Photo: The ExtremeMist Personal Cooling System.
By Jane Larson
Walking at night to avoid 140-degree daytime heat wafting up from the fiery ground, feet sinking in the soft sand, Ron Laikind was partway through a 1,000-mile trek across the Sahara when his guide introduced him to a trick that sparked what’s become a new and growing business for the Scottsdale adventurer.
The guide poured water from a desert well out of a sheepskin bucket and into a metal bowl, and the evaporating water created a mist that cooled the drinking water and trekkers’ hot, dry faces. “That was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life, getting that cold water in that misery out there,” says Ron.
Years later, climbing Tom’s Thumb on a 112-degree day, he recalled the improvised Saharan mist system and thought, “Before I get any older, I’m going to do that thing. I’m going to make it happen.”
It took him two years, help from an engineer, multiple trips to Asia to seek out a manufacturer, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to take his idea from a heavy box of pumps and electronics to the ExtremeMist Personal Cooling System. The system combines a hydration pack familiar to hikers and runners with a rechargeable battery-operated misting system, allowing users to both drink and cool off with water from the same pack.
He first sold his two-in-one invention out of his car to fellow hikers and mountain rescuers who had seen him on the trails. Sales on ExtremeMist’s website and in Valley stores followed, adding up to 700 units sold so far. The company’s latest break came when it entered the REI Co-op Innovators Program, was chosen to pitch its product to buyers for the specialty outdoor retailer, and received an order that it just started shipping.
Another big break came earlier when New York entrepreneur Mark Holzwanger (whose wife is Israeli) walked into Ron’s paintball-supply store to buy some CO2 cartridges for his Frostime cooler product. Intrigued by a video on ExtremeMist, Mark talked to Ron. When Mark told friends about it, everybody wanted one or knew someone who would.
What really convinced him was when they were off-roading in the desert, and attached to the roll bar was a four-nozzle misting system above each seat that kept them comfortably cool – until they realized Ron had forgotten to top off the water supply. When it ran out, Mark immediately felt the 108-degree heat. “I was like, ‘What a difference. This is amazing. It’s a game-changer,’ ” he says.
He invested in ExtremeMist “because of the product, number one, and Ron, number one,” he says. He also likes that ExtremeMist can fill so many different market niches, from outdoors enthusiasts to construction workers to golfers and the military. As business partners, Mark and Ron bounce ideas off each other and do trade shows together.
The two also have bonded over their Jewish heritage and upbringing. Ron recalls his father speaking Yiddish and exhorting his children to eat more, and Mark’s father fought against the Nazis in World War II. “Ron talking about his parents, and me talking about my parents, there’s definitely a bond, our background, our history, our culture,” says Mark.
Ron got his adventurous spirit early. His parents moved the family from Detroit to Tucson when he was 5, joined a local synagogue and sent Ron and his brothers to Hebrew school. Ron says he dropped out “because I was too busy out in the desert scavenging around for Indian and cavalry relics.”
He grew up to mine gold in California, work as a paramedic on mountain rescues and enter the emerging paintball industry. He opened Westworld Paintball Adventures in Mesa and North Scottsdale, which gave him the time and resources to feed his growing appetite for adventure travel. He climbed mountains until he tired of being cold, then decided to do more deserts, leading to his wandering the Sahara and the eventual creation of ExtremeMist.
The company now offers three products: the “Just Add Water” backpack, with its built-in hydration pack and mist system; a retrofit kit that users can add to their current packs; and a quad kit that fits on ATVs, boats, or golf carts.
The company is targeting the hiking, camping and lifestyle markets, but Ron says a potentially significant market could be governments and construction companies whose outdoor workers spend entire days in the heat. ExtremeMist created a high-visibility safety vest with a built-in mister for them, and two Valley cities and a large contractor are testing them.
Mark sees the global potential in expanding to hot areas like South America, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. “As much as we think we thought of all the markets, when we do shows, somebody comes up with something we didn’t even think about,” he says. Among the unexpected have been the Israeli police who patrol near the Dead Sea, parks and recreation departments, and the U.S. Army.
And it all started with that Sahara trek. “I did not find Moses,” Ron says, “but I certainly found a path.”
For more information, or to view photos and videos demonstrating ExtremeMist products, visit extrememist.com.