Thursday, 30 June 2016

One Planet Gear Talk from 2013

Back in late 2013 Pinnacle Outdoors in Little Bourke St arranged for a talk from Australian outdoors gear designer and manufacturer Andrew King of One Planet 

The small audience drew a number of interesting characters:  a budding canvas pack maker, an inveterate Nepal trekker, a couple interested in sleeping bags and a few others.

Andrew gave a brief history of AIKING and One Planet. We learnt about his gear making philosophy, which is very much evident in his made-to-last product,  materials traditional and new, and we were given a preview of exciting new developments.

The design and manufacture of tents, packs and sleeping bags can only be described as an applied science. However that is only a part of what is required.  Sourcing materials and equipment, design, costing, efficient manufacture, product testing and certification, distribution and marketing, warranty service are all critical activities.

One Planet serviced 4 different markets: industrial (outdoor education, schools and trekking hire organisations), specialist Antarctic and government sectors, a budget younger adventure market and a well-heeled baby-boomer sector. The product range needs to be viewed with these audiences in mind. A range of products (packs, gaiters, jackets) are actually made in the Sunshine factory and some (tents, bag shells) are sourced offshore. Bag filling, equipment repairs and bag cleaning are done in Sunshine.

Andrew mentioned the many production machines that were required, some dedicated to very specific tasks like the logo applicator and others locally manufactured bespoke to his needs.

Andrew alluded to his own tent design journey through the development from the Gunyah to the Goondie. Goondie 1, 2 and 3 person tents with 2 choices of fly fabric and 2 choices of inner (mesh or solid) are available. Andrew mentioned the UV threat to 15D sil/nylon fabrics was extreme at altitude and Tasmania with lower ozone levels. 30 days exposure might see the end of life of this fabric.  The heavier 30D polyester/PU fabric offers more resistance to UV and also the application of UV Proof products to the fabrics is recommended. Even tougher 75D fabric is used in the Wurley 1 and 3 and fly series.

Goondie 1 30D in fresh snow

Andrew mentioned some of the pack stitching challenges and where his product differentiated from European designs in harness technology. Apparently one corner/multi-seam junction has 8 layers of canvas fabric to stitch through. This process choice enhances the water-proofness of the finished item. Sourcing of materials requires casting a wide net. Much of One Planet's canvas is manufactured in Australia.  The fibre technology is key to the final water resistance. Canvas improves its water-proofness after several wetting and drying cycles.  Two rinse and dry cycles will help to train new canvas.  Andrew recommends just soaking and rinsing dirty canvas to clean it. No scrubbing or soaps.

Samples of laminated harness foam were examined by the audience as we learnt a little bit about how it was stabilised for hot Australian conditions which may be absent in European products. Unstabilised foam found in Euro kit that is kinked and left in a hot car will form a permanent crease. Stabilised foam resists this creasing. It is this "old school" level of attention to detail, and problem solving that I find impressive.

We also saw some samples of canvas and nylon with seam stitching. So some new pack materials may be in play soon.  Plastic frame terminators are also locally produced, but much other hardware is sourced overseas. A new range of travel packs is available - wheelies, hybrids and duffles.


The fine detail required for sleeping bag design was also impressive, with each baffle allocated various amounts of down depending on which part of the body it covered.  Torso and feet more than legs.  There are vertical box baffles, V baffles, zip draft tubes, neck muffs, 3D hoods, pillow slips, security pockets stitched in as well. Construction of the shell must be an art form.

The price of the higher lofts rose on a curve. Andrew was of the view that 800 Loft down was of optimum utility for price. 850+ loft down is extravagant and does not perform in proportion to its price premium but is available for Custom bags. Duck down had a price advantage and was of no lesser quality than Goose down of the same loft rating, however ducks just made less 800+ loft down.  So for 750+ down and below you can save money by choosing Duck down.  The price of down had been fluctuating at a high level for the past 18 months and some manufacturers stocks of down purchased at lower levels may be dipping. The future price of down was uncertain.  Another interesting finding was that some testing had shown Semi Rectangular shape bags were just as efficient as Mummy shapes in warmth/weight and given their extra size, offered a superior sleeping experience.
Zephyr bag

There were some exciting developments in sleeping bags.  Water resistant down is on its way in to bags. Damp down is something you won't notice on weekend trips, but when camping over longer periods may become important if you neglect or can't dry your bag each day.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was the development of a baffle-less synthetic sleeping bag.  Japanese technology had managed to fuse lofted synthetic fill in to a slab which could be attached into bag liners. Thermolink fibre has a 15% improvement in warmth allowing bag weights to be reduced by 200 grams or more. The new range of synthetic bags are lighter and you will notice less stitching. This development has required substantial international research to realise a new cost effective product.

The new Cat and Dog and Torrent rain jackets were wheeled out. Andrew recommended reproofing with TechWash and TX Direct.

Thanks to Andrew for his informative talk, and to Rod and Ian for arranging the session.

Here is an extra rant about bags and having a warm sleep:

Vale One Planet Stowaway and Booster +5 Bags
I hope the much under-rated hoodless Stowaway bag is revived some time in the future. One issue may have been that the EN 13537 testing regime is predicated on hooded bags, so it was difficult to endorse the temperature ratings.  The version I have packs down small (3L) and very light at 700g, and is rated to 0 deg.  I felt cold when using it in what was at least a -2 degrees Strathbogie frost but it can be boosted by employing the Boost +5 bag or by wearing synthetic lofted trousers and an uberlight down vest and/or hooded down jacket, not to mention a set of thermals and wool hat which are pretty much standard bag nightwear in cooler temperatures anyway.  In above zero temperatures I have felt warm enough in this bag.  I now feel pretty lucky to have purchased both these bags before production stopped.  The Boost +5 was probably one of the last available. Synthetic or down insulated clothing works well when worn in bags.  A merino hat and neck buff seal off drafts.  This is the whole point for bags under 1000g,  but it requires education of the market in that philosophy. Years ago I would sleep in the buff in snow in a 1.8kg Polar rated bag. At least it shows I could sleep warm even if my clothing had gotten wet.  If I'd known what I know now I could have saved schlepping 800g or so by wearing more in the bag. A bag can only be used when the user is resting or sleeping, while the clothing is not so restricted and has multi-functionality for the weight carried - as long it doesn't get wet when used outside the tent!

The 500g Booster Add 5 bags have a similar design to the Stowaway.  Combined with a 700g Stowaway it makes a luxurious 1200g sub-zero combo; these 2 bags combined with some down garments make for a system with much more flexibility than a conventional single bag rated to -7 degrees which worked out at about the same price (excluding clothing cost here).  Also, it may be worth noting that hooded bags can be awkward to get into and fully seal up.  A bit of humidity venting is usually needed anyway and a full seal should only be employed on the coldest occasions, such as snow camping or if camped in a frost hollow!

While I'm on this topic, fleece garments such as vests and jackets can be laid out underneath for extra ground insulation, something that similar down garments can't do.  They can also be rolled or stuffed to make quiet and warm pillows.  Shell jackets can also rolled up and placed under sleeping pads to act as pillows.  The coldest spots occur at hips and shoulders and these usually become noticeable after a few hours, so some additional 3mm or 6mm closed cell foam on or under the mattress can help keep these zones warm.

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