Jul 30, 2015
Outside Magazine

Flexible poles and new tent shapes revolutionized shelter weight and durability.    Photo: kuhnmi/Flickr

Caves, tepees, wall tents, those green canvas triangles that caused hypothermia in so many Boy Scouts—in one form or another, ideas borrowed from these flawed shelters appear in their modern descendents. But designs didn’t move forward until the late 1970s, when freethinking engineers at the North Face started toying with futuristic concepts. Here’s a look back at a few significant breakthroughs. 

The North Face Oval Intention

  Photo: Danilo Agutoli

Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes inspired the 1975 Oval Intention, but its construction was made possible by Easton Aluminum, a baseball-bat manufacturer that produced the tent’s revolutionary flexible poles. For the next 20 years, dome designs reigned supreme. 

Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight

  Photo: Danilo Agutoli

In 2001, the Korean company DAC came up with plastic sockets that could be welded onto a tent’s exterior. This allowed poles to be attached to the tent rather than held in place by sleeves and grommets. Designers used the innovation to vary the lengths of poles and make new architectural choices that saved weight. An iconic example: Sierra Designs’ nonfreestanding Clip Flashlight, weighing just under four pounds. 

Big Agnes Fly Creek

  Photo: Danilo Agutoli

After years of experimenting with increasingly light but tough materials, Big -Agnes stunned tentmakers in 2009 with the two-pound, weatherproof—and mostly minimalist—Fly Creek backpacking tent. It remains a paragon of fast-and-light design.

Marmot Force 

  Photo: Danilo Agutoli

This three-person, three-season tent arrived in 2015 and was a welcome backlash to decades of spartan minimalism. Though the full-featured abode still weighs in at under four pounds, it makes numerous concessions to comfort, including side pockets for phones and a fully functioning vestibule to keep, say, a generator dry.

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