Monday, December 10, 2012

Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Recently we were asked about our sustainability and environmental impact from a well educated customer that specifically asked about our policies.  It's unfortunate that we currently have shared very little information about our policies, but we would like to make this information as transparent as possible.  It definitely does not hurt for us to review, re-review, and continually review this information in the future and have a forum for our followers to ask questions and make comments and suggestions.  We will post this information in the future as a separate webpage.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact
We are a small cottage manufacturer with fair labor practices for all employees where the 2 climbing sole proprietors invest a portion of their salary into the company for the benefit of the company (like many other owners). Due to the nature of the work, we have avoided the use of “internships”. At many places, “interns” are paid inadequately and often paid less than minimum wage yet may receive no professional training. We do not participate in this non-mutually beneficial practice.

Currently no employees or owners commute to Figure Four via motor vehicle (this may change in the future). For other general purpose business travel, such as meetings, supply pick-ups, shipment drop-offs, etc., our current average vehicle receives EPA combined estimates of 33MPG/vehicle.

Due to manufacturing in Washington, a majority of our power is hydro-electric (69%) with approximately 4% from nuclear power. Our website is hosted by servers and data-centers powered by 100% wind energy.

Manufacturing Techniques
It is important to note that our first priority is to make a durable and functional pack with as small of variability in our product as possible. It is our belief that making a durable and functional pack consistently has the largest environmental impact by reducing the need for additional raw materials for packs, the transportation means for pack repairs, and/or the added research time/costs for a customer to purchase a new pack. If a manufacturer has a durable pack design without consistent manufacturing techniques, there will be many warranty issues that require extra time, raw materials, transportation energy, and production energy to repair or replace; these inconsistent manufacturing techniques drastically increase that manufacturer’s environmental impact.

We at Figure Four make durable and functional packs consistently by:
  • Reinforcing many high stress areas with additional fabric
  • Using 33% larger seam allowances (distance between stitch and edge of fabric) than the industry standard
    • This reduces the chance of the interwoven fabric threads from pulling through the edges and compromising the seam
    • This also increases consistency of our packs by providing an additional 33% seam allowance for inevitable human sewing errors
  • Intelligently choosing our stitch length to try to optimize the seam strength
  • Use nylon T90 thread to reduce thread breakage
  • Choosing fabrics that reduce chance of the edges unraveling such as laminates like X-Pac (main fabric in our nylon packs) and Cubic Tech (main fabric in our Tau packs)
  • Using laminate fabrics in many areas to replace fabrics with coatings, such as urethane or polyurethane, which can be susceptible to degredation/aging (i.e. stickiness or flaking off of coating)
  • Cautiously using light weight materials to try to reduce going “too light”
  • Use larger production cutting methods to reduce variability between packs
  • Use a scaled “assembly line” manufacturing technique
    • Same process is completed over-and-over for many packs
    • Reduces variability between packs
  • Generally test and redesign for at least 1 year for most pack designs to ensure the pack design is durable

Even though our main objective is to produce durable and functional packs consistently we still strive to do this with less environmental impact. For example, we:
  • Use CAD programs to determine an efficient cutting lay out for each fabric
    • There is at least 1.5-4% unusable fabric due to the edges
      • Laminates generally have much straighter edges, reducing the unusable edge fabric
    • For our soon to be released pack, we use an average of 83% of all the fabrics, including the non-useable edges
      • Much of the unusable fabric is due to curvatures of the panels
  • Produce very little waste of nylon webbing or cord (<1 li="li">
  • Random users reuse our remaining fabric
  • Random users reuse our remaining foam
  • Recycle all unused HDPE
  • Recycle most paper waste
  • A majority of our fabric is US made and sourced from US manufacturers with US environmental regulations
    • We use Dimensional Polyant laminates for the majority of our nylon laminates
      • The laminate process is completed in Connecticut using US made adhesives and films
    • We use Cubic Tech laminates for the majority of our Tau Series packs
  • Use US made thread
  • Use more environmentally friendly silicon labels instead of PVC or rubber labels
Chemical Uses
We use sewing machine oil for machine lubricant during the manufacturing process of all of our current pack designs. Extra layers of Cubic Tech fabric are adhered to high stress areas to ensure the longest life possible for our Tau Series packs made from Cubic Tech fabric. This process requires the use of isopropyl alcohol as a cleaning agent, an urethane adhesive, and a curing agent/thinning agent consisting of ~92% Toluene, 0.5% Dibutyltin Dilaurate, and ~7% SiO2. Though we have used less than 200g (7.1oz) of the urethane adhesive and 60g (2.1oz) of the curing agent due to the small amount of reinforced areas and thin application process, we plan to redesign the pack in an effort to eliminate the use of these chemicals.

