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 Research & Development:  Field Testing Dynamics

 

 


Successful Products are based on Continuous Improvement & Field Testing

The keys to building a product that actually does what it's suppose to do, comes from practicing the following two principals:

  1. Instilling, implementing and practicing a process of Continuous Improvement within your product line.
  2. Supporting and driving your continuous improvement process forward through the use of Field Testing with actual users of your products, in different testing endeavors and conditions.

We expanded our testing horizons in late 2005, by getting involved with a couple of Sled Dog Mushers who were starting to get ready for the Winter Training & Race season.  We weren't quite sure what we were getting ourselves involved with at the start of this new Field Testing project, but we knew we wanted to find a way to earn our way into the Iditarod testing ground, by developing new and fine tuning exisiting prototype gear, so that it would end up at the starting line for the big race and we've been there ever since.

With the Iditarod the requirements were simple, or complex depending on how you look at it.  Basically what they wear during the race must help to keep them warm through blizzard conditions and extremely cold Winter temperatures for days on end, whereby some years the temp's have dropped to -100F below zero with wind chills and the gear needs to continue to perform for the two week or less duration of the 1150 mile event.  A challenge if you want to be successful in terms of gear performance, not a challenge if you only want to say that your gear was there.

When you utilze your "hearing" skills out on the Testing Field, good things can evolve.  We still continue to utilize the Alaskan Iditarod as one of our serious final testing environments, but we also use other different ones as well.  We've sent and tested gear in the Himalaya's, in Antarctica, on the way to the top of Mt McKinely and to other States around the USA as well.  When Iditarod mushers have warmer fingers during a race or a mountain climber comes down from the summit on a climb in the Himalaya's "without" a couple of black fingers, then you know that you have done your job, that your design & testing process is working the way it should work and "now" you're finally ready to move forward with actual production on your extreme cold weather oriented gear series items.

But for us and for our gear, the testing process doesn't just start and finish in working with the "hardcores", rather we spend even more time in testing and working with everyday people.  Those who suffer from reduced blood flow afflictions causing everyday pain, those with issues related to aging and everyday people who just seem to have terminally cold hands and feet.  We have people who test for us that are Physicians with Raynauds Disease, people who work outside everyday of the year who are severe Diabetics and we've accumulated quite a group of Seniors in their 70's and 80's who test and provide us with feedback as well.  We learn about our gear before you ever have a chance to see it available for sale and we take great "pride" in listening to the feedback, especially when someone tells us that they are finally able to take the cold weather temperatures for some period of time, or for an extended period of time that they weren't able to do in the past!

Our mission & philosophy has nothing to do with building and selling the most cold weather gear in the World, rather it is to design - test - and build gear that actually works and works better than anything else that is available from other companies around the Globe and unlike most of the big "guys", we build all of our gear - 100% right here in Wisconsin - USA!

 


 

Some of our  Field Testing & Research

The two principles that we mentioned above regarding continuous improvement and field testing sound pretty straight forward and simplistic in concept, however in reality many companies fail in these areas in actual practice.  In the real world there is more emphasis given to producing an outdoor garment that is build to achieve a profit target and sales volume, instead of being built to work like it is anticipated to do by the end user.

The process of continuous improvement and field testing by these same companies, ends up being done on a designers drawing board in the office.  Their continuous improvement focuses on how eye appealing the exterior of the garment looks and the field testing is the Sales Manager sliding his hand over the item while in the office and saying "yeah, this sure feels warm"!  We can poke fun at their process, but unfortunately it is true, especially when you think about how many Winter garments that you have purchased in the past that just didn't do the job, but they sure looked nice?

There is and old saying that goes something like this "you're ony as good as your last success" and we believe that this is definitely true.  If you want to keep developing products that are actually built correctly for their intended purpose, then you can't sit back with your feet up on the desk and be satisfied because that the next product you build is going to magically work without testing it first.

 


 

Some of our initial field testing activity in the past.

The philosophy of Field Testing the lion's share of our products was an easy transition for us, because of our past professional experiences in other endeavors in developing different products from other Countries around the world.  You always made sure the product's worked and fit the intended application before you made them available for sale to your customers.

As with any small business, you learn to make use of your local resources first, as they are usually the most cost effective and at the same time they also provide you with the greatest amount of accessibility for your testing parameters.  Our earliest field testing started with outdoor Winter cycling in the cold Winter temperatures, because people in the great white North still want to get some exercise out of doors, but also need to have gear that will help keep them warm in windchills of -30 degrees F.

