Haute Americana Interviews Tom

Haute Americana’s interview with Tom on design, life, travel, and U.S. manufacturing is up. Excerpt:

Haute Americana: What are your essentials for traveling?

Tom Bihn: I used to manage the youth hostel in Santa Cruz — there I watched what people carried and how they traveled. I realized that the weight of a person’s bag was usually inversely proportional to the fun they were having. With that in mind, I try to travel pretty light, though I always seem to need to carry an extra pair of shoes or sandals. Otherwise I guess I carry the usual stuff – a swimsuit is surprisingly a good idea, as I try to jump into water whenever possible.”

Read the full interview.

Tom Bihn interviewed by Haute Americana | TOM BIHN

Modestics Meet the Maker: Tom Bihn

Modestics Meet The Maker: TOM BIHN

Modestics recently interviewed Tom for their Meet the Maker series.

Modestics: When did you feel like you were a “real company”?

Tom Bihn: It all felt pretty serious, though very small, when I first rented commercial space back in Santa Cruz. Otherwise, our growth has been slow, steady, and mostly self-funded. Rather than owing money to a bank or venture capitalist, our loyalty is to the folks who believe in us enough to buy what we make: still friends and family, just a bigger circle.

Read the full interview over at Modestics.

The Fur Test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
1000d Cordura® after test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
We made mittens out of 420 HT ParaPack, 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon, 1050d Ballistic, 1000d Cordura® and 500d Cordura®.

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
We then rubbed each one on a volunteer office canine (we are opposed to animal testing, but he seemed to rather enjoy the attention).

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
All fabrics picked up fur.

TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
But not equally so . . .
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
Both of the Cordura® fabrics collected lots more fur than the smooth nylons.
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test
The difference between 1050d Ballistic, 420d HT ParaPack, and 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon; was negligible (though the fur is better camouflaged by the white Dyneema® ripstop grid.)
TOM BIHN: The Fur Test

The bottom line? If you have pets, or work in a place where people bring dogs to work and don’t vacuum as much as they should (ahem), or simply want your bag to collect as little lint/foozles/dust particles as possible, choose our 1050d ballistic nylon, 200d or 400d Dyneema/nylon, or 420d HT Parapack fabric over bags available in Cordura (500d or 1000d).

See also: Badger’s test comparing the pet hair resistance of our 200d Dyneema/nylon fabric and 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack. Note: our results differed from Badger’s in that the difference between Dyneema/nylon and the 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack was not significant. Neither collected nowhere near as much hair in our tests as the Cordura® fabrics. Results may vary on the breed or type of animal, and probably the amount of ambient static electricity. It’s also worth noting that in our results the hair that did collect on our Dyneema/nylon was quite difficult to see until we looked really closely (hence the close-up photo).

Video: How to tie cord zipper pulls

Included with The Guide’s Pack and Founder’s Briefcase are enough Coyote and Red cord pulls for the metal zipper pulls on each bag. This video demonstrates how to add the cord pulls to the metal zipper pulls:

Innovation in Fabrics (video)

The story behind the fabrics we use, including our 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack, told by the best textiles guy in the business.

On the design of The Guide’s Pack

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Like lots of good stuff, it all started in a garage.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Better than leather: heavy-duty synthetic felt and nylon webbing combine in the Double Accessory Strap Holder.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

#00 spur grommets, made for us in the UK. Yes, we took every detail quite seriously.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The internal frame . . .

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

. . . is removable.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Two pie-slice cut-outs on each edge allow the frame sheet to flex in use.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The 6061 Aluminum stay is removable. Soft plastic caps insure the rest of the pack can’t be damaged by the stay.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

We pre-bend the stay to a gentle S-curve to approximate the average spinal curve.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Carefully bending the frame sheet and stay over your knee (or knees for a gentler curve), you can adjust the curve if you so desire (though you needn’t remove the frame from the pack).

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

The back and bottom of the Guide’s Pack are fully padded with .25″ / 6mm closed-cell foam.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Six flat pockets on the interior back panel accept the six “fins” of the frame sheet . . .

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

. . . firmly holding it in place against your back.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Curved, thermo-formed, die-cut, padded shoulder straps: we just didn’t have the technology to make these 40 years ago.

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

And who woulda thunk it: pockets for a cell phone and a GPS.

