Fly fishing

Startup Wanaka Kea Outdoors takes on big names in adventure gaming

Matt Butler launched Kea Outdoors after Covid-19 put an end to his work as a fly fishing guide.

PROVIDED

Matt Butler launched Kea Outdoors after Covid-19 put an end to his work as a fly fishing guide.

Matt Butler is a man on a mission: arming the “weekend warriors” with the best gear available.

Based in Wanaka, Butler was 29 and working as a fly fishing guide when the world entered the Covid-19 lockdown.

Although the pandemic put his plans to spend his off-season in Central and South America on hold, it was a “blessing in disguise,” the intrepid entrepreneur said.

“I always planned to do guiding until I was 30 and then move on, but it’s hard to think about what to do when it’s not necessary.

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“When Covid hit it really forced me to stop and think and come up with a plan.”

Butler's latest creation, the Kea Stash, is a packable trash bag for outdoor adventurers.

PROVIDED

Butler’s latest creation, the Kea Stash, is a packable trash bag for outdoor adventurers.

Frustrated with the messy jumble of safety and survival gear at the bottom of his bag, the outdoorsman decided to do something about it.

The result was the Kea Kit, an outdoor survival pack with over 30 items organized into five separate modules in a small 1.8 kilogram water resistant case.

The kits were showcased at the upper end of the market and garnered a lot of interest, as well as around $300,000 in support through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Despite the inevitable Covid-related setbacks, including factory closures and shipping delays, the kits were delivered to customers around the world in February.

Building on its initial success, Butler set its sights on another market gap outside: garbage removal.

Although he admitted it wasn’t “the sexiest topic”, it meant the issue hadn’t been tackled by existing outdoor gear makers.

“Brands like Patagonia and The North Face have been around for a very long time, but no one has taken care of litter, which is a real problem for anyone who spends time outdoors.

Leak-proof and odor-proof, the Stash could have many uses, Butler says.

PROVIDED

Leak-proof and odor-proof, the Stash could have many uses, Butler says.

“Current options have not evolved from standard plastic or zippered bags. These tend to break, leak, smell, and do nothing to reduce the volume.

Butler’s solution to the problem was the Kea Stash, a dry bag crossed with a zippered bag that he says does both jobs much better.

The bag has a waterproof inner lining and a large zipper, so that nothing can escape or leak. Waste can also be compacted by rolling the bag up from the bottom and using compression straps to further reduce the bulk.

During his own testing, Butler discovered that the design could have many other applications, including as a food bag, emergency water bag, dry bag, or even a bear bag.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

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The aluminum straps and hooks allow the bag, which comes in two sizes, to be attached to almost anything and even hung in a tree away from wildlife.

A second Kickstarter campaign has so far raised over $60,000 to help produce and market the Stash, with pre-orders coming in from adventurers in over 20 countries.

Looking back, Butler said he learned some important lessons during the development and production of the Kea kit and applied them to his work on the Stash.

“I learned that everything takes time. A production-based business is very different from a service-based business, as guidance was.

“There is a lot of time spent in R&D [research and development] then there were manufacturing and shipping issues and delays.

“You have to make sure you leave enough wiggle room for things to go wrong – because they do – and no matter how hard you push, there’s not much you can do.”

As interest in the Kea Outdoors range continues to grow, Butler is already working on several other products which will be produced alongside the Stash and are expected to ship early next year.