David Hurt started to reevaluate his outdoor gear after watching a 2018 PBS documentary called “Into the Amazon” shortly before embarking on a multi-day wilderness excursion with friends.
The documentary chronicled the journey of United States President Theodore Roosevelt and Brazilian explorer C?ndido Rondon, who ventured into the heart of the South American rainforest to chart an unexplored tributary of the Amazon River in 1914.
“One of the things that I found pretty interesting about it was that Roosevelt was kind of under the assumption that it was going to be a really easy trip — he packed some provisions and some more luxurious items,” Hurt, a Washougal resident, said. “When they started out, they had to go through over 30 miles in the jungle, so they ended up dumping a lot of provisions along the way and had to live off the land a bit more. It got me thinking a little bit about the getaway that I was going to go on and how I could survive more off of the natural resources, kind of like they did on that expedition.”
Those thoughts inspired Hurt to create his own gear — and eventually, his own business, PNW Pack Co., which sells a variety of hand-crafted bushcraft packs, canvas bags and accessories via its website, pnwpackco.com.
“I started to look at some of the packs that were a bit more robust than the lightweight gear that I was using, and some of them were really nice, but I felt like they were a bit over-engineered, and the price obviously reflects those added features,” Hurt said. “Not only was it more than I really needed, but it was also really expensive. Then there was cheaper stuff that I’ve used in the past that kind of just failed me. The idea was to use some of the principles that I learned in school to make stuff that wasn’t over-engineered and wasn’t going to break the bank, either. That’s where it started.”
Hurt uses his engineering background and craftsmanship skills to create “equipment optimized for purpose, lifetime durability and budget,” according to PNW Pack Co.’s website.
“I procure the raw materials — the canvas by the yard, leather hides and the individual components,” he said. “The designs are my own. I come up with them, generally starting on the back of an envelope. Once I think it’s a viable piece of gear, then I’ll use software to hash out a nice template for it, then cut the materials to spec and use sewing machines when needed for the leather crafting.”
Hurt is inspired by “thoughts of (his) grandparents, pioneers, explorers, trappers and nomads” when creating his products.
“There’s definitely inspiration. I think that’s one of the biggest things that drives me with this business,” he said. “I think about the end user and the adventures that they’ll be using that stuff on. It’s rewarding to know that it’s a product that people are going to use for recreation. I do draw my inspiration from that, and I also think about the example of Roosevelt and Rondon going out on their trek over 100 years ago in the Amazon. Roosevelt got caught off-guard. (I create) pieces of equipment that you could use for long-term survival or if you wanted to go out on multi-day trips and not have to worry about your gear. It’s really rewarding in that aspect.”
Hurt donates 1 percent of funds from each sale to the Outdoor Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that unites the voices of outdoor enthusiasts to protect the human-powered outdoor recreation experience and conserve America’s public lands.
“Originally, I was looking for the idea of donating somewhere to public land use conservation,” he said “It’s no secret that in southwest Washington, there’s a lot of state land, but also there’s a lot of areas — more specially in Washougal, up around Dougan Falls — where you see ‘no trespassing’ signs, and nobody is really using (the land). It’s nice to keep that open. I think the Outdoor Alliance’s vision aligns the best with what I had in mind as far as conservation efforts.”
Hurt grew up in Minneapolis and joined the United States Marine Corps in 2006. After being discharged from the Marines in 2011, he moved to Vancouver, then “migrated into Washougal a few years ago.”
He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mechanical engineering from Washington State University-Vancouver in 2014 and worked as a propulsion service engineer for Horizon Airlines from 2016 to 2020.
“I love Washougal. It’s great,” he said. “I like going a bit north of Dougan Falls in the foothills to poke around a little bit. I’ve done most of the hiking trails, and they’re pretty fun, but I really like going out and exploring uncharted territory. I like the solitude of it. You’re able to get out and be one with nature. It can be kind of a humbling experience, but it’s good to get out and get some fresh air. It gives you a better appreciation for the environment and everything. I find it to be pretty relaxing.”