Compass: Charting the Evolution of Outdoor Gear

North Face Profile

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The North Face is one of the iconic brands of the outdoor industry. But the public face of the label belies its troubled history as a business. It has rarely

made a profit in its long history and has changed ownership hands more times than most people have visited their dentist.

Oval Intention

But that aside the company has made solid contribution to the evolution of the outdoor gear and clothing. Not the least because they brought us the first

Geodesic Dome, in the shape of the Oval Intention. Prior to its arrival on the scene in 1975 dome tents, such as those produced by Moss and Jansport had

existed. These were easy to pitch and offered better internal space with their steeper side walls than the classic ridge tent. But they weren't overly strong

in high wind or under heavy snow loading. Adapting ideas from the great thinker and inventor, Buckminster Fuller, The North Face pioneered a dome tent

where the poles crossed one another, providing bracing points. In the first Oval Intention these 15 intersecting points were connected to the tents inner

wall by rings. (A later model dubbed the Pole Sleeve Oval Intention spread the load more evenly, putting less strain on those rings and making pitching

far easier for those lacking engineering degrees to understand.) Although a bit of a lumbering heavyweight, hitting the scales at nearly 10 lbs (4.5 kg) the

3 person Oval Intention (OI) was exceedingly strong. And robust in foul weather. And it broke the mould. At least in the USA. Where today the

mainstream outdoors market strangely demands that backpacking tents be "free-standing."


However, apart from a few aficionados, most current outdoor enthusiasts won't have been exposed to a tent like the Oval Intention. More likely they have

experience with a derivative of The North Face's VE-24 (vector equilibrium, two person, four pole) tent. This particular geodesic tent might just be the

most copied dome in the outdoors. With one third the points of pole intersection of the OI, the VE-24 was generally a simpler, cheaper and lighter weight

tent. The VE-24 originally sported two rear tunnel vents that were just large enough to double as alternative doors to main zippered entrance. These were

later replaced. At one time TNF also provied the VE-24 with foam spacers whose function was to keep the outer flysheet from touching the inner tent

canopy and wetting it out. But this was not a very satisfactory solution either. Initially the front door of the VE-24 was protected by two straight Easton

aluminium tent tube struts that formed a verandah awning. Later this was swapped out for a large hopped pole and a full coverage vestibule. And with

this extra pole the famous VE-24 was now the VE-25.

work in progress. more coming in due course