When it comes to fly fishing and the outdoor industry, constant innovation and ingenuity are synonymous with the spirit of sport. News of the next rod or wader release from our favorite big names in the game is often met with widespread excitement and attention. However, the hundreds of small companies that our favorite big brands started out as, often times get overlooked when bringing their ideas to the market. So, in an effort to support, what we believe is, the foundation of the fly industry, Flylords is looking to bring a spotlight to the little guys. Here, we’ll highlight the up-and-comers in the industry we hope to see in every angler’s local fly-shop one day.
In this Small Business Spotlight feature, we’re ditching our Gore-tex and dipping our toes into a new solution for those who are looking for a comfortable, and practical wet wading solution for those chilly late-season days, or just keeping comfortable when taking a walk through your local tailwater. Here, we present: Backcountry Skinz.
As our favorite creeks, rivers, and ponds become more and more crowded, the emphasis on exploring beyond the highway pull-off has become a much more prominent theme in today’s age of fly fishing. Whether you’re up late, spending hours pouring over the smallest traces of blue lines on a map, or have secured the time to send a multi-day trip into the mountains that most only consider a “scenic backdrop”, those who crave adventure understand: it’s all about being out there.
When it comes to the subject of exploration, brothers Mike and Kelly Reaume know a little something about what it means to take the road less traveled. Mike and Kelly, founders of Backcountry Skinz, are based out of Calgary, Alberta in Canada. These boys cut their teeth on getting off the beaten path, in pursuit of the prodigious Bull Trout the Northern Rockies are so well known for.
It’s out of these excursions that Backcountry Skinz was born. When it comes to getting out into the backcountry, every last bit of space you have is precious, and carrying around bulky waders can be extremely limiting. Not to mention, when covering miles of water stretched over mountainous topography, the lack of breathability and cumbersome nature of your modern wader, will oftentimes leave even the most trained angler overheated and unhappy in the hot Canadian Summer months. This is where Backcountry Skinz offers their solution.
Backcountry Skinz Neoprene pant is the warm-weather solution for cold-water situations. Designed to be extremely flexible and easily packable, they are focused on being a quintessential kit component for the wet wading enthusiast who’s looking for a little extra protection and comfort when exploring new water…
Our Experience with Backcountry Skinz:
While designed with the backcountry angler in mind, Backcountry Skinz aren’t just for those anglers pushing deep into the unknown. As we found, they are also a fantastic solution for any cold water fishery, such as your local tailwaters in the summer. In the heat of last August, we had the chance to slip into some Skinz and head out for an evening of wet wading and dry fly fishing. Here’s what we concluded:
As most Western anglers can attest to, Summertime fishing in Colorado and surrounding states can be defined as: “Wet Wading Season”. As temps in the West quickly rise over the course of the summer months, waders are often left hanging in the garage or stuffed far into the back of the truck until the later fall months come back around. However, what many people underestimate, is that although the summer air might turn your waders into a sauna: the water running through high elevation streams, as well as the dams of tailwaters, will turn bare limbs to popsicles.
You know the feeling. As you make your way down to the water, the warm summer air is quickly replaced by a heavy chill. As you take your first step into the tailwater you’ve fished countless times before, the water bites at your bare skin and delivers an unwelcoming surge of frigid water to your blood. As you progress upstream, slowly, your legs grow numb and your blood circulation to your legs and toes slows.
We all handle temperature fluctuation differently, but most would be lying if they weren’t to say this sensation wasn’t a pain in the butt (or legs) when trying to fish – at minimum. For those with poor circulation to start, or who just possess a lower pain tolerance, it can sometimes lead to a good day being cut short, or worse. With this in mind, we were eager to try these Backcountry Neoprene pants out on the very waters we experienced the aforementioned situation countless times before.
Slipping the pants on was easy. Once on, we pulled up a pair of our normal wading shorts, and then slipped into our wading socks and boots – just as we normally would when wet wading. As we made our way down to the small river access opening, we pushed through branches and briers with ease, forgoing the usual slash and gash of our shins and ankles that we normally experienced when pushing through to the river. Immediately upon arrival, a flourishing caddis hatch invited fish into the air, and us anglers, into the flowing current to make a carefully positioned cast.
