Dec 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm #1283414
Companion forum thread to:Dec 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm #1816372
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
Ryan: Thanks for your thoughts and reflections on stagnation of the cottage industry. I've been BPing since the 70's, worked in a BP/X-C ski shop for a few years and led trips semi-pro in the 80's.
I've just joined BPL, been reading Ray Jardine's stuff, etc, because I've always had an itch to do the PCT and AT, maybe a few times each, my 11-year-old is excited to do more hiking with me, and I can't think of a better father-son activity.
I'm technically pretty darn competent (chemical engineer, built my own house and boats, have built my own computers, teach science and math, and can clean up a toxic-waste site with a Home Depot, a Radio Shack, a Grand Auto, and a credit card). And I have a deep pocket so developing a prototype and then knocking out a thousand of them is financially easy.
So why aren't I marketing something better than the Backcountry Boiler (more stable base, a pot stand on top to multi-task off that flame), or actually bring a wood-fired USB charger to market? Because:
1) My day job pays really well
2) My wife's job pays even better
3) I value time with my family more than time spent with suppliers and demanding customers
4) The creative rush for me is mostly statisfied when the garage prototype is done
5) every year I come up with patentable ideas but the fun part is coming up with them, not spending my life in court chasing some guy in Taiwan selling knockoffs on eBay
I've known lots of BPers who made their own UL stuff but never wanted to take it to market. Including people who were doing it in the 1940's.
That said, I am encouraged by what I've just become aware of in the cottage industry. As you mentioned, innovative financing and much greater visibility come through the internet. And because every niche group can develop a virtual community, what you created with this forum helps disseminate new ideas and products much faster (and cheaper) than an REI catalog ever could.
Just as my ability to research the BTU content of a fuel or find a source of titanium sheet metal or aluminum heat exchangers is so easy on Wikipedia. More importantly, if I want to learn how to vacuum bag carbon fiber / epoxy composites or see what others have done with clever stoves, there's youtube.
So to paraphrase Andy Warhol, maybe in the future, everyone will be their own cottage industry for 15 hours – until they make the equipment they wanted to have.Dec 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm #1816412
@maynard76Locale: New England
Agree on the Backcountry Boiler.
I like gear that lasts, works well, and looks good. Its not easy finding gear that meets that criteria especially when you account for personal preference.
I still look at weight but quality and function will weigh in just as much. I could go XSUL easily but I cant get with packs that don't last in the long haul and shelters that compromise too much to save weight. When there are alternatives that last and give better protection and still offer very low weight.
Not to mention the narrow range of fair weather so much gear is made for. I don't like having separate gear for every minor change in weather. Especially when that gear is expensive and takes up valuable space in my closet and thus my mind.
I am especially disappointed in pack design. They all seem to be variations of the same old Ray way pack and I have to say Im totally sick of dyneema grid stop!
Personally I would like to see more gear focused on sustainable materials and manufacturing but the market isn't big on that.Dec 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm #1816455
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
Very good article. I agree there hasn't been a lot of innovation.
Here's what I'd like to see.
1. Lightweight gear thats more functional. I don't really see the point of going from a 6 pound baseweight to a 4 pound baseweight. In the real world it doesn't make that much difference in your performance or enjoyment of a hike. On the other hand it would be nice if a 6 pound kit could be made that didn't involve the trade-offs in functionality and/or durablity that it requires now. Examples would be more light shelters with all around bug and insect protection, UL packs that can carry more weight when needed, etc.
2. I want to see some crazy new gear that opens up a whole new way of exploring the wilderness. UL backpacking meant I could go farther and faster. As I mentioned above we've pretty much reached the limit of this, now its time for something new. I'd like to see someone do an Artic 1000 type expedition with the UL rifles and fishing gear now available and some knowledge of edible plants. The challenge would be to see how far you could travel by combining foraging for food with what you carry on your back. I'd also like to see summer camps and more scout troops adapt UL backpacking. Imagine how much for fun backpacking cuuld be for a 13 year old if he wasn't hauling a 40 pound pack.Dec 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm #1816466Dec 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm #1816469Dec 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm #1816481Dec 27, 2011 at 8:25 pm #1816483
if anyone else said what was said in the article … they would get skewered by the BPL faithful … and mr jordan may still get burned at the stake ;)
my favorite comments … hope BPL will forgive the short quote …
you don't need to waste time and money storing (or disposing) gear you don't love, and you don't need to lighten your pack from 5.2 to 4.6 pounds.
