Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Red Cloud Collective waxed work pant

I keep an eye on the heritage market and came across these awhile ago:

Red Cloud Waxed Canvas Fitted Work Pants

While waxed pants are mostly for hipsters and old loggers, these pants have one feature I'd like to call out:

Using the double front as the material for a pocket is something I've considered in several different ways but these guys pulled it off nicely with more subtlety then I would have managed. Good use of materials and a nice, unique feature to separate them from the heritage saturation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Crewboss Elite Wildland Pants

Looking for Nomex pants the other day I found these:

Obviously taking a good bit of inspiration from Vertx with those inset angled single-gusseted cargo pockets, but a few notable differences.

For one they claim to have a reinforced knee, which I hope means it's actually a double knee unlike Vertx's faux-double knee. For two they have an interesting double crotch, this unfortunately replaces the wonderful crotch gusset but it does reinforce what I am starting to think is one of the major week points of many pants. Less knee articulation and the typical wildland fire feature of velcro leg closures as well as a more typical slash pocket round out the differences.

Why was I looking at Nomex pants? I have heard it suggested (in a textiles textbook) that nomex is slightly stronger then normal nylon (which is much stronger then cotton duck, denim or canvas) and I was wondering if Nomex pants might provide a more durable work pant if you could find a good deal on them.

Double seats are fairly common (at least on military pants) but double crotches much less so, I will be keeping an eye out for more now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

eBay find: Lowe Alpine Double Dipper

I thought the design was unique enough to deserve mention.

It took me a few minutes to figure out exactly how it was arranged since it has two very confusing features. For one the zipper lid actually hinges away from the body, and for two both water bottles are held on the outside of the lumbar pack. Most waist packs put them to either side of the main compartment, I have no idea why LA decided to place them there where the weight would be the furthest from the user.

Monday, October 6, 2014

eBay find: Crazy ALICE modification

Found this on eBay awhile ago, can't remember if it even said what company made this.

While it looks purpose-built to me it could be adapted from another pack system. It adds a redundant frame that seems to give an extra inch in frame height as well as some increased belt stability. The shoulder straps and lumbar pad give almost full pack padding, and the system attempts to use load lifters but I doubt the frame is tall enough to utilize them unless the user is quite short.

Very curious about the story behind this, will update if further research uncovers anything.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Brookwood Chrome bag

Wandered into the Portland Oregon Chrome store and what did I find? Several messenger bags in the elusive Brookwood pattern:

Quizzing the employees they said that the fabric was sourced from a fabric show and they'd used all of it up. They called it "watercolor camo" (not the first people to make that assertion) and were surprised it actually had a name and a history. They also said that the pattern had sold well in some of their other stores but rather slowly in the PDX location.

They also had a Swedish camo printed over with reflective German rain pattern, but I didn't get a picture. Fabric shenanigans are rampant over at Chrome apparently.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dana Designs Colter

When I started to prowl outdoor forums more intensively a while ago I started to hear more mentions of Dana Designs backpacks. Since I had long ago been exposed to the cult of Kifaru and Mystery Ranch I didn't understand what the fuss was about. Cordura backpacks with heavier suspension systems? Hadn't seen that before...well I've come full circle in a way. I really started to understand why people didn't want 1000d full-molle hauler frame monstrosities, and that many of the non-tactical, non-hunter, non-prepper community hasn't really been exposed to Kifaru or MR, and that older participants would remember when DD was more mainstream then either of those two will probably ever be.

More recently as I have been scrutinizing backpacks with a more intentional eye towards design I have developed a new appreciation for Dana's packs. While many of the features and designs are fairly obsolete, or perhaps less then successful at the time the important thing is that there was a huge amount of experimentation and innovation going on, not just updating the same old Lowe Alpine designs from yesteryear.

