November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
my senior thesis design project
Display Avatars Sort By:
my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 10:18:28 MDT Print View

Hello fellow backpackers. I am new to this site, though no novice to backpacking. I am an Industrial Design senior at Wentworth Institute of Tech. in Boston. My thesis project topic is:

"To apply design to the issue of weight savings in light weight backpacking through optimal integration of backpack and shelter. This is a structure/system for playing in nature. Enables one to enjoy the outdoors in optimal comfort, freedom, and ease by making it more accessible. By evaluating the needs of the casual hiker, and dedicated thru hiker alike, I hope to draw out the criteria to develop a system for carrying and sheltering. This system will balance weight savings with comfort, durability, safety and convenience features. My goal is to give the user the peace of mind over gear so that the experience of enjoying the wild is optimized and encouraged. "

I am reaching out for insights, suggestions, materials, technologies, stories, or anything you may think of. I feel there is room for designing the tent and the pack around each other to get more out of each part of the system. My belief is that if the shelter and pack can work together better, it saves weight, adds connivance, and promotes more connection with the wild, not the gear.

Mike Scott

Jeremy Osburn

Locale: New England
A few questions on 04/09/2012 10:33:25 MDT Print View

How far do you have to take this thesis? I am a Landscape Architect, my thesis project involved a whole site concept which I would compare to an entire backpacking kit concept for my preliminary design presentation, then I had to take a few key sites within my whole site and develop those designs into very specific sites that meet a set of needs that I determined. Which I would compare to you picking a few key pieces of gear to design to your chosen guidelines of weight savings, durability, safety...

Is that accurate?

If so is a pack/shelter what you are planning to design or were you using that as an example. If it is what you want to design develop I would say you are a bit ahead of schedule. I made the same mistake on my thesis and thought I knew which portions of my site I wanted to develop detail about and then when I got there I ended up realizing that other parts of the site would better enhance and display my overall concept.

What are your assumptions?

What is your specific user group? I don't think you can compare extreme thru-hikers who buy a pack full well and knowing that it will be thrown away at the end of the thru but it saved them another 4 oz. to say a more traditional backpacker that is attempting a thru-hike, they may replace a few key items for the thru hike specifically but they will still look at durability and less at weight. OR to what you call the "casual hiker" which I take as someone that gets out a little here and there and probably has never seen this website at all. They might be more of a camper than a hiker as Andrew Skurka so eloquently titled recently.

I think the most important thing right now is to remember this is your thesis not ours so follow the rule of thumb that... Specific questions will get specific answers based on opinions and experience while broad questions will get distracting answers that might be of no help to you.

Edited by earn_my_turns on 04/09/2012 10:37:10 MDT.

tyler marlow

Locale: UTAH
shelter-pack on 04/09/2012 11:07:07 MDT Print View

I've run this idea through my head a few times before and my intimate conclusion is that the pack would be much better suited to a multipurpose sleeping pad groundsheet combo than as a part of the shelter.

This may just be my own lack of ingenouity but the only way in see a pack being a part of the shelter would be as part of a bivy or as maybe the foot end door and support of a tarp shelter, utilizing the packframe as the support with a guy line

I cannot remember where a saw this but I believe that I have seen a few pack systems that acted as a groundsheet. Once unfolded, gear was placed in the middle of the goundsheet and then was wrapped up in the folds of the groundsheet and compression straps held it in place.

I would take this a step further in putting an integrated inflatable pad as the framesheet like the klymit system being used my MLD, ULA, and a few other companies. Make the pad longer than torso length and have it fold up into the pack.

The biggest issue here is that your pack will get muddy against the back panel and that you are adding extra stress to your pack that could result in catestrophic failure.

Good luck, make sure to share the final product with us!

Paul Johnson
(johncooper) - F

Locale: SoCal
Pack/tent combo on 04/09/2012 12:45:36 MDT Print View

I have considered using the carbon fiber stays from my pack to gain height at the foot end of a tarp tent. Think of stays like a zpack exo used similar to the short " poles" in a tarptent Stratospire 2.

A second thought is that current bivvy, sleeping bag/quilt and pad combinations have redundant layers. An integrated solution could be interesting. From bootom to top.

WPB layer that also forms bottom of pad. This is an excellent material challenge. Compared to a typical bivvy system, this combines the bivvy and bottom pad material.

