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Dana Gleason Interview :: The Invention of the 3Zip (Part 2)

Dana Gleason Interview :: The Invention of the 3Zip (Part 2)

by , March 28, 2014
We pick up again where we left off, with Dana and Ando geeking out on ways to carry a load more efficiently…

If you think about military application, it is towards a balanced load because while you have so much of your kit on your back, you then have your firearm and a lot of the seriously heavy stuff up front. And so, you're actually running essentially a more balanced load in that vibe. So, I can imagine a lot of parallels with the work they try and do in trying to let people walk more upright and lower energy and that sort of thing.

Oh, yeah. But then on the military side, you're also dealing with the hellish necessity of body armor.

Untitled-3(Photograph by Ken Sutherby)

I was just going to ask about that because it certainly seems like you've been coming up with a series of innovations in that area as well. Like the bolstering kind of units to stabilize around it. I was curious how different a pack is over armor versus on straight to the body and just how hard that is getting your head around?

Well, once you decide you're going to have to cope with it, there are things you can do to help. But let me tell you this, a load over body armor will never be what we would call really comfortable.

I have to tell you for all the different things we've done and that have made a huge difference, we're just making it less horrible. We're not making it great. But less horrible is a lot!

But let me tell you this, a load over body armor will never be what we would call really comfortable.


Well, it's a great point. If we think of the 3Zip, it was really bringing proper access to the bag. And so that’s definitely an innovation you can feel proud of and it feels like you’ve helped reset the game a little bit. Are there other areas like loads over body armor? Or are there other areas that you still feel less crap than they used to be but still a bit crap? The stuff you still really want to nail and get right.

Well, we've been doing stuff that has actually worked out quite well for hunters in being able to carry a pack that's daypack size and then folds open in an odd sort of way to let them carry a very large load.

Some of the other things that we play with, we're doing some more urban packs. That's more my son Dana's thing, he's designing out of Berkley, California now.

He’s been doing some pretty exciting things. He's also responsible for most of the Kletterwerks. And one of the things I have to say, the people I get to work with here on both the design front and manufacturing are unbelievably good. It's such a pleasure to come into work every morning.

We try and make it so it is not a matter of, "Do as I tell yah!" We tend to try and work together here. I do have an overall vision but the thing is much bigger than we ever really expected. It's actually several multiples bigger than Dana Design got at its peak. And we're able to improve things for a number of people.

The packs we do for wildland firefighters I'm enormously proud of. And those guys are essentially doing the moral equivalent of ditch digging or logging with a 30-pound load on their back for 16-hour days. They kind of, as we put it here, need what we do.

fire(Photograph by Matthew Irving)

The basic 3Zip design we have used as a bag style on several other military packs. Something called the Overload we're especially proud of because it goes on to what we call our NICE frame which is a pack frame.

And it should be noted that when I started building packs, the core experience that started me building packs was trying to do ski approaches on cross-country skis to some ice climbing areas in the North East using a Kelty PP5 pack frame and bag. And the Kelty pack frame for walking on trail was reasonably well conceived. For trying to ski, it was the spawn of the freakin' devil!

And I had decided that I would destroy all pack frames if in my career I was able to eliminate the pack frame as an object that people even remembered. I would have succeeded in my life goal. Unfortunately, early this century, we took all of the tricks we had discovered on doing pack adjustability, and shaping, and flexibility and for our friends...it used to be we couldn't say this but we can these days, our friends at DEVGRU or SEAL Team 6, we built a frame for carrying a piece of equipment and discovered a few months later that it worked so awesomely well, it worked better than my best big internal frame. And that was not a result I was looking for. We just lucked in to it but we've been developing it ever since. And I have to say with some degree of ambivalence that the best carrying pack I've ever built is now a pack frame. Life is so sad sometimes.

Now it is worth noting that our bigger packs that are based on the NICE frame look like internal frame packs. And the only reason I call it an external frame is it lives on the outside and it is detachable. There is no aluminium involved.

Awesome. How about taking that 3Zip design to other parts? Have you thought about duffles or kind of more travel gear, have you thought about more urban designs with the 3Zip?

Well, we're doing some larger and smaller things. And there is another 3Zip you will see in the next six or seven months. It's designed around side access instead of center access that's pretty remarkable.

there is another 3Zip you will see in the next six or seven months. It's designed around side access instead of center access that's pretty remarkable.

para(Photograph by Tim Gates)

Yeah, that's interesting. So there’s a couple more things that I really wanted to ask just around the 3Zip thing and starting to see the 3Zip concept used across some other designs. So, for instance Boreas now have one. Or, there was the CamelBak TriZip they did but they also did a ski and snowboard carry where they offset the TriZip, the vertical element of the TriZip and they set it to one side.

One thing with CamelBak, they do a military three-zip pack that they call strangely enough the TriZip and it is in fact a licensed version, more power to them.


But they then took the basic design and it's good that you saw the snowboard one with the offset zip, that was I thought some pretty good work. However, all of those packs, the Boreas one and the CamelBak ski and snowboard daypack ones, used number 8 zippers, which I don't understand at all.

