- Buyer's Guide
5 Key Elements :: Designing the Outlier X Boreas Ultrahigh Travel System
In recent times, Outlier have attracted a cult-like following thanks to their limited editions of super-tech carry, while Boreas have etched out a rep as trailblazers in the adventure sector. Both brands nailing considerable innovation, though in distinctly different fields. So the idea of a collaboration may come as a surprise to some – we kinda got the scoop at OR but had to remain tight-lipped – but trust us, this one’s an example of perfect symmetry.
The new Outlier X Boreas Ultrahigh Travel System marries the lightweight and hard-wearing Outlier Ultrahigh Rolltop Duffle with the breathability of the Boreas Modular Super-Tramp suspension, allowing the duffle to convert into a backpack. But it stretches a step further, adding an all-black version of the Boreas Hopper daypack, so you can tailor your carry to a slew of travel scenarios. Eager to learn how the collab came about, we delved into the design details with Outlier…
Element 1: Non-woven Dyneema
This whole crazy thing really got started a few Outdoor Retailers back when the Outlier team walked into the Boreas booth to say hi, and suddenly Tae and Todd were like “Don’t move, we’ve got something to show you!” A few minutes later they came back with a couple crazy packs made from Cubic Tech’s non-woven Dyneema.
At that point we knew the material pretty well, we’d been fetishizing it for years, at first from a distance and then through a series of collaborations with Hyperlite Mountain Gear. We were actually pretty well along the way towards making our own designs with the stuff, so we quickly fell into a deep discussion about its various properties and how to deal with them at a factory level.
And what freaking material it is. It’s a descendent of a material Cubic Tech developed that revolutionized America’s Cup sailing in the 90’s and it’s about as close to an alien technology as you can get in the world of fabric. Cubic won’t let anyone into their facility down in Mesa Arizona, so who knows what goes on there, but we know a decent amount about their output. A non-woven composite of BoPET and Dyneema brand Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, aka the world’s strongest fiber. We’re particularly fond of a version of it that also includes a woven black 150 denier polyester fabric on the face that helps protect the BoPET. We call it ultrahigh either due to that ultra high molecular weight stuff, or because our original salesman always smelled precisely like DMT. (Oddly he’s no longer with the company…)
Now while Dyneema may be the world’s strongest fiber, we aren’t really interested in making the world’s strongest bag. What we care about is getting lightweight, keeping a high level of water resistance and using Dyneema to amplify the beautiful crunch and texture that BoPET brings. And then there is one of the least understood characteristics of it all, the incredible dimensional stability you get from a non-woven composite of Dyneema and BoBET. More than anything what sets it off from most traditional bag fabrics is how little stretch and give there is; in some ways it actually behaves more like a hardshell luggage material. This really comes together when you start lugging the stuff around, because the material is so dimensionally stable it is also a lot more stable on the body, making for a far nicer carry.
All this stuff doesn’t come cheap of course, but who wants to make cheap crap anyway?
Element 2: The Super-Tramp Suspension
The second massively key element of this travel set is Boreas’ Super-Tramp suspension, so I asked Todd and Kenzie to write up a bit about this incredible piece of gear:
“We created the Super-Tramp suspension system as a way to enable maximum airflow behind an active back. The design was based around this concept of wanting to create a ventilation system that was practical for multiple uses, whether it be commuting via bicycle or trail running.
“After the success of the Super-Tramp suspension, we had the crazy idea of making a new modular version allowing the user to swap out the suspension between different packs, depending on activity or weather. The Bootlegger was thus born. The Bootlegger is a 3-pack modular system with an independent Super-Tramp suspension, made to slip onto the right pack for whatever adventure may come next.
“…the Super-Tramp suspension system [is] a way to enable maximum airflow behind an active back.”
“Now we have the ability to use the modular Super-Tramp suspension on a multitude of projects, such as this Outlier collaboration. The modular suspension made it easy to convert an Outlier product (such as a rolltop duffle bag) into a lightweight pack with great ventilation. In a way, you could look at this project as a “bootlegged” Ultrahigh Rolltop Duffle.”
Element 3: The Rolltop
So yeah, what about that rolltop? And what is it doing on a duffle bag anyway?
It’s a good question and one we ask ourselves from time to time. Traditionally you find rolltops mainly in dry bags, but we use them quite differently at Outlier. In a way perhaps you can look at the first three Outlier bag projects (the Doublebag, the Ultrahigh Duffle and the Ultrahigh Backpack) as experiments in exploring the rolltop form.
In particular with the Duffle we really honed in on one aspect of rolltops, expansion. Or more accurately the ability to elegantly yet dramatically expand and contract without compromising functionality. In a way I guess we looked at the rolltop duffle as an antidote of sorts to a particular bag phenomenon, the bag that demands to be filled.