As we cautiously entered the water, what was usually a bone-chilling submersion of flesh, was replaced by the welcoming cool flush that surrounded our boots and neoprene pants. Insulated and happy, it took just a few casts before we had fish in the net. As we worked up the stream, the Backcountry Skinz pants kept our legs feeling fresh and ready to work the water until dark. Without worrying about getting in and out of the water to refresh numb joints, the only thing we had to focus on was feeding flies to fish, and keeping bugs out of our mouths amidst laughter.
The beauty of Backcountry Skinz, in our opinion, is its simple design. For any surfers or free divers out there, time spent in cold water is pretty much synonymous with the use of neoprene in order to keep warm and comfortable. Kelly and Mike from Backcountry Skinz didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but instead, they turned the gear trusted by almost all other cold-water athletes/ recreationists, and designed a product that is built specifically to suit anglers.
We are extremely satisfied with our experiences using Backcountry Skinz, and have turned them into permanent residents of the inside our packs when it comes to any trips involving hiking, cold water, or most times: both. Additionally, we would be remiss to mention, Backcountry Skinz are NOT just a wet wading solution. When the snow finally begins to fall, and it’s time to layer up under the waders, we can assure you we’ll be replacing our puffy pants with Backcountry Skinz pants. These are the perfect insulating layer for those long days wading in frigid temps whether you’re fishing for Salmon in New York or Bull Trout in Alberta. Also, Duck Hunters who aren’t using neoprene waders, you can thank us later…
We also had the pleasure of chatting with the co-founder of Backcountry Skinz, Kelly Reaume, to learn a little more about the brand’s history and the mission moving forward.
Flylords: Tell us about Backcountry Skinz (location, inspiration, mission, etc.)
Kelly: Backcountry Skinz is a small, e-commerce, brand based out of Calgary Alberta Canada. The company was founded to unite mountain enthusiasts that have a deep passion for the wild and that seek to push their limits. We take the same approach in our product design. What sets us apart from other brands is we live the backcountry life which led to us recognizing the gaps in some performance gear, and we filled them with designs that integrate versatility, durability, affordability, and style.
We not only wanted to build some kick-ass affordable gear to help people feel lighter and more comfortable, but also produce some unique content that gets people stoked to call their friends, pack their coolers, and head outdoors. It’s all built for the people – because we are the people.
Flylords: How did the Brand come to be? What did the very beginning look like?
Kelly: Mike and I are two brothers that are wet-wading diehards who love chasing char deep in the backcountry. Chasing char in the mountains is such a euphoric experience but such a gnarly one at the same time.
With that said, over the years in pursuit of chasing char in the deep trenches of the backcountry we have tested a lot of gear. Waders are essential under certain weather conditions, but any time we could avoid them we would for a couple of reasons: we always seemed to put holes in them, they felt heavy and hot over long hikes in, and they can be sketchy crossing rivers and paddling, and they’re pricey. With the mountains having unpredictable weather and cold rivers the majority of the fishing season, a lot of the wet wading pant options don’t give much protection or insulation and don’t feel comfortable as an underlayer with waders.
Mike and I started wearing our compression pants from the gym when we were fishing in the hot summer months, and they actually worked great. They were super comfortable, gave some protection (from bushes and bugs), provided some insulation in the cold water, and worked well as an underlayer in our waders. We loved the versatility. We also noticed on social media that many others were doing the same (wearing gym clothes fishing), from New Zealand, Montana, and on the flats. So, we set out to bridge some gaps and dedicate a brand specializing in technical compression gear for fishing and adventure watersports. We felt we went out and built the ultimate in-between pant, a wet wading pant that pushes like waders and additional modified compression gear to help anglers feel lighter, more comfortable, and versatile out in the wild.
Flylords: What are some of the major steps that had to be taken to get the brand where it is today? Were there any notable moments that greatly impacted growth?
