Monday, April 20, 2015

Hoops Elite Max Air Team: Nike's middle finger to Mystery Ranch

(I will preface this post by saying I am making the assumption that no licensing agreement was made between Nike and Mystery Ranch. Given MR's open discussion of their collaboration with Camelbak, I don't find this a stretch)

A brief history of the trizip.
From tidbits garnered from interviews with Dana Gleason (I think mostly the Carryology interviews) It seems that Dana wanted a zippered top loading pack (like the Kletter Flip) to have better access, more like a panel loader. Playing around with a third zipper and the angle of the top access they eventually invented the Trizip:

According to their website the Sweet Pea was the first pack to use this new access. Fast forward and some military guys wanted an assault pack with better access. Throw some PALS webbing on the Sweet Pea and you have the 3DAP:

Wild success, fame and fortune followed. Everyone wanted one, but not everyone could afford one, what to do?

At some point (I don't pretend to remember when) Mystery Ranch licenses their design to Camelbak to make a more affordable, imported version. The TriZip is born:

While I applaud them for being humble (practical?) enough to go to another (better) pack designer for features I never liked this bag. Crappy camelbak belt, traded out the wonderful bottle pockets for gimmicky side organizers and maybe cheaped out on the zippers a little. I don't fault either company for wanting a lower cost imported option, that's just good business. (I noticed the Trizip is now listed as "discontinued" on Camelbak's website, I conjecture that with MR moving their outdoor department overseas they no longer want the competition in the lower price bracket)

Of course the Chinese had to jump on board:

It doesn't look like Cheaper Then Dirt carries a version anymore, but I seem to remember this (or something like it) being made by Condor/Fox/Voodoo/Whatever, and just like all the Maxpedition stuff they've stolen over the years, they'll probably get away with it. (Possibly its absence from CTD indicates that someone did take action, if so; Bravo)

Fast forward again, and Camelbak takes some liberties with the design to offer something new and different, and uniquely theirs:

Once again, I applaud their effort. A good looking pack in its own right, and doesn't feel like some red-headed step sister of the 3DAP. But, unfortunately, it seems to have opened the gateway:

Enter the Nike Hoops Elite Max Air Team:

As if the name wan't already three strikes, it's sad to see such an innovative company just steal a major design innovation from someone else (I'm sure not for the first time). My theory (formed from a tenuous grasp of patent law) is that by shifting the zipper from the middle of the pack the design is changed enough to not infringe the patent. Or if the patent is infringed, it is nebulous enough that it's not worth anyone's time to go head-to-head with Nike's lawyers.

Why is this significant? I doubt anyone is really surprised a huge corporation like Nike would do something less then scrupulous. What I think it heralds is the beginning of the trizip's transition into a commonly accepted form of backpack access, rather then its current position as a fringe design. While I don't think it will ever reach the point of being listed among Top Loader, Panel Loader, Roll Top, unlike other sub-species of access (reverse lid, wrap-around panel loader, hybrid top/panel loader, split-shroud roll top) the trizip doesn't seem to cleanly fit in any of the big three, and I think it will mostly exist to one side with an * by it.