Thunder poses with the latest DOGPAK Moab Lite prototype

DOGPAK Aims to Change the Way You Adventure with Your Dog

DOGPAK Outdoor K9 Gear

My name is Devin Kelly, and I am the founder of DOGPAK Outdoor K9 Gear. We are excited to launch our first originally designed product: an ultralight, waterproof, reflective, and form-fitting dog harness and backpack for hiking, camping, and adventuring with your pup.

Building this company has been a whirlwind of a journey, and while it all came together in the end, it was, at times, a hectic path of ups and downs—of apprehensive despair followed by illuminating inspiration only to be followed by another bout of attrition. I look back and reflect on what has gotten us to this point, and it’s a wild ride worthy of a rodeo, that’s for sure—but what worthwhile endeavor isn’t?

The story of DOGPAK begins as many great stories do: with a boy and his dog. And the story of this particular duo began 13 years ago when I met a little hound dog at a rescue center. I named him Thunder. He was just a puppy then, and I guess I was still a pup too in a way. I never could have anticipated the bond we would develop over the years together, nor could I have fathomed even half of the epic adventures we would embark on.

So the story of DOGPAK begins with the story of Thunder the Wonder Dog. My pup. My best friend. My hero. We have traveled the world together for the last 13 years to 30 different countries and most of the US states. The bond we share is indescribable. We have been through it all: rattlesnake bites and bear attacks, barbed wire stitches and raccoon battles, two transcontinental motorcycle rallies and countless camping trips. And too

 many skunk incidents.

Transcontinental motorcycle trip around the US, 2013

Thunder is a farm dog, a Mountain Cur: he is happiest when he is outside exploring, and I have tailored my lifestyle to make him happy. We cowboyed on huge cattle ranches in the American West together, and beautiful sustainable farms where Thunder would make friends with all the animals (except the raccoons, never the raccoons). I have always sought work outdoors where Thunder would be free to roam the way a curious dog with a lot of energy should be able to. There are so many stories to tell, so be sure to take a look at the DOGPAK Blog for some of our favorites. For now, I’ll just explain how DOGPAK started.

You can imagine after 13 years traveling much of the world together, Thunder and I have a special relationship. It is one of the things I am most proud about in my life, and I wanted to find a way to help other people develop that kind of bond with their dogs.

But what are the building blocks of a bond like that? Experiences? Sure, but there is something even more fundamental: memories. Memories are the foundation of that bond, and boy do I have memories with old Thunder.

Memories of what, though? And what makes an experience memorable? I realized that my favorite memories with Thunder came from our myriad adventures together: hiking volcanoes in Nicaragua, camping in the rain somewhere in the Swiss Alps, training mustangs in the Teton Wilderness of Wyoming, packing mules through bear country in the Sierras, old cowboy ranches spanning 40,000 acres in Arizona, discovering hidden ruins in the Huayhuash mountains of Peru.

Backpacking together in the Swiss Alps

Yes, my most endearing memories with Thunder came from those unforgettable adventures we shared together—the kinds of journeys that don’t always seem fun in the moment but have a tendency to shine in retrospect—memories built from a questionable unfolding of comedy and mishap, moonlit nights and misty mornings, missed switchbacks and rain-soaked shoes. We are purveyors of type II fun and full-belly laughs, delirious on empty stomaches after long days and many miles.

That is where the story of DOGPAK comes in.

One day the light bulb switched on and I suddenly had the idea to start a company that would make outdoor gear for dogs. I wanted to create a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping other people develop those same kinds of memories with their dogs. I wanted to honor all that Thunder and I have shared together over the years, and I wanted to somehow help spread that spirit to other dog lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Due in part to the precarious COVID situation during the summer of 2020, I had time on my hands and needed to fill the hours of the day with something to prevent my impending spiral into insanity. I was stuck in the US awaiting permission from Switzerland to fly over so I could marry my fiancé. The problem was I had no idea when I might receive my Swiss visa, which made it impractical to look for work—not that anyone was hiring amidst the global pandemic.

Luckily, this newfound pursuit gave me a sense of purpose, so I sectioned my day into various tasks and disciplined myself as best I could as I dove into research. Admittedly, I knew nothing about starting a business, especially a physical product business. I had an idea, but how does one go from concept to a physical, tangible product, let alone a whole line of products? Did I need to buy a sewing machine? Would I need to learn to sew better? Should I learn CAD or computer coding?

But I did have at least one advantage. In reflecting on some of my experiences over the years, I realized I had some insight into what makes for quality outdoor equipment, and while some great equipment does exist for dogs, I began thinking of ways to expand or improve on it.