Check out this Dana Design Colter pack I saw on eBay:

tapered front panel, monster stabilizer straps connected to the hip belt, and best of all, one of the more elegant solutions for a lidless cinch-top pack. The integrated flap just covers the hole, offers some top compression, and is small enough to stay out of the way when you're digging through the pack. 

There aren't tons of Dana packs that are on my shopping list, but I'd love to pick up one of his larger packs and compare the arcflex suspension to my newer packs. The simplicity compared to many of the newer corudra packs is certainly appealing to me, the shortcomings I expect to find are a lack of backpanel ventilation and skimpy shoulder straps.

More to follow.

Friday, September 5, 2014

North Face backpack madness

It's been a popular for as long as I can remember to disparage larger, more commercial outdoor brands such as Patagonia and The North Face. As with anything perceived as mainstream, people that see themselves as innovators will turn up their nose and point to some lesser known brand as more legit, better designed, or better value.
For the most part I've tried to resist the temptation as I understand that you can always sell more graphic tees and hoodies then technical shells or down parkas, and these sales funded large R&D departments that quietly turned out quality products in smaller amounts, such as the North Face's Summit Series. As long as these quality, innovative products kept coming I could turn a blind eye to the deluge of cheap imports aimed at the Denali-fleece-and-Ugg-boot clad masses.

Well, at least for the time being I am formally withdrawing my support for North Face and jumping on the "they jumped the shark" bandwagon.

What the hell is this? This is what happens when you change your back pack line every year out of compulsion and not for the sake of incremental improvements over the last models.
I don't know what kind of mysteries are hidden behind that piece of nylon but why have tubular frame sections transition to flat stays?
arbitrary patterns indented into the hip belt padding. overly complex adjustment system. ridiculously thin padding. Iffy proprietary fabrics.
I'm all for innovative, daring designs but there is no clear design focus here, it really looks like a crowd of burnt-out backpack designers go together an threw a bunch of their left over ideas into one pack. For all I know it might even work very well for some body types, it certainly has some good features too it, but there is no focus, no overarching goal. This is what it looks like to get curb stomped by the Good Idea Fairy, features for feature's sake.

While we're on the subject, check out this other North Face pack. It's hard to tell from the picture but the designers decided it needed an obscenely steep lumbar angle, for a flat-backer like me the point is the only part that makes contact. You can see were the designers are coming from but somewhere in the line the signal/noise ratio is getting shot to hell.

I don't have pictures to illustrate my point but a lot of this has slowly built up over the years as I've watched North Face's pack department slowly degrade. The Terra line for instance was a respectable, simple top loader for many years that died a slow death as it was weighed down with gimmicky features. The battle to keep the price point the same has seen a decrease in quality until now, when it seems more at home next to a Cabela's house brand pack then among the Gregoys and Ospreys of the market.

Maybe I'm just bitter over the changing market in general (Golite's laughable transition being a prime example) but I do hold out hope because even with many companies seeming to take leaps backward there are still more fantastic backpacks on the market then ever before, and more showing up every year. Just buy your backpacks from backpack companies and your hoodies from hoody companies and you'll be fine.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

eBay find: experimental PCU jacket

Another mystery for the archives, a seller posted several of these all at once but they went for far to much for me to scoop one up. They were all solid colors, various greens and tans:

The seller claimed they were Goretex instead of the DWR nylon of the normal Level 5 garment this is obviously patterned off of, but with eBay seller's tenuous grasp of fabric terms this is unconfirmed. While I think the hoodless PCU level 5 garment is a fantastic jacket (in some ways better then the new hooded version) I have mixed feelings about hoodless goretex jackets in general. I think the cut of this jacket has advantages over the ECWCS and PCU level 6 jackets, and maybe with a helmet it makes sense to ditch the hood. I wouldn't know, I only ever wear a hat.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vintage PVC pack frame

Probable the oldest plastic pack frame I have seen, it certainly predates the Coleman Ramflex/Peak 1 frame, and unlike most flat plastic frames this retains the tubular design of most metal frames.

made by Alpine Designs, I am assuming this frame is in fact heavier then an aluminum and probably more fragile as well. With the lack of plastic tube-frames in the wild or on the market this should be a safe assumption.
I think plastic frames have a place, but unfortunately they all seem to be saddled to sub-par suspension (Walmart frames or the coleman) or are ridiculously short (the military's Down East frames). With carbon fiber frames being the new hotness I'm not expecting a resurgence in plastic anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

REI Yosemite 75 UPDATE

As promised earlier, I finally got to REI with a camera and snuck some shots of the Yosemite 75 hip belt.