he cottage industry reinforces that paradigm of gear that is "made in my garage with substandard equipment from sketches on paper scraps using an uncalibrated ruler and dull scissors."
the gear from more mainstream retailers is getting quite light and affordable …
what matters is less the gear, and more the person anyways … all that gear has one SOLE purpose … for you to go out and have fun …Dec 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm #1816491
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
Great entry Ryan.Dec 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm #1816500
"First, the pack. It was designed by Ryan Jordan and built by HMG. They should have it up for sale on the site soon."
That is a quote from a staffer at BPL.
When you put down a blanket criticism of practically the entire cottage industry without disclosing your own interest in the brand you are singling out and promoting, you have a conflict of interest – especially at a site that reviews the gear being put down!
I'm talking about normal, accepted, ethical rules of conduct.
This statement down below in quotes is simply untrue. Dyneema and Spectra Grid added to fabrics make the original fabric far more failsafe. At the SAME time that they make the fabric lighter, they make it stronger. It's not there for cosmetics. The comment below is laughable – the fabric has proven itself more than worthwhile over the years. Here's what Ryan says,
"They change fabrics to the latest new mylar sandwich or some finer denier of nylon with a mostly useless HMWPE-laced ripstop pattern (it's there for cosmetics, you know)"
Ryan Jordan might have a PHD but it sure does not speak truth to these fabrics. It is very easy to demonstrate with sharp scissors or a knife that these fabrics can be slashed and the dyneema or spectra fibers will remain unscathed while all of the fabric in between is cut.Dec 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm #1816501
How far we come…I agree with the general sentiments here, though I could care less about the state of the cottage industry because I haven't really been looking for anything new to buy. Seems a little contradictory; searching for, and yet lamenting the lack of innovation in new gear, while simultaneously saying "you don't need the gear"…It does leave me scratching my head when I think about the history/trajectory of this site.
Considering that this was written by the man that pioneered a website largely based on ruthless ounce-counting and testing, writing about, and/or purchasing/selling just about every conceivable UL product ever made, this article seems to express an attitude that probably would've sounded significantly contradictory to BPL's general tone about 5 or 6 years ago. Wasn't BPL formerly the community of ruthless weight-weenies, nutjobs cutting labels off jackets, and zealots sawing toothbrushes in half and removing map borders? And suddenly "you don't need to lighten your pack from 5.2 to 4.6 pounds"? Didn't BPL build an empire, so to speak, by actively advocating the saving of that same .6 pounds? Is this the same Ryan Jordan that used to argue with GVP about a weight handicap in their SUL showdowns because GVP is so tall?
We're all certainly entitled to change…it's life. I've gone on the same full-circle journey described here. But how far we come. Round and round we go.
Seems a more appropriate slogan than "Pack Less. Be More" might eventually become "Who cares, just get out and enjoy". That's where I've been headed, anyhow…Dec 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm #1816513
For me, the key lines of this article were these:
"You don't need the gear, you don't need the debt, you don't need to further tax our resources, you don't need to spend your children's social security on your gear addiction…"
I firmly believe that UL backpacking is excellent training for the period of time we are entering. It is clear that we as a species need to ratchet things way back and find some way to reconnect with nature without overtaxing resources. In fact, we have forgotten that nature is the primary economy. I'm afraid that lots of people will soon realize that their "wealth" merely consists of digital markers for industrial production that will never take place due to lack of resources. One thing I will mention is that although it is one world and we are one people, it is better to buy american whenever possible (MLD, Gossamer, etc.). We bear the cost one way or another. If we import the cheap overseas goods, we inevitably import the standard of living, too.Dec 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm #1816516
@angelazLocale: New England
"Seems a more appropriate slogan than "Pack Less. Be More" might eventually become "Who cares, just get out and enjoy". That's where I've been headed, anyhow…"
Although… I still care a little. I mean, I still weigh things when I'm bored/planning a huge hike. I just tend to shrug my shoulders and keep the gear I have after I put away the scale! And I think my personal slogan is "Pack less. Eat more."
:)Dec 27, 2011 at 9:49 pm #1816520Dec 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm #1816521
Two quick comments about the article:
1) Thanks for making this one available to ALL of us!
