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

Hap Klopp: Bringing the Oval Intention from Concept to Market

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Oval Intention Tent as Pictured in the Fall 1975 TNF Catalog
Mark’s recollection is, as usual, very accurate.  And, he is spot on about the benefit I saw in introducing Gillis into the equation to ensure the finalization of our product.  Given the TNF commitment to always making the best, sometimes we got into perfection paralysis (wasn’t it Voltaire who said, “Perfect is the enemy of good”?)   Gillis, ever the idiosyncratic individual, didn’t suffer from those same constraints and had initiated some ideas which I thought just might, help Bruce, Mark and TNF finally get the fabulous TNF Oval Intention prototype over our development hurdles and lead us into putting a product onto the market.  
 
The effort in making the tent was probably the biggest challenge we had in product development up to that time.  It required an interdisciplinary team within TNF and outside of it.  Bruce’s long time familiarity with Bucky’s ideas and math coupled with Mark’s knowledge of fabrics were the backbone of our effort. Bucky mentoring the team was not only helpful from a design standpoint but irreplaceable in terms of the energy he infused in our team.  But we also had to go outside TNF to finish our product.  We did a joint development with Easton Aluminum to come up with the poles, because the poles we needed were absolutely unique.  Prior to that time Easton was making ski poles but saw the potential in our tent idea.   We also ended up relying on input from the University of California Engineering Department.  And, as mentioned, bringing Gillis in to help surmount a small part of the design challenge also helped prod our team into finally bringing our Oval Intention invention to the market.
 
Why was the tent so successful?  Probably no one really knows.   From my perspective, I think there were a variety of things.  The first was that it was one of the strongest tents which had come onto the market yet lightest—my interpretation of Buckmintster Fuller’s geodesic shapes was that they provided a maximum amount of space with the minimum possible materials—therefore making it very light.  Also, as the geodesic structure got larger, the structure got stronger, not weaker.   Hence, the larger versions we made for major expeditions were very well received and got noticed by a lot of people.  The tie to Bucky was certainly helpful, but as Mark points out, Bucky was really only known to a small portion of the market we were selling.  Certainly the look of the tent which was so unique helped.  The fact that it was free standing also helped—the tents looked a lot better in stores than those that were not held up very well by guy lines.   The free standing aspect also allowed the tent to be used in some plays and TV programs where quick set up was essential.  However, as Mark points out, the freestanding aspect was not unique to us.   And, of course, the fact that we had a great number of trendsetting outdoor people who used and raved about the tents lightweight and strength played into the mix.  
 
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HapKlopp HapKlopp'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
Al, Hap and Mark, It is great to hear you guys and the early history of the Oval Intention. I have... Read Story
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by Author HapKlopp

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MarkErickson's picture
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Joined: 05/13/15
Further to Hap’s point about

Further to Hap’s point about the OI looking good in stores compared to saggy A-frame tents, I remember many people commenting at the time on how visually striking the tent was, as if it had perhaps touched down from outer space...maybe the novel shape and appearance contributed as much to the tent’s early popularity as it’s more practical advantages.

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Story Copyright
07/28/15