Not many backpacks come with hipbelt instructions printed on the lumbar pad.

Maximum setting. I don't know how many inches difference there is between settings but I'd guess 4ish.

Hypalon reinforced stay port and hypalon stay pockets on the belt wings

On minimum setting there is some overlap of the wings that creates a lump, it is noticeable through the lumbar pad but I don't know if it really affects comfort much.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What winning at storm collars looks like

I'm not the biggest fan of cinch top storm collars (also known as snow collars, shrouds, and probably something quaint in the UK) but probably my favorite design to date is the FILBE:

 It has a double row of draw cords (I could take or leave the bottom one) set in a doubled over layer of 200d uncoated packcloth. This allows for very smooth cinching with none of the bunching that can occur with coated fabric. For durability the grommets are set in a narrow strip of 500d Cordura.

The real magic is opposite the cordlocks, a slit was made and finished with edge binding (uncoated packcloth frays like nobodies business) that allows access into the very wide channel created by the doubled over packcloth. This makes repairs infinitely easier then the usual narrow channel that you have to thread your replacement cord through. Despite what I first thought the cord stays put at the top of the channel and never seems to wander around, or if it does it makes no difference when you go to cinch it up.

I'd bet money this is one of Mystery Ranch's design influences, because after the ALICE and MOLLE grommet-and-paracord closure failure I can safely say the US military couldn't come up with something this slick. I haven't looked at a Mystery Ranch pack up close so this could be a standard feature on MR top loaders that I am ignorant of, but regardless it's the way to be.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Silly Kickstarter of the week: HackedPack

I don't know if it's just because I'm looking more or if increased use and the law of averages is taking affect, but I'm seeing more and more silly products coming out of Kickstarter these days.

Exibit 1:

The gimmick is strong with this one.
I think a lot of Kickstarter failures occur from taking good ideas but using poor manufacturing or horrible materials choices. The problem with this product is not the pack or the hammock, which by all indications look above-average for Chinacrap, but the very idea that there is an advantage to combining two separate items into one. Why not go to REI and pick out the pack that fits you the best, and then wander over a couple isles and buy an ENO hammock? Then you can use one without the other, with no weight or price penalty.
Just like those "as seen on TV" products the main sales pitch seems to be to make something that is not hard at all (pulling a hammock out of a backpack and pitching it) look like some huge hassle that needs to be streamlined.
It does not.

Unlike the self-proclaimed capitalists that are quick to say "if you don't like it, don't buy it" or to proclaim that more competition is always better, I see every silly, gimmicky product as a waste of time, energy, resources and attention that could have been spent on real innovation or improving existing products in small ways. By distracting consumer dollars away from producers of truly excellent products, buyers are hampering these company's  ability to invest in future product development, and thus cheating themselves out of more, better, awesome stuff.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I'll just go ahead and be blunt.

I don't like GORUCK.

The story of the garage start up, the dedication to American manufacturing, the fun extra products that pop up (1000d cordura tie? I can get behind that), all that is well and good. It's not even the high prices or the obnoxious cult-adherents purchasing their products that rubs me the wrong way, we've seen that all before (COUGH *kifaru*).

Its the packs.
I think they suck. I'm all for streamlining and simplifying, most of my favorite packs are quite simple and could even be simplified more, but with GORUCK I think too much was sacrificed at the alter of minimalism.

