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photo courtesy Cory Santiago, Bear Minimum.

I’ve been a fan of ABC’s “Shark Tank” since the beginning of the series.  So many great ideas and inventions have come through the doors of the “tank”, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to interview one of these inventors.  This past October, Bear Bowls made it’s debut on “Shark Tank” with Cory Santiago and his wife, Heidi, making the pitch to the Sharks.  Cory and Heidi struck a deal with a Shark, and they are now trying to keep up with the demand. 

If you would like to order Bear Bowls, this link will take you to Amazon.

Recently, Cory sat down with me to talk all things Bear Bowls and entrepreneurship.  In today’s installment, we focus on the Bear Bowl, how it came to be, and how versatile it is.  And of course, what a great gift they make for that tent camper on your gift list.

Give us the history of how Bear Bowls came to be?

Cory: The idea of having functionality and self-reliance started really early [for me]. We were outdoorsy but not outdoor fanatics. We went to a church that had a Boyscout-type group, and we had camp outs, I learned how to handle a knife, learned how to build fires and all of that kind of stuff. Grew up doing that, and then later I worked with a church as a raft captain. I was captaining a whitewater raft trip, several times per year. Some of them were river trips where you had to pack everything with you, which I highly recommend (laughter). If you like backpacking I think that’s great, but I really like throwing it in a raft and going down the river. I wouldn’t say I’m an outdoor fanatic, but the idea came a lot more from – any time you spend a lot of time outdoors, the gear is a huge draw. Survival kits came along, and I was really interested in the ingenuity of them when people were doing the Altoid tin kits. One of the things that was missing was a cookpot or some way to cook or boil water. You can put a couple of tablets in there [the Altoid tin kit] but once that’s done, what do you do?

I created this origami-like tinfoil bowl that, in theory, you could boil water in. I even put a bail on it so you could hang it over a fire. It sort of worked, and in a life-or-death situation it was better than nothing, but I wanted something that would be more portable, and wouldn’t it be cool if there was a cookpot that could fold up and you could use more than once. So that really is where it came about. This is something that’s missing, and there should be something like this. It sat in that phase for quite a while. I finally found a material that would work, and set about creating designs. Basically the design that I liked and thought would work is similar to a Chinese to-go box. The difference between the Bear Bowl and the to-go box is that the to-go box is designed to be a plate. The box opens up and becomes a plate that you can eat off of. But when you want to fold it back up, it doesn’t fold in on itself because of it’s design. So my design is done so that it can fold in on itself to be the smallest possible when you’re packing it away. Now, it won’t fit in an Altoids tin, but it would fit in a back pocket, which is significant.

How did you settle on the sizes of the Bear Bowls?

Cory: The first size was out of the sample piece that I had, and after testing volume it was well over 2 cups. When rehydrating food, 2 cups is what you typically need, so that was my “bear minimum”. The Baby Bear holds around 32 ounces, so that’s 2 cups plus room to cook if you are cooking in the bowl. Thinking that it might be better to have some larger sizes, because it’s a cube, the Baby Bear is a four inch [cube], so then I went to a five inch, that was my next size, and surprisingly it doubled the capacity. So one extra inch in the cube gives you twice the capacity, which I thought was pretty phenomenal. I was already impressed with how small the Bear Bowl is for how much volume it holds, so we doubled it to 64 ounces. And then on a lark we doubled it again and did a six inch cube, which holds nearly an entire gallon. We thought that might be overkill, but maybe there might be a scout troop or other organization that might want it, so we did that. And now we have the Baby Bear (32 ounces), the Mama Bear (64 ounces), and then the Papa Bear completes the set (128 ounces).

Why do you offer a variation of the Bear Bowls without paracord?

Cory: The bear bones models [without paracord] are there for people who want to save even more space. Removing the paracord lowers the folded profile significantly, so the bear bones models can fit into places that the model with the paracord will not fit. And for those who already have enough paracord in their gear, they don’t necessarily need the additional paracord, so the bear bones models are a great fit for them. Also, bushcrafters and others who might use the Bear Bowl over an open flame (not as intended), the paracord will melt with the heat, and the bear bones model gives them some flexibility.

What things can be cooked in a Bear Bowl?