The first core product that we developed and felt the need for extensive testing on, was our Thermal Mitts.  If you're "not" going to develop a new pair of mitt's that work better then anything else out in the market place, then you better hope that you have the cheapest price and the best eye appeal.  We knew going into this that our mission wasn't going to be that of selling a cheap product at a cheap price, rather it was and is the focus to design and manufacture Winter Gear that keeps you warmer - longer then what's out in the market.

Through our extensive initial research into the physiology of the human body and further into the forces of nature, we were able to develop a new pair of mitts that were worthly of the next step, which was testing out in the elements.  We knew that the mitts not only had to keep the hands warm during extended periods of relatively minimal finger/hand movement, but they also had to keep the hands dry and had to minimize or eliminate the "nature" forces of conductive and convective heat loss.

We achieved the core requirements of keeping the hands of our testers warmer and drier then what they had been using, by "listening" to their feedback and then making appropriate changes to the actual design of the mitts, as in this example, was to make them even more functional. We use this process with our other gear items as well.

Ours mitts have a much firmer feel to them on average versus what the standard design is in the market place, as we equalize the amount of insulation that we use on both the top & bottom  sides, but it must be done in order for a mitten to work correctly.  We are perhaps the one and only company in the World that believes in utilizing layering systems of technical fabrics and special insulating materials in our design process, but this is done time consumingly, to ensure that you actually are able to buy outdoor gear products that are designed to work!

We started with building what our Customers tell us are the "warmest" Winter mittens that they have ever had the pleasure of wearing and of course we have carried on the technical layering system philosophy and testing process with most everything else that we have engineered, tested, built and added to our product range, including exclusive designs that you won't find available anywhere else on the planet!  We do this so that you as the user of our gear will enjoy the cold weather activities that bring you the most pleasure and when in extreme weather conditions, chances are you'll also walk away without any frost bite as well.


Summary:

We design, engineer, build and test our products one at a time. The result is that you can trust us when we say that we are selling you the warmest product for the price that we are offering it to you at.  You can also be assured that the technical fabrics that we manufacture our products with, are some of the best that are available in the World, most meeting U.S. Military specifications for performance.  

The difference with our Technical Advantage Gear & Accessories, is that we use the correct weight of a fabric for a specified application, or we combine it with another outstanding fabric so that the output is nothing that is available out in the market place, for keeping you as warm and dry as our products do.  We also do not use lower insulating weights of fabrics in our garments to minimize the cost of of our gear like some of the big named "company logoes" do, rather we build our products to new standards of performance so that you "get what you paid for" and then some.

We also believe in "Innovation" in our Research & Development process, so that the products that you purchase from us also have those added functional features that make our Gear perform better then what the "status quo" in the market makes available year in and year out.  Innovation to us can come in many forms, but to you it should be refreshing to hear that at least someone highlights their Thermal R-values of Insulation for warmth, rather then a company that offers there new innovations to be "hey, look at our new colors of the same item that we have to offer for this year"?  Or another good one is to read the labels of garments that are worn next to the skin and see how many of them highlight the word "soft", trying at the same time to equate "soft" to the actual "warmth" of the product.  Sorry, but their "soft" lower weight or cheap fleeces just don't come close to the standards that we set with our technical fabric combinations!

Thanks for reading......and rest assured that the dynamics of design and field testing continues on.

 

Past & Previous R & D Gear Updates:

 

2008 R& D Year End Update:  Dec - 08:

Every Summer we select one Worldly location or Event that we want to verify the use of our gear at and then we try to figure out how its going to happen or be facilitated.  As we mentioned in a previous R&D update this year, the location we pulled out of the air was Antarctica.  Of course our Winter season here is the same as their Summer season, but the weather in their Summer is still colder and more brutal them what we experience on average around here in Wisconsin during our  Winters.

Last year of course we selected the Himalaya's as out gear verification challenge and some how some way we ended up on two different climbing expedition's this past Spring and of course the feedback was positive in terms of the performance of our gear when it needed to out perform what the expedition climbers had used in the past.  

