The Story Behind VSSLFrom The Field
VSSL Outdoor Utility Tools takes a durable torch and then packs it full of everything you’d need for an adventure, from first aid kits to fire-starting material, fishing kit to a wire saw. Sidetracked has collaborated with VSSL for its own range. To celebrate the launch, we spoke to VSSL founder Todd Weimer about how it came about.
Where did the initial idea come from? Was there one lightbulb moment?
I used to make these as a kid growing up in Northern Canada. It was totally out of necessity. We were small and had to travel light, so we got to be pretty good at making the smallest, most practical versions of all our essential gear! I remember using an empty PVC pipe to store all our condensed essentials to keep our packs organised and efficient. Fast forward 30 years and my own kids started heading out into the woods. I wanted to show them how I ‘prepared’ for outdoor adventure when I was their age, so I started making initial prototypes for what would become VSSL Camp Supplies. They loved them! These early ‘VSSLs’ kept evolving until I started making commercial-ready versions, which were very well received.
What kind of activities were you doing where you thought this would be useful?
We’ve always done a lot of camping, hunting, fishing, and backpacking, where being prepared and saving space are paramount.
How did your upbringing influence your love of the outdoors?
Growing up in a small town (North Battleford, Saskatchewan) in the 1980s, being outdoors was a massive part of what we did and who we were. There really were no other options (video games and colour TV hadn’t arrived yet). We lived on the outskirts of town, so our backyard was mile upon mile of fields, forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent most of my childhood exploring that area with my best friend. And even today, I get my greatest sense of ‘home’ when I’m outdoors.
How many iterations did the product go through?
To be honest, not many! The idea has lived with me nearly my whole life, so when it came time to putting the ideas floating in my mind into a tangible form, the process flowed pretty smoothly. I already knew the contents that our flagship VSSL should have; it was just a matter of sourcing or manufacturing the ideal size, ideally still perfectly functional, but small enough to fit. The iterations were more about the quality of the cylinder, matching anodising to the lights and end caps and the quality of the lights. But really, innovation has no end – we’ll be iterating forever.
How did you decide on the contents?
I followed the well-known priorities of survival: first aid, fire, water, signalling, shelter, and food. I wanted to make sure that each piece of the kit could contribute to those priorities in some meaningful way (and they do). Then, additionally, since one primary function of our flagship product is to ‘keep the adventure going’, I wanted to make sure that any other components were critical for keeping a person out enjoying their trip, rather than having to turn back. For example, having a fire-starting kit is not only an essential survival priority but if you happen to forget matches – and your overnight trip includes cooking food – then having your VSSL would enable you to continue with your plans as opposed to heading back early. And time is such a valuable resource these days! So VSSL has the potential to ‘buy’ that time for a person.
How are you continually improving the product?
I think about that all the time. I’m out a lot, so I get the opportunity to see what’s working and what isn’t. Not only that, we’ve got some pretty stellar staff and Voyagers (our brand ambassadors – like Megan Hine and Jill Brown, who have both been recently featured in Sidetracked) who provide valuable feedback when they’re using VSSLs on their trips.
Which trips have you had where it’s really come into its own?
We’ve had a few amazing stories of people having life-saving experiences because of their VSSL. I’ve been in survival situations (prior to VSSL) where the contents would have sure come in handy. And I’ve been in other situations where the only thing that has saved me was, in two instances, rescue – and also walking for nearly two days through the forest with burnt hands after rescuing someone from a forest fire (a friend fell asleep during bear watch and he rolled into the campfire. His sleeping bag went up like a torch and I had to pull him out!). But on a more practical level, they’ve definitely served their secondary purpose of keeping the adventure going.
I was just talking to someone about how I was having a few pretty stressful days last year, so I took the day off to go fishing. About an hour in, I snapped my rod! I was an hour away from the road, and then another hour’s drive back to town. Fortunately, the latest iteration of our VSSL CAMP Mini has a roll of our multi-purpose tape. It wasn’t ideal, but I was able to make a field repair of my rod, enough to keep going for a few hours. Those hours were priceless for me! I needed the escape.
I’ve personally also relied on our VSSL First Aid to keep going. New boots plus a bunch of miles made me super grateful that our First Aid Kit has blister packs. Blisters can definitely ruin a trip. Last summer, camping in a remote place with my wife, I accidentally hacked a finger pretty good with a hatchet, but had the essential components to remedy a severe cut: antiseptic wipe to clean, antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, and 3M steri-strips to close the wound.
How did it feel to have the first examples out?
Nerve-wracking! Even today, nearly four years since we started, I get nervous (and excited) when someone who really understands outdoor gear starts inspecting the units.
What was the most important thing you learned about developing the VSSL?
Hire good people! We’ve got such an incredible group of guys. Businesses are bound to have bumps and hurdles, but it sure becomes far more enjoyable, and likely to succeed, when you’re surrounded by awesome people.
You’ve now got a drinks canister and a first aid kit – how else do you see it developing?
We did the VSSL Flask because we wanted to bookend people’s adventures. Make sure they’re getting there safe, but also provide them with a little something to help celebrate the journey! We’ve got a purpose-built mini camp stove coming up next, hopefully some time next year. We’re not really short of possible versions; it’s just a matter of keeping the focus on our primary products and releasing new versions when it’s appropriate. Since our products don’t have a shelf life, we can take our time and do things right, as opposed to rushing and making mistakes.