Tom on the design of The Guide's Pack

But then again, the best things in life really haven’t changed.

On the design of the Founder’s Briefcase

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Thick synthetic felt reinforces the handle attachment points.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

A pleated, 3D mesh pouch is divided in to three separate spaces . . .

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

By moving the two zipper sliders to be over the one you want to access, the other remain securely zipped shut.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Great for cables, power supplies, point-and-shoot cameras.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

The handles are designed to naturally meet top dead center.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Our signature, super-tough hardware facilitates attachment of a shoulder strap.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

Heavy-duty, 1050d ballistic piping adds shape and color.

Tom on the design of the Founder's Briefcase

The Founder’s Briefcase has many graceful yet subtle curves: a straight line may be the shortest path, but seldom the most interesting.

On Internal Frames and Frame Sheets

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

I’ve always tended to keep my designs as simple as possible and eschew adding features just for the sake of, well, just because we could. So, it should be no surprise that the first iterations of The Guide’s Pack had no internal frame, just a padded back panel. The idea has always been to rely on careful packing to supply the bag with form and the user with comfort. I still think there is great value in learning the artful arrangement of a bag’s contents to optimize weight distribution and therefore carrying comfort; however, as soon as I began using The Guide’s Pack with my beta version of its internal frame and frame sheet, I started to see the light.

At 35 liters (when you include the side pockets), The Guide’s Pack can definitely become somewhat heavy when fully loaded, and though not intended as a backpacking pack, it can certainly handle all you need for a very long day out (or maybe an overnight). Bending its single aluminum stay to roughly parallel my spine, I was able to comfortably lift some of the pack’s weight off my shoulders and onto my hips (yeah, with just a 1″ webbing waist belt). Combined with the HDPE frame sheet, the internal frame helps maintain the bag’s profile (read: keeps it from beer-barreling when overstuffed) and also allows one to have a somewhat cavalier attitude when packing hard objects such as a DSLR camera or a thermos: basically, I no longer need to wrap them in extra clothing or some kind of padding to ensure all-day comfort on the trail. After some further tweaks and some long hikes, I was a believer.

The Guide’s Pack’s internal frame consists of a unique, die-cut frame sheet of .060″ high density polyethylene (HDPE) and a single stay of 1″ / 25 mm wide 6061 aluminum. The stay is held in place by a strip of 2″ wide nylon webbing sewn down the center of the frame sheet; you can remove the stay if, for some reason, you want a frame sheet but no frame.

You can also remove the entire affair: six flat “pockets” on the inside back of The Guide’s Pack are designed to retain the six lobes (or fins) of the frame sheet. These lobes are engineered to relieve the torsional stresses of the pack flexing as you walk; they also facilitate the design that allows the frame sheet to be easily removed from the pack.

The aluminum stay comes to you pre-bent to approximate a generic spinal curve. If you find The Guide’s Pack comfortable out of the gate, as most folks will, you’re good. But if you need to adjust that curve, it’s easy to do — and you needn’t remove the stay or frame sheet from the pack to do it (we’re working on a video that’ll show you how — stay tuned).


Bags available for order in 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack

3D Fabric Cube in Olive 420d HT ParapackA close-up view of the 3D Fabric Organizer Cube in Olive 420d HT Parapack. Note the slightly heathered appearance of the high tenacity yarns, as described in Tom’s post on 420d.

Synapse 19 (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining)
In stock: Navy 420d/Ultraviolet, Navy 420d/Solar, Olive 420d/Steel, Steel 420d/Solar
On Backorder: Navy 420d/Iberian, Black 420d/Steel, Black 420d/Wasabi, Black 420d/Iberian

Synapse 25 (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining)
Available for backorder, ships by early December: Olive/Steel, Black/Steel, Black/Iberian, Black/Wasabi, Navy/Solar, and Navy/Iberian

Small Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, Black/Steel, and Navy/Navy

Medium Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, and Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, Navy/Navy and Black/Steel

Large Cafe Bag (420d HT Parapack exterior/200d Dyneema/nylon lining or 420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Wasabi Dyneema, Steel/Iberian Dyneema, Navy/Ultraviolet Dyneema, Black/Solar Dyneema, and Olive/Steel, Steel/Steel, and Black/Steel

3D Fabric Organizer Cube
In stock: Navy, Olive, Black, Steel

3D Mesh Organizer Cube
In stock: Olive, Black, Navy

The Guide’s Pack (420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
In stock: Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, Steel/Steel

Founder’s Briefcase (420d HT Parapack exterior/lining)
Pre-order, ships by mid-December: Olive/Steel, Navy/Steel, Black/Steel, Steel/Steel

The Story behind 420 Denier High Tenacity “Parapack” Pack Fabric

Our 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack in OliveOur 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack in Olive.

