For months now, we’ve been sharing geek speak in whispers, watching craftsmen and makers maintain the mystery, and hiking sub-zero temperatures with a secret pack on our back. A Carryology collaboration has been in the making, and we’re excited to finally let the cat out of the…you know what. Our first collaboration project is with a brand that’s been nailing bomber-built, heritage-inspired carry since ‘08: Topo Designs.
We’ve seen Topo Designs united with some big gear brands – Chaco, Danner, Kammok, Howler Brothers, Woolrich, Salomon, Opinel, Monocle, Uncrate, and many more. And to have Carryology join that list is a thrill. But, collaboration is about much more than placing a couple of names side-by-side. And this is the first time we’ve really had to sit back and think, What would Carryology be if it were a bag? How might we take all our years of geeking out over performance, hardware and fabrics, and laser beam them into a single pack?
Topo lay the challenge on the table. And “let’s do it” was our response. So, I headed to Topo Designs HQ in Colorado to work with the team and watch our design come to life. Here’s how it went down – sub-zero hikes, geek speak and butterflies included.
Bound for Topo World
I arrived in Denver International Airport and headed to the Topo Designs retail shop in Fort Collins (with a detour to The Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs along the way…because, Colorado). The shop was an overwhelming introduction to the full Topo Designs range – overwhelming mostly because I’d never seen their full range concentrated in one place. The brand is growing rapidly, and you can really tell by the breadth of products they’re offering – from apparel, to camp gear, EDC accessories, and more. While I wanted to stay there and drool over everything for the remainder of the day, I had work to do. At Topo HQ a few blocks down the road, I met with Jedd, Becky, Rick, Scott, and Lee, the creative team behind TD. It was time for the fun to begin.
Getting from A to X-Pac
First up, we selected the Klettersack backpack as our blank canvas for the collab. It was an obvious choice, it’s so classic in function and in form.
A more difficult decision was next: what fabric? While we are huge fans of CORDURA® fabrics (the fabric that Topo Designs already uses), we wanted something unique, and explored dozens of ideas in the process…
Dyneema fabric had a strong stance, but in the end, X-Pac was the winner. X-Pac is a bit burlier, giving the back some structure without modifying the pattern. Where Dyneema can be found in a dark heathered gray color, X-Pac was available in the best color of all: black.
We also agreed to use some ballistic CORDURA® nylon for the back panel, for superior abrasion resistance on such a high-wear area, and also to keep the cost a little more modest.
The Cobra strikes
Hardware was a fun one. We love our Duraflex and ITW plastic buckles; they’re proven, durable, lightweight and easily accessible. But, again, Topo Designs already uses this type of hardware on their packs, so we needed to push the needle. Fidlock was the next suggestion. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to play with some Fidlock buckles, they’re fun, functional, and unique. And then, the mighty AustriAlpin Cobra buckle was introduced into the conversation. It was almost instantly unanimous, despite the weight and cost penalty. We’re huge fans of both Fidlock and AustriAlpin, but at this point, we started to see the direction of the pack…bombproof. This was a dream project, so we decided to go for the insanely tough Cobras. X-Pac and Cobra buckles is a killer combo.
We opted for a tried and true favorite…CORDURA® nylon. But where it gets interesting is the color. As our regular readers will know, we love bags with bright interior lining. It helps you visually locate the small items dropped down into pockets in low lighting. We were looking at bright neon yellow/green, an electric yellow, and hi-vis fluorescent orange. While they all work equally well for their intended purpose, we had our first aesthetics decision to make. Ultimately, we opted for the orange, as it echoed the Carryology branding. And, let me tell you, this stuff is so vibrant it basically creates its own light.
Enter Hypalon. We love Hypalon, it’s extremely durable, wildly strong, waterproof, and has a sleek aesthetic. We opted to use Hypalon in place of the leather lash tabs (AKA pig snouts) for that extra bit of technical appeal.
How long’s a length of cordage?
And lastly, as a nod to the urban bicycle commuters on the Carryology team, the Topo Designs team, and our readers, we wanted this black-on-black murdered out pack to be visible on the streets. How? Black 550 paracord with super reflective elements in it. I believe the term “excessively long” is how I’ve described my preferred length for paracord cinch cord and zipper pulls. For two reasons: first, I always loved The Brown Buffalo’s pack designs from the past with their long zipper pulls. So this was a nod to him. And second, the additional length of reflective cordage blowing in the wind while cycling in the dark will make you even more visible (fun fact: human eyes see non-moving reflective items at night as static objects, so greater attention is given to moving reflective elements).
The first test passed at 10,500 feet
Decisions made. We slapped the table, shook hands, and celebrated at the epic New Belgium Brewing Company’s headquarters located only a few blocks away from the office. Here, I was joined by the entire team for some sours and seasonal stouts.
The next morning I woke up early to meet Becky in the mountains of Nederland, Colorado – with the first prototype of the pack in all its glory; my first peek at the beauty. We met at a coffee shop in the tiny town and set off for a hike up to the glacially-carved alpine Brainard Lake near Indian Peaks Wilderness. Even loaded with water, extra layers (it was below freezing, 10,500 feet of altitude and very windy), snacks, and photography equipment, the pack hauled the load really comfortably. After our five-mile round trip, we hopped into our vehicles and made the 45-minute drive down to the factory.
It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive!
Here, I got to meet the brains behind the cut and sew operation as well as each of the incredibly talented sewers who bring these products to life. Without hesitation, they begin making the very first Topo Designs x Carryology pack, from start to finish. They cut the fabrics into their shapes for the pattern using a special saw. Then, they sewed these panels together individually. As a full-time softgoods industrial designer, I was in heaven. But the real moment came when they stitched the Topo Designs x Carryology woven label onto the front panel. Butterflies.
After several more processes, they started sewing on the Hypalon lash tabs, used for attaching additional gear if needed. The X-Pac and the Hypalon really complement each other with their technical performance characteristics, as well as their good looks.
Once the X-Pac panel with the Cobra buckles, collab woven label, and Hypalon lash tabs were all in use, the pack started to resemble its final form. The sewers manipulated this fabric and hardware into a thing of beauty – switching from one station to another, to another like a choreographed dance. Becky and I followed the first pack through every single step until it was finished. Which brings us to the most exciting part – the reveal.
On November 17th, we’ll be unveiling the pack you now know so much about. It’ll be one for the collectors. And you guys, our readers, will have exclusive first dibs, three full days before the public. These packs are limited edition – only 100 pieces available – so make sure you’re one of the lucky ones!
Mark your calendars. Get ready for the big reveal. And join in on the high-fives we’ll be throwing around, too.
(Photo credit to: Becky Day, Daryl Love, and Taylor Welden)