Kelly: There was a lot that went into building our brand; from graphic design, testing of materials, funding, and finding distributors who could bring our designs to life. The amazing thing about fishing is we have formed so many relationships that once we decided to go for it, we had so much support from many friends that had many skills to offer and wanted to not only help us but saw our envisioned products to be beneficial to them. A notable person is a local tattoo artist, Ben Burlock, a fishy dude who helped us a lot with our logo and graphic design.
Flylords: What were some of Backcountry Skinz biggest struggles in establishing itself off the bat?
Kelly: Building a brand during covid was not an easy task, from congested ports to economic uncertainty. We set timely goals and deadlines, but they were hard to meet, and timing is everything in business. We also took a year off from social media to build content for our launch this past May, so we had lots of dust on our algorithms; it took some time to build an outreach to have our voices heard. Social media is such a different place than it used to be when you could build organically, now it’s kind of a ‘pay-to-play’ sort of deal which is hard when you are a small business trying to start out.
Flylords: What do you feel are some of the best applications for your product? What are some ways you’ve seen them be used that you initially wouldn’t have thought of?
Kelly: The awesome thing is that our gear is so versatile it can be used in a lot of applications specifically with fishing: wading in rivers, lakes, or the flats, and a great base layer for bibs and waders during really cold weather conditions. With the current popularity of paddleboard fishing and kayak fishing, we thought it was perfect timing to market compression gear built with materials for the water, so we’ve been targeting that scene as well. Another perk to note with compression materials is that it’s designed to support muscles as well as improve joint stability which in turn reduces soreness after a long day of hiking and wading. This will help you get a couple more ‘lasts cast(s)’ in.
And some applications we noticed that people also bought our gear for is: wake surfing, sea-dooing, hiking, and some environmental biologists like wearing our neoprene pants so they don’t get shocked in the water.
Flylords: What are some of the primary objectives for Backcountry Skinz moving forward?
Kelly: Some primary objectives are: expanding our products into retail stores, especially overseas into some dealers in New Zealand, where we think our gear would be highly beneficial, and to start marketing heavily for the flats as well as over on this side of the pond as base layers for waders during the winter.
Overall, we are looking to keep progressing and modifying our gear in order to help people out in the wild, and hope to establish ourselves as a leader in technical compression gear for fishing and the mountains. We hope that people will think of our “Z” logo as the Nike check of fishing and the mountains.
Flylords: What are some of the challenges you all faced when starting up a brand in the fly-fishing industry specifically?
Kelly: It’s crazy how your mind plays all sorts of tricks on you when you are starting a business in fly fishing, trying to figure out how people are going to react to such a unique idea that has not been attempted. We are basically asking people to put aside how they’ve always done things and try something new, which can be very difficult. Overall so far, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from locals messaging us directly, cheering us on, and consumers saying “finally” and “this makes sense” about how our gear has helped them. Also, positive feedback around how affordable it is compared to a lot of wading options in the industry. Fly fishing has done so many wonderful things for Mike and I; we have created so many friendships and have so many amazing memories, it’s crazy to watch how supportive people can be in this industry and how a small idea can inspire and bring people together. Now our goal is to give back to the industry.
Flylords: What would be some advice you would give to someone running a small business in the fly-fishing industry?
Kelly: Firstly, if you have a unique idea, why not try and run with it? You live once. With technology advancing as rapidly as it is and the access to so much information at the click of a button it’s probably easier than ever to try and start a small business. I’m a firm believer in following your dreams. Another thing is that it’s a lengthy process, so you must have a lot of patience and persistence (which isn’t always easy). And lastly, put the time in to learn new skills because the more skills you learn such as: video editing, web design,, etc. (these things are expensive to pay someone to do), the more money you can save for products and inventory and as a bonus you get to feel more in control of your company.
Flylords: Anything on the horizon you can give us a sneak peek of?
Kelly: We are working on a modified neoprene wading sock, building a 1.0 neoprene pant that’s a thinner version of our 2.0 pant for more predictable warmer weather conditions, fitted women’s neoprene pants, some new cool camo designs and brown trout designs, and modified polyester gear for the saltwater scene (i.e., polyester hoodies to go with our polyester pants). Hopefully, further down the road, we’ll have the capacity to get into technical wading shoes.