Thesis: The Transcend Backpack
Journey Through the Design Process
The world needed a true high-activity backpack that can be comfortably worn during physical activity to the extent that it is forgotten on the body.
a VOID in the Market
THOUGH MEANT FOR different purposes, current bags used by parkour traceurs are all used, and not used, in the same way. The traceur runs, jogs, walks, bikes or drives to their intended place of training and drops their bag under a bench or another inconspicuous place before they begin training. There are no backpacks or bags on the market that tracers can wear while they are training, which is why they are discarded beforehand.
There is an explicit desire among parkour traceurs for a backpack that allows them experience parkour while roving freely through the city, as currently they are shackled to the “park crawl” of a few locations within walking distance of their discarded bags.
UPON MOVING TO San Francisco, in an effort to become familiar with the city, I joined a local parkour group, discovering a close-knit community and a new way of testing my potential. I connected deeply with the underlying philosophy of parkour: efficiency. The founding purpose is to move cleanly through one’s environment without wasteful actions or losing momentum. Obstacles are overcome in a way that preserves speed, minimizes risk of injury and encourages seamless transitions from one movement to the next.
There are several movements, needs and techniques unique to parkour that must be taken into account in any gear used by traceurs. In particular, the roll is commonly used to avoid injury and preserve momentum.
1) Protect contents from sudden impact
2) Weather resistant/aquaphobic
3) Preserve momentum through an ukemi/ninja roll
4) Spread impact across user’s back
5) Allow uninhibited movement
1) Reduce or eliminate pendulum effect
Hydration packs often have the side-effect of the weight of water swinging back and forth as the wearer’s back shifts when running. This is not only annoying but could throw off the wearer’s balance in precision situations.
2) Intuitive, quick use of straps and fasteners
3) Allow complete freedom of upper body movement
Although parkour is largely a running and jumping sport, the upper body is essential in climbing, grabbing ledges and rails, counterweight and balancing.
4) Allow unhindered breathing in any position
5) Allow access to critical contents during use, without removal, such as mobile phone, wallet, keys, water, snacks, first aid.
In something as organic and flowing as parkour, where the only equipment is the practitioner's body, biometrics are incredibly important.
Having a harness that attaches easily and properly, doesn’t restrict movement and whose fit and finish will leave no possibility of injury due to a failed bail is essential.
In addition to purely functional needs, there is a desire for strong, but understated aesthetics. Pops of bold, saturated colors balanced out by neutrals that will disguise the accumulation of dirt, lead to a need for a clean, stealthy appearance.
ESSENTIAL ITEMS: Water (≈1L, 1kg), keys (≈0.1L, 0.08kg), wallet (≈10.25L, 0.06kg), snacks (≈1L, 0.2kg), mobile phone (≈0.1L, 0.15kg).
DESIRED ITEMS: Jacket (≈1L, 0.2kg), flashlight (≈0.7L, 0.25kg), first-aid-kid (≈1.4L, 0.2kg), camera (≈0.2L, 0.18kg). extra battery (≈0.03L, 0.06kg).
OPTIONAL ITEMS: Flash Charger (≈0.2L, 0.2kg), Multitool (≈0.03L, 0.15kg), Knife (≈0.08L, 0.1kg), Sunglasses (≈0.2L, 0.04kg).
Total volume: 6.29L
Total weight: 2.87kg
to the drawing board
The bamboo composite worked well, however, upon testing, the segmented design was too heavy and uncomfortable for long-term wear.
Moving some of the more fragile gear to side or front pockets would allow the back pouch to be positioned higher and closer to the user, improving performance and mitigating roll-out bumps.
Paper & dimensional models
While the paper mock-ups on my mannequin were vitally important to getting the proportions of the design nailed down, they also allowed me to experiment with different ways I could place and orient the various features and elements.
These templates became the basis for sewing patterns of the final design.
Tyvek worked well for this, but to get the true feel of the bag, I tried out some of the more effective designs in real materials such as ripstop nylon, neoprene and polyurethane foam.
Three of the more refined sketches stood out both to me and my regular focus groups as deserving additional attention towards a final design.
The decided final direction implemented some of the best features and most exciting details from the whole of the refined sketches. A minimal profile, accented edges with different materials breaking up the space, and a slim, fitted harness with elastic components. Further refinements would include reducing complexity and increased visual connectivity of elements and pattern pieces.
INITIAL prototype & user testing
Direct user testing was the core of my design development, particularly upon the completion of each iterative prototype. I have a great appreciation for the dozens of traceurs that eagerly came out multiple times every week to offer feedback. Several members enjoyed the rough prototypes so much that they wanted to buy them following testing.
The feedback was invaluable and informed the design decisions I made to further improve the backpack in terms of features, materials, dimensions and aesthetics. Every one of my prototypes was put through a minimum of six hours of parkour testing and an additional hour of torture testing to ensure the final would hold up to the most hostile possible situations.
color themes & final materials
Bold, saturated colors are far preferred by focus groups over pastels, with fewer colors on a single item over a spectrum.
Pure, unfettered freedom
with added functionality:
- Sleek, low profile design with no snag points
- Large main pocket with snug- t divider
- Two front pockets with waterproof zippers
- Two kidney pockets with Velcro closure
- Four-point Dupla Velcro sizing straps
- Water-resistant construction
- Highly abrasion-resistant materials
- Four point rubber skid pads
the transcend backpack offers convenience and utility without inhibiting any natural movement. Unlike other performance bags, the Transcend clings close to the body, keeping belongings from swinging and swaying or getting in the way of body movements. No longer is parkour limited to a playground or park; now traceurs will truly be free conquer their cities.