You'll never guess what's one of the most common question backpackers ask me. It's not a gear question or a food question or my favorite place to backpack. It's "How do you get sponsors?"

So to help answer that, I'll paraphrase JFK...

Ask not what sponsors can do for you, ask what you can do for your sponsorsGossamer Gear banner in Campo, the southern terminus of the PCT. It was the end of our southbound journey! make sure you truly believe in whatever products you want to sponsor you or else you will dislike posing for a banner shot. Luckily, I love Gossamer Gear.

The CEO of GoLite said that I was the first person to ever send him a sponsorship proposal with the section called "ROI" (Return On Investment). That shows that often times people don't consider that companies want to get something out of the experience beyond just the feeling that they're helping someone who needs help.

That's normal: most people don't toss money to beggars, but are more likely to give to street musicians who are providing a service (i.e., entertainment). When you seek sponsors, don't be a beggar - offer something in return for the donation.

Write a 1-3 page proposal. In your proposal, try to answer these questions:

  • How will you market their brand?
  • How much visibility will you get?
  • Why you and not someone else?
  • How do we know you will publish a book (or whatever)?
  • How many books will you sell? How many presentations will you give?
  • How prominently will you display our logo and where?

Four more points about getting sponsorship

  1. Approach small companies rather than big ones. It's hard to get Nike to sponsor you (unless you have a connection).
  2. Don't expect cash, especially from small companies. I have never received a check from any sponsor. They just give me gear. A few don't even give free gear, they just sell it to you at a steep discount. The outdoor companies (like most backpackers) are cash poor, so have low expectations. Yes, North Face (and others) sponsor amazing Everest expeditions, but unless you're doing something insanely extraordinary, don't expect cash.
  3. Getting sponsors is often not worth the trouble. Factor in all the hours writing a proposal, calling, following up, and supporting them afterwards. You might conclude it's just easier to buy the Mountain Laurel Designs tarp for $200 than go through all that hassle. Although getting food sponsors is great, do you really want to eat the same energy bar several times a day for months? Also, you might not like everything your sponsor makes. I've always had non-exclusive arrangements so I can pick and choose the best of breed in my gear and not carry/promote stuff I don't think is the best. Same with food - I've always had a couple of food sponsors to vary my diet.
  4. On the other hand, if you intend to do many expeditions, it might be worthwhile establishing a relationship with a few sponsors. Once they've sponsored you once, it's much easier to get their support in the future (assuming you served them well). Eventually, you'll have companies calling you asking you to use their gear! That's a great position to be in!
Getting sponsorship isn’t as glamorous as you might imagine, but it’s still an honor, assuming you love the company that is sponsoring you. It’s also not easy to obtain, so be persistent, start with the small companies first, and then as your accomplishments increase, go after the big companies. Good luck!

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