Top of pad/sleep layer. Eliminate the bottom/insulaion of the sleeping bag the way a quilt system does. However, with the inetegrated solution have nice attachement eliminating draft issues

Breathable top layer with DWR like a bivvy. Eliminates the thin outer layer of a sleeping bag or quilt.

Edited by johncooper on 04/09/2012 13:08:20 MDT.

Ultra Magnus
(Ultra_Magnus) - F
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 13:16:51 MDT Print View

I'm interesting in bickepacking- and UL bikepakers run "rack-less" setups, instead opting for bags that mount to the bike. What's common to see is a handlebar bag, frame bag filing up the center of the bike's front triangle, and a large seat bag. There are other options depending on the bike, season, etc., but that's pretty much the staple of the UL bikepacker. The handlebar bag straps under the handlebars/stem of the bike, and is basically a sausage shaped dry sack with webbing sewn on to facilitate mounting to the handlebars. In some cases, it's just a "sling" of sorts for holding onto an ordinary dry sack.

I've toyed around in my head, the idea of having the whole shelter/sleeping kit, bag (or quilt), sleeping pad, bivy, and/or tarp, all roll up into becoming the handlebar bag with some clever origami folding and well thought out sewn on webbing and side release buckles. Ideally, when setting up camp, you'd just un-do the buckles, roll it all out, inflate mattress if needed, and go to sleep. One, integrated package... Dunno if it's work out in practice though. I don't have the resources ot experiment with however number of prototype it would take to get he system perfected...

I know it doesn't exactly apply to hiking or backpacking, but maybe could offer some inspiration for your project.


David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 13:59:20 MDT Print View

Hello Mike, welcome to BPL.

I also have a design degree (MArch) which I received recently enough to have some sense of what a design thesis involves. In fact, I'm writing this on lunch break during a review of senior projects in the Landscape Architecture program where I teach.

First, your BPL membership gives you access to plenty of good, evidence-based articles that will help you make the case for what you're doing. If I may, I'd suggest you also spend time reviewing community gear lists. That should give you a good idea of what different hikers drawn to the ultralight concept desire, in terms of "comfort, durability, safety and convenience features" vs. weight savings.

In the two and a half years or so I've been involved with this site, I remember several requests similar to yours. My question for you, as a designer, is how deeply do you know the community for which you are designing? I don't mean that to be flippant in the least.

For example, I would guess the average person here with a base weight around the 10# mark has probably spent a year or more researching and trying out ideas and techniques to get there, especially those of us who started as experienced "traditional" backpackers. As you probably know, much of the gear used by people here is either MYOG, or produced by small "cottage" makers. There is a sense in which almost everyone with an interest in ultralight/lightweight backpacking is a designer (with or without formal training); always in the sense that we design our systems for hiking, and sometimes in the sense that we are designing (and making) different elements for those systems.

Finally, one recent topic of discussion has been whether ultralight/lightweight backpacking has reached a point of diminishing returns (the BPL publisher called it "stagnation"). There is a sense, right or wrong, that there's not many more big ideas left to discover. The owner of Six Moon Designs wrote a recent series of articles on his site that explored this notion in depth. If you haven't run across this, it's well worth a read. I say this not to discourage you, only to point out that some pretty knowledgeable people have identified challenges to further innovation, and those are arguments you should be aware of and understand (even if you disagree).

Good luck with your project, and please continue sharing questions and ideas as you move forward.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 14:01:45 MDT Print View

The systems approach to backpacking is always good. Even using mediocre gear, some weight savings is usually realizable. Your statement "...the shelter and pack can work together better, it saves weight, adds connivance, and promotes more connection with the wild, not the gear." is very true (spelling forgiven, I cannot spell for crap.)

But you might be selling you and your thesis short by limiting it to only shelter and pack. There is also the sleeping subsystem usually consisting of some sort of pad and sleeping bag. There is the insulation subsystem designed to manage your bodys heat, venting and enclosing. The cooking subsystem or lack of. Packing subsystem, which you mentioned, and shelter subsystem. Depending on your targeted envioronment, several wild materials can be used to supliment. A branch as a hiking stick for an example. Or a couple small twigs rolled in the pad to stiffen the pack.

As I remember there was a pack that folded out into a pad and "bivy" bag on the market several years ago. Back in the early 60's there was an insulated tent that was supposed to do away with the sleeping bag. I don't think these have been done recently with newer materials, cuben for example. Perhaps revisiting an insulated tent would allow a lighter sleeping bag, a smaller overall pack load when integrated with a pack?

