These are two more spy shots of my North Fork Pack (which I’ll be doing a video about next week).
I post them because this pack is by far the most sophisticated and successful piece of gear I’ve ever made. It carries far better than I could have hoped.
Eric’s link to this Cilogear blog post prompted me to organize thoughts I’ve had for a while about outdoor gear design, construction, and cost. While the aforementioned post is primarily about distinctions between hand crafted (made by hand without machines) and craft made (made in little shops), I see the larger point as making a distinction between grassroots, sustainable shops and bigger companies using (to be blunt) slave labor.
Take the North Fork pack as an example. I spent around $100 dollars on materials for it, though with plenty of fabric, straps, and grommets left over, call it $80 bucks in materials (fabric bought at cost, $20 spent on the pack straps on ebay, webbing and buckles from REI). I spent around 6-7 hours actually cutting and sewing it together, about 2 hours making to-scale drawings before I laid rotary cutter to fabric, and an unquantifiable number of hours prior (spread over the last 18 months) designing it in my head.
I am not fast at any of these things. As you can see in the pictures, precision and detail are not my strong suits. With the proto made and tested, I could probably make some templates, refine a few details, and make another one start to finish in 2-3 hours (if nothing got fucked up, which absent a real industrial bartacker is far from guaranteed when sewing at the limits of my machines capabilities). My point is, designing and making gear the doesn’t suck takes a ton of time, even if you’re way better at efficiency than me.
Compare a small commercial pack with a small cottage gear pack to further the point. Many of you own an Osprey Talon 22. Go get it (seriously). While there are a few things I’d improve, on the whole the Talon 22 is a brilliantly designed pack. The harness system interacts with the sculpted side panels to make it amazingly stable. It’s a complex design with a bunch of funky curved panels and seams that require serious exactness to work. And it still costs $99. To be frank, there’s no way Osprey can sell that pack at that price without someone along the production chain getting short changed. I presume whomever sews these packs makes peanuts.
Now look at the Mountain Laurel Designs Newt, their newest and simplest pack, just introduced and selling for $77. The Newt looks like a nifty little pack, and I use MLD both because I like most of their designs and because I consider them to be at the pinnacle of US cottage outdoor gear. No one else comes close in regards to the range of products or fabrics they work with. MLD has a reputation for good customer service and fairly prompt delivery. I take it as a given that they have the daily details of their business dialed.
The Newt is a bit cheaper than the Talon 22, around the same size, and the Newt is probably made with more expensive fabric. The design of the Newt is also massively less complex a piece of gear (it appears to made of 4 pieces of fabric, exclusive of the shoulder straps). If Osprey made the Newt they’d have to charge half what MLD does to avoid cognitive dissonance. REI does make a pack, the Flash 18, which from a design and construction standpoint is comparable to the Newt (again, with much cheaper fabric), and charged $29.50 for it.
I think the conclusion that the difference in price goes towards paying employees living wages is inevitable (even given the differences in economy of scale between Osprey and MLD). All of which amounts to my recent MYOG habit (make ya own gee-ah) having made me much more willing to pay more for good cottage gear. My conscience rests easier when I do. I, like so many of us, am so used to paying what I pay for things that it took a very personal, tactile engagment with the issue to shake loose my thoughts.
I’m glad I eventually got there.
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