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.