Interview: Gilad Nachmani – CNOC Outdoors
In this Trail Talk Interview, Gilad Nachmani talks about the founding of CNOC Outdoors, getting certified as a B Corporation, and offers tips for low impact practices.
Where are you from and how did you get started hiking and backpacking?
I was born in Israel and lived there until finishing my university degree, after which I moved to the UK. I now live in Portland, OR, where I have been since 2016 after 6 years in London, England.
When I grew up, hiking wasn’t referred to as such (we just “went outside”). Backpacking or camping culture wasn’t even something I was aware of. When I was a teenager, I joined a guiding youth movement where we spent a lot of time in camp. We hiked, backpacked and bushcrafted often, though it was never defined as such. I ended up becoming a tour and hiking guide with several organizations in Israel, which I did up until the start of my army service at the age of 19. After the army I went travelling in Australia and New Zealand with my then-girlfriend and really caught the backpacking bug. I have been obsessed with gear, backcountry travel and outdoors adventures ever since.
Please share a bit of your hiking “resume”.
Most of my hiking “resume” is from overseas; by the time I got to the U.S. I had 2 kids and a business, so epic adventures haven’t been an option. I have focused on condensed, 24-72 hour adventures, which I try and do at least once a month.
Much longer ago, I was part of the team that “marked” the Israel Trail (hiking most of it in the process) and generally criss-crossed Israel more times than I can count.
I hiked the Milford track, Routbern and Kepler in New Zealand, along with completing a few smaller trips. Later I traveled along the Andes for 7 months, mostly on foot, hiking many unknown trails along with a few famous ones: Torres Del Paine Circuit, Fitz Roy traverse, El Chalten to Laguna los Tres, parts of the Carrtera Austral, the HuayHuash circuit, Salkantay climb, Villarica traverse with a climb up Lenin, about a month travelling the small (and unknown) Incan trails with a visit to a bunch of cities (not all explored yet) and dozens more that I just can’t remember their names.
When I moved to the UK I started section hiking all the UK paths: Pennine Way, Coastal Trail, South Downs Way, North Downs Way, Offa’s Dyke and more. I became obsessed with the Cape Wrath Trail and hiked it twice and even wrote a guide for it.
In the USA, I continue to explore the backcountry, but tend to avoid the “official” trails. I prefer venturing on more random combination of paths that I connect myself. This year I’m doing the PCT Oregon section in a combination of hiking with my daughter, myself and the rest of the family.
When I met you at PCT Days, you mentioned that the Vecto was the first product you created and it was born out of a need for a product that didn’t exist. How did you decide to create the company CNOC Outdoors?
Actually, the Vecto was the second product I made (first I invented, though). I actually started with trekking poles that went through many iterations, designs and fails. During one of my trips in Scotland (on the CWT) I broke a pair of poles and was reluctant to buy new ones, knowing the cost and the quality of the commercial products available at the time. As a tease, my wife said that I should make my own – so I started researching the idea. I got interested in the design and made my first poles: the Auxilium poles, which were made in China and brought to the UK (where the company started). The first batch was a complete fail with the factory using faulty epoxy in the carbon fiber and I lost $15,000, a big chunk of our savings, on it. Roughly at the same time we decided to move the U.S. and part of that was a decision to move the company and try again. After a lot more testing, new factories, and even more testing, the Vertex poles were born and were offered in the U.S.
After a slow start, CNOC stabilized and one day my father in law came to me complaining about the Sawyer bags, which made me realize that I had experienced the same problems in the past. I tried to see if any of the big companies would make them (I reached out via email), and after not getting responses, started the journey of designing, developing and making my own. This is what led to the Vecto. In 2017 I met Darwin at PCT Days (my first one) and he got really excited about the Vertex poles and mentioned his plan to hike the PCT in 2018. I asked him to take one of the Vecto prototypes I had and give me feedback about it, pre-production. He talked about it on his YouTube channel, where he already had a large following. From there, things moved quickly and by 2018 CNOC had moved out of my garage and became a growing and innovative company.
CNOC was recently certified as a B Corporation (congratulations!). What does this mean for you, and for your customers?
Thank you! Most of the credit goes to Nathan, our Logistics and Impact manager, for doing the work over the last year and a half. Being a B-Corp was something I had hoped for most of CNOC’s existence. We always tried to make our products less impactful on the environment and prioritized being intentional in our hiring, employment, work conditions and the support we offer. Though the B-Corp certification process was long, we actually didn’t need to make very many changes to our practices, the ones we made were mainly around our written policies. I always saw CNOC as a tool to make the lives of all who are involved with it, better: from our suppliers, to production partners, peer brands, retail partners, employees and customers. What B-Corp gives us is a tool to continue examining the way we are doing things and how we can improve them, hopefully leading to a better product that is done well and serves our customers while also doing good for the greater community and environment.
I noticed that Leave No Trace is an important value for your company. I’m a big advocate for doing what we can to protect the places we adventure in. Do you have any simple tips for hikers or backpackers on ways they can reduce their impact while adventuring?
I’m a big supporter of leave no trace as I grew up in a country that has no regard to such ideas and the repercussions are unfortunately obvious throughout the trails there. The number one tip I would give is to stop having open fires outdoors, even in the dead of winter. The idea of a fire ring is archaic and wrong in the 21st century and should stop everywhere and in any size. Here in the west we know the impact of wild fires and the danger they pose. The main reason for them is human behavior, so avoiding fire is crucial.
Another tip is: never put things down, always stuff them in a pocket or bag. This makes sure you don’t accidentally litter or lose things outdoors and also creates a habit that prevents the dropping of tiny pieces of wrappings when opening food packaging and the like.
Last, is practice good toilet habits at home to be comfortable doing them on the trail, starting with kids as early as possible. My kids (5 and 7) are expert LNT toilet users, walking away from trails, water sources and camps, digging deep cat holes and packing out their paper. It is never too early (or too late) to learn LNT habits.
Favorite big three gear items for backpacking (shelter, pack, sleep system)?
My system changes very often depending on season, location, and who I’m with, but when I go solo I tend to use a ULA Photon backpack (though I’ve just switched to a Waymark Evlv), Durston X-Mid 1 tent (though switched now to SMD Gatewood Cape with Serinity Net) and sleeping with a EE Revelation 20 deg quilt with a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad or NeoAir Xtherm (both large) and a Sea to Summit Aeros UL pillow.
Where can we learn more about CNOC Outdoors?