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Meet the next generation of outdoor gear makers

Utah State University’s Outdoor Product Design & Development Program Senior Showcase presented innovative student concepts and designs.

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Reinvented clipless pedals, women’s fly-fishing waders, and zipper hammock hanging systems took center stage at Utah State University in Logan on April 12 for its first-ever Senior Showcase for the Outdoor Product Design & Development program. This four-year-old program is designed to prepare students for careers in outdoor product design, and its showcase is the culmination of four years of work for its first-ever graduating class.

The 32 graduating seniors displayed products ranging from sketches and prototypes to full-fledged finished products, all varying from wild concepts to in-production items they designed and produced themselves. These final projects were created by applying the skills they learned in the classroom, including: product design and development, sketching and digital design, supply chain management, sustainability, and prototyping. For many program graduates, these projects bear significant weight, with some students already receiving job offers based on their work. 

Here are a few projects that caught our attention.

Logan Reese, snowboarding vest
USU graduating senior Logan Reese wears one of his inventions, a modular fly-fishing vest.Jenny Willden

1. Logan Reese: The Summit Snowboard Vest

Snowboarder Logan Reese wanted to create an alternative to wearing a pack while snowboarding, which can throw off your balance, and created a multi-pocket vest. “The vest is designed so you can put anything you put in a backpack in it,” he says, “It keeps the weight close to your body so you’re more balanced, and a lot more comfortable.”

Though he originally designed it for the backcountry, he quickly learned from fleshing out the design that the vest worked better for riding around the resort. Containing 11 pockets, the vest’s small pockets fit snacks and a phone and larger pockets hold extra layers, gloves, water bottles, and a camera.

Though Reese may not develop it himself, he is confident about his idea’s future. “The first time I rode with it, it was game changing,” he said. “I think it’s a concept that could really work.”

Jake Von Wagoner clipless pedals
USU graduating senior Jake Van Wagoner created clipless bike pedals.Melissa McGibbon

2. Jake Van Wagoner: Cyclone Clipless Bike Pedals

If you ride one bike for commuting and another for fitness, you’re likely familiar with the pain of constantly switching out pedals. While attending USU, Jake Van Wagoner quickly grew to loathe the experience when commuting on his racing bike. “I found that commuting to school on a traditional eggbeater pedal or lightweight clipless system is just terrible,” he said. “You either have to change your pedals or change your shoes, and both are inconvenient.”

So he invented a why-has-no-one-thought-of-this-before product solution avid cyclists will love. “Rather than change your pedal, you change your surface. And with just a quick twist, you can convert your clipless system into a flat pedal.” This flat pedal integrates into the clipless cleat to create a quick-release pedal system.

After prototyping the pedal in a variety of molds, Van Wagoner created a functional pedal for two-point contact pedals. But his end-goal is to make one that works with both traditional road cleats and mountain biking cleats. He also hopes to turn the concept into a real product. “I’d like to do a few more prototypes, but overall I’m really happy with it, and may look to start launching it soon.”

Natalie Cullum, women's fly fishing pants
USU graduating senior Natalie Cullum wanted waders that fit her—not her dad. So she created her own.Melissa McGibbon

3. Natalie Cullum: Women’s Fly-Fishing Waders

For Natalie Cullum, her senior project has led to a dream job. She took up fly fishing just over a year ago, but found that the waders her dad bought her were unflattering and too big. This sparked an idea: Why don’t I make waders for women?

She started with the fit. “The tailored fit was the biggest innovation I had. I started prototyping and made them super tailored, but I couldn’t get them on because I couldn’t get them over my butt! So I implemented this gusset so you can open them, zip them up, and they become super tailored to a woman’s physique.”

Cullum also added a through-pocket on front, a standard feature on innovative male waders that isn’t offered on women’s waders. And posting her design on Instagram caught the attention of one of the biggest names in fly fishing: Orvis.

After a designer from the Orvis team reached out, she flew to Vermont to interview. “I got a job at Orvis designing because of these waders,” Cullum said, and she can’t wait to start designing as part of the team.

Ashton Grover
USU graduating senior Ashton Grover is already selling his product in a specialty retailer.Jenny Willden

4. Ashton Grover: Zipper Hammock Hanging System

When Ashton Grover first purchased a hammock, he was so excited to use it, but found the process of hanging it to be cumbersome. He came up with a concept to simplify the process called the Zipper Hammock Hanging System that’s been so successful, it’s already for sale at Gear:30 in Ogden, Utah.

“It’s a hammock hanging system that’s lighter and easier to use,” Grover said. “Basically, you hook the carabiner and thread it like a backpack and pull it tight.”

The whole system is made of aluminum and webbing, and weighs in at just 7.5 ounces for the buckle and strap. (Most competing products weigh about 11 ounces.) Grover has already produced 500 units for sale, launched the product on Kickstarter, and is planning to focus on it after college.

USU graduating senior Veronica Villhard shows off her functional denim jacket at the Senior Showcase.Melissa McGibbon

5. Veronica Villhard: Women’s Product Line and Approach Shoes

Veronica Villhard was studying in an Industrial Design Program in Kansas when she read about USU’s Outdoor Product Design & Development program in an article, and immediately knew it’s what she wanted to do. She transferred to the school to join the program and hasn’t looked back.

After interning with Patagonia over the summer, her diverse senior projects include a women’s activewear line, functional denim jacket, and approach shoes for climbing. But what stands out about Villhard is her strength in concepting, Photoshop rendering, and sketching. Her beautiful designs showcase products you can see coming to life as an outdoor wear brand.

Villhard sewed a denim jacket from her Southern Utah-inspired women’s line as her story piece, and also designed an approach shoe inspired by your brain’s Alpha Waves when experiencing awe.

With one post-grad job offer already on the table, Villhard is a rising star in the outdoor industry. “I really want to start my career as intentionally as possible,” she said. “I’d like to get outside of Utah and focus on working with other high-calibur designers at a company that prioritizes design and innovation.”

Marshall McGill, carhart
USU graduating senior Marshall McGill worked with Carhartt to develop an interchangeable jacket.Melissa McGibbon

6. Marshall McGill: Carhartt Interchangeable Jacket

Focusing on creating a workwear line for future generations, Marshall McGill worked with four other interns at Carhartt to develop a product minimalist millennials will love.

“What we found is that modularity was a huge [selling] point for future generations. We created this jacket as a modular jacket with pockets that switch out,” McGill said. “You can interchange them with different pouches. So you can go from utility pouch to a hunting pouch to a fishing pouch. It’s functional in different environments.

McGill was responsible for the jacket’s full development, picking all the trims and fabrics, and he loves that it allows wearers to buy just one jacket. While he can’t say much about the product’s future, McGill enjoyed working on it. “It could go to market, it could not. But either way, I’m pretty proud of it.”