MANCHESTER - Perry Dowst and Dwight Aspinwall had enough of lugging around the extra weight of one-quart cans of gas needed to fuel their finicky camp stove while backpacking.
There was never any guarantee at the end of a long hike that pumping the precarious stove would pay off in a hot meal or cup of coffee. And when the stove did light, it was inefficient, requiring the cousins to add a few extra pounds of liquid fuel to their overstuffed packs as they trekked deep into the mountains.
"We looked at the products that were available to us and said there should be something better," Dowst said.
There wasn't, so Dowst and Aspinwall set about creating one. The result was Jetboil, which in less than a decade grew from a small startup company to a leader in the world of outdoor gear. Jetboil was so successful, industry mogul Johnson Outdoors Inc. agreed to purchase the New Hampshire-based company last month.
"It really has been quite a journey," Dowst said.
Johnson Outdoors paid $16 million to acquire Jetboil - a tidy sum for two cousins who set out with the modest goal of finding a better way to fire up whatever food they had tucked away in their packs.
Dowst and Aspinwall weren't exactly hardware hacks who just happened to stumble upon a good idea. Dowst has an engineering degree from Yale, and Aspinwall attended Dartmouth. Both also had the technical know-how necessary to turn their idea into an actual product. Dowst said he spent 10 years in product development with Gillette, designing machinery used to make some of the company's wide line of products.
The camping cookware of the past was cumbersome. Dowst and Aspinwall streamlined it all into one unit - a one-liter pot integrated with a wind-protected burner that uses butane cartridges, a fraction of the size and weight of the previous fuel.
What really set the product apart though was the FluxRing, a patented component Dowst described as an inverse car radiator. Instead of flushing out the excess heat, the FluxRing gathers and concentrates it on the cooking vessel. That means whatever is in the pot heats up faster and cuts the amount of fuel used in half, Dowst said.
Using less fuel means carrying less, which appeals to anyone who has ever strapped on a backpack and knows how much every ounce counts. Jetboil products have been used everywhere from family campouts to the summit of Mount Everest.
"We figured it was really going to revolutionize the way people cook outdoors, and sure enough, within a couple years we became the category leader in lightweight cooking products," said Dowst, who is staying on with the company as a special adviser.
Dowst said his new role will be focusing on new Jetboil products, something he's been doing since he and Aspinwall set up their first manufacturing center in Newport. He recalled the company's debut at the Outdoor Retailers trade show in Salt Lake City in 2003.
"We went there with eight early production units. We came back with orders for 20,000 for spring of '04," Dowst said. "We thought we were on to something pretty good."
Expansion led the company to set up shop in Manchester's Millyard. The Jetboil line has increased to about a dozen products, all designed to be compact and user-friendly.
"Convenience is one of the keys," he said. "It opens the experience to people who otherwise wouldn't want to cook outdoors."