What features does such a person absolutely need in a pack? A ski carry, a hydration system, easy access to food, ice axe loops, easy access into the pack while carrying skis, it needs to be stinking light, and it better look fantastic (to name a few).
Third, the pencil hits the paper for a concept drawing. The real trick here is balance. Balance between features, size, shape, manufacturing difficulty, and aesthetic. Once I’ve drawn the pack from a few different angles, I’ll start to sketch out what each panel looks like. I usually experience a pretty strong reality check here when I realize my concept drawing might as well be an M.C. Escher piece (impossible to manufacture). There’s some back and forth before I settle on something I think has a good shot.
Classic chicken scratch concept drawing.
Fourth, make a pattern. I started making patterns with poster board, a pencil, square, compass, and a bendable ruler. I did that for about 2 years until I realized I was spending more time making things symmetric than I was actually drawing (no bueno). Prototyping was a massive PITA: miss a measurement by ¼” and it meant drawing an entirely new piece. So I started using Adobe Illustrator with a couple drafting plugins and am not quite sure how I managed without it. It doubles the speed and complexity of my design capabilities.
My second office at Strictly Organic
I can measure the size of the project I’m working on by the number of curried chicken salads it takes me to complete it. If Hayduke needs 36 six-packs to drive to New York City, I need about 40 curried chicken salads to design a Raven. My next project should only take about 20, not so bad really.
The pattern wall. You're looking at a several hundred hours worth of production ready patterns
Fifth, sew a shape prototype. I’ll print off the all the pattern pieces I need and cut out a prototype using the cheapest fabric I can get my hands on (usually a 210d nylon oxford packcloth) and sew it together. I pretty much have to assume that the shape isn’t going to look like it should. If I make that assumption from the start, it’s a lot less disappointing to find out that I have to head back to the drawing board. I seem to average five to fifteen different shape prototypes per design, depending on the number of parts of the pack I need to test. Hopefully that number will go down as I get better at this.
While relatively lack-luster looking in its current state, this is an example of a pretty promising shape proto of the Raven.
Sixth, sew up a usable prototype and test it out. I’ll start with one and see how bad it is. If it’s somewhat usable, I’ve gotten lucky and I’m off to a great start. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’d be right. Every part of the design process has to be started with the knowledge that the first, second, and third try are just not going to work. But you have to start somewhere and try something, at least then, you’ve got a baseline from which you can improve.
Jackson Knoll tests out an early prototype of the Five Peak Pack, one of the original Free Range packs, in the Southwest Couloir on the Middle Teton.
When I’ve finally ironed out all the details, I’ll sew a test run and pawn them off on a small group of rope guns and shredders with strict instructions to beat the heck out of them in return for feedback. Everyone’s got their opinion, but if I'm finding consistency among them, then I’ll make any final changes before a full production run.
Stack cutting Dimension Polyant VX-21 RS fabric for a production run of Big Medicine packs.
Here’s the catch though. I can go through prototype after prototype and although I can get close, I’m never 100% happy with the design. This is a classic case of sandwich syndrome. Sandwiches made by yourself never seem quite as good as those made for you by someone else. I’m always my own hardest judge. This is one of the biggest reasons I chose to keep our manufacturing in-house. We can make our runs in small quantities and constantly innovate. A designer's heaven!
Last but definitely most important, I'll take a break from the curried chicken salads, and get out and shred with my new pack.
Avoiding spring sloughs on the east face of Middle Sister.