We at Figure Four believe that sustainability and environmental stewardship is a lifelong path that requires continual development. We look forward to developing designs that continually improve our fabric use efficiency, reducing the energy consumption necessary to manufacture our products, and continually monitor and improve new sustainability environmental impact areas of our business. We welcome and look forward to any comments or suggestions our customers may have regarding Figure Four’s sustainability and environmental impact practices.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Half-PI (Delta 26L) - Features (part 2 of 2)

And here is the unveiling of the features.

For this alpine pack, we wanted a design that provided as many options as possible with as little material/webbing/hardware as possible, yet can be stripped/altered for the truly minimalist at heart.  This design keeps key features that most users find useful, such as ice tool attachments, exterior crampon attachments, removable compression straps, a rope carrier, and a method for pack hauling, yet the minimalist at heart can permanently/temporarily remove some of the "excess" fat for a truly streamlined yet versatile pack (see bottom of post).  To combine these two opposing spectra, we:
  • replaced our standard Delta Pack daisy chain and our standard crampon attachment system with 2 uniquely designed, nearly-parallel closely-spaced daisy chains
  • combined our lower compression straps and ice tool attachment system into one system
  • provided a method for the user to attach their own handle to the top of the daisy chain if desirable
This prototype weighs in at 34oz total weight (including hip belt, lid, frame, and back padding; we expect production packs will be a similar weight).  Though this pack seems like a lightweight, a previous design easily and comfortably carried 35lbs on a rough trail, and we expect that it could carry more weight comfortably.

Below you will find the new, minimalist design.
2 uniquely designed, nearly-parallel daisy chains
provide maximum features with minimum "fat"
Daisy chains, along with reinforced handle,
provide hauling capabilities
Daisy chains provide crampon attachment capability;
Ice tools attached with the ice tool attachment system
in 2 different ways (as traditional ice axe loop and using
compression strap/ice tool loop attachment system)
Additional ice tool attachment method using ice tool
loop and daisy chain
Unique daisy chain design provides secure attachment
of crampon straps without the worry of losing them
(webbing passes through daisy chain loop yet buckles cannot)
Capable of carrying pickets in picket
pocket (right side only)
To trim the excess "fat":
  • Compression straps can be temporarily removed and replaced for different trips using the compression strap attachment slides
  • Ice axe loops/ice tool loops could be permanently removed while still maintaining the capabilities of attaching ice tools and crampons via the daisy chains
This method demonstrates one method of attaching
ice tools without using the ice tools/ice axe loops;
other methods can be constructed with cord, bungee cord,
carabiners, etc.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Half-Pi (Delta-26L) - Technical Fit (part 1 of 2)

We've been at it again this summer designing our newest pack, a 26+L minimalist alpine pack.  Like all our packs, technical fit is paramount.  This pack combines patterning from our Delta Pack and our Tau Series Packs to provide 3-D shaping of the back panel, including the lumbar curve and the curve of a user's waist.  The 3-D shaping of the back panel provides additional rigidity to the thin, light-weight HDPE frame sheet, producing a pack that can carry a remarkably heavy load for its minuscule weight (36oz including hip belt, frame sheet, back padding, and lid).  And without the rigid metal stay of other packs, the light-weight frame can flex and twist with your scrambling or climbing movements.

