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Interview mit Steve Evans von Suluk 46

11. November 2009

Aufmerksam auf die Seite Suluk 46 von Steve Evans bin ich durch ein Video auf Youtube geworden. Da schneidet er doch tatsächlich die Therm-A-Rest NeoAir auseinander, weil sie ihm zu groß ist. Im ersten Moment, als ich das Video gesehen habe, dachte ich, dass dieser Bursche doch recht verrückt ist. Ich mein wer schneidet schon seine teure NeoAir in Stücke. Doch ein paar weitere Berichte und ein Besuch seiner Seite Suluk 46 zeigten mit, dass Steve es richtig drauf hat und 1A Ultraleicht-Gear entwirft. Freundlicherweise hat er sich bereiterklärt, mir ein paar Fragen zu  beantworten.

Here we go!

Hello Steve, could you tell a little bit about yourself for those who don’t know you?

I’m a 32 year old Mechanical Designer who resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As far back as I can remember, I was always building or designing something and knew at a young age that I wanted to be involved in engineering somehow. I originally worked in the aerospace industry as a machinist until I realized that I would enjoy being the person who designs things as well as builds them. I returned to school and achieved a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering and afterwards a Bachelors Degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology.

Suluk46_Steve

What is the meaning of your company name, Suluk 46?

When I was looking at creating a name for the company, I wanted to incorporate a term that implied light weight, but I also wanted to include a personal meaning in it. The word Suluk is a term used in the Inuktitut language. The language is spoken by the Inuit who inhabit the Canadian Arctic and Sub arctic Regions. Suluk can be translated into „Feather“. The ’46‘ at the end of the company name corresponds to the line of Latitude that crosses a small mountain located in Killarney Provincial Park known as Silver Peak. It was in this park that my father used to take me as a child and while I did not get the chance to climb this small hill while he was around, it was a mutual goal for us. I visit this area at least a few times each year. Put these two together and Suluk 46 is created.

How did you come to hiking and when did you start to go lightweight?

I began hiking as a child with my father. Every year he would plan a backcountry trip and take me along with him. Being that I was young, the trips were less ambitious then my current endeavors, but still involved a couple of hours of hiking or canoeing and several days in the bush. I have extremely fond memories of these trips. Through high school, I strayed away from hiking for the most part but before I hit my 20’s, I began planning some trips. I pulled out some of my old gear and went for a 3 day trip. I never weighed my pack or had a gearlist, but I can tell you that I have never had a more miserable time. I thought my back was going to break and I’ve never had such sore shoulders. I finished the trip, but just barely…I decided that something had to change. For my next trip, I did some research and tried to replace all my old gear with lighter gear. My research led me to a 4 lb tent and 5 lb backpack. Not exactly lightweight, but an improvement on what I was currently using. Then one day while in my local outfitters I spoke with a gentlemen who told me he carries less then 10 pounds of gear. I couldn’t believe it…and asked what it consisted of. When he told me he uses a homemade alcohol stove and slept in a hennesey hammock, I thought he was crazy. But guess what, I bought the hammock that day. The hammock didn’t work for me so I returned it in exchange for a poncho tarp. At this point I was well on my way to an ultralight gear list. The rest was just a matter of continuous improvement – dropping weight little by little. In 2006 someone told me to visit backpackinglight.com and through the use of the forums and discussions, I brought my baseweight down even more and now typically bring about 5 lbs of gear for 3 season trips.

Suluk46

Do you prefer the long trails like the PCT or short trips at the weekend?

I think that a long hike like the PCT would be a great challenge for me, and I love challenges. I can’t really say I would prefer a PCT style hike as I haven’t completed a hike of that length before. Perhaps one day, if time permits, I would undertake a trip like that. I think, at this point in my hiking career, my favorite length of hike is about 5-9 days in length. This allows for about a week in the bush and no need for a re-supply, so you can really get away from the crowds. I also enjoy quick overnighters, as they let me get away from the office and is a good way to test new gear. I guess, in the end I just love to get out and hike!

Your manufacture is really new I think.Can you tell me something how and why you started your manufacture?

I have been in the manufacturing industry for many years but have only recently started to apply it to my backcountry interests. This was a result of having a need for products that were not available on the market. I started to design and build gear that was lighter, stronger, smaller, or just unavailable anywhere else. The Tica Ice Tool was the first product that Suluk 46 officially launched. Initially, only a small batch was to be manufactured but continued interest lead me to building more and eventually offering them for sale on the website. I am still very much in the development phase and am working hard to bring creations from the „R&D“ section into the „Products“ area.