Yeah, it's so true. That was also our major criticism when we were playing with them. It was like you need a 10 on these, guys. It's burly action on the zip, you need a 10.

Oh yeah. No doubt about it. Especially because the primary way zippers get abused and the worst thing you can do to a zipper is to put too big a load behind it and then try and close it and be reefing on the zipper. And that's what puts the most wear on the slider. That's what tends to tear up the stitching that connects the chain and it's a nightmare.

It’s why on our larger duffle bags for instance, we use a woven stretch material to either side of the zipper so that instead of all of the force of closure coming into the zipper, we're able to simply stretch the fabric panel the zipper is connecting.

It’s why on our larger duffle bags for instance, we use a woven stretch material to either side of the zipper so that instead of all of the force of closure coming into the zipper, we're able to simply stretch the fabric panel the zipper is connecting.

And we've seen the occasional zipper company do a little bit of stretch fabric for its zipper tape, which is a nice thought, but you're only dealing with a few millimeters of possible stretch. So it's not really enough to help things.

That makes a lot of sense. Another one we've always been curious of, we've found this picture of a Maiden Noir Snap Dragon. It's one of the most beautiful bags I've ever seen. We were all like, "Oh my God, can we bring that back please? That looks amazing!" What was the story with that?

I would love to but the Maiden Noir people were very press-conscious too. So we ended up building a few for them but we weren't able to do it in such a way between the two companies that it was able to work. But you will see some very interesting collaborations between Kletterwerks and some companies you might not expect in the next year.


Awesome, because we were going to say if you needed someone to step in to Maiden Noir, Carryology could always have a play but… We love that stuff.

I'd be glad to talk to those guys again but it also came down to they just weren't willing to charge enough for what the thing was worth.

Yeah, totally. It was tricked out. It looked amazing.

They were great! They were also a nightmare to build because we had to put a nylon substructure underneath their canvas.

Oh, wow! That sounds really interesting. One of Carryology’s main things is to really understand the active specialist carry area, really understand urban requirements, and the sweet spot for us is when you can mix work and play. You can have your carry kind of move with you and adapt and suit all the environments. And so when we hear that you are starting to play more and more with Kletterwerks collaborations and with urban stuff, that gets us really excited as well.

Now one thing I have to say, we were born as an outdoor company. And I spent probably 32 of the last 39 years concentrating on outdoor – skiing, climbing, backpacking, that kind of thing. We did a little military work because they really liked what we were doing. And I did my first stuff the SEALs took back in 1989. That was an interesting encounter because they liked a pack I was only building in red for high mountains.

SEAL(photograph by Tim Gates)

And so one fine day at Dana Design I get a phone call bucked up to me from customer service, and when I pick up the phone this military guy on the other end goes, "How do I keep the paint on?" And I had to think about it and the thing that comes out of my mouth is, "You’re painting my babies?!" The conversation actually went reasonably constructively from there.

But yeah, that's when we discovered military was an entirely different world. And they have different imperatives for the gear and how they buy things is controlled entirely by different imperatives. They're not looking for the newest every single year. They want to find something that works great and then really hope you won’t fuck it up.

But actually the urban world is just as different from outdoor as the military is. And we've been basically doing amateur sociology the last two years feeling our way into it. And it's just absolutely fascinating.

planeplane3(Tim Gates)

I think that's really exciting for all of us to hear that you guys are going to start paying more and more attention to that. That's cool.

Well there’s been lots of design work and a huge part of that is we have to work a year ahead to really work properly with those markets. So, it's quite a bit of stuff that's already been done and is going through the supply chain and I guess you’d have to call it the marketing chain.

Totally. Is there anything else we should've asked about the 3Zip? You’ve mentioned previously that the Live Wing was almost harder than the whole 3Zip concept to get right.

Well it was because one of the things we were dealing with was wanting to have a hip belt that wasn't always thrashing around when it was unbuckled. And I also wanted to have a hip belt that worked better than just a dumb little strap sewn on to the bottom of the pack.

And the whole Live Wing concept we developed for a series of packs and getting into having a belt that would just fold through 90 degrees and go vertical on the side of the pack and be hidden is something, and building it so that when the belt is pulled on, it's actually pulling the edges of the pack around you instead of just pulling the pack like a pillow up against your back. It works remarkably well. To carry a really heavy load, I've got other things we can do. But as an everyday system, I'm just as proud of that as I am of the 3Zip to tell you the truth.


We've really enjoyed this, I’m so appreciative. We really do feel like your influence on the carry world is just massive. And if you're up for it, we'd love to just every few months at least kind of touch base on something and start to share some of those insights and mistakes you've learned from and the great stories with others who are trying to design better carry or trying to buy better carry or trying to just carry better for themselves.

Well, you have really good questions and I've loved your observations. So, hey, let's do this again. Absolutely!

Oh, awesome! We’d love that. Thank you.


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