Cory: Talking about the different configurations that you can put the Bear Bowl into, when you open one side of the Bear Bowl then you have full access to it like a pan, which allows you to cook an egg. You can cook pancakes and burgers, and even use a spatula to help turn foods over for even cooking. If you open both sides gives you a wok-style configuration, allowing you to do a stir fry type of cooking. Plus of course the traditional cookpot where you boil water to rehydrate your meals and for mixing with drinks.

Camping Gear at Basspro.com

photo courtesy Cory Santiago, Bear Minimum.

What materials are Bear Bowls made from?

Cory: It is a PTFE-coated (Polytetrafluoroethylene) fiberglass. This is a food-grade material that is similar to what might be used on a conveyor belt that is going through a commercial or industrial oven. This material has been used in other flame-resistant applications and in food prep. We have also had the finish Bear Bowl tested in a third party lab to verify that it is food-grade and passed all of the tests. The PTFE-coated fiberglass is the main body, and then the base is an aluminum alloy. It is a little bit thicker than a normal cookpot, but that’s to compensate for the fact that the walls of the pot are the PTFE-coated fiberglass. One of the benefits of this thicker base plate is that it retains the heat longer, allowing your food or liquids to remain hot longer. This also allows you to maintain a boil with a lot less fuel expenditure.

What is something people don’t think about when they first see the Bear Bowls?

Cory: Sometimes people will say “this is lighter and smaller than I was expecting”, and others will say “I wish it was a little bit lighter…”. It is not the lightest thing on the market, but it is the smallest. A lot of people suggested that these would be good in RVs, or in military applications, and yes, we’re looking at those things and more. We also had someone tell us that we should make one that’s even bigger than the Papa Bear model (which holds a gallon of liquid). And actually we do have a prototype of the Kodiak, which is a 2.5 gallon size, which would be very useful for very large organizations, for disaster relief, etc.

Is there anything else that you would like people to know about the Bear Bowls?

Cory: The paracord and the fact that there are so many people who just don’t know what it is and what it can do. The paracord is a Mil-Spec 550 paracord. Just a quick rundown for folks who don’t know, paracord is the survivalist go-to because it is so functional and so small and so strong. The 550 stands for 550 pound tensile strength, the Mil-Spec means that you have the 7 inner strands in it that gives it strength, but in an emergency situation you can “gut” a paracord and exponentially increase your cordage by a factor of 8 (7 inner strands plus the outer strand). It’s next to duct tape should you have it with you in terms of versatility. On our Bear Bowls we used one continuous length and braided it on the strap, so that the Baby Bear has 12 feet of paracord, the Mama Bear has 15 feet, and the Papa Bear has 18 feet. And of course the paracord made the Bear Bowls look cooler! Oh, and the “clean easy” part of our tagline is something that I often overlook. A video reviewer put this to the test and he left some food in the Bear Bowl, then opened it up and shook it, and like 95% of things shook off and he was like “Oh!” (laughter) So, it’s really easy to clean and doesn’t require as much water to clean it.

photo courtesy Cory Santiago, Bear Minimum.

Wrap Up

Cory is a down-to-earth guy who spent a lot more time in our conversation than I anticipated.  He has developed a product that so many people can use in a variety of situations, the word “endless” comes to mind.  He mentioned that mountain rescuers could have one tucked into their snowmobiles, and that Bear Bowls are great for disaster relief because they take up so little room compared to traditional cookpots.  And yet, these are wonderful little companions to have when hiking or tent camping.  These make great gifts and are affordable to boot!  Order several today, for yourself and to give as gifts.

In a few weeks I’ll have the second part of my interview with Cory where we will be talking about being an entrepreneur and the outdoors.  If you haven’t read my previous interviews, you can check out a conversation with newlyweds that went tent camping for their honeymoon, or read my 2-part interview with Tom Tash at Pocket Parks about their tent-only campgrounds that they are starting outside of national parks, or check out the 2-part interview I did with Skip Huber, host of Happy Camper Radio, who is also a fan of tent camping.

Got some feedback on this topic? Do you have a unique story that prominently features tent camping? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, send me an email or share it on social media! Happy Tent Camping!

Camping Gear at Basspro.com

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