Suluk46_Steve_descending_The_Crack

Do you manage your manufacture as a second job or as a main job?

It is very much a second job for me. I spend my days designing automated tooling and systems for the automotive and nuclear industry.

What is the philosophy behind your company?

It is quite simple – to design and build backcountry gear for the ultralight backpacking community. But not just any type of gear, most everything you’ll see from Suluk 46 will push the limits of the materials used, have a high strength to weight ratio, and of course be ridiculously light.

How did you get the idea to modify the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir?

I was excited about the release of the Neoair but I wanted something shorter and lighter – I always do! I think it was only a matter of time until some one modified it, and there was some talk on the forums about it. One day I took an iron and without cutting the pad, I applied it to the corner and sealed it down. When I saw that the heat sealed the two fabrics together, I concluded that the heat activated adhesive must be applied to the entire inside surface of the pad’s material. At that point, I set up my digital camera and decided to do a small episode on how to modify it. This became Episode #1 of my web videos „On The Trail“. Since I only had the one Neoair, what you see me doing in the video is actually the first time I am doing it. If the pad didn’t seal at the end, I would not have released the video. Lucky for me, the process is quite easy and straight forward.

What kind of new innovations can we expect in the future?

Like most engineers, I have no shortage of ideas, so you can always expect something cutting edge to be released on my website. I am still working hard on my Titanium Crampons and have several other projects on the go. I would give release dates, but when designing and building products of this nature, which use high end materials such as titanium, carbon fiber, and cuben fiber, it is quite costly to make prototypes. For this reason alone, I usually have to wait a few months between manufacturing them.

Is there a company that manufactures your products to your specification or do you do the manufacturing yourself?

The only products I have made outside of my facility are products that I am unable to make or areas of a manufacturing process that I am not able to perform. I have a fully equipped machine and fabrication shop but processes such as laser cutting or tig welding are something I am not able to do. In this case, I would use a local company to perform this for me. The majority of my material is purchased from the U.S.A. and I pride myself on manufacturing these products in North America as it supports the economy. I would urge manufacturers all over the world to maximize the use of their local businesses.

Suluk46 (2)

Is environmental impact important for you and what do you do to help minimize it?

Being a small company, the production of S46 gear in our facility has very little impact on the environment. However, environmental impact is always an issue to look into. The most efficient way to reduce our environmental impact is to reduce waste. A reduction in waste is also a reduction in cost, so there is more then one reason to go this route. At Suluk 46, all manufacturing and material processes are leaned out as much as possible and material is used as efficiently as possible. All scrap is recycled and dry machining techniques are used to eliminate disposal of coolants and cutting fluids. In the future, as more products are designed and produced, the manufacturing processes will be looked at carefully. If areas of the process are too demanding on the environment, new options will be looked at.

Meanwhile, many manufacturers produce lighter gear. Do you think that this is a trend which ends in some years or will ultralight gear conquer the marketplace?

I guess it really depends on what you consider to be ultralight. I can go to my local outfitter and put together a ~15 lb base weight using off the shelf items, so in some ways the ultralight gear is already there. When we start talking about base weights in the 5-10 lb range or even lighter, then equipment becomes a bit more specialized. Gear that falls into this category is typically going to be made of exotic fabrics and materials. Most major manufacturers steer clear of the ultralight materials as they are expensive, difficult to work with, and some of them require careful handling. I would enjoy seeing a boost in the ultralight marketplace, however, it requires some research and skills on behalf of the consumer to take advantage of this type of gear. So, while I don’t think the ultralight trend will end any time soon (it’s been around for a long time), I do not believe it will conquer the marketplace.

Suluk46_Steve_hiking_the_Coastal_Trail

In which direction will ultralight gear develop? Even lighter and more stable?

As new materials, manufacturing technology and processes are invented, you will see a potential for lighter and stronger products. It will then be the choice of each individual manufacturer to apply these new developments to their backcountry gear. I obviously can’t speak for all companies, but I will tell you that I will continue to design and develop this type of gear. If the products manufactured by Suluk 46 were not cutting edge, then there would be no reason for an engineer to be involved…or should say there would be no reason for an engineer „like me“ to be involved. I believe it is natural to always want to push the limits. You’ll see this in most all industries – everyone wants to go further, faster, and with less energy. One common factor involved in achieving this is weight reduction, which can be accomplished by either lightening pieces of your gear or eliminating it all together. Steve, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Thank you Steve for answering these questions. Is there something you would like to say?

I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in your blog. I very much enjoyed answering your questions and I hope the readers will enjoy it as well. As always, if you or anyone else has any questions, you can always send me an e-mail. See you on the trail, Steve Evans

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