The Last Bag Blog
Fascinating people are never hard to find, you only have to ask a few simple questions to unlock the unique elements of who they are. I have always been inquisitive, too much so for my own good. I tend to dig for details until I either turn someone away or consume more than I can possibly digest in one sitting. This weekend was spent with many folks from around the U.S. at the Idaho Panhandle Rally. Tucked neatly into a beautiful valley surrounding Sandpoint, Idaho, the IPR opened its second season in fine fashion under a mix of weather and good vibes.
Lingering around my product tent, observing the goings-on as I normally do, thinking about all the things that might be going wrong somewhere in my work world, a man approached and we began to chat. I instantly recognized his camera as a serious tool, and as we spoke about health, a Sportsmobile, country club culture and Alaskan wildlife, a curiosity began to evolve surrounding this man’s contribution to our world and his demeanor suggested there was a story hiding within that was reluctant to surface. I pressed on, learning more about a humble, accomplished wildlife photographer and world traveler who had seen so much more than I.
Russ Gutshall has carried his camera through Denali National Park for about 20 years, carrying a coveted permit to do so and capturing some of the most stunning footage of wildlife in the park we have ever seen. His story, however, is not just about being a photographer, it is about growing up in Michigan and living in the south and capturing wildlife in Alaska and sailing to Antarctica while cheating death. Everyone has a story that is greater than our first greeting, and the time taken to learn of it is worth the investment.
The young couple in front of me seemed reluctant to be there, casually awkward in their demeanor and almost shy. As we exchanged a few pleasantries, I recognized her accent to be European and (annoyingly, of course) inquired where she was from. She was French, he was Mexican, they met at a garage rock show near San Francisco 8 years ago and are now married and traveling as their finances allow. We spent quite a few hours together, talking about spirituality, 4x4’s, backpacking and LSD all while sharing a campfire’s warmth and hospitality. I hope we will have the opportunity to gather with Caroline and Joel again as I already value the interaction we had and crave more for the future.
Dana & Joe approached Ian in the booth and struck up a lengthy conversation. I was unaware of who they represented, however soon came to learn they were the founders of Mule Expedition Outfitters in Issaquah, WA. A fabled and desired destination in the northwest, Mule has become the gold standard of vehicle outfitters and incredibly well-respected for their quality builds, selection, and in my opinion, creativity. The first time I saw MULE was at NWOR some years ago - They brought a massive MAN-like truck that turned into a stage that was practically overwhelming, but so impressive, and featured throughout the entire event as a monument to their unique mindset and thoughtfulness in building a vehicle. Dana and Joe are not typical owners - they are real. There didn’t seem to be any massive ego or inflated persona surrounding them, rather, they were straightforward and so likable it was comforting to get to know them if even for just a few minutes. This rapidly growing industry is rampant with testosterone-driven personalities, yet they defy the trend. Joe and Dana built a business from a passion for old Synchros, those unicorns of the VW world that are so highly desirable and cherished, and they continue to challenge the norms of vehicle-based travel in a professional and elevated manner. Meeting folks who are seeing success from their honest and innovative efforts reminds me that passion for your work is not necessarily a bad thing, but an extension of yourself, but not one to be solely identified with.
The point of this post, I suppose, is to suggest that we walk by, through, and around so many people every day without ever knowing them truly. We often make assumptions as to who they are, what they do, or even not at all out of a sheer will to avoid the encounter. But what do we miss in the process? I have always been inquisitive, wondering whose story might emerge, fascinated by their travels and meanderings, their ideology, and even their politics. Call it my curse, but I carry it with me as a tool for learning and exposure to a world I have so minimally seen. Next time we meet, be prepared to have me inquire, or run in the other direction at sight of my bald head approaching. If I see you run, it will only make me more inquisitive!
Just over a year ago our phones and email were buzzing with requests as a potential PPE source. Government agencies, private healthcare, and essential industries were clamoring for any production capacity we could provide. Cost was not an issue - supply was the only thing that mattered. We were intrigued, but wisely cautious about our investment in this business pivot.
Immediately, we examined what the short and long term implication might be on our business. Should we go CapEx crazy on automation equipment? Where can we find reliable raw material sources? How long will this demand actually last? We took a reasoned approach, found suitable partners in our supply chain for the short term, made incremental personnel investments that were flexible enough to pivot these investments back into our core business as demand flattened or waned. We could have taken on a lot more, but we chose not to. Why?
