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Triple Aught Design shop visit :: San Francisco, CA

by , July 14, 2012

As you know, we previously tested Triple Aught Design’s FAST Pack Litespeed Backpack, and gave it some seriously high marks (“…my favorite backpack in my vast personal collection…”).  Well since then, Mike (who heads up the Marketing duties over at TAD) and I have stayed in touch.  We write back and forth regularly.  The banter ranges from thoughts on tactical gear, to our travels, to our respective better halves, and some jokes in between.  I mentioned to Mike that I’d be stopping through San Francisco as part of the tail end of my girlfriend’s birthday celebration in Big Sur, CA.  The idea came up for a visit to TAD HQ in the the city and to bring the Carryology community in as well.  Mike was stoked on the thought…even though it was on a Monday when they’re working, but closed to the public.  One quick BART ride later, I end up at the Triple Aught Design shop in Hayes Valley.  Peeking in the front shop window at 11 AM, I see zero movement within the store.  I call Mike, and he tells me he’s on his way from his desk in the back to let me in the front door.  Ten minutes go by.  No lights, no visible movement.  He calls me back.  Ends up he can’t let me in.  Because I’m at the wrong TAD location.

The Hayes Valley TAD location is a boutique shop among other cool boutiques, in a killer little neighborhood/shopping district of SF.  If you’re ever in SF, I recommend checking out this little pocket of the city for a relaxed few hours.  A cool feel to it.  Fortunately there was a Blue Bottle coffee just a few hundred feet away just down an alley, and that dose of caffeine fueled me to follow Mike’s navigational directions over to the Dogpatch TAD HQ location.  Within 45 minutes via train, I’m at the proper stop, the shop is a quick 2 minute walk from here.

Even though the front gate is closed and there isn’t a big showy storefront display, it isn’t hard to figure out that I’m at the right address, even with my limited knowledge of this particular area of the city. The Toyota FJ Cruiser (which I later found out is owned by Patrick Ma, owner of TAD) all done up in off-road TAD-style trim and the BMW Enduro R1200GS(?) motorcycle are clear giveaways that I’ve found it… even without visually spotting the steel water-jet/laser cut TAD GEAR sign hanging above the massive garage door entrance.

I call Mike to let him know I’m finally here at the correct location, and with an audible *clink* of alloy on alloy from behind the metal curtain, the door begins to rise.

This is the first time I have met Mike in person, despite our many conversations over email.  He is friendly as Hell, always smiling, great attitude.  We quickly walk through the storefront, meant for customers to browse the products on display, try them on, test them out, and ultimately make a purchase at the register.

Everything is displayed simply and tastefully.  Emphasis on the product. (Above translation, Latin to English: “fortune favors the bold”, TAD’s motto).

The elephant in the room is Patrick Ma’s modified Toyota Land Cruiser, right in the middle of the shop floor, behind some mannequins outfitted in TAD apparel.  The Land Cruiser is awesome, I could’ve stared at it all day.

There’s also a one-person vertical climbing wall next to a giant TAD banner.  I imagine customers and employees use the wall regularly.  There is a lot for the eyes to take in.

We breeze right past it all, through and underneath of the winter camouflage net (shown on the left in the image below) which separates the storefront from the TAD HQ command center behind.

Into the belly.

Back behind the curtain… the coolest stuff ever.  So many cool gadgets, toys, items of desire, tools, machines, a scooter, prototypes, tool chests, bins, raw materials… gear.  And two floors of it.  I want to live in this shop.

First thing, we go up the stairs, where several employees are going about their daily duties at their desks.  Mike walks me through several items within TAD’s apparel collection which is hanging on racks behind the work bench we post up at.  From the pants, to the shorts, to the shirts, to the jackets, and more.  Folks, when I initially discovered Triple Aught Design, I was interested in their carry products and the accessories that went with them.  Their backpacks, their messenger, their pouches, patches, etc.  I can now say these are some of, if not the nicest, items of clothing I’ve ever seen.  Everything is considered.  A subtle blend between everyday clothing (do I say “fashion” here?) and outdoor/tactical ability.  Everything, down to the last stitch (or lack thereof in terms of a stitch in some cases), has a purpose.  Their packs are amazing, their clothing… perfect.  I’m in love with one or two of their jackets and I must have one.  Soon enough…  Waterproof, ergonomic fit, detail-oriented features and functions, extremely durable.  Mind… blown.  Check out their clothing and don’t hesitate to make a purchase when you see something you like.  It won’t let you down, guaranteed.  Plus, they may only be available for a few hours or less before loyal TAD fans purchase them all up into product extinction.  This is no joke; when it’s gone, it’s gone.  They’ll bring back customer favorites season by season, but there are a large percentage of products that only have one product run, then they’re officially gone.  Sometimes you’ll see some of the highly sought after TAD gear show up on eBay for twice the original price (or more), due to the demand.

