Welcome to the Backpacking and Blisters Podcast.
Brice Sokolowski, entrepreneur and CEO of Vaucluse Gear, joins the show to discuss innovative and unique ideas for the outdoor community. Brice shares his product, the Cool-Dry Backpack Frame, which seeks to solve the problem of back sweat while also giving feedback to Derek and Carl about their own innovative ideas. See below for a full description!
You can watch the episode by clicking the play button below.
Interview Portion Transcript
Okay, let's get to it. We have Brice Sokolowsk, from Vaucluse Gear. He's our entrepreneur for the episode, so he's going to share a little bit about his product and the problem he's trying to solve for everybody out there, and then he's going to react to our products and we'll see if we've got an idea that sparks some interest for him. Are you ready for this? Let's do it.
Welcome Brice from Vaucluse Gear, how’s it going, sir?
It's going very well, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.
Our pleasure. So tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What's your backpacking story?
My backpacking story is… For about 20 years, I hung up my backpack because of the very problem that I'm solving now. I did not like to sweat. When I was 18 I did the El Camino out in Spain for about a month. I had a massive, 65-liter backpack and just got drenched. Then the following year it happened again when I did a backpacking experience out in Italy.
And… I'm half-French. That's the whole reason behind the Vaucluse name and my name, Brice. You can tell by my accent that I'm French but I like to hide it!
Wait, we got into this for a minute here. You want to hide that you’re French?
No, it's my poor joke. I was saying I have a French accent when I absolutely do not!
Okay, quick question about your name, Brice. I know it looks like Bryce. My name is Somerville but with an O instead of U. So, probably eight times a day I'm having to correct people. How often do you have this, you know, correction issue with your name? Is it everywhere all day? Every day?
Yeah. At a young age, I just took a stand. Every time I took a stand. You know, back then not everybody was doing it. I was one of the originals. You know how, when you start school in kindergarten or first grade, there's a roll call? They would always say ‘Bryce.’ But I said no, it's ‘Breece.’ I just stuck with the French pronunciation.
Because in the French language it is pronounced ‘i’ not ‘e.’ Good for you. Okay, so let's simulate this real quick. So you're at a restaurant and I'm the guy that's giving you your food, and I say, Order up for Bryce! What would you say?
To be honest, I just use Ned. Just pick a name that really can't mess up. For me it's N-E-D.
I love that man, that is awesome. Okay, so, so you've been backpacking, you've done some international backpacking, like El Camino, but right now you are in Arizona, correct?
Correct. So the reason I say that is because my true backpack story is after those two month-long hikes. I said I loved it and I thought it was fantastic. But I also said, I'm done with sweating like that. I'm not a large guy. I only weight about 180. It fluctuates about 10 pounds, depending on how close I am to Christmas, but nonetheless, I sweat. I do not like to sweat. When I was wearing a suit for my job or would have to travel, I would have to take public transportation. I sweat and don't like sweating. So that's what Vaucluse is about. Trying to solve the problem of back sweat.
I was going to ask, what's the problem you're trying to solve? That's clearly it: back sweat. And the motivation is that you personally don't like sweat. Anywhere. So tell us about your product. How does it work? How do you solve the problem of back sweat?
I take an unconventional, unorthodox approach. You're supposed to have a backpack completely on your back. Your center of gravity is supposed to be right on your back. But if it's right on your back, then you have this massive thing covering a large portion of your body and after 30 minutes, an hour, maybe even 10 minutes, your core temperature starts increasing and when your core temperature starts increasing, you start producing sweat. It’s the body's way of trying to cool itself down. If you have a massive backpack on, you're not allowing your core temperature – your body – to do what it wants to do. Because you have this massive thing on your back and when you take it off, your back is soaked. Then we can talk about risks like hypothermia. It doesn't just happen in very cold weather. It’s still a risk. So I thought, why don't we just move the backpack maybe half an inch, a quarter of an inch off the back? In a way that it flexes, so it's not a metal frame. It's not mesh, because there are other products out there that use metal frames and mesh, and stuff like that. Mesh absorbs moisture and aluminum bars can be quite painful and heavy. So I tried to figure out a better way – without mesh and without aluminum – that doesn't weigh a lot and flexes to your back so when your body is heating up, sweat and heat can just evaporate.
Do you have an example handy where we can physically see what you're talking about here?
Yes, I've got black versions here of V. One and V. Two. It really is just a dual frame. It just attaches onto a backpack. Here's a backpack with it on, it's kind of hard to see because this one's black.
