Berkeley Backpacking Biz - Old School, New School, No School

Mark Erickson: The Oval Intention Changes the Game

Powered by Drupal

[Note from Al Tabor: Both Mark Erickson and Bruce Hamilton had let me know that they had good stories about the development of The North Face's ground breaking Oval Intention Tent. With a little prompting to get the tales, they both came through in spades.

Regarding the way the Oval Intention“changed the game”, I always thought the game-changing differences of the OI vs. then-current state of the art were:

  1. the tent was free-standing (didn’t have to be staked to the ground and was moveable);
  2. the tent offered more interior volume than A-frame tents by virtue of its sphericity;
  3. the tent utilized aluminum poles in a new way; that is, by subjecting them to bending stresses rather than purely compressive stresses;
  4. the tent was demonstrably stronger than A-frame tents;
  5. at introduction the tent was ‘way more expensive than the rest of the market- $235 vs. $175 for the TNF Mountain Tent I believe.

Of course the association with R. Buckminister Fuller made us unique in the market, and the Oval Intention may not have even happened without it. But the fact is relatively few people really knew who he was (I still get blank stares when I mention the name), so I don’t know that alone really changed the game…

Blanchard Draw Tite Tent from Bryd ExpeditionIt should be remembered however that there were earlier examples of free-standing tents (Google “Blanchard Draw-Tite”); of free-standing dome-shaped tents (JanSport); and of free-standing dome-shaped structures using bending frame elements (Ohlone Indian houses.)

So….what was really so game-changing? Don’t we also have to credit the social milieu of the time (i.e domes = hippie homes), and The North Face’s already-strong market position which enabled rapid and wide-reaching distribution of the “new” design?

BTW, anyone associated with the development of free-standing aluminum pole tent structures should feel proud upon viewing the photos in this Sunday’s NYT Magazine, of Everest base camp before the recent quakes there. Amazing collection of TNF, Mountain Hardwear and Slingfin tents…

by Author
MarkErickson MarkErickson's picture

This Story is part of a Series...

Here's a message board discussion by some of the TNF originals on the OutInUnder article about... Read Story
Here's the first appearance of the Oval Intention in the 1975 North Face catalog. It's easy to see... Read Story
The Oval Intention was a watershed product that altered the course of tent design in architecture... Read Story
[Note from Al Tabor: Both Mark Erickson and Bruce Hamilton had let me know that they had good... Read Story
Q: Wasn't there some sort of 'harmonic convergence' involving inspiration from Bucky, you &... Read Story
Mark’s recollection is, as usual, very accurate.  And, he is spot on about the benefit I saw in... Read Story
MarkErickson's picture
by Author MarkErickson

Start a Story of Your OwnStart a Story Icon


Do us a favor - 
Please take 2 minutes and give us feedback. Thanks!

Story Copyright