After 20 years in textiles, I have learned a few things. One, the U.S. textile infrastructure has been victim to a giant vacuum sound, sucking talent and capacity out since the 80’s. Second, our industry has not done enough to celebrate the STEM portion of our business to attract and retain incoming talent on the manufacturing side (design is doing just fine…). Third, and perhaps most relevant to this discussion, consumers are fickle beasts. The pandemic immediately spotlighted domestic textile production, launching a cavalcade of discussion, interest, passion-laden statements about re-shoring PPE, the return of Made in America and an investment domestically to prepare for the future. Lots of excitement, tons of chatter, some great consolidation of efforts and an industry boost and recognition well-deserved. So after one year of chaotic pivoting and scrambling, where are we at today?
I wish I could write that the consumer (institutional and retail) is holding their ground and demanding U.S. made goods. I wish I could write that our government has positively responded to the crisis and mandated U.S. made origin of goods. But what I really wish is that short term memory loss among these groups wasn’t so prevalent. Seems we have limited attention spans once the immediate fire is extinguished and we allow ourselves to ignore what’s left smoldering. Ultimately, we have to illustrate why re-shoring is critical, why it presents a greater value, and why the consumer should care. The industry can’t rely on Don Draper to brainstorm the most brilliant ad campaign ever. We need us all to commit to re-shoring - it is worth every effort.
Wow, here comes the tumultuous period of time called election season. A nagging and fearful thought among many is whether or not we will have some form of civil unrest due to the election result, one way or the other. Here's my amateur and unreasonable thoughts on this - We all need to realize that it is inevitable that one side or the other will be upset, however, that should never be considered a license to be violent or a jerk. Let's see about using dialogue to make our arguments in a respectful and positive manner that both listens to our opponent and allows for a two-way conversation. I get that when emotions run high, our clarity of thought and rush to silence tends to take over, but the reality is, we all have different views and experiences that influence our behaviors and ideology. We are too often reducing our arguments to social media posts consisting of less than 140 characters, or wallowing in our echo chamber for confirmation bias so we don't have to think any harder.
This last weekend I met folks who were on both sides of the political spectrum, and many in between. We all got along, we talked long into the night, and we left understanding we were different and respected our right to vote independently and without fear of repercussion from each other. Perhaps our current media is driving the divide further apart, and some have been swept into one side of the wedge or the other, unwilling to go against the flow in fear. Or perhaps we have just gotten plain lazy and would prefer to just be led than to have to think for ourselves, becoming blind followers without a rudder control? I can't say for sure, but it sure seems like the division is purposeful and exacting a toll on majority of public through fatigue and emotional distress.
I have an idea - let's go camping, turn off the phones, maybe fish together a bit, and chat around the campfire. I bet we'll leave friends. I'll bring the s'mores.
COVID derailed many of our travel plans for the summer. While we hunkered down late spring and early summer, we have since been able to adventure a bit more in the last month. Travel, for us, is normally a social event, meeting folks along the way and eating in far off places, stopping in for a beverage, or checking out a local storefront with regional crafts that inspire. Today, however, our travels are closer to home, and normally away from crowds or social gatherings just to play it safe. As a family, we consider all those we come in contact with, like my 81 year-old mom who has a compromised immune system, or anyone of an advanced age that might be more susceptible to the virus. This altered vector of travel has us looking for trout in small streams, away from resorts and popular spots, and dispersed camping far off the beaten path. Somehow, quite remarkably, my son and I found solitude along the Columbia River this weekend, away from any human interaction, with a flowing cool current that relieved us from the sweltering heat. The experience was a good as any in our opinion, and we treasure these times to cast a fly and relax into a hobby we enjoy.
We'll be heading to Montana soon, dropping the youngest son off at Montana State for what will most likely be another altered year of higher learning, but we'll be skipping the usual paths crowded by summer tourism and heading indirectly to our destination through remote camp sites and self-reliant stops. We've geared up to do so, joining the many that have been reborn into the outdoor lifestyle and nodding from afar to say hello. The hope is to get in, and out, of his new apartment as fast as possible, impacting as few as possible. Look for some images from the road coming soon.
We are encouraging all of our staff to use their time off this year to recharge and reinvigorate their personal selves, observing social distancing and at least being conscious of their impact. The world seems to be in unrest, perhaps rightfully so, as us humans like to create problems then complain about how we might fix them. Whatever our ideologies and opinions are on the matter, it probably wouldn't hurt all of us to participate in a little self-reflection time... Happy travels...