2) I appreciate Ryan's sentiments, and I look forward to reading more of his writing.
About the weight: I think (and I might be wrong here) that Ryan is saying: we've lightened up our packs, now it's time to eat our cake too. At a 5 pound pack weight, it really doesn't matter if you gain or lose a half pound. The industry has gotten to a point where we can safely achieve sub-5lb packs without sacrificing everything, and for only a few ounces we can enjoy much more.
Backpacking light isn't being hypersensitive to grams, but a philosophy about function. I have a sub-7lb base weight – coming from 20+ pounds I was religious about it, but these days I care more about the experience. I like a 3-layer eVent shell AND a wind shirt AND I carry sleeping pants AND an inflatable pad. The NeoAir revolutionized UL sleeping pads: for 9oz I have a bona fide 3-season pad that gives me more comfort than anything in its weight class from 2009. When are we going to get more products like that? Cottage manufacturers, I'm looking at you – be revolutionary, not evolutionary.Dec 27, 2011 at 9:55 pm #1816522
Love this article. Nicely said Ryan.
Regarding the Porter Pack – regardless of the degree of input from Ryan on it's design (it should be noted that HMG already had a pack line out), he has no financial interest in anyone purchasing the pack so I see no issue with providing opinion.Dec 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm #1816526
"Regarding the Porter Pack – regardless of the degree of input from Ryan on it's design (it should be noted that HMG already had a pack line out), he has no financial interest in anyone purchasing the pack so I see no issue with providing opinion."
What do you know of Ryan's financial interests? Interests like these can be dynamic and ongoing and don't necessarily portend to immediate or visible dividend.
Yeah David, it was nicely put the way Ryan said HMWPE fibers in the grid of HMWPW grid farics are 'mostly' useless. It's simply untrue. There are as much as 9% to 13% of these fibers in the fabrics and they are there for far more than cosmetics as Ryan claims. He may as well say the dyneema mixed into the weave of climbing slings is there for cosmetics.Dec 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm #1816531
"What do you know of Ryan's financial interests? Interests like these can be dynamic and ongoing and don't necessarily portend to immediate or visible dividend."
I guess I don't. Why so paranoid?Dec 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm #1816532
"it was nicely put the way Ryan said HMWPE fibers in the grid of HMWPW grid farics are 'mostly' useless. It's simply untrue. There are as much as 9% to 13% of these fibers in the fabrics and they are there for far more than cosmetics as Ryan claims."
I would agree with this. I think his point was that apart from fabric innovation, there is less and less innovation in design.
On the other hand, if the wheel has been perfected then why innovate in design. Clearly the next step would be fabric innovation.Dec 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm #1816534
Ryan did not design the packs he bought from me. I designed them. There was absolutely nothing about them I had not done before, and if there was, I designed it. Picking features out of a hat for your personal pack is not the same thing as doing design work for another companies products. Poor analogy.Dec 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm #1816535
Well, the HMG packs are all very similar (hip belt, frameless with stays, same shoulder straps and padding, same fabric) so I guess the question would be what sort of input did Ryan provide?Dec 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm #1816542
Just my opinion, but I didn't read Ryan's commentary on "cottage stagnation" as attacking cottage folks generally or any cottage outfit in particular, nor as motivated by financial stake (if any) in a particular product or business.
Rather, at least from my perspective as a prospective user/customer, I took Ryan's article to be merely his personal judgement that "cottage" products in the past year seem to have become less "innovative" in ways that he (and/or others) would value, and less faithful to qualities than he (and/or other patrons) might hope to see.
After all, this must be the same Ryan Jordan who wrote the following comment, a real glowing ode, to the cottage industry a little over a year ago for BPL's "Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010: Introduction and Tribute to Small Ultralight Gear Companies not Exhibiting at OR" —
"I love this.
"We used to do the cottage roundup towards the end of the show. I'm glad we're doing it at the beginning now.
"I'm really, really happy about more options being made available to us by budding cottage manufacturers!
"It will be fascinating to now review the rest of what comes out of OR in the context of some of this really cool new gear from the little guys."
Copied from comments at: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/orsm2010_kickoff.html
The general theme of the Ryan's commentary now — a little over a year after his glowing praise for the 2010 cottage gear state of affairs — regarding his concern about the "stagnation" that he now bemoans appears (to me, anyway) to reflect views he expressed at his blog a few months ago regarding "value" in "innovative gear" now, whether cottage or mass marketed, and how sparce that innovation has become.
