By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The call of the wild has been answered for Nathan Heegaard’s entire life.

“Lots of trips to the Boundary Waters,” Heegaard said. “I used to guide out at a lodge in North Dakota.”

Heegaard has congenital hip dysplasia — a chronic and painful disorder — that has slowed him a step or two.

“I had to stop running and doing a lot of outdoor activities,” Heegaard said.

But it only sped up his mind.

“When I’m creating, I don’t think about my pain,” he said.

Nathan Heegaard (credit: CBS)

His creation is called Gaard One.

“What you get with the backpack is an 11-watt solar panel,” he said.

On the surface, it is a company specializing in hi-tech, multipurpose hiking gear. Their flagship product is a backpack with several features, including LED lights, a USB charging port and a collapsible chair. There is also a power bank that has enough juice to jump a dead battery.

“You can jump an ATV, a car, a boat,” Heegaard said.

But at Gaard One’s core is a philanthropic mindset called “Spend One, Gaard One.”

“We use the outdoors, the wilderness. The best way to give back would be to conserve and protect the thing that we’re using,” he said.

A solar panel in a Gaard One backpack (credit: CBS)

“Spend One, Gaard One” literally means for every dollar you spend on Gaard One products, one square foot of land is protected. If you were to buy one of the backpacks for $250, that would be enough to protect 250 square feet land, or about the length of a school bus.

“So imagine if we sold, you known 100 of them, 1,000 of them. You can see how much land that adds up quickly,” Heegaard said.

Three people with experience in land conservation — named The Gaardians — will help guide Gaard One’s mission, while Heegaard continues to grow the company’s product line.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “Start-up life is hard.”

But it is the one he feels destined to explore, just like his life-long passion of the outdoors.

“That’s a very happy vision to have,” Heegaard said.

Gaard One still relies on fundraising, all while selling its feature product. Donations also go toward land conservation. Click here for more information.

Jeff Wagner


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