Clients are often attempting to complete a job with a quick fix to a complicated problem. Facing deadlines and budgets, the quick fix is often off the shelf and serves a singular purpose. Sometimes, maybe even often, this works. What might not work is how this fix pans out over an extended period of time.
We recently had a client ask for a LUSB075HD Origami Lift Bag. The bag measure 22" wide x 22" deep x 18" tall and they were using to haul 25 sections of rebar measuring 26" long. These would be inserted diagonally into the bag, stretching the bag and not balancing the load well. Does it work, well, yes, sort of. Is it right? Not at all. The proper method to carry them would be to build something that can properly distribute the payload to the lifting slings in a balanced manner. The problem will come on the wear and load stress on the bag itself, typically causing a failure in the fabric portion of the bag.
I would always suggest asking if we have a custom solution to provide. Often, the MOQ is lower than one realizes, and the solutions will work safely instead of carrying a high degree of risk. Reach out if you have difficult task, and put our team of experts on the job for you.
Countless gear advocates will tell you that the manner with you treat your gear is the manner with which your gear will treat you, and they are right. Soft goods, like harnesses and tool bags, are susceptible to the elements just like anything and their performance can degrade over time with exposure, even failing in some cases where proper care was not recognized. A rule of thumb states that daily airing out of your gear allows the gear to perform as it is intended, but there are more duties that we must be careful to execute on as well.
Daily inspection of sewn goods, especially for those working-at-height, is critical to proper drop prevention and asset protection. I often ask field techs to look at their gear twice a day, once at the start of the day and once at the end. Why? Because a lot can happen in 8 hours. Drop your wrench roll enough and a seam can become compromised. The next thing you know a 10mm wrench is hurling towards the ground from 100ft above - enough to kill an unsuspecting coworker.
What do we look for? Well, remember when you were young and grandma had that fancy velvet couch with the tiny whole you stuck your peas in because you hated peas? Imagine if you kept jamming peas through it until you could fit 2 peas, then 3, then 4, and so on, eventually the whole is so big it exposes the insides. The same thing happens with bags - the more a seam is worked - stretched, saturated, dried, exposed to UV, etc, the more it is breaking down over time, then one day the seam fails and the contents spill out. That may take a long time, but the think the time you dropped that same bag on a composite roof and it slid 60 wearing the edge. Now you have a recipe for failure. Usually it is pretty easy to see when it is going to fail, but not always. Should you ever question it, stop using it and look for advice - we give advice out for free!
Water is a staple of life, but when it comes to bags, it can be killer. Nylon bags, like those made of 1000d Cordura, will saturate (Nylon is somewhat hydrophylic) and often any contaminates will remain once dry. Nylon also stretches when wet (lubrication) and can loosen a weave, thus making any sewn seam susceptible to failure. While it is a modern marvel of synthetic fiber and rugged and durable as all get out, Nylon does have its Kryptonite. In addition, Nylon is highly susceptible to UV damage over time, fading and becoming tough.
Here is a great summary for reference:
In summary, while we use our gear everyday to support our work and lifestyles, we must also understand the complexities and vulnerabilities of the products so that we might protect them for many years of use. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.
Just about every vehicle based travel event has been cancelled this year. To some, this is heartbreaking, especially those who rely on the income from events and the stimulus it provides. We, too, are disappointed. Many friendships have been made over the last 10 years in fields, Walmart parking lots, campgrounds, and especially the trail meet ups where the exchange of greetings, handshakes, sarcasm and wit feed each other a much needed social elixir. This year we will forego much of that and meet in smaller groups along some barren intersection of highway where a gas station once hosted travelers from a time long ago. I'm OK with the solitude, I must say. I will be fine not attending the chaos of a rally where I might have stayed up too late, had too many festive libations, and stretched stories beyond their shelf life. I will do my best to promote my fellow gear manufacturers who work their tails off all year for this selling season only to be gut-punched by a wretched COVID-19 haymaker.
We're heading out on the trail this week. We are going to visit our favorite local spots and some new territories as well. We hope we see you out there, in smaller groups, where we can carry a meaningful conversation through the dying embers of a fading campfire.
Please support your Overland and Gear manufacturers during this travel season. If you have the means to do so, it will make a difference. Most of all, be kind to one another.
