After back injuries ended Dave Krueger's 13-year search-and-rescue career for the state of Ohio, he figured he would save lives another way. So he started World Prep, a company that sells 30 types of survival kits for cars, snowmobiles, and ATVs. Contents include thermal blankets made by NASA, hand warmers, water, and 3,600-calorie food bars. The six-year-old business grossed $1.6 million last year.

Brothers Mathieu and Simon Chamberlain were so into snowboarding in high school that they began designing gear. Simon eventually went pro, while Mathieu went to business school. Nomis Design, the company they now run in Vancouver, creates gear with high-performance features like hoods that stay on without drawstrings, even during jumps.

Portable stoves aren't always portable enough. So engineers and cousins Perry Dowst and Dwight Aspinwall started Jetboil, based in Guild, N.H., in 2003. The stove weighs just 15 ounces, looks like a travel coffee mug, and boils two cups of liquid in two minutes using half the fuel of other stoves. The product is proving popular among mountaineers, backcountry skiers, and snowshoers.