Again back to this Fall's project of verified gear to Antarctica.  With out a direct path to our target, but a lot of positive thinking, our mission got accomplished when we happened to receive a phone call from someone asking question's about our gear during the Summer and in the conversation we discovered that the individual was looking for extreme cold weather gear that could handle the daily punishment of working construction outdoors in Antarctica during their Summer season.  So I guess the stars were in alignment a couple of months back when we made a couple gear shipments to our new customer and friend who was getting ready to head down to Antarctica at the end of October - 2008 for another season of construction work.  I guess good thing's happen to a good business that operates on a simple mission of only building cold weather gear that works in keeping the users warmer - longer.  But remember, we only get there from testing and punishing our products in extreme conditions somewhere around the globe and not just designing something that looks "pretty" and will sell in volumes to the masses.  

Our Worldly location or Event for 2009 is...........?

 

2008 R & D Gear Update:  August - 08

 

For some a vacation shutdown is the time to spend just relaxing around home or heading up "north", where ever that might be, but for others it presents the opportunity to further push our gear exposure somewhere within the USA or around the World.  This Summer it was debuting and exposing some of our new Technical Advantage Gear items in the wonderful and friendly Country of Spain (Espana).  We spent a fair amount of time traveling in Spain during the first fifteen days of August, met and made many new friends and also spent some time doing some photo shoots in the Pirineos or Pirinees Mountains as they are known locally, (however when you do a web search in America you'll have to type in Pyranee's).

We spent some time in the Province of Aragon, which meant that we were going to have the opportunity to spend some time in the Winter ski area's of Candanchu and Astun.  We realize that the temperatures were not actually ideal for our models to be wearing some of our new gear at the Candanchu ski resort pictured top left above in 88 degree F plus temperatures, but they sure drew attention from the local's as the shutter was clicking on our camera.  Featured in the pictures from Candanchu are our new XWick Straight and Drop Pad Neck Gaiters, a couple of our new Beanie style cold weather hats, along with a couple pairs of our performance proven Prairie Snowstorm Mitts that have been available for the last two years.

Also pictured above on the right, is a snapshot of our new Hardfaced Outer Shell Extreme Element Mitts with detachable thumb lock straps, along with the magnificent Mallos de Riglos pictured in the background.  We thought these new Technical Advantage Mitts were appropriate to show and picture in the scene, because Mallos de Riglos is the premere climbing and training spot for novice through expert climbers, of which a few end up taking their perfected skills on to the Himalaya's or to one of the Seven Summits for a true test of stamina and character. Of course that's also when and where some of our newest or existing gear can help them to stay warmer - longer.

We continue to build our gear to be the best, so where ever you take it in the World it will always surpass your expectations and then some.  We're getting our gear worn in many new and different places on the globe each year and this year's verified challenge is to make sure we have some going down to Antarctica in October.  So if you want to make sure that you really stay warm this year on your work mission to the South Pole, why not give Technical Advantage Gear a try, as we know that you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Anyway, now you know how some of us spent our two week Summer vacation shutdown.....muchas gracias Espana....


 

2008 R & D Gear Update:  3/08

We stand corrected in terms of the "official temperatures" that our regular and test gear endured up on the top of Rainy Pass during last years(2007) Iditarod, whereby several mushers were stuck for over 24 hours as they waited for the storm to pass and some of the trail markers to be re-set.  The "official" thumbs up for Technical Advantage Gear in preventing the normal frostbite that most other gear allowed, was a wind chilled -109F degrees below zero.  If you don't believe us, just ask the man in the picture above, as he corrected our previous estimates and also came down from Rainy Pass with his same pre-race skin color as pictured above from before the 2007 Iditarod start.

Long Underwear Prototype Testing Update:  Through the end of February 2008, the lowest windchilled temperatures that we have been able to run and test in was -49F below zero including windchill and that was at the 2008 UP200 Sled Dog Race.  Our Winter Cycling tester got both the tops and bottoms out a couple of times in windchilled temperatures of -30F to -35F below zero, but in either environment the conclusion and comments were the same, which was "what is this stuff made from" and "I've never had any long underwear that has come close to working this good".  Of course the next question was "how much does it cost because I want to buy "x number of pairs"  of them and when can I get them".  We still don't have a possible release timeframe in mind, as the cost of one of the technical fabrics that we want to use in our variable 2 layer fabric system for the base layer tops & bottoms is giving us some headaches.  So for now the question isn't if, rather a question of when.

We also are continuing our testing on liner socks and other variations of layered thermal socks, year number three of this project I believe and we are getting closer to what "we like".  Some of the prototypes have already received rave reviews from some of our field testers, but we still haven't been totally satisfied with the finished look of the items and therefore it is why you haven't seen anything in our product offering as available for purchase.  Again, stay tuned!

