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    News — technology

    The SPECTRA® FIBER Project

    The SPECTRA® FIBER Project

    We’re excited to share more of our studio ideas with the world through our new PROTOTYPE PROGRAM.

    In addition to our proven and tested mass-produced gear, we’re going to begin showing  more of our experiments that don’t always make it to large-scale production. Our first endeavor is the SPECTRA® FIBER Project. Even though our bread and butter is making the best gear we can imagine and getting it into your hands, sometimes we take on a side project that can make for some fun design challenges, even if it will only exist as a “concept car”. Right now that means we’ve been waist-deep in SPECTRA® FIBER.

    Spectra fiber fabric

    The proposition: take a few rolls of their new, experimental textiles and make something special.

    A few months ago, we were approached by Honeywell SPECTRA® FIBER. The proposition: take a few rolls of their new, experimental textiles and make something special. We’ve admired products of their R&D in the past and couldn't turn down the excuse to play with these amazing materials.

    So what is this stuff? SPECTRA® FIBER is a proprietary Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). This material is popular among gear enthusiasts and is known for its amazing tensile strength and resistance to abrasion.

    Spectra fiber fabric, technical textiles

    It’s hard to talk about UHMWPE without mentioning DYNEEMA®, another brand, which makes some amazing composite textiles and reinforcements with their own proprietary fibers. Both DYNEEMA® and SPECTRA® FIBER incorporate UHMWPE fibers but with their own distinct approaches. While we love this material by any name, SPECTRA® Fiber, stands apart by their openness to help create custom textiles that that suit a range of applications. During this project, we’ve been able to play with textiles that range from apparel-weight knits, to MicroGRID™ laminates and heavy-duty composite wovens. Their openness to incorporating their tech into such a wide range of fabrics has made this sheer fun in the studio.

    Spectra fiber fabric

    One of SPECRTA® FIBER’s creations is SPECTRA® MicroGRID™: a latticework of SPECTRA® FIBER that can be laminated to a textile to greatly increase the tensile and tear strength of the composite fabric. Once laminated, this combined multi-ply material relies on the yarns in the outer face fabric to stand up to abrasion while the underlying grid adds exceptional tensile and tear strength with minimal weight increases.

    SPECTRA® FIBER can also be woven directly into a textile to increase abrasion resistance and tensile strength with the UHMWPE fibers also serving as “rip stoppers” if the material gets a puncture or tear. This sometimes shows up as a white or black grid interwoven with a dyed nylon.

    Spectra fiber fabric

    Late last year, SPECTRA® sent us a batch of some of their developmental materials that were made in a small run for prototypes and evaluation. Upon unboxing, we were blown away by the strength, light weight and look of that MicroGRID®. With some fresh bolts of this fabric, we set out to create a pack that would harness the light weight and strength of these textiles and discover a design that would complement the technical roots of these materials.

    Concept sketches

    We settled on a rucksack, which we like for its dynamic format that can cinch and compress down to a minimal size but also expand upwards.

    We started to look at daypack and scrambler pack formats as these have a range of technical needs to perform in the field while staying light weight. Additionally, the relatively small size of the pack would not overrun our bandwidth (we wish we could also do a 50L concept but there are only 24 hours in day). We settled on a rucksack, which we like for its dynamic format that can cinch and compress down to a minimal size but also expand upwards. Rucksacks feel like they're really using the flexibility of fabric, compressing and pulling loads into a minimal size to stay close to the body.

    3d modeling, computer modeling

     We have seen rucksacks in the past with “forward-facing brains” but always on larger packs. We think the forward-facing format would work even more smoothly on a small scrambler pack where one is more likely to access the bag while on body and the top brain will stay relatively small and compact.

    Sewing, spectra fabric

     

    Spectra fiber backpack

    Our finished bag for SPECTRA® FIBER is a compact, 18 liter scrambler made to be minimal and sit close to the body. The main body fabric is a three-layer material comprised of a 200D nylon face for strength and abrasion-resistance, a SPECTRA® FIBER MicroGRID® reinforcement to add a world of tensile strength and a TPU backing for water resistance and durability. We also used SPECTRA® FIBER reinforced 400d nylon for the side pockets. This material is perfect for handling hard or angular objects (and everything else) that get stuffed in to side pockets.

    Spectra fiber backpack

    While we don’t have any plans to produce this concept, the learnings and ideas that live in this pack will certainly filter down into our product plans.

    Spectra fiber backpack

    Looking forward, we are working on some new gear for this summer. We still have a lot of work to do but can’t wait to share this new equipment with you.

     

    Why Development Matters

    Why Development Matters

     

    Almost all product companies have a distinctive design process to create strong concepts, but no product you have would be worth its weight without development, the unsung hero that makes everything you have worth owning. If you ask three different people, you’ll probably get three different answers, but in short, development takes a great design and makes it a great product by translating a designer’s vision into tangible instructions for the manufacturing partner. This role exists in almost every product space, but we’re going to focus on softgoods in this post.

     

    Fabric swatches and samples

    Softgoods designers start with some functional goals and a general idea for the look and feel of a future bag before setting to work, researching, drawing and making mockups. Usually by the end of the design process, they have created a set of technical drawings that show every detail about the bag (a spec or tech-pack). At this point, a designer could hand off the drawing to a factory and get a very disappointing sample. Instead, to create the strongest products, designers collaborate with developers. Developers vary in approach and skillset, but generally a developer is expert in all aspects of material, construction and performance of the bag. Before the the good is ever made, they can identify where factories will have trouble with construction or where the design might have functional shortcomings. For example, we had a zipper sticking on our roll top because of the stiff fabric used for the rain flap. After four tests with different zippers and fabrics, we found that edge binding the flap instead of folding the fabric created a thinner, more flexible flap and the low friction of the binding helped the zipper run more smoothly against the flap edge.  While maybe not fascinating work, this one day of testing saved us weeks of back and forth with a factory.

     

    Backpack Rain Flap


    Designs that are shared with talented developers are revised so textiles match product needs, sewing operations are clear, and the bag functions as the designer intended. After all these details are resolved, a full spec and construction samples are sent to a factory for sampling. It’s clear that all the groundwork for a good factory samples needs to be laid out ahead and that design is only as good as your development.

    Product Timeline

      

    Bag paper patterns

    As we prepare to launch our Roll Top, we’re proud that almost all development happens in-house (we still definitely take feedback from factories). We internally pattern, sample and test our bags, working out plenty of kinks before the factory even sees it. We’ve found it’s far more efficient to fail early and often, than to wait till your bag is in the market to find shortcomings.  Though this process takes time, we revel in understanding and resolving every detail so our users can just enjoy performance.

     

    Material Tech

    Material Tech
    Bags are subjected to a lot of physical stress throughout their lifetime. As we design new gear, we're making sure that our choices in materials are a good match for the the intended use of our equipment.

    Read more