No sternum strap?
No belt?
No compression straps?
Any color as long as it's black?

I'm not fan of panel loaders, I know that is just a personal preference, but why build a backpack and go on and on and on about its durability and design it to be one zipper failure away from spewing your stuff on the ground? It's not even as beefy a zipper as some other pack makers use (looks like a #8, I'd bet dollars to donuts it's not a #10 like HPG or Kifaru). Go look at a Pointman, Ute, or even a Trizip, none of them leave you completely out of luck in the case of a zipper failure.
It's a 1000d cordura backpack with beefy stitching. It's not really going to be any tougher then any other 1000d cordura backpack on the market with beefy stitching. It's going to be as tough as its weakest components, zippers and hardware being my guess.
I'm also not going to buy the line that a relative newcomer to backpack design (with no prior manufacturing or textiles experience) is going to be able to design intrinsic durability improvements into the bags themselves. Go look at HPG's judicious use of hypalon, or read about Mystery Ranch's differentially cut double pack bottoms if you want to see what that looks like, Evan and Dana have been mulling over backpack design for years (not to leave out Patrick Smith, but I think he has more of a "brute force" design ethos that seems to have worked just fine).
Interestingly enough, I see many parallels between the cult of GORUCK and the oddly passionate attachment I used to see people express for their Kifaru E&E packs: Both offer very little value added over other generic backpacks at a much steeper price.

And the price. I'm used to paying extra for quality American made products, but even the GORUCK guys will admit $295 is pretty steep for such a simple bag (the GR1). What does the same money get you from other quality, American pack companies?

Kifaru Zippy:
3 zippered access points, full compression system, removable/adjustable shoulder straps, top and bottom lashing points, and your choice of full MOLLE or water bottle pockets.

Mystery Ranch Big Sky/Dragon Slayer/Sweetpea:

Depending on model you could get a full compression system, bottom compression straps, water bottle pockets, stowable fully padded hipbelt, adjustable yoke, load lifters, an aluminum and fiberglass frame, and some pretty extensive internal organization. Throw in another $25 and you could add the 3DAP to the party.

HPG Umlindi+Prairie belt:
Full compression system, top and bottom lashing straps, water bottle pouches, frame sheet with aluminum stay, full shoulder harness, and a full sized pack belt.

I'm not saying the GR1 isn't the perfect backpack for some people, I just don't understand how so many packs with more materials and manufacturing complexity can be offered at the same price point, there is either a hefty mark-up or some major parasitic loss in the GORUCK supply chain.

But despite all this I do have something very positive to say about GORUCK. A tumblr post led me to this:

The State of GORUCK: Edition 3
Jason needs an editor and some shorter sentences, but scroll down and you'll find this:

I have huge respect for any company willing to post their revenue on the internet for all to see. I appreciate the transparency, as well as just being interested in how businesses are run. If they ever get their Mesh Tac Hat back in any color other then black I'll probably throw a few dollars their way.

But seriously, I'd rather have a Blackhawk! 3 day then a GR1, and that's saying something.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wrangler's new work shirts

My buddy showed me his new work shirt the other day, it was a Riggs twill longs sleeve button down.

 Lots of good features, dual chest pockets (wish they had flaps), button down collar, pretty hefty fabric. What Wrangler mentions (without explaining) and utterly fails to illustrate anywhere online, is that there is an impressive full side gusset  on this, as well as Wrangler's pearls snap work shirts and a few others.
So I had to go to my local Coastal Farm to sneak a photo for myself. Jeeze Wrangler, make me do your marketing for you.

