Martin's life long passion for tensegrity and great outdoor gear has lead him to create tents that survive in conditions that would blow your house down. You'll see them on Everest but, also, in quite different version, on the Appalachin Trail.
Martin Zemitis: My name is Martin and I’ve been in the outdoor industry designing equipment for over 30 years. I started in high school. I got a sewing machine, some pattern paper and some fabric and I started sewing backpacking accessory, cross-country ski accessories...I even sewed a tent back then...and it started a lifelong quest to make gear and improve gear and it’s been quite a journey.
Interviewer: …a lot of that was designing stuff basically for ourselves. So how did you get started and all that?
MZ:: Well, I originally got started in high school in 1975. I decided we could make a better backpack so my brother, a friend of ours, Bill Sterling, and his girlfriend at the time, Bonnie Jerome, we started a company called Sierra Mountaineering. And we did that until it was time to go to college and I went to college and afterwards started working at The North Face.
I had some friends in high school that were running this ultra long distances and I had a bunch of friends that ran from – they ran the John Muir Trail and they did in four days which back then was a big deal. Today it wouldn’t be that big a deal but back then that was a big deal. So I’d make these top loading fanny packs that would hold these water bottles and enough gear for 50 miles. And then we’d meet up and restock them and then they’d be off again. I’m glad I wasn’t on the trail on that one but I was happy to make the gear for them.
And so basically we would make the gear to solve some functional issues, but in the end...the product at the time didn’t have the right suspension, it didn’t have enough volume. And so by trying to help these runners accomplish their task we ended up making a whole line of fanny packs that people were able to use them for overnight ski trips. And even to this day nobody is making fanny packs like that. And back there for the people that really wanted to go super light and go long distances for cross-country skiing or for running it really let them be a lot more free, they didn’t have to have a pack on and it solved the design problem. But it really came from just experimenting and trying to solve some design problems.
I started mainly at The North Face designing packs and sleeping bags and I got involved in tents sort of on the periphery with Bruce Hamilton teaching me about tensegrity and teaching me the math and that’s turned into a lifelong pursuit of designing tensile structures and I owe a lot to Bruce for that. I stated with just a small one man tent called The Mayfly at the time at North Face. I mainly worked on a lot of different tents, working on parts of the existing tents and updating things. But at Sierra Designs I was hired as a tent designer, so while I did sleeping bags, I designed sleeping bags as well but my main focus was tents. And there I worked on things like the Stretch Prelude, their Pro Series, the Lookout, the Night Watch, all sorts. I’ve designed tents for them for almost 7 years. And then when the opportunity to come to Mountain Hardwear, I started with empty room, set up a cutting table, got some pencils and rulers and a pair of scissors and started going at it. And there I designed all their tents for the first 10 years. So that would be the Tiros, the Satellite, the Space Station, the Trangos, the Trango Assautl, the Annapurna, the Approach, I don’t know, the list goes on for a lot of tents there.
So I spent much of my career working through the traditional retail channels and with SlingFin I have the opportunity to work directly with the guide and the guide services and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s less a lot more fun.