Who produces good camping and hiking equipment?

I am graduating in May with an ID degree. Before I find a job and enter the workforce, I want to take advantage of my brief freedom and take an extended trip. I plan to hike the Appalaichian Trail this summer. I want to know which design firms make outdoor products so that I can contact them. I want to know if a six month long hiking trip would be a valuable experience for a product designer.

Design firms typically don’t specialize like that… Do you mean which companies produce hiking equipment? Like The North Face? Just look around in any sporting goods store for the answer…

Don’t confuse research with design: Any trail hiker can be (and is!) valuable for trail-equipment research. Your value as a designer is the ability to synthesize appropriate marketable solutions.

That said, it’s not a bad idea to use this opp to build-up your portfolio. Bring your designer-eye and take lots of photos and a sketchbook. Consider interviewing hikers along the way regarding their equipment needs, likes and dislikes.

cg you make a good point about interviewing hikers. I think this would make the most difference if you were applying to work at one of these equipment companies…which I think would be a pretty good gig. It would be a great experience for life and work, and not many people can say they’ve done it.

As far as hiking the AT. That is not something to be entered into lightly…doing the whole thing that is. A lot of people break it into sections. I think it’s just over 2000 miles and it takes 5-7 months to do the whole shabang. I would want to have a good set of basic camping and outdoor skill before heading out on something like that. Stove lighting and maintenance pitching a tent or bivy when it raining/windy/dark and keeping warm and dry. I only say this because if you are looking for good outdoor gear, you probably don’t own a lot. The trail is well marked and there are ouposts of civilization along the way…but that’s still a lot of walking.

Who to look at:

Packs: Arcteryx, Dana Design, Osprey, Gregory
Soft clothing: Arceryx, Mtn Hardware, Patagonia
Shells (pants/jackets): Arcteryx, Mtn Hardware, Patagonia
Equipment (cooking stuff & water filter): MSR
Illumination: Black Diamond, Petzl
Tents: Mountain Hardware, North Face, Bibler (the only bivy sack to buy is from Outdoor Research, it’s basically a one man tent…if you are alone don’t carry a tent)
Sleeping bags: Marmot, North Face
Hiking boots: Asolo, La Sportiva, Technica, Vasque
Water Bottles: Nalgene (there is no other)
You should get a backcountry medical kit, Letherman Wave multi-tool, and a reliable source of fire like bic lighters…or rub some sticks together

That should get you started.

Actually, for what you are searching for, I would suggest dropping some of the IDSA members at Coleman an email. They have a growing design department in their Wichita office. The director there is a nice guy and seems to be a pretty good designer. It’s a nice office, just not exactly in the hiking capital of the world. They mainly use Rhino, 3d Studio and Solidworks for their product design.

wow…JDH…great amount of information… :wink:

i would add salewa…

JDH hit all the major firms, IMHO. A couple of points:

All the leading edge firms mentioned were originally founded by designers who were primarily mountaineers/sailors who were not satisfied with what was available on the market. Whenever a firm shifts to a financial-oriented management team, the products lose favor – I for one won’t bet my life on a product clearly designed by someone with profit margins in mind. This means in order to join and be successful in such a design group you MUST have backcountry chops. Hiking the AT in a SINGLE season without any other backcountry experience is probably just barely adequate, and will take the least amount of time, but plan to spend all your subsequent ‘free’ time field-testing in order to build credibility. Take a look at the Patagonia catalog, where the models are often staff members using their gear.

Technology often jumps ahead drastically. Cases in point are Patagonia’s adoption of Malden Mills polar fleece, Petzl’s adoption of Princeton Tech’s LED lamps, and everyone’s adoption of GoreTex. Plan on monitoring the materials companies labs like a bloodhound. If you can speak intelligently about materials in the pipeline during an interview, you’re going to be a step ahead of the clueless.

Sometimes technology and social trends make things go low-tech: the major airlines will no longer allow fuel tanks & stoves with integral tanks to be checked with baggage, even if said tank/stove is empty and dried of all fuel. This combined with the incrediblely light weight and low cost of candle/sterno-based folding stoves, means that AT through hikers have been abandoning butane/white-gas stoves. Keep you eyes & ears open when you camp, and be a sociable LISTENER and you will collect invaluable requirements info. On the AT those shelters will make it easy, off the AT there are standard towns for picking up your next set of supplies and often there is a standard place to stay; climbing at popular places like Yosemite, the Wind Rivers and the Tetons there are often well-known climbers’ base camps; sailors can be found at marinas on the Intracoastal waterway (east coast), Sausalito, Half Moon Bay, San Diego (west coast). Be able to speak about requirements or problems that are yet solved in a cover letter or interview and again, you’ll be a step ahead.