Fly-Lite (Rain Fly/Tarp)- Lightweight, Modular Hammock System in the Making
Without fail - I always hate the second prototype compared to the first. When you build the first prototype, everything is new - no expectations, just a dream coming to life via measuring, cutting, and sewing. Who cares what it looks like or if it even works, its just the start of a new creation. After the first prototype is complete you have a pretty good idea if the product is viable or if it's time to restart, you also now have a good idea of the amount of problems that you will face in developing the product. The second prototype is your first attempt at solving those problems, and it never goes as planned haha.
With the development of the Fly-Lite hammock rain fly, I have discovered many problems that need to be addressed. You see, hammocks are actually fairly tricky pieces of gear to protect.
Here are a few of the basic rain fly problems:
- The suspension systems, no matter which one you use, will always try to transport water to your hammock in a rain storm. Due to the angle and entry point it's a direct line problem every hammock camper faces.
- Every time you set up your hammock it is slightly different from the last. The trees are a little bigger or a little smaller, the distance between the trees vary slightly, the set-up height may vary, and the conditions always seem to be a little different.
- Managing the shedding of the rain is important because there are several potential contact points that could soak your hammock - if the water is not properly shed during a heavy storm you're miserable. (as many of you have experienced in typical tarps, I'm sure)
- Hammock sizes vary considerably, an effective hammock rain fly should not be dependent on the hammock size (relatively speaking) it should be versatile enough to protect a wide range of sizes/brands of camping hammocks.
- Protection vs. Weight vs. Price, every piece of gear has to address this question. What amount of protection is necessary? What weight fits our product market? What price will people pay for this product?
Define the Parameters:
The Fly-Lite in particular is going to be an ultralight rain fly for camping hammocks, firstly the Pares, Solo, and xPlor hammocks but also other popular camping hammock models. So it must do three things exceptionally well: 1) be lightweight, 2) keep you dry, 3) in your camping hammock.
When facing the "Ultralight" backpacking crowd you really have to do your research, this crowd is very particular and they know what they want. For this particular rain fly product, Weight will take precedent but Protection will be a close second.
Currently the market has products claiming "ultralight" status ranging from 4 - 12oz. Protection is easy to define but not so easy to fulfill, user should not get wet when in hammock - period, with the Fly-Lite hammock rain fly correctly deployed that is. Price is usually last for Sierra Madre Research, we want our products to excel at the best price possible but we are a high end gear company and we believe that customers want excellent products not cheap products. Problem #5 (protection/weight/price) is usually where our products start and end, this is the key question we face throughout the entire process of the product development.
Solve the Problems:
In the second prototype of the Fly-Lite I attempted to solve a few specific problems.
Length of the Product: Our Pares Hammock is nearly 11ft in length, add carabiners to that and you are looking at 11.7ft, we call this the "Max Length of Protection" or MLP. This is the "as taught as you can get the Pares Hammock" dimension, obviously it's not always set-up like this but in the occasion that it is - it must be protected! One of the keys we have found to solving the above problem #1 (water transfer) is to protect the suspension with waterproof material from the beginning - we did this successfully on the Nubé hammock shelter with Closure Sleeves. For the Fly-Lite we want similar protection as the Nubé but we need to shed some weight.
Suspending the Product: The answer to problem #2 (set-up variance) and problem #4 (hammock variance), for SMr, is to create a suspension system that works seamlessly with the hammock no matter the set-up distance. To do this we have to estimate the "Minimum Hang Distance" or MHD, this distance is the minimum distance that we believe the majority of our customers will hang their hammock. This measurement may seem insignificant but truly the entire look and performance of the product is dependent on it. For the Fly-Lite we have determined that the MHD is 9ft. To make this a reality you then have to consider the MLP in conjunction with the MHD, SMr was able to creatively solve this problem on the Nubé Hammock Shelter with the Sky Hook system. We'll be using a similar design for the Fly-Lite, this is vastly different than the rest of the products on the market and really makes SMr's design stand out. All other products pull tension from the side of the tarp to suspend, thus severely limiting your MHD to whatever the length of your tarp is, subtle but a key performance point!
Physical Product Design: This is what determines how the product looks, you may have noticed at SMr our products may look a unique, down right sexy if I do say so myself. There is a good explanation for this, we do all of our design in-house and we don't start with someone else's product on our drawing table, we start with a blank piece of paper - yep intimidating but absolutely better! Though obviously product performance is the driver in all our designs, the physical appearance is also very important. Solving problem #3 (manage the shed) is where design really plays a major role, shedding water is key to performance and all of our features tie into this. Product lines/curves are created through product choices and though we do a lot of 3-d modeling at SMr the best way to really see the design is to measure the fabric, cut it, and sew it! In doing this I always have to contemplate manufacturing this product in the back of my mind (man hour production, efficiency, new technologies, margin all play into here), we have learned a lot about manufacturing with SMr ILLUMINATE - one day I'll be able to compile my knowledge and thoughts into a blog there as well so stay tuned!
So then there is nothing left to do but develop the 2nd prototype, and that's why I always hate the 2nd prototype, there are expectations, performance questions, and design/manufacturing questions that should be answered in the 2nd prototype - but we always end up with more questions after prototype 2. That's the fun in designing a new product :) .....
As always I am looking forward to your feed back!
Leave a comment below, tell me what you think!