The following is a Q&A session between myself and Evan Cabodi, the founder and owner of Black Rock Gear, based out of Washington USA.
I have been a fan of BRG for many years now, know an insane amount of fellow hikers that also love them, and I have been super proud to a sponsored hiker of BlackRockGear.
Black Rock Gear is introducing their very first pack, a rather impressive leap forward for a company that has only made garments and accessories, and they have brought forth an amazingly beautiful and functional pack right from the get-go.
Below is a short interview that took place with Evan and myself, it will give you a bit of insight into how BRG operates, approach being a cottage industry company, and of course details about their brand new packed called the “BlackRock Day Pack“. It might not be something for everybody, no pack out there is, but all indications are this is going to be one really amazing pack.
Let the interview being:
Hey Evan. So with the introduction of your new ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ you have taken a slight turn in your product line-up, away from just building accessory gear and now into the rather already-flooded market of day packs. The pictures I have already seen from it look amazing. As you know I am a huge fan of front panel loaders, having spent three years building a full size front panel loader for long distance hikers that is now on the market.
There has been a trend over the last decade away from front panel loading packs. What was the driving force, for you as the pack designer, to introduce the very first BRG pack as a front panel rather than a traditional top entry pack?
We wanted to build an all around great day pack that allowed you to really make use of all the space top to bottom.
A bag small enough you always want it with you yet big enough to take all your needed gear.
Our fully hinged front panel loader gives you access to every inch of space inside the bag.
Our big mouth zipper gives you the quick on the go top entry access.
So in one bag we’ve given you two styles to make use of as it fits for your application.
In looking at the specs of this pack it appears you are really trying to introduce a super tough, well engineered – yet not over engineered – pack that will cater to folks looking to stuff a whole lot of gear into a day pack. The use of molly straps sort of puts it outside the typical scope of most hikers, trail runners, bikers and the other set of outdoor sports that I thought made up most of the BRG buyer market.
What has been the idea of going with internal molly straps?
What about them is going to speak to your core and loyal customers to break outside the norm and go with a pack with molly straps?
We wanted a light rugged bag that does It is job well. With the BlackRock Sport pack I think we’ve created a streamlined pack that speaks to our core group.
It is lightweight at 500 grams but is strong and durable using 420d ripstop material throughout.
The bag incorporates three strips of what we call non-conventional molly strapping.
They add very little weight to the bag, but give you some really great options for storing gear throughout the vertical relief of the pack. With each pack you also get two yards of cut to fit double sided velcro and ten zip ties.
That connection pack gives everyone the ability to start organizing the inside of their pack as they see fit. Whether you are strapping in that zoom lens or fitting an oversized fishing pole, the velcro “Rip-Tie” allows you to semi-permanently adhere odd shaped gear to the exact spot where you want it to ride. Zip Ties give you a more permanent solution to strapping in cases that may hold first aid kits or fixing a sheath for that knife or flashlight where It is easy to access through the top zipper.
If you look at our shoulder strap design, you will also see that we’ve extended the volume of the pack above the shoulder straps. This added volume is made useable because of the internal molly straps. You can literally “float” items anywhere within the back panel of the pack and place your most important items so that they ride up high in the pack.
You mention storing camera and electronic equipment within the product description. Does the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ have padded walls? For instance, a lot of discussions I have read recently about backpackers wanting to take their very high end camera and video equipment out into the backcountry have been looking for packs and bags that have 3D mesh lining inside to help product their gear. Does the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ have any internal padding/inner to help protect this type of sensitive equipment?
The pack was originally designed to safely organize and carry high end equipment into the backcountry or just around town.
The back panel is the only padded portion within the pack and is the only area needed to safely hold your gear.
While hiking you need two things to safely pack your gear. You need protection from the elements and a place for the gear to essentially live or pack without being crushed by other items in the pack.
Using our internal molly strap you can float those critical pieces safely in place allowing you to tote around your electronics without damaging them while hiking on the trail.
Combined with water repellent shell material and water resistant zippers the pack keeps things dry, dust free and firmly in place while on the go.
So tell me about the fabric you are using for this new pack. I know that BRG typically does not going into great detail about the fabric of gear you make, but what are you willing to share about the fabric you have selected for the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘?
The fabric for this pack needed to look great and hold up to a lot of abuse. We initially prototyped a couple of bags from much lighter 70 denier material but quickly decided we needed something two or three times as thick and durable. In the end we went with a 420 denier ripstop that had a solid PU coating and a beautiful diamond ripstop weave. What we really liked was the deep sheen and beautiful black color the fabric came in. This heavy material also provides just that much more protection and should really hold up for years.
We really wanted a pack that everyone would add to their collection and have 20 years down the road. I have still got a couple very old packs that I still use for a number of things. The value of a pack that gets used for years and years is just priceless when compared to the overall value of the bag and I think this pack and the materials used hit the mark.
