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Camping & Hiking

Sara Lawhead dishes on Jetboil’s latest and lightest stove

OBJ spoke with Jetboil’s brand manager about the new Stash, including how the team whittled its weight to just 7.1 ounces, the surprising role corporate leadership plays in product development, and more.

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When CEOs of publicly traded companies address Wall Street investors and analysts on quarterly earnings calls, they rarely give shout-outs to specific products that their brands are bringing to market. They tend to focus instead on revenue, earnings, and other financial metrics that shareholders can use to invest in their company’s stock, not the details of, say, a camping stove that backpackers can use to cook ramen.

But on Johnson Outdoors Inc.’s fiscal first-quarter call in February, the company’s chairman and CEO, Helen Johnson-Leipold, took a moment to name-drop Stash—the new lightweight stove from New Hampshire-based backcountry stove brand and Johnson Outdoor subsidiary Jetboil.

“Jetboil, the technology leader in portable outdoor cooking systems, just recently launched an exciting new innovation called the Stash,” Johnson-Leipold said. “The Stash is the lightest all-in-one backpack installed system that Jetboil has ever made, and we are excited for our newest technology to hit online and retail shelves very soon.”

That mention was music to the ears of Sara Lawhead, brand and product manager for Jetboil.

“It’s amazing to have that support and that recognition from Johnson Outdoors’ executive leadership,” she told us.

Lawhead, who has been spearheading the design and production of Stash for the last three years, added that Johnson-Leipold’s public statement was validating yet hardly surprising. She said the top boss at Johnson Outdoors doesn’t confine herself to the corporate boardroom but is regularly involved with product development at Jetboil and other brands in the portfolio.

“We’re not developing products for ourselves; we’re developing products for our end consumers, and Helen regularly checks us on that,” Lawhead said. “She’ll ask, ‘Why is this different?’ or ‘Who is the consumer that we’re making this for?’ I love it. She makes sure that we aren’t launching something just to launch it, but that we have a growth mindset and that we continue to bring innovation to each business unit within the Johnson Outdoor community.”

Stash hit retail shelves and online marketplaces last Saturday, and Lawhead couldn’t have been more thrilled for Jetboil’s newest—and lightest—stove to be globally available as consumers look to explore the outdoors amid the ongoing backdrop of Covid-19. After years of exhaustive research, development, and testing, her excitement was understandable.

“We try to do fewer, bigger launches,” Lawhead said. “One, because there are only so many things you can do in the stove market. And two, when we launch new stoves, we want to bring innovation.”

The stove’s innovation is indeed impressive—Stash weighs a remarkable 7.1 ounces and boils water in just two and a half minutes—so we wanted to check in with Lawhead on how the team was able to provide so much stove yet keep it lightweight and compact. Here’s what she told Outside Business Journal.

What drove you and the team to develop such a lightweight stove?

As we analyzed our consumer insight and research, we found that a lot of backpackers aren’t carrying a stove today because weight is such a pain point. They’re foregoing the stove and willing to make the sacrifices such as eating jerky or cold meals. That was the inception of the Stash—to overcome backpackers thinking that stoves are too heavy and to provide a solution for them using the same Jetboil efficiency and our flux-ring technology, which boils water fast and efficiently. Our goal was to take the Flash, which was 13 ounces, and cut that in half.

Were there doubts about shrinking the weight down that much?

When I kicked off the project with our engineers, they laughed in my face, telling me there’s no way that will ever happen because our flux-ring technology alone is half the weight. But through product development and field testing, we were able to get to a 7.1-ounce stove. While we didn’t hit that 6-ounce mark, we got damn close. We’re proud that we are still very true to who Jetboil is, and Jetboil to us is the nesting design, so everything fits nice and neat together. It has our flux-ring technology, which improves boil efficiency and reduces fuel consumption. It’s also innovative, and that’s something we pride ourselves on—providing new solutions that aren’t in the marketplace today.

How does Stash differentiate from Jetboil’s past offerings and also your competitors’ products?

MSR is probably our biggest competitor and they’ll likely say the same thing. They’re very competitive and there’s a longstanding history of great product and tradition, so it’s nice to be in good competition, which keeps us on our toes. But we also see ourselves as a big competitor. How do we continually improve on what we have done previously? We looked at all the various components and eliminated what was unnecessary for that lightweight consumer. For example, the Stash does not include an igniter. But we do have a spot built in between the fuel canister and the lid where you can store a lighter. There are design elements that we included to make sure that you still have that top performance. 

Do you think the timing of this launch aligns nicely with how the pandemic is driving more people outdoors?

We had always planned on this launch date, but it’s working out perfectly. As people are looking to get outdoors, and there are new entrants in the backpacking space, it allows us to not only educate them on the Stash but also the rest of our product line. This product launch ties nicely with the marketing we’re putting on Jetboil as a whole.

How much lighter can Jetboil make its stoves?

One of the things that Jetboil was founded on is that stove-system approach. We provide the complete solution, so you’ve got the burner, cookpot, lid, handle. If we were to go lighter, one of those things would have to be cut, and it’s potentially the cookpot. Having a 40 percent weight saving is a huge achievement for our team. As we look to the future, we’re going to try to identify other areas where we can continue to push and bring innovation to the category, though not necessarily with weight.