We challenged ourselves to design the 3-D shaping with as few panels as possible, yet still provide an excellent technical fit and easy down-climbing profile.  Our design of the main pack body utilizes 4 main panels: a back panel, 2 side panels, and a front panel.  An extra 1000D Cordura skid panel is sewn to the outside of the front panel and wraps around the bottom and up the sides of the pack for added abrasion resistance.

Finally the pack will include only the basic features.  This design process is in progress, but some version of the following features will be included:
  • Removable lid (straps attached to lid for "clean" removal) with key hook
  • Hydration compatible w/ bladder pocket
  • Capable of attaching crampons to pack exterior
  • 2 removable compression straps/side
  • Ice tools/axe compatible
  • Removable shoulder strap gear loops
Note: The images show a pack with actual contents that might be carried in the alpine, not just stuffing.  The shown pack is made from a different fabric than the production pack.  Stay tuned for part 2 showing images of the final design of features.

Simple design with 2 vertical seams shown as black line on white fabric
(Crampon attachment, ice axe loop, and daisy chain are
being redesigned: stay tuned for future posts)
Anatomic curvature of back panel
Anatomic waist curvature of back panel seen at bottom
1000D Cordura Skid Pad wraps up the sides of the pack
(anatomic waist curvature can be seen at
the bottom edge of skid pad)
Picket Pocket
Extra head space can be seen at seam between black and white fabric

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Via Ferrata in the Dolomites: what’s not to love?

With a little something for everyone - from the unencumbered and continual flow of movement over technical rock, to a feast of caffé, hefeweizens, and local cuisine at a rifúgio atop the climb, to the chance to follow in the historic footsteps of not only alpininsts but WWI troops through caves, bunkers, outposts, and trenches, to grand sweeping landscapes - via ferrata in the Dolomites will not disappoint. 
As luck would have it, we had the opportunity to experience the Dolomites through a handful of vie ferrate, and found ourselves giddy from the continual flow and movement over enjoyable limestone climbing (and one volcanic via ferrata) pushing into the 5.5 technical rock range.  Via ferrata may be a perfect way to learn to move through rock terrain quickly and efficiently if you sustain from hauling yourself up the cable (unless you feel it absolutely necessary). 
But get there early or plan to bail, otherwise you might experience a “Space Mountain” like line up 200+m of via ferrata.  It’s popular and for good reason.

Traveling past the many historic ruins of WWI outposts 
Many man made caves were cut through the mountains to move troops;
the access window above provides a bird's eye view of the surrounding terrain
Delicious food, beer, and coffee can be found at the
many rifúgios found near the top of climbs

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Saggy Bottom Packs

I've noticed a recent trend in packs, the "Saggy Bottom Pack" phenomena.  Next time you are at the local crag, check out all the packs that sag way past the wearer's butt.  At first it's hard to see, but once you notice it, you can't help but see it.  Of course it's much easier to make a pack that way; a pack that as your shoulders move right the pack "tail" wags left; a pack that has a pivot point at the hip belt that does not suck the load into your back for climbing efficiency.

One of the most frustrating, and eventually most rewarding, things we did was design for two detailed oriented ladies that hated the "saggy bottom" packs.  After much design work, we have one of the few pack lines that support the load with a sound structure.  Our Omega Pack's hip belt directly supports the vertical load through the pack frame, and our Tau and Delta series packs' hip belts directly connect into the sides of the packs, pulling all of the contents into your back.  This is much different than other manufacturer's hip belts that run between the back panel and a small piece of fabric.  It is improbable that the hip belt can effectively support a load transferred from the pack's main compartment to the flexible back panel/attached layer of fabric and then to the hip belt (unless the pack is stuffed with gear until it's bursting at the seams, and even then it's unlikely to effectively support the load).
Years of hard work pay off to provide an efficient, load carrying Figure Four pack that connects the load to all of your movements, both climbing and hiking.