By Chris Meehan | May 16, 2022
Crested Butte, Colorado
Outdoor bathroom kits
PACT Outdoors -- which emerged last year out of the ICELab in Gunnison, Colorado, and the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator -- to win multiple innovation awards, including one at the Outdoor Retailer Show and another from Popular Science.
It's all about pooping in the outdoors. It may be an uncomfortable thing to discuss, but human waste in the outdoors is a big problem as more people venture outdoors in the U.S. and around the world.
The PACT Bathroom Kit is an elegant solution that works together to more rapidly break waste down using a specially selected mycelium, reducing the ability for it to produce E. coli and other bacteria or pathogens. The kit includes a durable aluminum trowel, mycelium tablets, wipe tablets, hand sanitizer and a card explaining how to use the kit. The wipe tablets hydrate and expand into a soft, yet strong wipe with a few drops of water.
Schum explains that the idea for the kit came about because of both his and co-founder Jake Thomas' outdoor interests and their backgrounds, Thomas in marketing and Schum in product development at BOA. Jake, as a climber, was frustrated by the option most climbers have to use on big climbs, wag bags, which are small and hard to use. Schum is more of a backcountry person and was more familiar with the needs of people on overnight backpacking trips.
"We were stuck on that idea for a while, just being like: 'Huh, there's really nothing on the market,'" says Schum. "It's a blank space, but yet everybody's doing it every, every day or every time they go out. And there is an opportunity there."
Leave No Trace recommends, in most cases, that people bury their human waste in cat holes 6 to 8 inches deep. But burial can still lead to contamination, increasing E. coli and other pathogens in the areas where human waste is concentrated and fouling waterways like rivers and creeks.
Schum explains that the idea for the company went from sketches on paper to the incubators rapidly. His family had just moved to Crested Butte during the COVID-19 pandemic and he started going to ICELab when he found out they were launching an incubator and working with online retailer Moosejaw to bring new, disruptive ideas to market in the outdoor space.
PACT was able to query Moosejaw's email list about problems with going to the bathroom in the outdoors. "We got about 25,000 responses," Schum says. "What we were finding is that the biggest problem was people were just under-prepared. And so that's why we wanted to put everything in this first," Schum explains.
Schum says that they researched how RVs handle human waste, as well as composting toilets. "We actually just stumbled upon a couple of studies of mycelium, and specifically a dairy farmer up on the East Coast who was using mycelium for micro remediation at his dairy farm," he explains. "We found a mycologist who was like, 'Yeah, this is really weird, but I'm in and I'll do this study with you.'"
The team zeroed in on mycelium that's native to North America and Europe that rapidly breaks human waste down, and in the process found that the wet wipes help. "The mycelium jumps to that first. It's a wet, plant-based fiber and it's like a perfect food source to really get that going," says Schum.
The kit went to market in September 2021, and has already proven popular. As part of the Moosejaw accelerator, the online retailer had some of PACT's first orders in early 2022. "Within two weeks they sold through all of their inventory and had to put in an ASAP PO [purchase order]," says Schum. "We knew as soon as there was some push behind it it would take off."
Schum expects sales to grow, particularly as camping season starts and as they launch their paid media and paid advertising campaigns, and anticipates the company will sell upwards of 6,000 units this year. "I think right now it's probably going to be a 60/40 or 70/30 split with direct, but it just kind of depends what other retailers come on board."
The company already is looking ahead in terms of releasing new products. "But right now it was more about like: What's the biggest effect we can have in this market," Schum asks "That is making sure everybody has all the tools and products as well as the education. That's why we put the 'how to' and 'what's in your kit' cards in every packet."
PACT sources components from a number of manufacturers: Wipes, bottles, and trowels are made in China, the mycelium pellets come from the U.S., and the hand sanitizer is sourced from a distiller in Colorado. "Everything is assembled in Crested Butte, but parts are coming from all over," Schum explains.
While Schum is happy with the suppliers overseas, however, he would like to migrate manufacturing to the U.S. "Not only would we love to make it here, we'd love to make it in Western Colorado and bring some of those jobs," he says.
Challenges: "It's awareness. We're creating an entire new category and that's our biggest challenge," Schum says.
Opportunities: "It's endless," says Schum. "It's our blessing and our curse. I just talked about how we're creating a category. That's the biggest challenge. It's also our biggest blessing. I can go into a store, especially a key retailer like REI, and it's a blank wall and we can really write the story and we can plant our flag as the first company that's tackling the bathroom in the outdoor environment."
Schum says he sees a lot of potential opportunities for growing PACT's product line, including climbing-specific products and ultralight versions of the kit, as well as climate-specific versions.
Needs: "We're in the fundraising mode right now," says Schum. "That, and just building out the team. Ideally we will bring on about three or four more employees by the end of the year and then really ramp up next year."