In August, Seattle resident Kath Weekes was planning a daylong trail run through The Enchantments with a friend visiting from New York who didn’t own a running vest or trekking poles. Weekes herself was fairly new to the sport and while she had her own gear, she certainly wasn’t sitting on extras. So she decided to check out the soft launch of Gearhouse, a new outdoor gear rental service designed to do more than just hand you a beat-up pair of skis. 

With concierge trip planning to help you make the most of your time outside, a cozy hangout space to pore over maps, and a small but growing catalog of curated high-end gear fully packed and ready for the trail, Gearhouse aims to become the new go-to destination for Seattle’s outdoorsy crowd.

“We had a couple different vests to pick from, and they had a bunch of the essentials, which was delightful,” Weeks said. “In each bag there was a moleskin blister kit, an emergency bivy sack, Nuun tablets and a compass.”

After the trip, Weekes offered some feedback on the vest — which prompted the company to swap it out for a new model — and tacked a photo of her run on a bulletin board with some intel for anyone else thinking of tackling the same route.

That combination of turnkey rental, responsive customer service and community building makes up the building blocks of Gearhouse, which officially opened its doors in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood on Sept. 1. Evan Maynard, 30, is the brains behind the one-man company.

Gearhouse founder Evan Maynard chats with a visitor about backpacking at the new outdoor gear rental service he started in South Lake Union.  (Michael Quinlan)

“We want Gearhouse to be a place where you can get gear, knowledge and a friend base if you don’t have that network at work or in your apartment building,” he said.

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Currently priced at $35 per month, membership comes with unlimited rental from the gear library, flexible pickup and drop-off time, Maynard’s custom trip planning ideas, use of a ski waxing bench and bike repair stand, and access to the clubhouse for events, classes, maps and guidebooks. 

Unlike a certain three-letter consumer co-op just a few blocks away, Gearhouse’s backpacking rentals are fully stocked, down to instant coffee and sunscreen, at what Maynard values as $1,500 worth of gear, but available at the much lower price of a $35 monthly membership.

Maynard was spurred in part by his own experience living in an overstuffed 500-square-foot Capitol Hill apartment while still wanting to dabble in a wide variety of outdoor pursuits, as his well-equipped parents did during his Northern California upbringing.

“I was looking at my gear closet and it was definitely extensive, but there were sports I didn’t get into for a long time because the gear was a barrier,” Maynard said. In his case, he delayed becoming a backcountry skier and resolved that he’d never own a stand-up paddle board because he didn’t have storage space for something he would only use a few times per year.

Through the spring and summer of 2021, he operated Gearhouse out of a van and met customers at apartment buildings or park and rides. Storing the rental gear in his apartment didn’t exactly alleviate his overstuffed closet situation, and by summer’s end, he moved the operation into an 1,800-square-foot garage and rec room on the corner of Republican Street and Yale Avenue North in South Lake Union.

With a ski waxing table, bike tuning station, trail maps and guidebooks galore, picnic tables and a small kitchen, Maynard hopes that Gearhouse will become “a third space for outdoorsy people,” where they can not only pick up and drop off rental gear, but also meet like-minded adventurers and sharpen their skills.

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Gearhouse has already hosted meetups for trail runners and has a slate of fall events including a screening of last year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival and a workshop on how to wax and tune skis and snowboards. On the bulletin board where Weekes posted her Enchantments intel, other members tack up notes offering spare permit spots to coveted destinations like Mount St. Helens. Maynard also anticipates offering coffee and burritos to-go for winter outings and is waiting on a liquor license to begin serving beer for après-adventure hangouts. 

But at its core, Gearhouse is all about the gear. Maynard is an acolyte of the fast and light mindset — he’s the kind of guy who took six years to pare his backpacking setup down to a paltry 9 pounds. He wants to offer newcomers the opportunity to skip the trial and error.

“We try to introduce you to the peak end of the sport,” he said. “High performance gear makes a big difference to the enjoyment of what you’re doing.”

Gearhouse carries boutique brands such as Gossamer, whose Mariposa 60-liter pack Maynard swears by. Casual pursuits like yard games, golf clubs and tennis rackets complement the three types of bear canisters and personal locator beacons you can rent. As the seasons change, Gearhouse will begin stocking more snowshoes, cross-country skis, ice axes, boot crampons, ski crampons and splitboards. 

Maynard’s terminology — “high friction experience,” “use case,” “iterative” — betrays his engineering background (he moved to Seattle in 2014 to work for Blue Origin), but that mindset has helped him streamline the trip planning and gear rental process down to five simple questions so that, as he puts it, “You don’t have to spend four hours on the Washington Trails Association website after working a 60-hour week.”

Weekes, who works in marketing for Amazon, considers herself fortunate that she is not short on gear storage space in her Georgetown town house, but the idea of making a mess in someone else’s garage is appealing. “Last winter I jury-rigged books stacked on my dining room table to cut my own climbing skins,” she said. “I’ve never waxed my own skis because I didn’t want that stuff all over my house.”

And as she browses Gearhouse’s library for possible rentals, items like a one-person tent and crampons beckon as missing arrows in her outdoors gear quiver. “I have a lot of gear,” she said. “But there’s always something else that I need.”

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