Anyway, I am glad to see more people taking a system oriented approach. Keep up the good work!

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 16:06:36 MDT Print View

Timely thread. I just saw a website a couple days ago where the guy used his sleeping bag and some straps to make a backpack. I think the execution could have been better, but it was an interesting idea.


Chad Lorenz
(ChadL) - MLife

Locale: Teton Valley, Wydaho
Moonbow Gear on 04/09/2012 16:16:26 MDT Print View

... has been working with this idea for quite some time. Browse around on their website for more/other iterations of this idea.

Their Powerpac and gearskin "Systems" were popular during the early ultralight movement back when the BPL forums were hosted on yahoo? or some other long dismissed mode of online forum software...


Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 16:50:54 MDT Print View

That Moonbow stuff is the only type of shelter/backpack combo that comes to mind.
I would think that because it has been out for several years and no one else has attempted that (that I know of...) it indicates that the idea is not popular or not that practical.
For example if you look a the tent/pack sequence, you put all of you stuff inside, roll it up and off you go.
What happens when you want a drink or some munchies on the go ?
Sure you can attach a bottle or two outside but that is not all that efficient
(anything dangling outside a pack will shift the center of balance away from where it should be therefore more energy is spent carrying the weight)
Now imagine it gets cold or starts raining. You need to dismantle that pack to access your gear.
This kind of combo suggests to me "great in fair weather, lousy in bad weather" and if you happen to hike above tree line that difference can happen in minutes.
But then again that is one reason why I don't even like the popular "poncho/tarp" bit in spite of having contributed some design points to one of those...

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 17:28:12 MDT Print View

Two ideas I can see working are using tent poles as the frame of the pack, and/or using a pad as the floor for a single person fully enclosed shelter and the padding and additional support for the pack.

John Smith
(jcar3305) - F

Locale: East of Cascades
Here is a site with a backpack/tent in combo on 04/09/2012 19:41:37 MDT Print View

click on the 'Dirtbagger' link for the tent/backpack

Not ultralight but certainly multi-functional.

Colin Parkinson

Locale: Ontario Canada
pack shelter on 04/09/2012 20:00:02 MDT Print View

I always wanted a small shelter a 6' long tarp attached to the pack so as to:

1) close off one end of the tarp for weather protection
2) use as a sort of foot bivy covering the end of the sleeping bag.

Imagine a flying diamond tarp with the foot end being the pack creating the foot bivy thing.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 20:06:44 MDT Print View

Shouldn't the form of the pack follow its function, which is to carry a load as efficiently as possible? Will/could combining another function detract from a packs main purpose, making it less efficient?

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/09/2012 20:14:53 MDT Print View


Looks like a fun project. I think last year it was using qr codes on trail signs.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Some challenges for the project on 04/09/2012 21:08:34 MDT Print View

I've been thinking about your project on and off thru the day. Here's some challenges I think you'll need to overcome:

-It's generally true a multi-use item performs each function less well that a dedicated item. A lot of us put up with minor inconvenience/loss of efficiency for significant weight savings. Example: a sleeping pad isn't a perfect pack frame, but it's good enough if overall pack weight is low.

-Poncho-tarps may be the closest widely-used analog to what you have in mind. But there is a natural relationship between the function of a poncho (shelter for the body while moving) and a tarp (shelter for the body while sleeping). Backpacks and shelters aren't so clearly related. And poncho-tarps come with a major inconvenience (one of the reasons I don't use one)--it's hard to avoid getting wet putting up your shelter if your shelter is also your rain poncho. Similar inconveniences are inescapable with a pack-tent.

-Backpacks and shelters might seem similar in that both (usually) have frames and fabric. But many ultralighters have already abandoned dedicated pack frames, and use hiking poles instead of tent poles. Tent poles could be used for a pack frame, but the geometry that's optimal for tent poles isn't optimal for a pack frame. I can imagine a design where the pack bag is formed by folding a shelter into multiple layers, but shelter fabrics are typically more delicate than pack fabrics. Plus, a pack with a hole in it is probably more functional than a shelter with a hole in it.

