Philosophy

Durston gear is grounded in four core philosophies:

  1. First Principles Design
    An overwhelming amount of the outdoor equipment on the market today is sub-optimal because the design isn’t the result of reasoning from first principles. With tents especially, a designer will start from some pre-existing basic shape and then when shortcomings are identified, they will add on features to remedy that, rather than asking if they should be using that basic shape in the first place. The result is tents that are more complex, heavy, expensive and failure prone than need be.

    A classic example of this is the proliferation of variants off of the classic single pole pyramid design. Single pole pyramid tents have a wonderful simplicity to them, but they have several major shortcomings too: limited headroom, unusable area around the low edges, and the pole often interferes in the doorway or living space. If a designer is okay with these shortcomings then a single pole pyramid is a nice way to go, but if a designer is not, then they should be asking themselves if this is the proper starting point.

    But instead of finding a core shape that is optimal for the desired end result, the ultralight world is filled with tent designs that have piled post-hoc ideas onto the single pole pyramid. We see struts and short poles being added at the peak to improve headroom, struts are around the edges to reduce the low walls, mid-panel guyouts to pull out the walls for more volume and the pole is off center or angled to relocate it somewhere less inconvenient. All of these strategies work to some extent, but they are also suboptimal because they are complex, heavy and failure prone compared to what is possible. The result is tent designs that claim to espouse lightweight minimalism and yet use up to 6 struts, 8 guylines and 12 stakes.

    A better approach is to reason from first principles to identify the ideal base geometry that minimizes the need to layer on post hoc solutions. With the X-Mid, I spent years mulling over these basic fundamentals, such as relative merits of designing a tent with three, four or five sides. From this it was clear that a four sided shape with two poles located inwards from the edges in the patent pending X-Mid layout (below) provides the ideal tent because it minimizes weight and complexity while maximizing space and function. For the geeks out there, I’ve written a much longer post explaining this. 

    This philosophy of reasoning every aspect from the first principles of geometry and physics is the best way to design gear and thus is the starting point for every piece of gear we release. 

  2. Coherent Design
    Marketing departments for gear companies have been claiming for decades that their gear “makes no compromises”. Frankly this couldn’t be further from the truth and demonstrates a complete naivety for how gear is designed. If you build a backpack with beefy fabrics you’ve compromised on the weight of that item, but if you build it with fragile fabrics you’ve compromised on the durability. In between is a balance – which is still a compromise. Almost every design decision is a compromise. A tent that is larger but heavier? Or lighter but smaller?

    Compromise is inevitable, which is why the best possible approach is to acknowledge this and focus on a design that compromises consistently to achieve a coherent end product. On the market today there are highly durable tents that inexplicably use #3 zippers which will fail long before the rest of the tent, there are fragile sleeping bags with overkill #7 zippers, and packs with frames built strong enough to carry far more weight than their small 35L packbag could ever hold. These are not coherent designs.

    With Durston gear, all of our designs are highly coherant because the precise goal of the product is determined from the outset and every decision is made with that in mind. Thus, the gear is optimized for its intended use. You might find #3 zippers on a Durston tent but it will be on a tent that consistently makes this same compromise to trade durability for weight savings so you get a ridiculously light tent that at least wears out evenly at about the same time. 

    This design philosophy extends beyond simple judgements of durability vs weight. It extends to the feature set and the geometry. For example, steep tent walls shed snow well but resist wind poorly, while shallow walls do the opposite. Either of these (or something in between) might be the right approach depending on the design goals, but a mix of steep and shallow walls is never the right choice because it combines the weaknesses of both. With every piece of gear, the best design is the one that consistently compromises towards a coherent goal.

  3. Field Validation
    It’s impossible to design excellent equipment without extensive field validation because the challenges a product faces in the wild are too diverse and unpredictable to fully foresee from a desk. Yet far too many outdoor products contain flaws that reveal a lack of real word validation. The most egregious I’ve seen is a plastic lid on a titanium mug that expands and leaks when exposed to the heat of a hot drink, but many products contain clear oversights of one type or another. That might be doors that channel rain into the tent, vents that get permanently wrinkled when packed, or sleeping bag hardware that rubs on your face all night.

    I (Dan) have extensive outdoors experience including thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (2014), hiking the first yo-yo of the Great Divide Trail (2017), setting fastest known times on long routes and completing numerous routes in challenging off-season conditions. These experiences inform every attribute of each design. Before any product is released, I personally use it in a wide range of conditions. That’s not to say I’ll think of every good idea, but you can be assured that our designs are informed by and extensively tested in wide range of conditions. That might sound basic, but it’s surprisingly lacking across the industry where many designers never personally use a product before it is released.

  4. Quality 
    It’s easy for anyone to say they place a high value on quality, so it’s only through time and reputation that the truth of this claim can be determined.

    Thus I won’t waste time here telling you how important quality is to me even though I am a complete stickler for it. In the mean time, I ask you to look at quality of the designs, the quality of our photos and the quality of the answers that you are reading now, as evidence that quality permeates everything we do.