420 denier, high tenacity, type 6.6 nylon fabric was originally developed for the military for use in parachute backpacks — the thing on the guy’s back that holds the parachute. Paratroopers needed a fabric that was smooth so as not to hang up on anything as a jumper left the plane; it had to be light (obviously); and it needed to be strong so as not to be easily punctured or abraded. These same qualities gave it great appeal in the blossoming outdoor-recreation industry; 420d HT nylon became the staple backpack fabric in the early 1960s, almost entirely replacing cotton canvas. At one time, virtually all high-end backpacks were made of 420d HT “Parapack” (short for parachute-backpack) fabric.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a renewed interest in health, nature, and the environment coevolved with an interest in self-propelled outdoor recreation: hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, even mountaineering, became mainstream pursuits. And pretty quickly folks realized that all their new, light, and durable outdoor equipment functioned just as well back in town as it did in the wilderness. Quilted jackets made of ripstop nylon and filled with goose down appeared on city streets, and small backpacks designed for day hiking became de rigueur on campus. Of course, it wasn’t long before large, corporate (or soon-to-be large and corporate) interests saw the potential in this new market. I’m going somewhere with this, so hang tight.

I’ve already mentioned that 420d HT nylon is light, strong, and smooth, but I didn’t mention what it’s not: neither easy to dye, nor cheap. Just like our 1050 denier, high tenacity, type 6.6 ballistic cloth, 420d HT does not take dye as readily as type 6 (or “regular”) nylon. It dyes somewhat inconsistently and often ends up with a slightly heathery appearance (which I’ve grown to really like but can drive our fabric inspectors a bit nuts because it’s not consistent). Lots and lots of daypacks made of 420d HT were sold, and the sellers pushed the fabric mills for something cheaper. Some technically driven, small-time manufacturers wanted quality; some larger companies wanted low cost. Enter 430 denier (type 6 nylon) pack cloth: it was smooth, it was light, it was easy to dye consistently and evenly, and it was considerably less expensive. It was less densely woven, not as strong or abrasion resistant, but price, not quality, was now in the driver’s seat.

At about the same time as all that, texturized nylon fabrics (like 1000d Cordura®) were developed as alternatives to both smooth nylon pack cloth and cotton canvas. Their texturized look and feel made them plausible alternatives to cotton canvas, but they were lighter and more durable. The market share for 420d HT Parapack fabric continued to shrink and the mills ran less and less of it, resulting in it being difficult to obtain. Eventually, even high-end manufacturers abandoned 420d HT Parapack.

By the late 1980s, most backpacks were manufactured offshore, and Southeast Asia was making their own Parapack simulacra, with nominal deniers ranging from 400 to 430. Most of it was low quality, none of it high tenacity, but it was cheaper than U.S. made 420d HT. By the 1990s, with U.S. made 420d HT fabric nowhere to be seen, smooth nylon pack cloth became generally equated with low quality products, and understandably so.

Fast forward to 2013: when we went down this nostalgic rabbit hole, looking for fabrics from which to build the new Guide’s Pack and the Founder’s Briefcase, we were delighted to find some undyed, unfinished 420d HT nylon in a warehouse on the East Coast. We had it dyed to our own colors and we’ve pretty much fallen head over heels with it. The mill says they can weave more for us and we hope to add another color or two early in 2014. In addition to our 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack simply being a beautiful, densely woven, tough-as-nails fabric, its smooth surface entirely lacks an affinity for pet hair, lint, sweater fuzz, and snow. Combined with our 1050d HT ballistic fabric in high-wear areas, it makes The Guide’s Pack an amazing bag of which we are particularly proud.

And the revival of 420d HT Parapack continues: we’ve made our Small, Medium, and Large Café Bags, Synapse 19, Synapse 25, 3D Fabric Organizer Cube, and 3D Mesh Organizer Cube available in 420d HT Parapack.