2008 R & D Gear Update:  1/08

As time seems to be our enemy by way of the pages falling off of the calendar faster then we would like them to, so goes the challenges with getting our new potential gear additions on and off of the drawing table and into the prototype stage for fielding testing.  We always have things in the testing phase somewhere around the Country, however many of them are not what we classify as Level 1 priority items, so they may not be released until sometime off into the future, or at all, unless they really start to trip our trigger in terms of potential demand.

For Winter/Spring 2008,  we anticipate getting some of our "new" prototype "long underwear" out for testing in various Winter endeavors including dog sledding, cycling, hiking and snow shoeing.  We are well aware that long underwear is nothing new, however how we have designed it for testing....is.  As usual, we are putting more into the final garments then what anyone else does, because we want to make sure the final output actually works and works in keeping you warmer - longer then the rest!

Again we have based our design and vision on our own concepts of how long underwear should be built to do a much better "warmth" job and then as usual we have enlisted input and suggestion from people in the field that thrive on playing in sub-zero tempertures during the Winter.  Our testing program will again determine whether anyone else will have the opportunity to buy any of these items in the future or not in their current form and format, or whether they will be further modified as can happen.  At the end of the day, you can rest assured that if we release them in a future selling season on our website, they'll have passed our tests and standards of being what we feel is the best in the World, or close to it for a reasonable and fair price for what you receive.

Our Gear is Going to New Heights in 2008:

We sell our gear around the World, but we rarely know where its final destination for use is going to be.  We know our gear gets used in the Iditarod and at other sled dog distance races and we even know that we have some gear that is currently on a one year around the World Sailing adventure, but beyond that we haven't been advised what other extreme adventures our gear has been taken on in the past somewhere in the World.

What we do know and have been working on for a few months now, is that some of our Technical Advantage Gear will be climbing to 29,035 feet this coming Spring of 2008 on a major European Climbing Expedition.  They say if you reach the top of the Summit on this mountain you may at most only get 30 minutes to enjoy the veiws, that the winds can blow at hurricane force at over 118 mph hour and that on a windless tropical day at the peak it could be as warm as -15F or as cold as -100F below zero when the winds are blowing

They say that one of the biggest challenges to making this climb actually happens before even setting foot on the ground to start the 10 day or so hike to the 17,500 foot base camp and that challenge is having a good pilot to shoot the landing on the1600 foot gravel runway sequester tightly on the side of a local mountain at Luklu.  Of course once you leave base camp to start up the mountain, the peril of the floating ice fields await and the real challenge begins.

Anyway, we're extremely excited by the recent news of having some of our Technical Advantage Gear going to the mighty Chomolungma, or as others call it Sagarmatha.  We're just a small fish in the big ocean of outdoor Winter and Expedition gear, so we'll be appreciating ever step that our gear takes on this mighty mountain this Spring.

 


 

2007 Field Testing Update:

Our final gear field testing process was completed with our participation and work with mushers running in the March 07 Iditarod in Alaska.  Pictured in the left hand corner of this page is a shot of a veteran Iditarod musher wearing one of our new Kap Bridgman billed hats before the actual start of this years Iditarod.  He also is wearing one of our Drop Pad Neck Gators that has developed a cult following with people that operate in extreme weather conditions and he also has his hands inside a pair of the "warmest mitts on the planet", our Extreme Element Arctic Thermal Mitts.

In the right hand corner of the top main header pictured next to the musher, is a musher handler who is wearing and testing one of our forthcoming new Prairie Snowstorm Stocking Hats and he has also been wearing a pair of our Prairie Snowstorm mitts that are hanging off his belt line on his left side.  The air temperatures earlier in the morning on the day of the picture were around -15F and the comments about the performance of the new hat were excellent, as they were about the performance and warmth of the already available Prairie Snowstorm Mitts.  

Of course our Iditarod musher friend Bennie wears our Extreme Element Arctic Thermal Mitts for training and in the Iditarod, which he claims them to be the warmest of any mitts that are available anywhere.  Bennie told us that while others were suffering with frost bitten fingers during this years race in estimated temperatures of -90F to -100F that his combination of a cheap light fleece glove(all mushers wear gloves to protect exposed skin when their hands are outside of their mitts) and a pair of our Extreme Element Arctic Thermal Mitts with Thumb Loc kept his hands and fingers from getting cold and more importantly from getting any frost bite.

The important thing about our actual field testing process, is that if any of our new gear doesn't pass the final field elements testing process or we're not satified with the results, then ...You will...never... see...it....


 


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