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Rivendell Mountain Works

Maker Series :: Rivendell Mountain Works

by , February 16, 2017

One of the original heritage brands in carry, and creators of a backpack icon, Rivendell Mountain Works has a proud history behind it. Founded in 1971, RMW introduced the influential Jensen Pack to the carry world, and continues to craft bags by hand in the US, following a micro-cottage industry model. Production and sewing takes place across a number of home workshops, with a key focus on simple and durable designs.  Eric Hardee is an important figure in RMW’s history, having helped to revitalize the brand after the original business ceased in 1981. Eric knows the RMW production process inside out, so we asked him to share his expert insights as a maker…  

How does your brand/process speak to the notions of “craft?”

Above all else I hold the principles of simplicity and clean design as the cornerstones of my design ethos. Figuring out how to make the packs as functional as possible, within this context, has a lot to do with the craft. Functional items are unlike art objects in that the form and function need to be blended so that the whole design has synergy. Yvon Chouinard described this paradigm in the 1971 Chouinard catalog. He said “…there must be one shape that will ultimately work best; by best I mean it is the most functional, with the least material, with the smoothest lines, with strength and lasting qualities.” I believe that he was speaking directly to the design of the lost arrow piton but that philosophy can be applied to a broad range of products and I have always held that phrase as a guiding light.

Above all else I hold the principles of simplicity and clean design as the cornerstones of my design ethos.”

What are your tools of the trade?

48″ Empire aluminum ruler

24″ Hayes aluminum ruler

Alvin, 30/60/90 plastic, layout triangle

Leather marking tools (2)

Masonite cutting templates (2)

Alvin, 45 degree, plastic, layout triangle

X-Acto knife

Allway snap knife

Allway 100pc blade refills

White Stabilo pencils

Mundial 10″ Scissors

HSGM 70W Hot Knife

Weller 40W Hot Knife

Atlas thermal gloves

Background, 1/8″ tempered glass, 60″ x 72″ cutting surface on ¾” white plywood

Rivendell Mountain Works

What spurred you to make stuff? Tell us the story.

I have often wondered if that is one of the traits contained in one’s DNA. Maybe so, but perhaps it is more influenced by people and the surrounding environment, in one’s formative years. I do know that I like to make things and derive a certain level of satisfaction from doing that. I think that sentiment is shared throughout a range of professions, but I see a significant difference between people who formulate ideas and those who produce tangible goods. I’m not suggesting that one is more important than the other or that they are mutually exclusive. Rather that those divergent skills are often not apportioned equally. I am grateful and content to have the maker’s DNA.

Rivendell Mountain Works

What keeps you excited about making stuff?

It has a lot to do with variety. The repetitive tasks in many manufacturing jobs can get a little stale. One way to avoid those doldrums is to embrace customization. That serves well to keep the process interesting, the customers like the personal touch and that is a win-win scenario.

“The repetitive tasks in many manufacturing jobs can get a little stale. One way to avoid those doldrums is to embrace customization.”

Rivendell Mountain Works

One handy tip or learning gleaned along your journey?

Have simple and easy-to-make marking tools. I usually have a variety of leather scrap around, and leather is a versatile tool base for marking parts during production. Its beauty is that you can cut it quite precisely to get an accurate tool and it gives you a firm edge for drawing lines. The thicker leather can be used as a cutting guide; for prolonged use nothing is better than masonite (tempered) templates but it is difficult to cut accurately unless you happen to have access to a CNC router.

“Have simple and easy-to-make marking tools.”

Walk us through your creative process…

I start with two questions: Is the type of product poorly represented in the market?

Can I make the product significantly better or different than what is currently available?

If both answers are yes, then I give myself the green light to work on the idea.

Rivendell Mountain Works

What other makers inspire you?

The really good tent makers of the industry have continued to inspire me. Tent design is as close to a combination of art and craft as any that I can imagine, and I find it inspiring and uplifting. A few examples would include the Sierra Designs “Mariposa”, The North Face “Oval Intention”, also Jack Stephenson’s beautifully engineered tents and some of the Walrus tent line. Bob Gillis and Bill Moss also stand out as giants in the industry.

“Tent design is as close to a combination of art and craft as any that I can imagine, and I find it inspiring and uplifting.”

What’s your all-time favorite RMW piece? What keeps filling you with pride?

The Jensen Pack is really our flagship product. But in light of my previous answer, I have to state that the “Bombshelter” tent was my favorite RMW design, even though we do not currently make it. I am lucky enough to have one in good condition, that I use sometimes, and it has that synergy that I was talking about earlier. It is hard to beat a well-designed shelter.

Rivendell Mountain Works Jensen Pack

What lies ahead for the “maker movement?”

Artisans and craftspeople are all better connected in this modern era of communication, and this facilitates cross-pollination, creativity and diversity. “Vintage” gear had a nice renaissance recently but the niche that has yet to bloom fully is local made goods. I think this is the wave of the future. Locally grown food has become a huge seasonal niche and locally made goods could become a significant player as people begin to pay more attention to community and supporting like-minded business. We’ll see. Who knows?

“Artisans and craftspeople are all better connected in this modern era of communication, and this facilitates cross-pollination, creativity and diversity.” 

Rivendell Mountain Works

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