Dustin Diefenderfer - Founder of MTNTOUGH

Dustin Diefenderfer can’t wait to help you change your life

The mountains are home to Dustin Diefenderfer. Whether he’s chasing bugles, hiking with his wife and daughters or training for an ultramarathon, the self-made mountain man has never looked back after trading Corporate America for a different path in life – one filled with fresh air, physical fitness and hard work.

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“In college, I started lifting every day with this guy I knew from high school who was training to be a wildland firefighter,” says Diefenderfer. “Working out with him was my first exposure into hardcore training that was goal specific.”

An avid bowhunter and outdoorsman, Diefenderfer soon discovered a hidden passion born from this insight into task-specific training. He began his own fitness regime that included heaving lifting and endurance running (after he met his future wife), competing in ultramarathons and “enjoying the mental toughness side of running.”

“The MTNTOUGH ethos all started forming in these early years,” he acknowledges. “I was going through strength training cycles and ultramarathon running cycles and both of them create awesome experiences, but they created mistakes when it came to training for mission-specific backcountry hunting.”

He recalls a successful pack-out after a focusing only on endurance training for an ultramarathon as one of the worst he’d ever experienced.

“It was all cardio focused from spring to summer to fall,” says Diefenderfer. “So, I was really light and fast and could move around the mountains quickly, but had lost all of my strength. Those experiences started leading me down this path – to really train a hunter like elite athletes’ train for pro sports. We needed to train for the specific mission.”

While he’s known for creating MTNTOUGH, the first fitness program specifically geared toward training backcountry hunters, if life hadn’t taken a few detours, MTNTOUGH may have never happened. 

Even though he had shifted his personal fitness training to be more mission – and backcountry – specific, he didn’t immediately create the company once he graduated from the Montana State University College of Business Management. Instead, he took a job at a think tank organization interviewing Fortune 100 leaders in a variety of industries before burning out and deciding that there had to be more to life than spending hours on the phone.

He and his wife decided to quit their jobs. They packed up their possessions and headed to Uganda in Africa where they ran an orphanage for 240 children. They built a small cottage to live in while helping the children learn entrepreneurial skills to help them create better futures.

“We had a farm, chickens and a pineapple garden,” says Diefenderfer.  “And there was a primary school, a secondary school – it was one of the most rewarding jobs we’ve ever had. You’re outside all day. There’s really no technology and you’re staying really physically fit because you’re always farming or moving or playing sports with the kids.”

But when they started a family, they decided to return to Montana where Diefenderfer resolved not to return to a desk job. Instead, with the support of his wife, he started MTNTOUGH in the park behind his house in Bozeman.

“I actually drew the logo on a scratch piece of paper, sent it to my buddy that does graphic design and he turned it into a real logo,” Diefenderfer recalls. “I put the logo on a flyer with tear-offs along the bottom with my phone number.”

Three guys called and the rest is history. MTNTOUGH’s training programs, which began with the infamous Backcountry Hunter Preseason Prep, have snowballed into the fitness company it is today – one that is grounded in endurance, adaptation and mental toughness with offerings that expand into nutrition, mental health, spirituality and mobility and focus on serving backcountry athletes, military members and anyone interested in improving their lives. 

 “I always knew that the mental toughness component would be the most important,” says Diefenderfer. “When I started building the original team, I made sure to bring a couple of special operations veterans on board. This ensured we were making our athletes mentally tough while also preparing them for these backcountry endeavors.”

In 2017, Diefenderfer took the company from an on-the-ground operation to an online app where programming could be accessed anytime, anywhere – and it’s been growing and evolving ever since.

“It was like the market was sitting there waiting for MTNTOUGH to exist,” says Diefenderfer. “I think what happened was a lot of people had been on backcountry hunts and really got their butts kicked. They knew there was a better way to train, but no one had ever provided a step-by-step plan before.”

These days, Diefenderfer balances his growing company with a solid family life that includes two daughters who can see what happens when someone decides to follow their dreams and take a different path forward. Through him, they’ve also learned that pushing through and not quitting is just as important as adapting to overcome life’s obstacles.

And for the future, Diefenderfer is only looking bigger.

“Our big goal is to change 100,000 lives by 2026,” he says. “We define that by helping people holistically and adding value to them physically, spiritually, emotionally, nutritionally and mentally.

“We talk a lot about how excited we are when someone draws an elk tag and signs up for MTNTOUGH because that person thinks they’re getting in shape just for that one hunt, right? But we know that there’s a higher likelihood that their life is going to be changed in a much greater way than they even realize.

“And we can’t wait for them to realize it.”

By Kristen A. Schmitt