-How significant will the weight savings be, and at what price point? Combining the functions of a traditional pack and shelter weighing 5+ lbs each will save plenty of weight, but the same traditional hiker could also just get a 2# pack and 2# tent. Will your design cost less or be more convenient than that option? Ultralighters might be more interested in a weight vs. convenience vs. cost tradeoff, but margins for weight savings are much narrower. For example, my kit isn't as light as others here, and doesn't include real cutting edge materials, but my pack and tarp only weigh about 9.5 oz each. Can you design a sub 19 oz pack-tarp with a similar level of convenience? At what cost?

I don't write any of this to discourage you, and you may well have already analyzed the problem in a similar way (and have answers to these questions). If I was on your review panel, I would be asking these questions. My experience is, it's very tempting for designers to arrive at a "solution" first, and then construct the problem to fit. Unfortunately, it's often hard to sell those solutions.

Edited by DavidDrake on 04/10/2012 10:22:43 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Some challenges for the project on 04/09/2012 21:25:41 MDT Print View

Some people too will use the same shelter or pack but not necessarily both every time they go out. Bigger pack for winter or bear canister vs. their normal 3 season load.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: my senior thesis design project on 04/10/2012 09:42:21 MDT Print View

Re: A few questions on 04/10/2012 16:06:26 MDT Print View


Thank you, very insightful. My father is a Landscape Architect (where i derived my love of the outdoors). Your project sounds very interesting in its own right. My project will go as far as i wish to push it, but I need to be focussed and not take on the world so to speak. I do not have the time, money, or experience to develop a full integrated system for any type of backpacking, and this should be individualized, not mass marketed. As an 'industrial' designer i am pushed to seek specific solutions that apply to broad sets. I want to stay specific to innovation on the integration parts, and to the shelter and the pack, and maybe the sleep system to be heavily considered.

This may clarify my intent more, though at this stage I am trying to balance being open and broad so as to not get stuck on assumptions or ideas that will hinder innovation, while still seeking a specific goal to strive towards. My questions will evolve as more specific once my target goal is actualized fully. I used the term "integration" as a more ambiguous term so as to not fall into the idea of a tent/pack combo as one unit. This, for many reasons presented already, is not a quality idea.

Primarily I am looking to find a shelter and pack that complement each other and "integrate" as much as possible, while maintaining the full benefits of individual systems. The structural elements seem the most likely subject for dual use in the packs and shelters, while the shelter its more likely to be on its own. I most like the idea of a fully modular system that adapts to the trip the user seeks, within boundaries.

My obstacle is the user group... I see the all out ultra lighter/thru hiker demographic to be not as viable for this idea, as the extent of the minimalism negates benefits of my ideas (good points from many readers on this like trekking poles and delicate items). The hiker/camper/"I backpack sometimes" is also not in my interest for this, as I see the needs of that user not concerned as much on weight and unwilling to cope with the minimal approach.

I see room for a happy medium that I consider my ideal goal for myself, and I could see many adopting. One that is of a minimal approach with room for simple luxuries while longevity, durability is not lost so as to keep the gear adaptable to a variety of applications (solo weekend light, couples, week long--short thru hike, and such). Not an introduction to UL, but a step above in the 30lb. max base weight. I think the modular/adaptive idea is very inviting, which will give the user say a simple kit, framed within tight guidelines, that let the user fine tune his/her self. This is the process of any avid backpacker, but the adjustments should allow scaling from solo short hikes, up to 2person week long unassisted (beyond a week, most thru hikes are assisted at least weekly). The brutality of the AT, PCT, and so on destroy gear, and is more of a lifetime goal for my user....thus the max test would look more like the Long Trail in VT or such.

Re: Some challenges for the project on 04/10/2012 16:16:47 MDT Print View


Thank you, very good points. These are exactly why I feel that I need to move away from the UL approach. On top of that, UL-ers are also the most specific and picky group, due simply that it is so minimal, the total UL 'system' must fit the hiker as an individual. Industrial Design is a mass market approach (though I have my issues this this ironically) which i must conceder, especially as my thesis for this major. I feel that a light weight hiker is a good place to start, especially with my limited experience as a light-weighter. I feel that i can find a minimal approach that still allows for a simple luxury like a full tent/tarp tent, while keeping weight low and durability and adaptive potions open. With a more convertible/modular idea, there adds more seams, parts, aka WEIGHT. But with the right balance, I can come up with a nice project.

The point of this thesis...for school/get a job is to showcase my skills as a designer and express my approach to the things in my life. For me, its a great excuse to dive into light weight hiking, and get out of Boston! I want to push myself and ideas, and if i fail, great, I will learn so much more, and in the end, I will have something to show.