Most luggage has a strange gravity of sorts, bags want to be filled with stuff. It’s most noticeable in hardshell luggage, I’ve rarely encountered a hardshell that wasn’t filled to the brim. These bags almost need to be filled to function properly. Your average rollie bag gets packed horizontally (aka in landscape mode) while flat on the ground. Then when zipped up they are rotated 90° twice, once into vertical or portrait orientation, and then again off the ground into standing position so they can be dragged around. All this shifting means the contents need to be packed extremely securely in order not to shift, and despite the presence of various strap systems and whatnot inside, this generally means you need to pack the bag full just to prevent your items from centrifuging into a jumbled mess.
“In a way I guess we looked at the rolltop duffle as an antidote of sorts to a particular bag phenomenon, the bag that demands to be filled.“
Backpacks and shoulder bags are a bit better. Because they are packed close to the same orientation they are carried, they can usually work pretty well when half packed. But still every bag user knows, an empty bag has a gravity of sorts, these things rarely remain empty. Have you ever seen a backpacker with a half full bag? I’m sure one exists, but I’ve yet to see them.
With the Ultrahigh Rolltop Duffle, we wanted to create a bag that not only functioned incredibly well when only a 1/4 or 1/2 full, but also actively encouraged the user to pack lighter. The less you put into the bag the more you can roll it closed. And the more you roll it down, the tighter and more compact a package you create. Can’t speak for you but we find it a psychologically rewarding experience. If on first pack you can’t get it compact enough, pull some shit out and try again! You probably need less stuff than you think anyway…
Element 4: A System of Travel
We’re persistently looking at our products and figuring out how to make them better. And with the original Ultrahigh Duffle, we really wanted to make it work better as a backpack. In other words, we needed to work with Boreas and make it Super-Tramp compatible.
The original duffle actually had a pretty complicated system by which it could be turned into a backpack. But it required a second Double Action Strap and honestly was a third order function, a hack if you will. Then we realized that the bottom of the duffle was nearly exactly the size of Boreas’ Super-Tramp. With a bit of modification we could pretty easily make a Super-Tramp compatible duffle.
The beauty of it all is not just that it created an easy way to transform a one-shoulder duffle bag into a two-shoulder pack, but that it also enabled creating a true travel system. The duffle becomes the base camp in a sense. Since the opening expands and opens super wide you can basically use it as a lightweight and portable trunk. Great when you are living out a hotel room or car trunk, but not so great when you just need a light day bag for running around. Add in the Super-Tramp though and a whole world of possibilities opens up. Just pop the frame off and with any of Boreas’ five Super-Tramp compatible bags you are good to go.
We zeroed in on the Hopper as our personal favorite of the bunch; it’s got a really dialed-in combination of size, quick access and balance that makes it a perfect day bag. Then we got to work convincing Boreas to make a debadged and murdered out version of the Hopper that we could include in the travel system. The Outlier way means no visible logos on the exterior of our clothes or bags. And when it comes to gear, what better color is there than black? Not black with pops of color, but layers upon layers of black. In fact the Boreas team took it a step further and blacked out the Super-Tramp for us; each Ultrahigh Travel System comes complete with a Super-Tramp blacked out down to the steel and aluminum frame.
Element 5: Collaboration
I guess this really should be element one. Building projects inside your own studio is one thing; making them in collaboration with another studio on the other side of the country is a whole other story.
One of Outlier’s first collaborations was actually with Boreas’ sister company Alite, and it still ranks as one of our better experiences. Too many collaborations are really just exercises in reskinning objects. We always try and get as deep into the object as possible and do collaborations that result in true functional changes, but honestly we’d pretty much given up on collaborating until we started talking to Boreas about this project.
What makes Boreas different and such a joy to work with is their intense commitment to pushing the production process to the limits in order to develop better products. It’s one thing to innovate at the prototyping level, something they do damn well, but it’s another thing entirely to innovate at the factory level and Boreas does that better than anyone we’ve worked with. The net result, the best Outlier collaboration to date.
“Too many collaborations are really just exercises in reskinning objects. We always try and get as deep into the object as possible and do collaborations that result in true functional changes…”
As for what they think about working with us, well here is what they have to say:
“We’ve been long-time friends and fans of what Outlier has been doing in both the clothing and the carry realm. It only seemed natural that we would eventually work together on a project, both being companies that are creating our own paths in our respective product fields.
“We feel that both brands create minimal and sleek products that are functional and aesthetically intriguing. We visited Outlier earlier this year and were fortunate to get into all the features of the collaboration, down to the small details, with lots of strong energy and ideas. After that meeting, we knew that we would be able to move forward with the collab bag and create a great product that both Outlier and Boreas followers would love.”