Here's a link to Ryan's discussion of that issue at his blog:
After reading Ryan's "Stagnation" commentary and then rereading his earlier blog musings at the above link, I was curious about how the current BPL staff picks (for 2011) compared to BPL staff picks of the past. It was an interesting comparison.
Like, for example, I couldn't recall that an SUV had ever appeared in any of those staff picks for past years, yet there was one listed as a 2011 pick (a 2000 Nissan Xterra SE 4×4)!
But that's OK. I like my 3/4 ton 4x diesel Ram PU, too.
Just can't wait to see one of the cottage outfits put out a "lightweight" SUV in 2012 — hopefully with cuben fiber upholstery, carbon fiber body, and a wood-fired engine! /;>)
Seriously, though, I understand Ryan's "stagnation" article as a call for greater, or renewed, focus on creating "innovative gear" meeting evolving lightweight values described in his blog at the above link as simplicity, a concept he refines to mean a blend of "natural" and "practical" simplicity.
One thing I do not understand is why, in the "stagnation" article above, Ryan has any optimism at all that "mass marketers" can/will provide innovation he values when his blog states his own expectation (quoted below) that those "mass marketers" are incapable of hitting an innovative "home run" like a Tenkara fly rod or whatever:
"Mass market manufacturers are incapable of designing and marketing gear that blends both practical and natural simplicity because the concept is too hard to educate people about. You simply cannot appreciate the value of it, until you (a) experience it; (b) practice it; and (c) refine it. Mass manufacturers don’t have the time. The sales season is only a few months long, after all – and with the need to make sure they are addressing the latest trends in colors and fabrics and features – who has time to educate consumers – or allow them to experience the benefits of simplicity?
"And so, as usual, it seems like it’s up to the cottage industry.
"That’s not a bad thing."
So, aside from Ryan's infatuation with Mass Market Mavens in the above "stagnation" commentary (probably brief insanity born of despair), I believe he is just calling on someone, anyone — most likely cottage folks (new or old) — to fill a gap by again producing gear that meets evolving needs and desires for "simplicity" gear suited to evolving "lightweight backpacking" values, like they've done often in the past.
Just one person's no doubt delusionary thoughts.Dec 28, 2011 at 12:30 am #1816550
well if you look at the "mass market"
youll notice that quite a few companies have very credible lightweight products
– osprey and their hornet/exos packs
– TNF and their verto windhsell and packs
– REI/MEC/EMS and their very light minimal packs (ie flash 18, mec travel light, etc …)
– jetboil and their new SOL TI which BPL did an excellent review
– everyone and their doggay has very light down and synth jackets now
– etc …
just as a simple example the MEC reflex has 10-16 oz of down (depending on the size), a >50% down to weight ratio, uses 800 fill, and UL shell … and is anywhere from 1/4- 1/2 the costs of a certain cottage brand name down jacket/quilt maker …
note that many of these products come with very good warranties, or you can buy em and try em at a retailer with no questions asked return policies … and often on sale as well
you can easily go UL with "mass market" products and often end up spending less as they are often on sale … and still be able to return em after using them if they dont work out …
whether one buys cottage or "mass market" is up to that person … but those old REI threads slamming UL are way out of date … you can go UL just shopping at mec/rei/ems/backcountry …Dec 28, 2011 at 2:35 am #1816554
@sgiachettiLocale: Boulder, CO
I admire someone who is bold enough to contradict themselves. That said, this contradiction has me a little confused. Lets face it, this site is fueled by oz counting gearheads (reluctantly, counting myself as one). It has some of the more civilized and thoughtful forums that I know of, but I've become convinced that all the gear tinkering and oz counting taking place in the forums has less and less to do with actual backpacking. Its more like 'outdoor gear theory', which is admittedly fascinating. Its a great hobby. Its also a form of escapism when you are at the office and you would rather be in the mountains. The gear fetishizing helps us imagine we are actually out there, or to prepare ourselves for the the next time that we are. I'm talking from my own experience here, as I've spent a good portion of this past year struggling with injuries, planning long adventures that didn't happen, and endless gear tinkering/theory. It sort of has me wondering why I didn't pursue a career in fabric technology (?).
