The Future...

5:00 a.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Hehe, the title sounds so ominous...Anyways, one can now buy a $600 Arcteryx Shell. This, to me, signifies a growing market for uber-high-end gear. Where do you think this is headed?

Will we see a $1000 shell within the next few years?

What about this:
Let's all just imagine what an Arcteryx TENT would look like...cause it'll everyone else picturing a crazy-propriety-fabric single wall, 2 person, 3lb, $2000, bomber-of-all-bomber streamlined thing, with a huge heat-transfered fossil design on each side? I see poles made out of that new carbon-fiber pyramidal structure they're using on bike frames right now. Titanium stakes, grommets, zippers, and pole connections, standard. No shock-cords in the poles, either; connect them with a precisely machined full-turn male and female screw ends. Oh yeah--Spectra guy-lines, 50ft., standard.

Of course, it'd still be way overpriced, and, also of course, everyone will covet it. Win-win for whoever incorporates these features first, though. Personally, I'm pulling for Marmot.

What other crap do you think we'll be seeing in the next couple years?

9:40 a.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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It's an interesting thought. Some of what you mention is a function of new fabrics being developed that do not exist today. For example, the lighter tents are using nylons that were not available in the past. It doesn't much matter to me, most of my gear comes out of thrift stores.

11:39 a.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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It's a matter of perceived rather than real value for the most part.

To some it's snob appeal (face it, very few people are better served by a $1000.00 shell than a $20.00 coated nylon anorak any more than a Lexus is better at getting you to the office than a Prius).

I attribute these not to advances in fabric technology but rather to advances in sales and marketing technique. Plus celebrity athletic endorsements.

To some it may actually be worth it - but that population isn't large enough to support the R&D, much less marketing budgets of corporations (and they generally get their stuff free or at reduced cost).

Next? How about helium bladders that would impart a negative weight to your pack ... yeah it's a crap idea (think carbon offset credits) with no legitimate engineering behind it - but turn it over to the right PR man, get some pro's to endorse it (for a rather substantial fee), have slackpacker magazine do a field test and writeup on it espousing it's virtues and the sheep will line up, amex black cards in hand to buy it.

12:12 p.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Actually, a lot of the things you mention have already been around for a while, and in several cases proven to be bad ideas. Carbon fiber poles have been around for at least 5 years that I know of, but the best Easton aluminum alloys have continued to outperform them (you can straighten aluminum poles, but carbon fiber, like fiberglass, breaks with a "greenstick" fracture which is difficult at the best to repair, with the best alloys having as high a yield strength - and yes carbon fiber does break, as I have seen with some of the top-end bike frames - but carbon fiber has some properties that make it very desirable in a bike frame over chromolly or aluminum, but have no relevance for tent poles).

Screw-together poles have been tried, but for backpacking and especially expedition use are just too much of a pain to put together in storms, plus take too long even in good weather (in tent setup contests, a good 2-man expedition tent takes well under a minute to set up for the main tent body stuff sack to set up, with the winners in the 30-40 second range, the bungies making a huge time difference).

Titanium stakes, etc. have been around for a long time as well (I have a set of prototypes I was given to do a beta-test on from 7 years ago - really light, but they tended to bend more easily than aluminum of the same guage). Main reason they don't sell is cost, plus they don't really perform any better. Spectra lines - I've been using those (the reflective ones at that) for close to 10 years - really nice. They are a little more pricey but they do seem to stand up better than nylon cords in high altitude UV. I have transferred a set between tents when the old tent showed too much UV damage and got replaces.

Your price estimate may be too modest. Keep in mind that nylon, polyester, Spectra, and the other fabrics are petroleum-based. Since crude has more than doubled in the past year (and more than that in the past 5 years), you can expect anything fabric to at least double in the next 2 to 3 years. The metal bits require energy to process (even aluminum which use to use mostly hydro for the needed electricity is now consuming mostly natural gas, oil, and coal-generated electricity), so the prices there will also scream upward.

But mostly Fred is right - it's the advertising hype. I saw a price/payback study last week on hybrids. The Toyota vs Lexus hybrid was particularly eye-opening. Same vehicle except for the nameplate (we used to call it "badge engineering" when the British sports car manufacturers did it), plus a few "luxury" add-ons. The Toyota payback at $5/gallons was 2-3 years, while the Lexus was 40-50 years (the premium for the Lexus hybrid is much much greater than for the Toyota, even though it's the same engine setup in both.

Where can I do a celebrity athlete endorsement? What's that, OGBO isn't an athlete, much less a celebrity? No, you can't mean that!

12:50 p.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill--I've heard about the splitering problems with carbon-fiber poles...I've only used the aluminum ones, but I can imagine that would be a pain in the ass to try to field repair.

I was referring to a new type of carbon-fiber structure I saw a few months back in Popular Science. There's a picture and short description of the design here:

I read that the design can be fractured in multiple places without the worry of splintering, and, for a specified shape/volume, this stucture is both lighter and stronger than a comparable design made of traditional "sheet" carbon-fiber. Once the manufacturing process becomes automated, prices will come least in theory. As it stands now, however, you're completely correct that I underestimated the cost. What, maybe $5,000 for just the set of poles is probably where were're standing right now? Even at that price, the high-end brands could market it as a limited-edition, hand-built fortress designed for the most elite of the elite...meaning 500 sold to the richest yuppies out there, and BOOM, a new market is born. Get that celebrity endorsement, and watch the envy begin.

I also re-thought the screw-type poles idea, and I can imagine icing over in cold conditions, effectively locking the threads together, being a major issue.

And if I somehow get this tent built myself, before the big-guys beat me to it, I'd be honored to have you endorse it, Bill. I might only be able to pay you Ramen noodles and fabric scraps, however.

Oh yeah, and Fred, what about this? Take an external frame backpack; one, say, made of a kevlar-reinforced polymer like my old Coleman Peak-1 pack, and one-off the frame. If one were to modify this frame to included segmented, air-tight chambers filled with highly pressurized helium--perhaps imagined like a big, cut-up piece of reinforced bubble wrap reassembled to shape--could this work? Or would the helium somehow diffuse through the plastic over time? And why am I putting all these ideas in a public forum when I should keep them private and patent them? Well, at least there's a time/date on this post...

1:06 p.m. on May 16, 2008 (EDT)
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A big issue with screw together anything (especially when the mating surfaces are alloy) is galling the threads by trapping some abrasives in them or cross-threading them. Of course if money were no object you COULD mold the threads into the CF before you cured it ....

Want high tech? Cut the CF stuff and go for Boron - although it is a bit expensive - this is a Boron/CF flyrod - -

Want real fun? Get a CF splinter stuck in your finger - rest assured it WILL snap off just below the surface and give you a nasty infection.

Interesting frame design - wonder how irritating the whisteling is while going down a hill? At Boeing when we were working on the V22 we were using a pull-trusion process to make composite tubes (ours were CF/Kevlar) - Brent Goldsworthy (the guy who worked with Zora Duntov on the first Corvette prototype) of Goldsworth Engineering (Torrance, Ca) was a genius with this stuff - most extrusions shove material through a die - his method pulled it through (more consistent, better fiber alignment, less waste) - however - once cured when they shatter you could still get splinters (that's how I found out about the infection fun). Goldsworthy was the one who figured out that composite transverse leaf springs on the vette would weigh less and perform better - and longer - than normal steel ones.

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