If you go to all the work to design a good feature at added cost you'd think you'd show it off. I compared it to a similar Carhartt shirt in the arms-overhead-reaching-for-stuff test and it did do a little better (as in the hem had less vertical travel) but only an inch or two difference. A well fitted set-in sleeve probably does the same thing but this is a pretty bold feature for such a static brand, I approve.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nothing new under the sun

Stumbled across an Osprey Solo today, a backpack that I'd never seen before yet was quite familiar:

I think I have found the ancestor of the Hill People Gear Tarahumara.
Large vertical zipper opening
Similar side panel geometry
Designed to attach to larger packs
Single piece removable shoulder harness

 (Apparently the newer version ditched the compression straps and went with a sewn-on harness)

Now I don't begrudge the Hill Brothers for borrowing from another pack, Even has often said that there is nothing new and that whether intentionally or not every designer borrows from those before them. He is also an admitted Osprey fan, and even refers to the front closure on their Ute pack as "Osprey style reverse pull." This just leaves me surprised that I'd never heard mention of this pack on their site or any of the many forums were the Tara has been discussed, they are certainly open about their inspirations and design process.

HPG certainly has nothing to hide, they have added so much that the capabilities of these two packs can hardly be compared, they added a beefy compression system, a fuller harness, dual water bottle pockets, and a host of other features, so this is not an "I caught you!" post so much as an observation on how much borrowing happens in the design world.

UPDATE 7/12/14
Found another backpack in the same genus while flipping through my old Backpack magazines, the Mountain Hardwear Riff:

no one-piece harness but the same center zip and this time with waterbottle pouches. I don't know which came first but I wouldn't be surprised if this is just an Osprey solo rip-off.

UPDATE 7/28/14
and another, this time the Lowe Alpine Moab. bottle pockets but no compression straps.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tote handle adjustment

While my main focus is technical goods and apparel I do have a soft spot for heritage goods, including one of the cornerstones of the heritage world; the tote bag.
Most totes have a fixed strap length, and the user must choose between long handles (such as can be worn over the shoulder) or short handles (so you can carry it at your side without it dragging on the ground). There are a few examples of adjustable straps on tote bags, the best example that comes to my mind being the Duluth Pack Market Tote:

Four roller buckles is perhaps the most logical way to have adjustable leather handles but I wasn't sold on it. Unfortunately before I could think of a better system I happened across the Tanner Goods Everyday Tote:
 Note the elegant simplicity of the pocket layout, the nostalgia inducing leather diamond patches and a pretty decent strap-joiner at the top (I don't care for the zipper closure personally, but different strokes). But the real beauty is hidden inside those diamond patches:
Notice the press-studs holding the straps in place. The extra strap hides neatly inside the front pockets, and the diamond patch keeps the strap from working off the stud. Unfortunately this is not feature I can easily emulate since I a) am not that great with leather and b) can't find those stupid press studs anywhere. But regardless, this is now my favorite heritage handle adjustment system and is getting filed away in the mental library of tricks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

eBay find: Gregory USMC prototype

Just like my last post on the FILBE prototype, this pack popped up on eBay and that is still the only place I have seen mention of this pack.
According to the seller this was Gregory's entry for the assault pack component of the FILBE system.

To my eyes it looks considerably larger then the assault pack they did choose, but it's possible this was meant as a stand alone 3-day pack and not intended to be mated with the sustainment ruck.

With the strange horse-shoe zipper access into the oversized top lid and the dual front pockets this pack reminds me of a miniaturized Kelty Gila. Also the one piece shoulder yoke isn't a very gregoryesque feature and echos an older Osprey pack or the Mystery Ranch system. The hipbelt might be the most unique feature of this pack, I'm assuming the cut-outs are for ventilation and not for MOLLE compatibility since the USMC-spec MOLLE attachment system would be brutally painful against the body. While the unpadded hipbelt might look uncomfortable it should be kept in mind that every other assault pack (barring the new MOLLE medium ruck which is barely an assault pack) has no more then a webbing belt so any amount of surface area larger then 1.5" is probably an improvement. Also a durable hipbelt like the one above isn't the worst idea for Marines since they tend to shred anything with foam or spacer mesh in short order.

I think the Marines probably made the right call with the smaller, simpler assault pack they chose.