something were to happen.
S: Super cool. Let’s say I want to rent some gear from RightOnTrek. How do I go about doing that?
D: Go to our website, up to the locations tab, and follow the prompts depending on your location. You’ve got the opportunity to plan your trip, buy your meals and rent your gear, right there. The day prior to the start date of your backpacking adventure or car camping adventure, you'll have gear inside a locker by 4:00 PM, which you can then go pick up at your convenience. And when you're done, drop it off the evening of your last day before 8pm - we'll pick it up and clean it and get it ready for the next customer.
S: That’s simple, and a quick turnaround time.
D: Yeah. When you go to the website, you request to reserve your gear, and then I respond to you within the next business day that your gear is available. If not, we’ll work through the issues together. You’ll be able to replace some gear, or find different dates. It’s a real personal touch that we’re after, so I can call, text, email, or otherwise communicate with you on exactly what you want. We can talk through trails, we can talk through what kind of gear is best for you.
S: That’s great. It’s nice to have that call feature as well - so you can talk to a real person.
D: Yeah, we don’t have any automated bots where you’ll spend 10 minutes on hold, trying to figure out how to navigate through. You’ll call and talk to me or a coworker in the gear shop. If it’s an after hours message, I’ll call you the next day.
S: What about group rentals?
D: Our site is set up to accommodate groups easily. After clicking on the type of kit you want, you’re taken to a screen where you can add individuals to your overall package. Everyone added to the trip can then pick the gear they need individually. If you are hiking with a friend, you can save some weight by picking just one 2 person tent and splitting the portions of the tent between two backpacks, that way you’re not carrying two different tents. So there’s different ways to do it. However, the entire pricing structure is based on a per person, per day basis.
S: So I’m a size small and my partner is a size large. Do we have things that will accommodate all different types and shapes of people?
D: Absolutely. We have sizing options for backpacks and sleeping bags, sleeping mattresses, and tents. You can choose between a one, two, and three person tent for backpacking, and between a two and four person tent for car camping.
S: So after I drop all my stuff off, what does the cleaning procedure look like?
D: I go out and I pick up the stuff from the locker, inventory it to make sure it's all accounted for and in working order, I'll bring it back to the shop to clean it. We start with high-touch areas, so items like your headlamp, obviously you have your hands all over that, so we clean it with disinfectant that's [Center for Disease Control (CDC)] approved and the headlamp bands, we professionally launder those, we don't do it ourselves. And the sleeping bag liner gets professionally laundered in between rentals. The tent is washed and spot cleaned, as well as the sleeping bag. And the cook set and your utensils are thoroughly cleaned in commercial dishwashers. We get all high touch areas with disinfectant. We launder what needs to be laundered, and clean what needs to be cleaned.
So for CDC guidelines, the EPA has specified a list of disinfectants, which are known to kill COVID - there's a list of 500 and it's growing every day. We are a company that is very ecologically minded and wanted to find products on that list that are green or as clean as possible. We've located a few that are effective against COVID and are environmentally friendly, and chose to use those.
And typically we're shooting for at least three days in between rentals. So what you're receiving has been thoroughly cleaned, and it's also been sitting for a time period. If you are concerned about any pathogens or anything else being on your equipment, we go great lengths to ensure it's safe to use.
S: Perfect. Yeah I’m actually a bit of a neat freak and I was wondering how this was all going to kind of shake out. I probably shouldn’t put this in the interview, but that’s definitely much more intense than what I do with my gear.
D: Yeah, I get it! Today we’ve got to be super, super cautious. So we go to great lengths to make sure people are safe.
S: Awesome. So back to RightOnTrek Express for a second, any events this summer?
D: Yeah, we’ll be at ‘Under the Big Sky’. It’s a big music festival hosted here in Whitefish, Montana in late July. We’re going to put up a booth at a campground associated with the event to support campers, with meals and rental gear.
S: In general, any major challenges that you’ve had to work through?
D: There are a few. You know, when you try and bring it all together and marry it up so it’s seamless for the customer. That’s our goal. We don’t want to have any major hiccups, any minor either. But there’s always going to be some when you’re working through a pilot - right now we’re working through inventory management, not an insurmountable challenge, but it’s still a challenge to figure out - maintaining gear and sequestering it for a certain amount of time for other individuals, and having it ready for you. Unlike many car rental agencies, where you have a reservation that doesn’t really mean your car’s reserved. When you rent and pay for your gear from RightOnTrek, it’s going to be available when you show up to pick it up.
S: Thanks so much for filling me in David, and for all your hard work getting the program up and running! Can't wait to see the RightOnTrek Express in action!
Steven lives in Portland, OR and is the Head of Wilderness Data and Community for RightOnTrek. When he’s not hiking, biking, or snowboarding in the Cascades, you can catch him eating a sushi burrito and drinking a beer at one of Portland’s food truck pods.
Have specific gear you’d like to rent or a location you’d like to see RightOnTrek Express? Please, leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.