As a parachute rigger, I had some sewing skills and a workable knowledge of a wide range of materials, their strengths and weaknesses, and the physics of building safe and redundant harnesses and anchor systems. I was also an avid climber, wingsuit BASE jumper, skydiver, skier, and mountaineer, which meant that where my knowledge fell short, I had friends in those communities who could guide and mentor me.

Nicaragua with Old Thunder

After researching different products for dogs, I realized the market was missing an ultralight, waterproof, slimmer-fitting dog harness and backpack for daily walks, hikes, and overnight backpacking trips. Everything on the market was ill-fitting, bulky, boring, and often made with cheap, outdated materials. I was eager to use my knowledge of skydiving and BASE jumping parachute systems, rock climbing harnesses, and the practical applications of the outdoor gear we often use to design a fresh-take on dog backpacks made with the same high-quality materials we enjoy in our own gear. 

I began researching various kinds of nylons, polyesters, webbings, and rip-stops. I also researched the process of building a business. The more I researched, the more I realized the importance of efficiency, simplicity, and viability. I needed an “MVP,” a Minimum Viable Product. I wanted something fresh and functional that would appeal to a wide range within my niche audience—something practical that still conveyed the spirit of DOGPAK as an outdoor K9 gear company for people who loved to

 adventure with their pups.

Thunder poses with the latest DOGPAK Moab Lite prototype

So I had an idea; I had a product in mind. Still, I had no real understanding of how to bring an idea to physical fruition. I also needed to learn more about business structure, licensing, and law, and I had to decide whether I would be based in Switzerland, where I live now, or the USA, where I grew up. Or somewhere else entirely.

I soaked up any information I could, though somewhat haphazardly, being new to the whole entrepreneur thing. “How to start a business…” Business plans, licenses, LLC’s, C-Corps, Sole-Proprietorships, Swiss Regulations, US Regulations, EU Regulations, etc. I researched the process of manufacturing a physical product, how to find and vet a factory, how to design a tech pack, how to create prototypes, and how to build a website. I even studied photography and social media marketing.

As a solo-founder, I had to learn every aspect of running and maintaining the business, and that included a lot of technical computer and design work I was unaccustomed to. I was a simple cowboy before this, a wandering nomad, a BASE jumping poet who preferred life off the grid. Suddenly I had to learn as much as possible about SEO, website design, online advertising, analytics, marketing funnels, email sequencing, and even some coding. I had to be a jack of all trades, and a master of many of them as well—undeniably a daunting task.

Among the many challenges I faced, one was learning how to delegate. Any veteran founder knows how important delegation is. I had to learn to trust other people to handle a task and to handle it well. After all, they were supposed to be the experts, and I was little more than a cowboy who decided to build a company only 2 short years before. The online marketing space is flooded with people who claim to be experts in one niche or the other, and half the battle is learning how to sift through and vet them before wasting your own time with a call, or worse, hiring an agency only to discover they have no true feeling for your brand’s voice or aesthetic—a lesson I learned the hard way.

Still, we made a lot of progress in those early months. I look back on two years of learning and I see now how far I’ve come, but I also see much more clearly how much further the path ahead continues. We were able to build our first physical prototype for the Moab Lite K9 daypack and harness, and from there we continued to iterate, improving on each prototype bit by bit. We have now finalized the design and are ready to move on to large-scale production—the next chapter in a seemingly unending though nevertheless fulfilling series.

It has been a whirlwind—at times overwhelming—a bit like trying to fly the plane while still building it. I have learned a lot along the way, and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. But isn’t that true in all aspects of life? I think that is the hallmark of wisdom: to realize that the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. As my knowledge increases, my sense of wisdom seems to decrease as I am humbled by the realization that I can only know so little.

Ultimately, the goal is to expand to have a range of products all curtailed to outdoor enthusiasts and search and rescue teams. But we have to start somewhere, so for now, this is our first ambition: a K9 hiking harness and daypack—ultralight, waterproof, ergonomic. We also offer a line of custom designed dog collars and leashes that feature some of the most impressive

landscapes around the world—Moab, Yosemite, Lauterbrunnen, and more. So stay tuned for more updates and feel free to reach out and contact us with any questions or comments.

The family team behind DOGPAK

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Anastasia Filipenko

Anastasia Filipenko is a health and wellness psychologist, dermatolist and a freelance writer. She frequently covers beauty and skincare, food trends and nutrition, health and fitness and relationships. When she's not trying out new skincare products, you'll find her taking a cycling class, doing yoga, reading in the park, or trying a new recipe.

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