I've also spent a great deal of my time actually backpacking, hiking, trail running and more recently skiing and climbing. Its extremely satisfying to have all your gear dialed in, working as a system with as few and functional items as possible. I aim for this in all my possessions. When there is less to meditate your experience of the wild, adventures are more raw and beautiful. That said, I've actually noticed that all my (I like to call it) gearfectionism can really take away from the experience. Its seldom that I go on trips these days when new product ideas, purchases, custom designs etc. aren't popping into my head. Gear optimization is an endless process, with diminishing returns. I do get something out of this, otherwise I wouldn't do it. Humans are tool-users, and men are particularly tool-centric. Gear nerdery is satisfying (esp. for gear nerds) and I'd go as far to call it instinctual for some. My point is, I think there is more to be gotten out of taking a more experiential, less fetish based approach. Chenault's reflections over at bedrockandparadox.com are a perfect example. He gloats over his packrarft because it gives him another way of experiencing the wild, not because he likes how it looks on his spreadsheet or in his closet (although that may too be the case ;) The packrarft has no power when its sitting in your closet.
Similarly, McClalland's tips: he treats gear as just one means to the art of lightweight backpacking.
(Wow, didn't realize I was about to rant, but I guess the above article/rant got me in the mood.)
I originally intended to write a few simple things: the key innovations in lightweight backpacking were brought to light by Jardine long ago.
Next was Ryan's article 'clothing and sleep systems for ultralight backpacking' ( i forget the name. ) In a couple words: wool, windshirts, puffies, tarps, frameless packs
Perhaps Ryan has just gotten bored because much the forums have more or less just reiterated those principles in a 1000 different ways. Or, like someone else suggested, bitter since BPL's own attempts at the cottage industry were somewhat of a bust.
I might suggest that the lack of recent innovation has much more to do with the fact that backpacking is in the scheme of things a fairly simple activity. Its just walking through the wild for multiple days. As a species we are so far beyond surviving (in style) and with minimal weight while foot traveling. Thats why IMO we've gotten down to oz quibbling between 6 and 4 lbs on BPL–for those of us who choose to walk as a mode of wilderness transportation, we need to find a way to stay entertained when we aren't . For the newby, the information here is nothing short of an epiphany, but my point is that its an epiphany based on the collected insights of a rock climber/engineer/hippy adventurer some 20 years ago. Its no wonder to me all the interesting modes of travel that Jardine (quintessential gear nerd) has tried over the years.
I'm much more curious about the innovations taking place in other forms of outdoor adventure these days. For example, super lightweight ski touring boots capable of technical ice climbs. This presents far more of a game changer for wilderness adventure than a slightly lighter version of cueben fiber. http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2011/06/part-2.html
Packrafts, another obvious example.
I know thats getting away from backpacking, but thats what I'm suggesting: equipment for backpacking is far less interesting/relevant to the activity, than other modes of transport like skiing, packrafting, biking, climbing/alpinism etc. Layering systems for ice/alpine climbing or backcountry skiing are far more difficult and vital to get dialed in than for the general three season backpacking that most BPL's do. So, yes, this is a suggestion to us who have been around for a while: 1) present the info to the newbie as effectively as possible 2) spend more of your indoor time with maps, less of it in the gear forums (as I continue to boldly contradict myself ;)
Other ideas: try skiing, biking, climbing, rafting…wing-suit base jumping (?!? ;)
I think cottage manufacturers are not to blame for the stagnation. We are, for still being preoccupied with the next big innovation in walking with a pack on and sleeping outside.
If this forum is about backpacking why don't we talk more about technique? Philosophy? Trips? etc. Despite my love for the site, I think the answer lies in that its always been a little bit more about gear nerdery and consumerism than actual backpacking. Ryan's suggestions as of late are on point, but this definitely leaves me wondering about what's in store for the future of this site and will we continue to take an interest?
+ 1 on Katabatic.Dec 28, 2011 at 4:21 am #1816563
This is my understanding of how it went..
Ryan had a pack design in mind (he's had it in mind for a long time) and asked HMG to build it. They agreed and we now have the Porter. In the interest of full disclosure, I tested several revisions of the pack and also provided feedback on it. I know I don't get any kind of sales commission and I doubt Ryan does either.
Also, it is my understanding that Ryan had asked another pack builder for something similar many years ago, and was basically told to shove it.
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