So after the detailed apparel tour, Mike introduces me to some of the staff upstairs before we head back downstairs to meet the rest of the folks.  All great people with great attitudes.  Downstairs, he walks me directly over to Dan, their full-time Industrial Designer and the head of bag/pack development (Patrick does oversee all TAD products/projects).

Dan, Mike, and I discussed some packs that TAD may or may not be working on, or refining, or maybe not at all.  I’ll never tell.  As usual, I offer suggestions, bag designer to bag designer… and Dan has already thought of every single one of them, plus 300 variations of that idea. Dan personally tests each of the pack prototypes, loading them up with heavy weights and hiking for miles and miles to ensure proper comfort, fit, and functionality.  He mentioned something similar to loading up 30 lbs and hiking 7 miles “just the other day”, to test one of their packs’ suspension system.  I could be wrong with the weight or miles, but you get the idea. Note the BMW motorcycle gas tank on the design table in the photo below.

Point blank, Dan is very talented at what he does.  If he ever needs a hand with collaborating or needs an extra hand if he ever gets too busy, it sure would be a pleasure to lend a hand to the TAD design process (hint, hint, Dan).  To retain confidentiality I can’t say anything about what I saw in Dan’s design area but I will say what I saw Dan working on was amazing.

One more note on Dan and the bag design… TAD has in-house prototyping for their bags and apparel.  Dan, the designer and the Pattern-Maker/Sample-Maker are within 20 feet of each other.  This is clutch. Great design is all about refining.  And when your prototyping can be completed within hours, with some careful design direction and revisions, you’re bound to create gold.  Case in point with TAD.

After goodbyes with Dan, now allowing him to continue on with the refinements and measurements he was making before we interrupted him, we head over to Patrick at his gadget-cluttered desk.  Well, not cluttered actually; every item is neatly organized in its own little spot, there are just so many variously colored objects of all shapes and sizes, including the USS Enterprise, with lights.

We catch Patrick working on a giant Wacom Cintiq monitor, completing the finishing touches on a TAD knife.  I couldn’t see very much of it, but even if I could, I’d have to keep the details confidential – sorry TAD fans.

Patrick is a great guy and he has a serious passion for gear of all kinds.  Straight up gear head.  I love it.  He told me TAD’s first product started with a pouch and to this day the brand is very much centered around the carry products like the backpacks/messenger/pouches, even though their apparel and accessories aren’t just afterthoughts.  Patrick and I spoke about quality products and the desire to have them in our lives.  “Buy it once, cry about it once”.  We discussed a recent study about primates and their tools, the fact that they keep them for years for future use.  How even though they can remake these tools easily, they become attached to these specific items.  How this idea is embedded into us, and we should embrace it rather than be upset about it.  Let’s not be upset about buying something, or desiring (lusting) after a man-made product.  It is better to buy a quality tool or item, keep it forever, be prideful of it, rather than own a similar, cheaper version of the same item that will most certainly fail on you.

We could’ve easily talked through the rest of the afternoon, but we both realized in one specific moment of the conversation that we were talking and talking, and his and my time were limited it was better that we save it until next time.  Plus, then he could get back to work on that sweet TAD blade he was designing on the Cintiq.

Mike took me back through the winter camouflage net to the storefront, where I snapped some closing shots of the product showroom Patrick’s Land Cruiser.

With that, Mike and I went out to grab lunch, a spot real close by to the TAD HQ.  Wish I remembered the name of the spot, as the food was great, especially with a local SF beer to wash it down.  Mike is a great guy to talk with; new topics included cars, design, and cracking more jokes.  If I recall correctly, Mike even insisted on covering the lunch bill, which is way more than I expected.  It’s on me next time.  All in all, I think I easily spent 2 hours browsing, drooling over the shop and the products, and talking with the team.

Thank you Mike, Patrick, Dan, and all the rest of the Triple Aught Design employees who let me and all the Carryology readers into their shop on their normal day off from the public.  Next time I’m in San Francisco, which likely will be soon, I’ll be back to pay a friendly visit.  And to drool over the Land Cruiser and TAD gear some more.

P.S. Stay tuned for a Road Test review of the Triple Aught Design FAST Pack EDC Backpack coming up in a couple of weeks.

P.P.S. While I was in San Francisco, I also visited another brand’s HQ…a brand called Mission Workshop.  Ever heard of them? Another one of our very favorite carry companies.

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