It's Washington spring break for schools, so as is ritual, I am traveling to look at colleges for my son. The good news is, I have wifi and can log in here and see what is happening. I want to thank those of you who continue to support us through our online store. This morning, I woke to a repeat customer's order and I was so thankful that we have gained your confidence in our products. As we continue to develop products for work-at-height, outdoor, and the overland market I hope you all feel you can let us know what we do right, what we need to improve on, and what we do wrong, especially. We are a small company dedicated to our customers, and we appreciate your feedback always. Send any inquiries, thoughts, poems, or feedback to info@lastusbag(dot)com. We all appreciate it greatly!
Incidentally, I'm in Bozeman, MT and it is dumping an inch or two. Nothing more beautiful than Bozeman in the spring...
Last week we were exhibiting at AWEA O&M in Coronado. This is a special event where we have the unique opportunity to sit with the folks that use our products, learn from their experience, and come back to set some revision strategy ahead. A common theme we hear constantly is that we need to increase the longevity of the products in the field.I do not disagree. In fact, I applaud this concern as responsible and the right direction for us all.
During the show, we illustrated some key features on our products for future builds that will allow for a lifespan increase on the products. How are we doing this? Technology... To date, most bags are made from vinyl or canvas, two excellent fabrics that work well enough and hold their own. The problem is that in the environments we are asking them to work in they can fail too often. Not their fault, rather ours for not pushing the envelope in higher grades of material. Over the last 8 months we have been working with Honeywell on developing a fabric based on the Spectra UHMWPE material that is highly puncture and abrasion resistant, while being incredibly light and "10x stronger than steel." That last part might be hyperbole, but not really. This material is incredibly strong and provides significant challenge in the manufacturing process, yet added into a heavy haul lift bag we see dramatically improved performance and longevity in the field. Couple that with bases and waterproof liners that that can be replaced when worn or damaged, and the incremental cost to keep in the field over time is significantly lower than replacing the whole bag.
Yes, it comes at a price! Due to the cost of raw materials and labor, these new products will be a bit elevated over today's offering, yet the ROI on this is so obvious anyone will realize the benefit. We are excited to be launching this shortly and look forward to seeing you put it to work in the field...
Wow, been a while yet again. I used to be so diligent about posting here, now not so much. I am working to be more punctual and attentive, however...
New things have been happening at LUSB. We continue to develop a new ERP system to help the back end, have a new plant manager in Greg Pokvitis,and the front has some new faces as well in Grizel Esquivel. Overall, we are expanding our resources rapidly to meet new demands and also develop our own product to better serve the industrial market and consumers. We'll be at AWEA O&M in February 26-28th, and then at various shows through spring and summer, including Overland Expo, NWOR, ORNGA, Boy Scouts Annual Meeting, etc. Lots happening with many new products to speak of, but never enough time to get the word out properly... That needs to change!
Maisy is almost 9 months old now and settling down a bit. For those who didn't know, we brought on a shop dog to make life more hectic and it worked to perfection. She barks at the most annoying pitch ever and can't help herself when someone new comes by, or someone familiar for that matter, or when a bird flies by, or a pile of snow is next to her, or... You get the picture. Puppies are a lot of work...
Hey there. Came out from under the rock.
Much time has passed since I was last here to word-vomit on you. Over the last year, our site has grown dramatically and with a lack of organized care associated with it. I am here to say that we are committing to fix some of these issues we are dealing with, such as poor formatting of images, lack of a category-subcategory architecture (you can slam Shopify stock themes for that), and some products not being published at all. It takes time, resources, and discipline to do all this, and at any one time we may be deficient of one of those!
We are going to be working with a new branding company to assist us here and bring the site to a level we are happy with, but most importantly, that works well for you. Please be patient, I promise it won't be painful to you all.
Within the last year we converted from an outdated ecommerce platform to a much more robust platform As it stands, the new and improved turned out to be too complicated to deal with, so we are now launching lastusbag.com via Shopify. This platform is not totally new to us, and we know it can be just as powerful as the previous without the cumbersome back end. We hope you enjoy the new site. Let us know how it is working for you.
The bummer with this switch is that customers with logins from the previous site will have to re-register. We apologize for this inconvenience and will assist however we can to make this as painless as possible...
1-800-688-8442 for help, complaints, accolades, or just to chat...