This is on your Youtube channel too. I watched how you're just throwing it over the shoulder straps and it slides right on pretty easily.
The loops just hook around the straps. It literally takes a few seconds. There's some Velcro, you know, this isn't rocket science. This is just trying to solve a problem.
That might be too hard for Karl. You might want to show him again. I don't know if he got that.
I want to describe what it looks like. It looks to me like a flexible honeycomb exoskeleton. It’s very thin (like you said) and provides a little bit of space between your back and the backpack. It’s flexing so it looks like it would kind of go with whatever frame backpack you have. It would kind of adapt to that, is that correct?
That is correct. I tell people it's like a pair of jeans. You probably want to wear it two or three times before you take it out for several hours. Because it's made out of TPU, which is a thermoplastic, like a lot of backpacking equipment is made from because it withstands the sun and the elements, hot and cold, etc. It's going to last a long time, it's flexible, very soft and weighs about six ounces.
Okay, would you ever consider – I know Karl asked me this before the show – would you ever consider renaming it like, waffle sweat or honeycomb sweat?
Okay, I didn't think so. So this episode is also about how we’re going to share some other products that (if anybody wants to) whether it’s licensing Vaucluse Gear or some of our amazingly genius product ideas, they're available. Yeah. All you may change your mind.
Well, if you guys brought me on, hopefully I'm raising the bar a little. I think you're like the gold standard. We’ve got to try to combine ideas. Good luck.
So you mentioned that the Cool Dry weighed six ounces?
Yes. Version One is about six ounces, which is like packing two pairs of socks. This next version, which I got some great feedback on, will put more variation out there for people's backs. Some people said it's comfortable, some people said there's some irritation. It’s just like backpacks. Some people like a fancy Osprey. Some don't mind a cheap Amazon bag.
So, with Version Two of the Cool Dry, the feedback has been about the frame on the spine itself. I never had any problems, but there were a few people who have offered suggestions and, in the end, this new design has shaved off about 2- to 2.5 ounces off the overall weight. So what I'm finding is that a large portion of backpack weight is in the frame. And so ideally what I would to present is that you don't really need an intricate frame and all that mesh and stuff on it because in the end, it's just making you work harder. It's making you sweat more and it's like having a pillow on your back. So throw out the frame that probably weighs 15 to 25 ounces, for this one, at four ounces. Shout out to all the hyper-light packers out there. This is probably going to do an even better job for you and you're going to have a much lighter backpack. So it's a win-win for everybody.
If I'm understanding correctly, what you're suggesting is, those who want to significantly reduce pack weight could supplant existing backpack frames with your Cool Dry Version Two?
Yes. And… a lot of back frames act like a seat cushion. This thing makes a great pillow. Just wrap a shirt around it. There you go. You want to sit on it? I've tested it. I'm sitting on it right now and it's not breaking. I’m 180 and Karl is about 250. It will handle it.
All right, we'll find out. So it looks like there's some flex to it. So if you actually did sit on it, it looks it would be comfortable. Like it would be like a little cushion.
Exactly. There are certain points where it is rigid or firm, but most of it is soft, so it's not going to be uncomfortable, whether you sit on it, have it as a pillow or wear it as your backpack frame. If anybody else out there has another idea for it, because backpackers are always looking for how they can use something two or three ways, to justify my taking it in that direction, I'm happy for different ideas.
About the Backpacking and Blisters Podcast
Deemed "The Best Backpacking Podcast" and "The Best Hiking Podcast" currently running. Derek and Carl host a weekly podcast about all things adventure. 'Tips and tales with a sense of humor' sums up the show quite well.
Carl is a teacher residing in Castle Rock, CO. He has been backpacking for 25 years and continues to mess something up on each trip.
Derek is a father of two special needs children -- Riley and Bailey -- and resides in San Clemente, CA. Derek brought a fanny pack on his first "backpacking" trip.
Regarded as the best backpacking podcast going, Backpacking and Blisters includes hiking, camping, outdoors and anything adventure-related.
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Backpack Airflow System - Cool-Dry Frame
The Cool-Dry Backpack Frame is a great way to add more airflow to your back. It’s flexible and very light (just six ounces). If you're looking for added comfort and less sweat while hiking, please check out the Cool-Dry Frame. We’ve designed this based on the feedback of customers and hikers just like you, and they're telling us what to do. The result is the additional support your back is looking for when hiking in either cold or hot weather.
Thank you so much.
See you on the trails.
You can read our 5-star customer reviews by clicking here, Yes, this product definitely does work.