Compass: Charting the Evolution of Outdoor Gear

Yakworks Profile

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Don Wittenberger writing about his YakWorks days on the outdoor forums of both SuperTopo and Trailspace in 2009 and 2007:

"I was the Yakpak's designer. I'm also the inventor and owner of the patent on the Yakpak's X-Suspension.

The Yakpak was conceived and designed independently of the Jensen Pack. I was looking for something that would balance better in climbing situations

than the popular packframes of the era. There are some significant differences between the two packs. The Yakpak was larger than the Jensen, and had

an internal slot next to the back for carrying the sleeping pad inside the pack, which provided cushioning for the back and limited vertical support for the

load. (In general, though, the Yakpak like the Jensen used the load itself as the "frame.")

Unlike the Jensen, the Yakpak also had a separate padded waistbelt like a packframe. The key feature of the Yakpak's design was the X-Suspension you

mentioned. Yes, a PIA to get on or off, but it allowed the shoulder straps to lengthen or shorten in opposition to each other. For example, if you reach

upward with your right arm, you can get the needed slack in that shoulder strap by taking up the slack from the left shoulder strap, so you had greater

freedom of movement without any looseness in either strap. We all know many things that look good on paper don't work in real life, but this idea

worked pretty well.

I left the Yak Works shortly after acquiring Rivendell Mountain Works, as a result of irreconcilable conflicts with my former partner, and the Yak Works

went belly up a couple years later. When I left, I retained ownership of the patent and Yakpak design, and licensed it to the Yak Works as part of the

legal settlement with my former partner.

I have no plans to bring back the Yakpak, but from time to time I've toyed with the idea of putting the Yakpak's X-Suspension on a Jensen Pack. I've

casually mentioned the subject to Eric Hardee, who makes the Jensen Packs under a licensing agreement he has with me, but we haven't seriously

discussed it, because he's busy making packs and my focus is on the Bombshelter Tent. If someone wanted a Jensen prototype with the X-Suspension,

there's no legal reason why Eric couldn't make one, if you can talk him into it.

Because I'm the legal owner of both designs, I can (and would) give him permission to use the Yakpak's X-Suspension on the Jensen Pack, at least for

the purpose of field testing it. The two packs are similar enough that I don't see why it wouldn't work on a Jensen. Playing with that hasn't been one of

our priorities, though.

It took 25 years just to get the Jensen Pack back into limited production, and nothing about that was easy. Eric and his wife live in a log house they built

themselves in the mountains above Monroe, Washington, and they don't have electricity up there; he has to run the sewing machines off a generator.

Yes, I started Yak Works and designed the Yakpak. When I sold my interest in the company, I did not get the Yakpak patterns or design rights. I walked

away with Rivendell instead. Theoretically, there's nothing to stop me from, say, integrating some of the Yakpak's feature in an upsized Jensen Pack, but

Eric and I will take things one step at a time -- slowly and carefully. Our ambitions do not extend beyond a very small custom operation selling by word-

of-mouth. I've been the big-company route and don't want to do it again. No investors or financial partners this time, either.

The important thing is I kept the patterns, kept the sewing equipment, and kept the dream.

I did not design most of the Yak Works clothing line. The one-piece rainsuit and a very light rain jacket made of 3/4 oz. coated ripstop were products of

my fertile mind. A small Seattle company called Rhiannon was the source of some early YW apparel designs, but YW had a staff designer and pattern

grader, and its ultimate apparel line was designed in-house.

I started the company that became the Yak Works and was the designer of the Yakpak, and I purchased (and still own) the assets of Rivendell Mountain

Works from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 1981. I personally own 1 Rivendell Jensen Pack, a couple of Yakpaks, and 1 Rivendell Bombshelter Tent, and the

Rivendell patterns still exist. None of these are for sale. I do have extra copies of some of the old Yak Works and Rivendell catalogs.

Hi, my name is Don Wittenberger, and I'm a 60-year-old retired climber living in Seattle, Washington. I acquired the assets of Rivendell Mountain Works

from the federal bankruptcy court in 1981. Due to the demands of career, raising a family, limited funds, etc., I didn't put the Rivendell products back

into production. However, I want you all to know the patterns survived and are in my possession.

For several years, I've worked with Eric Hardee of Monroe, Washington, and Eric has begun making a few Jensen Packs on a custom basis. To contact Eric

about a pack, search for his web site by googling "Rivendell Mountain Works." At this point, we can't make tents yet, as we would need a supplier for the

poles and have to invest a considerable sum in the special-order fabrics required. I can't promise the tent will ever be available again, but I hope so,

although at best that's still a few years away. But please rest assured that Eric and I are hoping we can bring the classic RMW products back."