As you know I am a hiker that has enjoyed pushing the envelope of things the last few years, it is what has drawn the two of us together. The ongoing quest to push and push and push until you finally realize you have pushed too far and than do the sensible thing of taking a step back and calling it good. For many hikers that tend to follow my articles, the movement of hiking with sub-5-pound backpacks has just become the norm these days. A lot of us have sort of moved away from traditional backpack and moved more into the world of fastpacking. This, of course, has spawned an entirely new market for the outdoor industry. Companies like Ultimate Direction, Salomon, Ultraspire and dozens of other companies now have entire product lines designed for the trail runners that are using a pack in the 8-28 liter range. The ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ is right at that ‘sweet spot’ in volume size, at 25 liters. Is this part of the target market you are going for with the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ or is the focus more on the day-to-day around town kind of pack?
We wanted to design that perfect day pack as our first backpack on the market.
The super ultra-light crowd could definitely make use of our pack, but I don’t think It is the direction we pushed with this initial design. I feel that until we make that great all around pack we won’t know what to design for those really niche markets and right now the 5lb backcountry ultralight multi-day hikers will most likely stick with their single wall cuben fiber top entry packs, or go with something like your multi-day front loader pack.
Is going from being accessory gear company to now making backpacks something that is showing where you are trying to take the BRG company over the next few years or is the addition of the new backpack more of a personal adventure?
The pack has been on my list for years. I think it really puts the “Gear” into Black Rock Gear and is definitely a direction I’d like to push.
We’ve been making hats and mitts for years now and we are always working to come up with new pieces of gear with a design and functionality that is unique to us. I feel that our BlackRock Sport Pack is just that, It is your everyday pack with a unique and functional design.
I would love to expand off our day pack and head a number of directions with it. I could see doing everything from something ultralight to something in the multi-day range. No matter what direction we go it will always start with building a quality piece of kit that lasts for years.
When I see gear that uses waterproof zippers it typically tends to lead me to feel that they backpack itself is highly water resistance. In order for this to happen though, as I am sure you know well enough, it is more than just about zippers and fabric, such as was discussed above, but it also requires other details in the making of the packs, such as bonded seams, using smaller threading and so forth. What steps have you taken with the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ to make it as water resistant as possible – after all, if you are including using it for camera, laptops, and other electrical goods, making sure that folks that live in the PNW and rain forests such as were I live in the Redwoods of Northern California – help assurance us that it is not ‘just about’ using a waterproof zipper.
Our pack is meant to be that rugged outer layer, that shell that sheds most everything it can from what you store inside. From dirt and dust to rain and snow. Waterproof zippers were a logical choice when combining it with such a heavy duty coated fabric and trying to make it great for any condition. We stayed away from taped seams for long term durability but stuck to traditional build techniques that seal out all but numerous days worth of constant rain.
We also had to weigh the durability of the zipper and the overall amount of zipper on the pack with what style we chose. A top entry bag has the advantage of a very minimal amount of access to the inside of the pack. With a fully hinged front flap and a huge wide mouth top zipper we needed as durable and water resistant zippers as we could get. The bag allows you to get into it from either side or the top but doesn’t sacrifice the weather resistance you need keep what’s inside dry.
Two last questions for you Evan.
First, BRG over the years has usually had a small inventory and supply of their products. Are you looking at making just a small run of these and them moving into them the “Past Editions” section of your website and product catalog, or are you looking to keep the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ as a main product and keeping it in stock for the long run?
I would like to think of Black Rock Gear as that craft manufacturer. Locally made gear designed by outdoor enthusiasts for outdoor enthusiasts.
We not only design and use our own gear, but we listen to our customers and build items that people want. From our single layer super ultralight shell mitts to our hammock pillow, we’ve played around with numerous pieces that sometimes stay in our line up and sometimes work their way out. Some pieces will come back while others were a one time deal.
With the Black Rock Gear Sport backpack I would like to permanently bring a pack to our line up from year to year. We’ve got a couple hundred day packs built up with more lined up in the queue. Over time I’m sure elements of the bag will change, but I would simply love to have, make and sell a very well loved and sought after backpack. Something that has the same following as the Black Rock Hat.
Lastly, as you know better than anybody, the folks that consider themselves BRG collectors and lovers know all too well just how well crafted all of your gear is, and always has been, made. BRG is known for making some of the finest and best made gear. Along with this has always come the understanding that buying hand made gear from a cottage company means having the gear priced a bit beyond what the average person tends to want to pay – it is a niche market after all and that always justifies the price. So my question is has to do with the price-point of the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘, which as of the initial launch of the pack is $250 USD. For a lot of folks that is more expensive than what they pay for their long distance, huge size, thru-hiker backpacks that are three to five times the volume capacity. It is also double the price for what most fastpack hikers pay for a pack in the 20’ish liter volume range. Speak to those of us who are long time, or even somewhat newer, BRG fans on the pricing of the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘.
Quality gear made locally has always been our goal. Our pack is well designed, well thought out and will simply lasts for years.
It is more than just designed in the USA, It is cut, sewn and assembled here and when you purchase one of our bags you know It is going to support the local economy.
You also know that if anything goes wrong with it, you’ve got support just down the street. We pride ourselves in making sure our customers get the best quality service and can easily get gear fixed or replaced.
Well Evan, thank you for being willing to answer these questions and take the time away from being out in the shop. It means a lot to me and I am sure those folks that are fellow BRG lovers are going to enjoy hearing a bit from you and the thinking behind this new pack!